Category Archives: Abuse

How could you not know?

One of the things that I’ve always questioned about my teenage years was how anyone could know about what was happening to me, the abuse that I was living through, and not do anything about it. There was one incident that I remember where the school administration were told about what was happening, and I will always feel like the follow up from that was completely inadequate, but in general I think there was a significant problem.

They didn’t know. These were people that I saw every day, and as I’ve got older I have questioned over and over again why they didn’t help me, and I’ve finally come to that conclusion. I didn’t often come to school with the marks of a beating on me, and so I wasn’t an obvious victim.

I think that many of them worked out things were not right when I was kicked out of home and then moved out into a boarding situation, but by then it was a bit late. I was sixteen and my more vulnerable brother was out of the country. He was safe, and I was surviving. What more could be done?

But for much of the rest of the time, I think that it just passed under the radar. My deteriorating mental health was a sign, but I don’t think it was recognised. The plain truth was, no-one helped me because no-one knew. No-one was looking for problems, maybe. I don’t know. Maybe they were and I was just not showing the signs that things were wrong.

How could they not know? Well, my own father missed the fact that I was so desperate to get out of my situation that I attempted suicide. Things just aren’t that obvious when you’re mentally distressed in the way I was. It wasn’t a lack of caring on their part. It was just hidden from view.

I used to ask over and over again why no-one helped. I think now I wonder why I didn’t ask for help over and over again until someone listened.

Further suicidal behaviour

Those individuals who have displayed suicidal behaviours that did not result in death are markedly more at risk of a later suicide attempt and suicide. Amongst those New Zealanders who make a serious suicide attempt, almost half will make at least one further attempt and one in 12 will die as a result of suicide within five years. – NZ Suicide Prevention Strategy,  p.17

Being suicidal is a state that one would think only had two outcomes – either death, or no longer being suicidal. It’s not that easy though. There are people who stay suicidal, but never attempt it for some reason. There are people who will stay suicidal, and just try and try and try until they make it. There are people who seem to have recovered, but go on to become suicidal again. It’s not a matter of dying or getting better,

The way we treat suicidal people directly affects their life outcomes. It’s not just in saving or losing their lives – there is also the question of the quality of life bequeathed to them by their care and treatment. Treating a failed suicide well could be the difference between recovery and continued psychiatric disability. Taking a potential suicide seriously could be the difference between a course of successful treatment and a suicide attempt.

These truths do not seem to be self-evident to many of the people involved in mental health care, both as frontline staff and as policymakers. Policymakers emphasise the need for good care for failed suicides, but frontline medical staff treat them poorly. Frontline psychiatric staff push for good treatment for potential suicides, but policymakers simply don’t allocate enough funding for the treatment needed. The strengths of each seem to be foiled by the weaknesses of the other.

The treatment of failed suicides especially distresses me. I cannot remember the number of attempts that I failed. Maybe half a dozen? Maybe more, maybe fewer. I’m not really sure. One of my failings is that I have a very poor long-term memory, so there are three or four episodes that I remember clearly, but there are more in the murk somewhere. Whatever the number is, it’s much greater than the ideal zero.

The key themes of my treatment by the hospitals and psychiatric teams that I dealt with were disrespect and poor follow-up. Emergency and medical ward staff had no time and no respect for someone like me, someone who wanted to die but seemingly didn’t try hard enough. Maybe I was seen as an attention seeker, someone who was deliberately wasting hospital time and resources in order to fulfil some psychological need for people to look at me. I can’t pretend to know what they thought, but I can know what their attitudes felt like. It felt like I was worthless, a waste of space, a failure, an attention-grabber and time-waster. It felt crushing. All I wanted was for the agony I live with to be over, and not only was it not over, but it was so much worse because people were angry at me, judging me, hurting me more. It made me want to die.

Hospital experiences left me feeling awful, and this is the point where psychiatric services step in. The should take a battered person, and help them and build them up and surround them with the things they need to become well again . . . Ha. Let’s see. The first time, when I was still very much a minor, the follow up involved my entire family being called in for an interview – not an environment conducive to opening up. Even if I didn’t have an abusive stepmother crushing my wrist in warning, I couldn’t say anything in front of my beloved little brother, and my adored father. I couldn’t hurt little bro, and I couldn’t admit to dad how bad things were. The entire venture was a failure, at a time in my life when intervention could have changed everything.

Other incidents included being sent home with no follow-up beyond a referral to the food bank because we had so little to eat (never mind that I had a serious mental illness showing up) and a vague promise to get in touch with an appointment at community mental health (An hours’ walk from my home, at a time when I had no car). Even when follow up appointments were made, they would be cancelled by one side or the other and never rescheduled.

What did I need? I needed hospitalising and treating properly the day I first presented, vomiting and crying, to an ED with a terribly worried boyfriend in tow. I needed someone to identify and deal with the fact that I was being abused, that my brother was being abused, and that I was developing a very serious mental illness and needed intervention immediately. What I did not need, and what I believe very few patients need, is to be released to the care of my family. In my case my family was part of the cause of my problems, but in almost every case, families are not equipped to deal with the aftermath of a suicide attempt. The truth is that going home is just not the best thing for many, if not most, people.

What are the bare minimums that I think need to be in place for failed suicides? Compassionate treatment. Immediate psychiatric treatment, with a strong bias toward inpatient treatment if there is any indication that it may be useful. Thorough follow-up on leaving either medical or psychiatric hospital treatment, with a real effort toward making sure people don’t slip through the cracks. Wrap-around services – WINZ assistance, social workers of whatever stripe is most helpful, referrals to charities and social services that actually happen, generally the things that make life easier to live.

Suicide costs us $1.4 billion per year. Dedicate some resources to prevention and treatment, and harvest some of that money back for the economy.

Raising pagans in a Christian home

I came across an article today. Just a wee short one, it says what it means quite concisely. It’s a message to Christian parents about how they are raising their kids. The article deals with teaching just what the Bible teaches versus teaching the fullness of knowing Jesus.

This sounds pretty ok to a fundamentalist Christian. Paragraphs like

Do you teach your kids “be good because the Bible tells you to” or do you teach your kids that they will never be good without Christ’s offer of grace? There is a huge difference. One leads to moralism; the other leads to brokenness. One leads to self-righteousness; the other leads to a life that realizes that Christ is everything and that nothing else matters.

Seems ok, because it’s about learning who you are in Christ and learning to lean on Him. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways follow him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6) and all that – the way unbelievers understand raising a child is not always God’s way. What is moralism when your child could taste all the gifts off the Holy Spirit?

I can’t go on, because the whole thing makes me feel sick. How can you want to teach a kid that the best they do will never be good enough? And why, in the name of all that’s good in this world, would you want your child to be broken?! Why break them down so that Christ can (but may not, because some people are never good enough to receive God’s grace) heal them, when you can instead raise a whole, happy, and good child? Teaching them they’re not good enough without meeting an arbitrary standard in any other case is straight-out child abuse. Why should a religious wrapper make it any better?

Teaching a child that they are not good enough like that is so cruel. It’s an unattainable goal, because there’s no visible sign that God’s grace has redeemed them. They will always be slipping and failing, and telling them to keep going back to God , makes them feel that they can never be good enough and that God just isn’t perfecting them the way it was promised.

I cannot abide by these ideas, and being raised in this culture makes me even more sick at reading these words. People believe this. People raise their kids like this. It breaks them. It broke me, and it was one of the things that pushed me out of the deep dark hole that was the church of my youth

Sexual tomfoolery

Today’s written insanity comes in the form of a blog post about one Andrew Barnes, and his brilliant mix of abuse, victim-blaming, and outright stupidity, which you may hear about for the low, low price of $40. Book now, and hear his specific brand of asshattery! (No, I don’t know where you can book. Somewhere near the gates of hell, on the left, next to can machines that eat your money, I would think)

The guy advertises his sessions as being about “Expanding Women’s Sexuality”, and then goes on to blame women’s ’emotional baggage’ for any problem at all in their sex lives. Bit uncomfortable in one position? Baggage. He’s a little bit too big and being stretched a bit much? Baggage. Burning case of chlamydia that he gave you? Baggage, all the woman’s and all their fault. And his solution? Him shoving his fingers inside you and pressing on various areas REALLY HARD while you “cry and breathe through the pain”. The man’s delusional if he thinks that’s anywhere near an ethical treatment protocol, or even an effective one.

There are women that have emotional issues that make it difficult to have sex, but these few do not justify his sweeping generalities about all women. Things just not working right  does not equal emotional issues – sometimes things just aren’t working perfectly. But this douchenozzle thinks that a few mild issues in the bedroom are a great reason to get paid for shoving his hands in someone’s vagina.

If it were not for the fact that these women are paying, then what he does could easily be classed as abuse. Pressing hard while they cry in pain? Not usually on the list of things nice people do to women’s vaginas. Taking the money definitely gives him consent, but even then it’s hairy. He’s convinced a whole lot of women that they have a problem, and that the only solution to their problem is his treatment. I’m sure that sounds a tad abusive.

People like this sicken me. They pretend they have all the answers (hell, they might even believe it themselves) but what they peddle is wrong, and dangerous, and hurts the poor people that get sucked in. Presenting this sort of garbage as something that sounds as positive as ‘expanding women’s sexuality’ brings the disingenuity to a whole new level – tell women that this is a good thing for them, and then layer them with blame and guilt.

A man like this should be nowhere near a woman’s vagina.

Wanton Destruction

One of the themes of my teen years was the destruction of the things I treasured. It was a particularly nasty way of getting at me – I already felt pretty worthless, and destroying the things I loved made me feel even worse than I already did.

I don’t remember individual events much any more – the days all run into each other, the various forms of abuse melt into an amorphous blob of misery. I can’t tell you if the day the photographs from my school play were ripped up and left on my floor was the same day that my baby blanket was tossed into the bush below my house, left to rot in the treetops somewhere. I can’t tell you if the day my deodorant spray collection was emptied was the same day that my nailpolish collection was opened and emptied into its container, which was a gift to me. It all just blurs together.

There’s one day that’s burned clearly into my mind though. I was given a pink lip gloss in a heart-shaped container for Christmas one year. I loved it, and used it very sparingly so that I wouldn’t run out. One day, I came home to find that my sparkly lip gloss had been used to write ‘slut’ on my mirror.

I was thirteen or fourteen years old. I had never kissed a boy. I had been indoctrinated into the idea that even kissing a boy who wasn’t serious about me was a sin against god. And a slut was supposed to be the worst sort of woman, a woman who had no respect for herself and no respect for god.

I was made to clean it off before my father got home to see it.

Running Away

When I was maybe fourteen or fifteen years old, I ran away from home. Life was just intolerable, and I had to get out. So I managed to stay home from church that day, and I packed my bag with a jersey and a water bottle, put on my most comfortable shoes, and I walked out.

I walked about 15km, to a friend’s place. I hoped that her family would give me shelter, maybe they could help me get out of the hell that home had become. But they weren’t home that day. My feet hurt. I went to the local playground and I cried.

I didn’t know what to do next, but I felt like I had to keep moving. So I walked back. It took me a bit longer than the walk out. I went to the playground closest to my house. It had a little hut right at the top. I figured that would be a good place to sleep.

It was summer, and it had been a hot day. I didn’t realise how cold the nights felt after a warm day. The playground I was in didn’t have much shelter, and a cool wind had me shivering. I hadn’t eaten all day.

I decided to seek shelter with a family friend. The kids of the household were not far off my age, and they knew about the abuse. Maybe they would help.

I knocked on the door an hour or two after midnight. They were still up. The elder daughter wrapped me in her arms and made me feel safe.

I told them everything, how I was being abused, how I needed to get out, how I had already tried to kill myself once because it was just so bad. They listened. And a couple of days later they sent me home.

I tried to get out. I tried to get help. And I was returned to my abuser over and over again.


Today I saw one of those ‘inspirational quote’ photos pass through my Facebook feed. I don’t remember exactly what it said, but it was something along the lines of ‘I don’t regret anything in my past, because it made me who I am today’. And I want to say, I disagree.

If I had not been abused as an adolescent, if I had grown up in a safe home, then I would not have the problems that I have today. I would not have flashbacks to my abuse when doing this as simple and necessary as washing dishes or doing the laundry.

If I had not been raped, then I would not have the problems that I have with intimacy. I would not have panic attacks in my half-asleep state when I’m close to my partner. He would not spend his time soothing me and telling me I’m safe, because I would have no reason to feel unsafe.

I am neither proud of nor happy with the person that I have become from a life that did me few favours. I may be a survivor, but I’m wounded. And I regret the things that have happened to me to wound me, because without them I would be much better able to cope with the world around me. I don’t know if mental illness would have affected me or not – there’s more to mental illness than just life experience – but there are specific parts of my mind that would not have been damaged.

I regret that the actions of others have affected my life so badly, and if I could have my time over again, I would have chosen a less painful path. Who I am today is ok, but I could have been so different, in a positive way.

It Makes Me Angry That Anyone Still Has To Fight This Battle

Mental illness is different from many other illnesses, and for one sad reason – because people just don’t accept that it’s real, or worthy of the term ‘illness’. It’s all in your head, you can think your way out, I have bad days and I get over them, you should too.

I cannot think my way out of my illness any more than someone in a wheelchair can think their way out of it. What goes on in my head is just as real as what happens to the body of a diabetic or a cancer patient, and at times it can be just as crippling.

I am giving my life my best shot, and every time someone discounts mental illness for any reason, it hurts me. Every time someone tells me that I need to get over myself, that I’m being selfish, that I need to harden up, or that I need to stop doing this to the people I love, I know of one more person not to trust. I will think less of them for thinking less of me over something that is out of my control.

I did not choose to be abused. I did not choose to have my mind crumble under the pressure of a life that didn’t do me many favours. I’m making do with a damaged mind. And I do not deserve to be discounted because my scars are not physical.

Screaming For Help

When I was fourteen years old, I tried to kill myself for the first time. My home life was so intolerable that I just wanted out. I couldn’t cope with it any more. I’d heard from a friend that a whole pack of paracetamol could kill you, so I swallowed a full pack of it at my school play cast afterparty.

My boyfriend of the time knew something was wrong, and he managed to get out of me what I’d done. So I pretended to throw them back up, and he let me go to sleep. When I woke up the next morning, he’d stayed the night with me to keep an eye on me. I started throwing up repeatedly, and he called his dad and got me to the hospital. I was very sick.

The only clear memory I have of that bit is that I begged and begged not to have my father and stepmother called. I didn’t win that fight – I was a minor after all – and when they came down to the hospital I begged for my boyfriend to stay because I didn’t want to be alone with them. Eventually he left – I don’t remember when or why.

My only other clear memory of that time is terror. Terror that my stepmother would do something to me in revenge for me messing up her day. Never mind that I was very unwell, my only fear was that I wouldn’t die and that she would punish me in some way.

At some point I was sent home, and I think it was maybe a week before sI was back to anywhere near normal. And then, the letter came from CAFS.

CAFS is the child, adolescent, and family service at the hospital. They deal with child mental health and abuse, among other things. They also have a very similar acronym to CYFS – Child, Youth, and Family Services – our child protection agency.

When that letter came, my stepmother went nuts at me for getting CYFS involved with our family. It took her a while to figure out it was the hospital, not the dreaded child services. And even then, she was still furious at me for bringing outsiders into our lives.

The CAFS interview was one of those moments where I have no idea why we weren’t saved in some way. It was a family interview, they never talked to me alone, and through the entire interview my stepmother held my wrist, digging her nails into me every time I had to answer a question. I lied through my teeth, I told them it was an accident, that I never meant to hurt myself. Inside I was screaming ‘save us, please save us’ – my little brother and I were struggling to hold it together in the face of her abuse. But I lied heroically, because she was there and I was so scared.

If they’d just talked to me alone, made me safe so I could tell, I would have told. Maybe there would have been something done. I will forever regret lying that day and not saving my little brother and me from more abuse. But I was so afraid of her that I couldn’t tell.

No fourteen-year old ‘accidentally’ swallows a whole packet of paracetamol. They had to know something was wrong. But they never gave me a safe way to tell, and so I didn’t. I couldn’t. I will always feel guilt for not telling. But I’m not sure they would have done anything, even if I had said something.

Asking For Help

I was abused as an adolescent. Even when it was happening, I knew it wasn’t normal, but I was scared to ask for help. Reading this reminded me of the only time I ever tried to get help.

I was maybe fourteen. I’d done something wrong the night before (I don’t remember what, but I think it had something to do with washing my clothes) and it had lead to a beating. This wasn’t common – most of the abuse was psychological and emotional – but it did happen now and then. I ended up with a line of bruises on each side of my spine, where my stepmother punched me. She was smart – she never hit where it would be seen while I was wearing clothes.

What she didn’t know was that I was one of the few girls my age that wasn’t ashamed of their body, and so I would just strip down and then kit up for PE. That day, I lifted my shirt over my head and squeaked a bit in pain. A friend who was changing beside me looked over and saw the bruises, and that was it. I was taken to see the assistant principal, and made to tell her what happened.

The next bit it a blur. My father was called in, and he made excuses for my stepmother. My little brother was picked up from school, by one of my teachers I think. There was a lot of fuss going on . . . and then nothing. We were taken home by my father. Nothing further happened.

I was terrified. It had taken all my strength to tell, and nothing had come of it. And now my stepmother was furious. She didn’t beat me again, but for weeks afterward she would terrorise me in whatever ways she could come up with.

You’re supposed to tell when bad things go on in your life. If you tell a teacher they’re supposed to make you safe. But no-one made me and my little brother safe.

I’m left with PTSD from what happened to me in the five or six years between when my father married and when my stepmother threw me out. I don’t remember much of it, but sometimes, I’ll do something, or see something, or smell something, and it all just comes back. It paralyses me.

I asked for help. I did what I was supposed to do. But no-one took it seriously enough to make me safe.