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My story of rising out of the ashes

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Last week some readers were commenting about various ideas of recovery after a mental health crisis. Prompted by the subject of the past few weeks—childhood traumas and adversity—the question kept recurring about our current inability to readily access care for ourselves or for those in our family who live with or are presenting with mental illnesses/disorders.

The anxiety was evident among some of them when it became public knowledge too, that psychiatric patients were without their much-needed medication for over a month.

“Hundreds of psychiatric patients are at risk and can also pose danger to themselves and relatives as their medication has been unavailable at the health centres and hospital for the past month,” the report said. 

Our collective, widespread disappointment was when a newspaper thought that “madness” was an appropriate headline for a story discussing the disadvantaged mental health patient who were at the mercy of inefficiency and carelessness of the state. What a cheap shot! Mocking patients’ genuine dilemma and illnesses (which includes madness) so that a news story can have bite!

It being Carnival week in T&T, after last Wednesday when the story broke, our national—and rational—attention shifted focus to the matters at hand.

Since I’m on the touchy subject of childhood adversity and trauma and the prevalence of childhood sexual violations in adult diagnosis, which points to a high incidence of childhood abuse, I feel compel to interject and say recovery is possible. That’s my Ash Wednesday message.

Firstly, a large percentage of people who have been violated have survived without too much visible or noticeable effects. This is attributed to the resilience of children/people to withstand adversity.

The American Psychological Association (APA) writes, “The majority of children and adolescents manifest resilience in the aftermath of traumatic experiences. This is especially true of single-incident exposure...”

The APA says, “A significant number of children in American society are exposed to traumatic life events.” In fact, “more than two thirds of children report experiencing a traumatic event by age 16.” 

It describes a traumatic event as “one that threatens injury, death, or the physical integrity of self or others and also causes horror, terror, or helplessness at the time it occurs.”

Traumatic events, says the APA, include sexual abuse, physical abuse, domestic violence, community and school violence, medical trauma, motor vehicle accidents, acts of terrorism, war experiences, natural and human-made disasters, suicides, and other traumatic losses. 

Against all that though, recovery is possible. But it’s important also, to define recovery since it means different things to different people.

In 2004, NIMHE’s statement on recovery defined it to include the following meanings:
1. A return to a state of wellness (eg following an episode of depression);
2. Achievement of a quality of life acceptable to the person (following an episode of psychosis);
3. A process or period of recovering (following trauma);
4. A process of gaining or restoring something (one’s sobriety);
5. An act of obtaining usable resources from apparently unusable sources (in prolonged psychosis);
6. Recovering an optimum quality and satisfaction with life in disconnected circumstances (as with dementia).

My life is an interesting journey from early psychosis, bursts of wellness, episodes of ignoring the issues, periods of trusting God and forsaking medication, denying the realness of mental health complications, and full circle into successfully managing prolonged diagnosis.
My story is one of recovery. 

It’s one of rising out of the ashes, such cinders being residues of my own undoing, while taking people down and along my dreadful, emotional abyss before realising that the hell I’m experiencing is personal and not necessarily attributed to the conduct of others, over which I have no control.

The latter does not exonerate the hurts and injustices I’ve experienced at the hands of others. Those are real and would remain my reality. But I took charge of my health and recovery, owning my mistakes and accepting that I am a “piece of work” that need serious work!

Layard and Hagell (2015) say recovery begins “first is the family – the stability it offers, the stimulus it provides and the values it nurtures. Then there is the psychological support of the wider community, including the healthcare system, but also a whole range of local social organisations. And finally there is the school, which leaves its mark on the character of every child.”

Others have given evidence that faith and religion have significant bearings on recovery, also. Whichever support is available to you, know this: recovery is a reality.

Long before recovery though, as a nation, we must commit to protecting our children and limiting the incidence of pathology in adulthood. We need to invest in action throughout the life course, providing the best opportunities for reducing risks to which our population is currently exposed. That could even be the type of focus that ensures we never “run out of medication.”

• Caroline C Ravello is a strategic communications and media practitioner with over 30 years of proficiency. She holds an MA in Mass Communications and is pursuing the MSc in Public Health (MPH) from the UWI. She has been living/thriving with mental health issues for over 35 years. Write to: [email protected]



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