I was brought to Stigma Fighters by a friend that had written for the site, and I returned again and again reading many stories that resonated. But I asked myself, what stigma am I fighting and what have I fought? And I come up with ‘labels’.
I’m that person who came from a ‘broken home’. I’m that ‘disturbed child’. I talk too much, I say too much, I’m outspoken, I’m ‘different’, I don’t quite fit. I talk about things that make others uncomfortable, because I refuse to be ashamed of what I was put through as a child. I refuse to smooth it all over and paint a pretty picture. I refuse to make it all better for others.
And when someone says, ‘But your over it now, aren’t you?’ I want to scream at them that it’ll never be over, but in reality you smile and say, ‘mostly’, because if you don’t, you become the ‘negative person’, the ‘pessimist’, the person who only looks at the bleak side of life. People don’t want to interact with someone like that, someone that needs to express how they feel, that needs to find an outlet, a way to relate, a way to gauge ‘what is normal’. They want someone who will talk about hair, nails, baking, decorating, day trips, holidays, and anything that means you are happy and content, or at least putting up the façade of happy and content.
I was caught off guard by my physiotherapist when she asked me why I smiled when I said I had a bad childhood. I said because that’s what you do, you laugh it off, you pretend it was nothing and you are all fine now. She was shocked, and said, but that’s not true. Not it’s not, but we don’t live in truth, do we? People don’t want to know the truth.
So I talk in labels instead, to try and help those that don’t understand what it is that is going on with me, to explain why I struggle to form and hold friendships and relationships, why I find it difficult to stay in one place, and believe that anyone would want to like me, let alone love me.
Some of those labels I struggle with, like ‘mental illness’ or ‘personality disorder’, they indicate something more, something deeply wrong. But it isn’t me that is ‘wrong’, it is what I was put through that was wrong, and the people around me that allowed it to happen by turning a blind eye and choosing to be ignorant – because ignorance is bliss, isn’t it? And people want to pretend it wasn’t that bad and smooth it all over, because it’s in the past now, isn’t it?
You see, a Child of Domestic Violence suffers the same Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as soldiers that have seen active combat. And I am one of those. I witnessed my mother being thrown across rooms, having objects like bar stools thrust into her, found clumps of her hair on the patio, watched her being thumped and punched. I heard the sound of that from 18 months right through until I was 9, pacing the floors upstairs and occasionally throwing up I was so terrified my stepfather might actually kill her. And one morning I thought he had, when I came downstairs and found the kitchen cupboards splattered with blood and the waffle irons lying in the sink. I stood in terror imagining the worst, until my mother breezed in and cleaned it all up, not a mark on her, and not a word about it. All was revealed when he walked in with a nasty gash in his forehead. I’ll never be able to hear the words waffle iron again without that memory.
And if you ask me if I suffer PTSD, I might mention the time when I was vacuuming my son’s bedroom just a few years back, and the sound of my brother’s high pitch moan filled my head, the sound he would make when my mother went for him to pull his hair. All I could do was stop, tears coursing down my face, the vacuum still running until the sound dissipated.
You see, despite what was happening to my mother she was not comforting or reassuring or loving in any way. In fact I’ve always considered the domestic violence I witnessed until I was 9, to be the happiest years of my childhood, because they turned out to be just a prelude to the horrors to come. And thanks to those, I don’t just suffer from plain PTSD, oh no, I get to use the more advanced label of ‘Complex PTSD’, because I experienced more than one trauma, or one form of abuse.
I suffered continual verbal and emotional abuse over many years, plus occasional physical abuse in the form of hair pulling, until I left home. By the age of 11 I was on my own with my mother as my siblings had moved out, and she would scream at me daily telling me how all the problems in her life were my fault, that I was a burden, and that it was her life not mine. I wasn’t allowed to have feelings. I wasn’t allowed to be a person. I was solely there to satisfy her needs, whether in the form of a hug or comfort, or to pick up the pieces of her relationships. My job entailed being put in a taxi late at night on my own at the age of 12, to go and ‘spy’ on her current abusive boyfriend whom she suspected of having an affair, or coming home from school at the age of 13 to find her in the shed, in her nightie, hysterical, because that same boyfriend had threatened to leave. I was responsible for calming her down, reassuring her and going to ask him not to leave.
And it was during that turbulent 4 years with that boyfriend, from my age of 10 to 14, that I gained another label, one that to this day I struggle to wear, mostly because for years I didn’t see how an open mouthed kiss goodnight and a bit of up-top fondling could be considered sexual abuse, as it wasn’t ‘proper’ sexual abuse like others had suffered. And even though he did once try to move my hand to his groin, which I refused, locking myself in my bedroom afterward, he never did try to come and do anything more – well not till later, after they had split up, on one of the random nights he would turn up and demand sex from my mother. That night I woke up to him climbing into my bed naked. Fortunately my mother interrupted before more than skin against skin occurred, although her comment upon finding him there made it so much worse. She spat at me, ‘What did he do? Make you hold it?’ Her tone suggesting I’d asked for it. Reminiscent of the day I told her I had cervical cancer, when I was 17, and she demanded in disgusted tones, ‘Why, where have you been going to do it, and who have you been doing it with?’
Those instances and thousands of others are encompassed in those labels. I also acquired the rights to many more thanks to the continual moving (12 times over 9 years) and 6 different schools. I was a homeless child, a victim of bullying, and a runaway. And then after I left home, when I was finally out, I became a sufferer of anxiety, which centered around a fear of throwing up – always at night. Was it PTSD? Maybe, but it led me into my first round of therapy, and finally onto a path of self healing.
Twenty-five years on I’m still on that path, and still fighting the labels on a daily basis, but having just come to the end of a 6 year stint of therapy I’m doing a whole lot better – most days.
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Miranda Kate is a writer of novels, flash fiction and self-help blog posts. She works as a Freelance proofreader/editor, offering personal writing critique on manuscripts too, and she is a mum of two small boys, while living as a British expat in a small Dutch village in Holland, along with her Dutch husband and two cats.
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