My fourth decade is only just around the corner and every day I pinch myself not quite believing that I lasted this long, and that I go about my daily life with most people never suspecting that I’m anything other than a happy popular woman leading a nice “middle-class” existence.
You see I’m a survivor of child abuse which started suddenly when I was four years old and my parent’s marriage started disintegrating. Some of the abuse was physical but the worst was the emotional abuse All of this heaped on me by my own mother.
I did my best to hide the cuts and bruises, but it was much more difficult to hide the emotional effects that the abuse had on me. It has often been suspected by a number of psychologists that I’ve seen that I may have a mild form of Aspergers Syndrome as I exhibit many of the characteristics, but they were unable to fully distinguish autistic traits from behaviours could be associated from having survived such an emotional trauma.
Until my early twenties I was unable to make eye contact with people without intense discomfort – even now, while I am generally comfortable it doesn’t come naturally to me.
I often blunder my way through social situations as, unless I concentrate really hard, I miss a lot of the social cues. Those which I know of I learnt almost entirely from books.
I often seem to be the last person to “get” a clever joke.
I am terrified of sudden loud noises and I startle if people touch me without warning.
I have overcome clinical depression and a suicide attempt in my late teens, but the childhood trauma has still left me with a number of anxiety related illnesses including OCD, body dysmorphia and dermatillomania.
The first thing to note with anxiety is that it is really really tiring you just don’t have as much energy as other people and sometimes you want to be social but you flake out at the last minute because you just don’t have anything else left in the tank. Anxiety sucks away at your self-esteem. Anxiety tells you lies, speaks in bold, judgemental black and white terms. Tells you what you can’t do, what you’re not, what you never can be.
The body dysmorphia that I experience is the mismatch between the pleasant little avatar in my head and the unpleasant reality of the mirror each day. It makes me see a distorted untrue image staring back at me – all I see is imperfection and that to me is devastating. It triggers me to pick at my skin (dermatillomania) and reinforce the miserable cycle.
OCD means although I am able to drive, I dare not to. My head fills with terrible premonitions of accidental killing and guilt. Too much. I am a bad person.
I read a book last summer called “Pretending To Be Normal” by Liane Willey. This is a story of a high functioning woman on the Autistic spectrum and how she has managed to hide her condition and live a normal life. To a great extent I have survived early adulthood by using similar tactics, but what it meant with me was to learn to hide my scars with clever make up application, learn a special anchoring technique to stop me crying when I felt tears coming on, to laugh and pretend that everything was okay even when it wasn’t.
I’ve learnt that hiding from illness doesn’t make it go away and that sadly, as good as laughter is its not always the best medicine.
Stigma survives through ignorance, ignorance through lack of information, fear and silence. That is why I feel it’s time to speak out.
Rose Wiltshire is a mental health activist, aspiring writer and supporter of Wiltshire Mind (a local mental health charity).
She started a blog roseversusblackdog.wordpress.