[Content note: Discusses child abuse and racism]
It’s been a while since I locked my bedroom door. There really is no need with just the two of us in this big house but not so long ago, this didn’t matter. When I was in the room, the door was always locked. I spent 23 hours of a day in this room, the window barely open to let in some fresh air. I knew my aunt was downstairs, running her business, pottering about and this gave me a little comfort, sometimes. Mostly though, I was in on the inside, counting as I inhaled, holding briefly, exhaling for a set amount of time. I spent most of this time trying to remember how to breathe. There were the times I would forget to do this and instead lay rigid, paralysed on my bed through fear that a big man with a mallet would climb in through my bedroom window and club me to death. This wasn’t rational, I know this now.
Extreme agoraphobia is debilitating. Not only are you unsafe in the outside world but the horrors can threaten you in your own home. I was afraid to step foot on the landing at times, the muffled sound of the neighbours crashing about made the hairs on the back of my neck prick up, I often injured myself from moving too quickly. Hyper vigilance is mentally and physically exhausting; thinking about your every move before you make it, what you are going to say, stressing about what you need to say, not getting the words out, suffering because you are silent, these all take their toll.
What was it in my brain that was making my body malfunction like this? Opening my eyes in the morning I was hit with the fact that I was alive and this made me miserable. I didn’t want to be. I had had enough. I had my reasons, there were plenty, and the logical conclusion to all of them was to cease to exist. I was afraid, of things I’d experienced but also the unknown. I hadn’t known my life would lead me to that point and that scared me. How is anyone ever sane and sorted? It could all change in seconds. Child abuse, domestic abuse, sexual violence, patriarchy, these things had taken over and consumed me until one day I refused to be victim to them any more. By existing, by taking part in the world, I was risking all of these things. To not exist would mean they couldn’t touch me. To not exist would mean to take my own life but I was too afraid to do that. What if it’s not just nothing when we die but a whole other hell? So I chose to not exist in another way. It wasn’t a conscious choice, my body made the choice for me. I simply forgot how to breathe, how to yearn, how to feel joy. It doesn’t feel good, that state of being. It’s living when you are mostly dead inside.
From behind the locked door, I could prevent anything unknown entering my space, whether that was family or the man of my nightmares. I wasn’t safe in my home but I might be safe in this room. Outside there were rapists and racists, violent manipulative men. It was when I screamed at a male pedestrian for sauntering across a road without looking that I made the decision to stay indoors. The world was so far out of my control that I withdrew.
It strikes me as odd that people with mental health conditions are often thought of as weak and unable to roll with the punches. It is precisely because we have been trying to cope that we find ourselves lumbered with a label. The world is not an equal place, before any of us are even born, a script is handed down. I am sure the propensity for mental illness increases for those lacking in privilege. Not a single one of us will escape an abusive childhood unscathed.
“I was smacked as a child and it didn’t do me any harm.” This sentence should ring all the warning bells. It’s also worth noting that all children witnessing domestic abuse are being emotionally abused (even if a father isn’t directly abusive to his children but actively controls and abuses their mother). When a life begins in chaos, when the internalised attachment pattern is inconsistent, then every day is a matter of survival. There’s only so much give. So I don’t see my breakdown as a personal failing, a weakness, but a necessary reaction to the very real threat of harm.
With the world rapidly turning on PoC (or at least in this last wave) and especially since I was personally racially abused very recently, I desire solitary confinement once again. Were it not for the even keel my hefty dose of Citalopram provides, I might be locked up in here again. I know that I would prefer it.
“What sane person could live in this world and not be crazy?”
Think about it.