‘When You Make Your Trauma a Crucial Aspect of Your Identity, it Becomes Harder to Heal from It’? by Dina Poursanidou

The other day I came across an article entitled ‘The problem with safer spaces’ (https://opendemocracy.net/transformation/clare-mohan/problem-with-safer-spaces).  One of the claims in the article is that ‘when you make your trauma a crucial aspect of your identity, it becomes harder to heal from it’.

The maws of depression by Tyto Thylaco42 (deviantart.com)
The maws of depression by Tyto Thylaco42 (deviantart.com)

I found the article an interesting read. It raises important questions. But I do not entirely agree with the author’s position. I think putting your traumatic experiences in the mental health system as a mental health service user/survivor at the centre of your identity can have a healing and empowering effect…

People involved in mental health survivor activism talk about the potentially healing and empowering effects of that involvement which is driven by people’s traumatic experiences in the mental health system and the damage to their  identity by this system and the desire to effect change on the system and its oppressive ways…I know that people talk about the damaging effects of their activism on their wellbeing too…it can go both ways…

I had my first major mental health crisis in 1991 when I was studying for a Master’s degree in Nottingham University. Following this crisis, I embarked on a long journey of self-discovery and healing which comprised having intensive psychotherapy and completing a PhD on the experience of depression in young people as its vital components.

My second major mental health crisis occurred between July 2008 and June 2010, resulting in a 3-month long detention under a Mental Health Act Section in an acute psychiatric ward in Manchester, as well as in a 2-year period of unemployment. Following this crisis, I returned to Academia and worked on  mental health research projects as a service user researcher.

I am experiencing profound ambivalence towards my mental health service user identity and my ‘mental illness’ (for want of a better term) experiences with their catastrophic consequences for every aspect of my life. If madness is a dangerous gift that users of psychiatric services need to embrace, as Mad Pride advocates,  I do struggle with embracing my own madness.

Francisco de Goya – Saturn Devouring His Son

Currently I am working as a service user researcher in mental health at the Service User Research Enterprise, Institute of Psychiatry in London where I am expected to bring my lived experience of mental distress to the centre of my professional identity and make it an instrument of knowing and understanding…

it is a difficult identity space and is emotionally often very taxing…and I struggle with it…but somehow revisiting my lived experiences of mental distress in various ways and contexts has helped me process these experiences, process them again and again, to the extent that they somehow lose (very very slowly) their power and grip on me…

So, I guess, making your trauma a crucial aspect of your identity can potentially help you heal from it…I guess for me it is also important to remember that I have a multiple identity, that I am not just a mental health service user/survivor…I am a researcher, I am Greek, I am interested in the arts, I have purple as a favourite colour…

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    Keep thinking, keep struggling, keep loving and keep doing – you are helping to make our world a better place.

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