It’s not your fault.
I constantly have to mantra this phrase to the child in me who was never told. Who keeps wondering why folks leave. It’s not your fault I say as I console her. Console myself. Folks just leave. For reasons we can’t comprehend. Because they’re selfish. Because they’re not. Because sometimes it’s ok to be selfish. Except when it involves a child? Except when it involves…I don’t know truthfully. I make this up as I go. I try to silence her cries as she protests that she always seems to remember everyone’s back. I tell her….me too my love. Me too.
Society would have me tell her, “The trauma is not your fault, but the healing is your responsibility.” I don’t say this. I tell her…It’s not your fault (period). We have continuously been able to add endings to the phrase, it’s not your fault. We add things like “healing is your responsibility” with such confidence, because isn’t it easy to compare our experiences to another’s and say surely, if I can do it you can too. If I put in the work and got healed, you can. I wondered if we ever considered that it’s never that simple.
I truly wish it was though. I wish that when I started receiving flashbacks of childhood sexual trauma, I wish that when my social anxiety heightens and I remember every childhood experience that left me feeling awkward, like I didn’t fit right in this world, like I was a failure and worthless and something to be discarded…I wished that I could cling to this responsibility and access this healing and be “normal’. That would be so much simpler than this reality of struggling and crying and desperately wanting to be different. I often feel like I’m building this intricate design and unsure if I even have all the parts, the manual is missing and customer service isn’t answering their phone.
I often feel like our responses are laced in unintended privilege and therefore we believe it necessary to remind trauma survivors that healing work is their responsibility. I wonder who we thought was taking care of them all this time? Many trauma survivors struggle on their own. Many persons with mental health conditions are experiencing loneliness and isolation in magnifying proportions. “Our isolation didn’t start with the pandemic,” I’ve often joked. I’ve been doing this isolation thing years now. This pandemic didn’t create anything new for me. It just made online shopping and ordering takeout easier.
The phrase “healing is your responsibility” is a slap in the face to every person with disability. It gives the assumption that persons who have experienced physical and emotional trauma, that have altered the way their bodies function, have access to all that they need to thrive. This is false. I make this statement unapologetically. You ask me why. My response is simple. Healing is a privilege that many cannot afford. Many cannot access.
I know how this conversation will go. You will tell me that it is their responsibility to try. It is their responsibility to use whatever is available to them and just try. And when you say it this way, it sounds simple enough. Therapy is available. Counselors are there. Every year thousands of psychologists graduate. Yet, according to the American Psychiatric Association, “45% of the world’s population lives in a country with less than one psychiatrist per 100,000 people”.
Isn’t this a scary reality? Can we really say with confidence that those that are experiencing intense emotional trauma should simply access help, when our leading bodies are declaring that we simply do not have enough resources? Consider as well the idea, that if 45% of countries exists at one psychiatrist per 100,000 people, how does this reflect on our more diverse communities such as trans folks, non-binary and black men? This is particularly important considering our healing communities have traditionally been hetero-dominated and euro-centric.
It seems from thinking on this for a moment, accessibility for healing isn’t truly available to all. There isn’t enough to be accessible. More so, there isn’t enough for those requiring more specialized care. How much of our mental health professionals are truly trauma-informed and equipped to care for those with deep childhood trauma? I recall too many times from working within special education systems, child protections systems and women’s rights organizations, several of our professionals, before engaging with the clientele already deciding that this case sounded beyond their expertise.
If we are to truly speak about disability justice surrounding persons with mental health conditions then we need to have an honest conversation surrounding accessibility as a barrier to care. It seems like I am still having a ramps debate. I feel like I’m still in my special education career, having conversations with folks about why those that are differently abled should get access. I am still convincing folks that we should go out of our way to ensure access. (Just build the damn ramps).
I realized 10 years ago when I entered special education, that I would have to advocate for my students. Get angry with the system. Tell the system they were simply not doing enough to ensure inclusion of every differently abled child. Ten years have passed and I am still fighting this war for disabled folks, but now a particular portion draws my heart. Those whose disabilities are not seen. Those folks who constantly feel abnormal on the inside. Those folks who struggle to heal because most times, the struggle to heal is not a straight line filled with even the most adequate resources.
For me, what makes this conversation have an interesting angle, is when we explore the idea that even in the process of being healed, our system is designed to retraumatize. And again, someone is going to claim EXAGGERATION! Surely a system can’t retraumatize. And it’s difficult for me to explain to them when I speak to every person who exists with noise sensitivity, light sensitivity, unable to be touched, unable to engage in spaces because experience has taught them, each space is as traumatic as the one before. Each space lacks concepts like consenting to being touched, awareness of using adequate trigger warnings, awareness of trauma and its effect and, carries with it a sensitivity for these issues.
Surely, our cinemas and live theatres are not responsible for any triggers those in their audience receive. They’re not responsible to be well…responsible (INSERT ALL SARCASM HERE). They’re not responsible to facilitate safe zones, or consult with persons with mental health conditions or trauma survivors on their set designs and acting. They’re not responsible to recognize that this is not just a suicide scene or a domestic violence scene but for some in their audience this is a painful reminder, a current trigger and a place they would rather not revisit.
I just wish we’d care more. That we’d realize that there are working shards wanting to be healed, but feeling entirely unaccepted by the society that tells them to be healed. Acceptance is providing resources. Acceptance is equality even for those whose disabilities are unseen. Persons with unseen disabilities are not treated equally in our systems. When we start being honest about this, then maybe we can start to bring real change. Maybe when we have the accessibility conversation, we can then have the affordability one, or the need for black centric therapy. Hopefully, this starts the conversation.