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Information and education about psychology, gender, and trauma.

Advice and reflections on writing, research, and life in academia. 

Posts written by Dr. Jem Tosh and Dr. Lucy Thompson. 

Trauma and Chronic Illness

by Dr. A. Edwards


*Content warning: discussion of medical gaslighting, violence, neglect, and s*xual abuse.


I had an unusual experience this week. After many years (decades, actually) of not being believed by doctors and having my pain dismissed as either unimportant or not 'real', someone finally believed me. What was more amazing, is that I didn't even need to convince them. I had a medical professional complete an assessment and examination, and in doing so, they saw via test results and X-rays the result of violence and neglect that I experienced in childhood and adolescence (and some violence from adulthood too). It was this beautiful moment where we both looked at the documentation, that showed the extent of the injuries, as well as how the lack of treatment had led to a wide range of chronic health issues and unrelenting pain. For the first time in my life, I felt seen.


What I also liked about this experience, was that it showed the messy interconnectedness between violence, abuse, trauma, and chronic illness. Despite a wealth of research and lived experiences showing the connections between sexual abuse (particularly childhood sexual abuse) and chronic pain and illness (Daphna-Tekoah, 2019), survivors' physical manifestations that continue years after an assault is often overlooked.


My X-rays, charts, and images explained what was thought to be inexplicable, and documented what had previously been discarded as unbelievable. It was a profoundly healing moment for me. To be believed without any doubt because they had come to the conclusion through their own investigation and analysis. They didn't need to take me at my word, and it wasn't my word against someone else's, because my body did the talking.


It was this beautiful moment where we both looked at the documentation, that showed the extent of the injuries, as well as how the lack of treatment had led to a wide range of chronic health issues and unrelenting pain. For the first time in my life, I felt seen.

It was also healing because I wasn't pathologised either. There was an anger in the room of the injustice of a child being hurt and uncared for. My pain and injuries, and the chronic health issues that they had led to, were not framed as 'illness' or a result of lifestyle choices. I wasn't fat-shamed or told to walk more or try yoga. I was told that my health was in the state it is because I had been hurt and no-one had cared for me. It was because when I had tried to reach out for care as an adult, I hadn't been believed by multiple doctors and healthcare systems. That all my attempts to improve my own health had been sabotaged by underlying and significant injuries that needed to heal - and they couldn't do it on their own.


It was non-pathologising and trauma-centred care.


The other moment that stood out to me was when I was told that I needed ongoing care - not treatment for a condition - but care for my hurt body, and care that was long overdue.


What I also liked about this experience, was that it showed the messy interconnectedness between violence, abuse, trauma and chronic illness.

It's rare that my visits to a health professional are so validating and psychologically therapeutic. It inspired one of the poems in my poetry collection, published by Psygentra, called All The Things I Can't Say: A Collection of Poems About S*xual Abuse. Poetry has been found to help survivors gain additional insight and understanding about their sexually abusive experiences (Daphna-Tekoah, 2019), and writing this collection has been an incredibly healing experience for me as well.


Here's a little preview of that publication, and the full poem about this experience of being believed.

 

believe

by Dr. A. Edwards


Small room

and closed in

but light shining through


I wait

in silence

for the letdown


Of the next

unexplained pain

and unknown cause


As he studies

the images

of my broken body


I wait again

for the diagnosis

that never comes


And instead

he turns to me

with a shaking voice


I’m so sorry

his eyes have tears

that cry to me


That he knows

from the breaks

and the bends of my bones


He knows

what they did

without me saying a word


What a wonderful thing

it is

to be

believed.



"A fearlessly open, cathartic, and validating read."

- Dr. Jem Tosh, Series Editor


"It's visceral, powerful, angry, tender, and beautiful."

- Krista Carson, Centre for Writing and Publishing


"...an introduction to the messy feelings of surviving."

- Dr. A. Edwards is a psychologist and a survivor of sexual abuse. They use art and creativity in healing sexual trauma.



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also known as Dr. Jemma Tosh (deadname)

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