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.
by Dr. A. Edwards
and closed in
but light shining through
for the letdown
Of the next
and unknown cause
As he studies
of my broken body
I wait again
for the diagnosis
that never comes
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
what they did
without me saying a word
What a wonderful thing
"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.