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The first time I tried to take my own life, I was thirteen years old, and I was left with both physical and mental scars. Years later, living in a body that has survived many suicide attempts, my heart battles between giving up and coping with the pain of a complex history.
Processing trauma becomes even more complex when battling comorbid diagnoses. My borderline personality disorder (triggered and worsened by abuse), coupled with my bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder often made it feel as though healing was nearly impossible. My symptoms would improve — only to return again, and I would crumble.
As I navigate my own recovery, I have given intense thought to how trauma manifests in the body and how survivors of abuse and suicide can heal.
Facing Abuse, Trauma and Stigma
When I was 16 years old, my abuser attacked me, stabbing me in my right thigh and causing me to lose hearing in one ear. After years of violence, I decided to speak up — and I experienced the stigma and disbelief that abuse survivors encounter, firsthand. When I sent to the police for help, they refused to file a report.
A year later, my abuser attacked me and fractured my spine. As a dancer, I was robbed of my identity, my personhood, as well as my mobility as I lay bedridden for six months. I, once again, experienced invalidation and attempts to discredit my experience. I wrote extensively about what happened and made a social media post calling out my attacker, but I received harassment and ridicule for not “leaving sooner.” My abuser, who went on to harass more than 10 women after me, has never been held accountable.
Surviving Suicide Attempts
I felt lost, alone, overwhelmed and unloved. Literature on healing always emphasizes self-care and self-love. But how could I love myself when I didn’t have a sense of self? How could I love myself while the constant swing between depression and mania made my spirit soar and crumble? Who was I beyond being a survivor?
One night, I lost control, trying desperately to fill the emptiness inside me. I attempted suicide; I simply couldn’t understand why, if God even existed, I was put here. The constant depression-manic cycle exhausted me. Some days, it would hurt to breathe, and other days, I could be the life of a party.
The path toward healing seemed so cloudy; I just couldn’t see it. I feebly told my roommate that I needed to go to an emergency room. When I was finally admitted to a local hospital, after four hospitals in my city turned me away for being a suicide case, doctors admitted they barely found my pulse and that I was lucky to be alive.
That’s when I decided I wanted more than survival; I wanted to thrive. The process of recovery, however, was excruciating, and I promised myself it would be the last time I would hurt my body. I wanted to offer my broken body the love it deserved but never received. I followed my roommate home, attempting to pick up the pieces of myself.
The post-incident recovery was also very challenging, emotionally and physically. I was bleeding internally; I got pangs and shivers; I would laugh and then weep as my body slowly washed away the toxins.
Coping Through Creative Expression and Solidarity
For me, poetry has been a respite, a refuge — a way to reinvent the bad cards of life that I was handed. In reading Claudia Rankine, Meena Kandasamy, Sylvia Plath, Ocean Vuong and countless other writers, I realized that my pain found a home in theirs. I even noticed that some of the most powerful pieces of art — a song, a poem, a book — are the pieces that hurt to consume. And we may even find ourselves wounded after absorbing their pain and complexity. But I found solace and beauty in their art.
As I am processing my own trauma, I have also been inspired by the women coming forward during the #metoo movement. Calling out abusers has proven to be a powerful form of catharsis (although there is rarely any closure or restoration of justice for survivors). I can bear witness to their experience, even when society invalidates them.
I even decided to pursue a career as a therapist, alongside journalism, so I can study trauma and mental health conditions — and sit with others who feel empty and overlooked.
Finding Ways to Heal
When I look back at the photographs of myself from the time of my abuse — swollen cheek, bruised eye, cut marks around my body — I don’t recognize the girl I was. I’ve come to understand that our bodies react to violence in many ways. My body likes to “forget” my trauma, although this coping mechanism only lasts when I’m awake; my subconscious brews up nightmares about my experience as I sleep, a common manifestation of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
I always refer to my body as though it is a separate entity from me. It helps me separate my trauma from my personhood. The dissociation helps me come to terms with my trauma at my own pace. My mind and my subconscious will reveal my experience at intervals I can process. I am now working to integrate several of these broken pieces to become a whole I can come to love.
My therapist once pointed out to me that coping mechanisms like these can be seen as unhealthy — but they are also the tools that have allowed me to survive a traumatic history and become a functional adult.
Writing, reading, singing, dancing — getting in touch with my body again, step by step — has been the most powerful tool that helped me move forward. I apologized to my body again and again for hurting it so much. And I thanked it for still holding on.
As I continue to heal, I know that one day, my story will be more than being a survivor. One day, I will feel safety and peace. And I will hold my head high and fight against the stigma spewed at people like me.
Meghna Prakash is a published poet, journalist and therapist in training from Bengaluru, India. She is the founder of Poetry Dialogue, and the author of Trigger Warning.