I’m sitting by my window in my new home, observing the colors of nature outside. Large green spaces covered by blue sky, intercepted with the sweet sounds of hummingbirds flying high above with ultimate freedom. However, as I bring my gaze inside, the beautiful scene is disturbed by a pile of white and green packages on my desk. There are dozens of them before me, placed in a carefully organized order which does not reflect my random (or sometimes messy) personality. The word “Antidepressant” is written on each of them.
Here I am in the city of Brighton, in southern UK, embarking on a new journey of MA studies in gender, which has been my scope of work for the past ten years. This is a new place, completely different from my home, far away from the pain, or at least it is what I hope.
For years now, these antidepressant capsules have been my companion. But still, as I look at them I think - how did I get here? How could my life be reduced into such a huge pile of small paper packs?
As I look at them I remember my first visit to a psychiatrist, after long-standing pressure by my friends. I sat before him and listened to the words coming out of his mouth. They felt like arrows piercing my heart. “I can see symptoms of major depressive disorder accompanied with unhealed trauma,” he said.
Trauma you said? The word sounded familiar. My background was as a pharmacist. But now I had become the patient.
I knew he was right. Rather, I was expecting him to say what he said. And I knew the main reason as well - I am a woman. Maybe that’s not the only reason, but I know for sure that being a woman started it all. Being a woman, especially in my society, always comes with a package of traumas that we experience throughout our lives. Since the day we are born, until the day we die, we are considered inferior.
The society, backed with its rigid patriarchal structures, sees that a woman should be tightly controlled to avoid her seduction. Because that is considered the reason for every corruption on earth since Adam was tempted by that apple. That’s why society aims to keep a woman down by all means, not just by hiding and isolating her, under clothes or behind walls or both, but also by practicing various forms of violence until she is completely broken, or at the very least traumatized.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), people who have experienced or witnessed physical or sexual assault or other abuse can develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), at any age. Women are twice as likely to develop PTSD than men (8% of women and 4% will have PTSD at some point in their life according to the National Center for PTSD) in part due to the types of traumatic experiences that women are more likely to go through, such as sexual harassment and assault.
“Can I be healed?” I asked my doctor.
“Definitely yes”, he rapidly replied.
I suppose that is the bright side. We can be healed. I know this sounds unbelievable to many, especially if you have recently been subjected to any kind of gender-based violence, but from my own experience I can say – it is absolutely possible.
But I also know it is not fair. Healing is our own responsibility. After being subjected to abuse, discrimination, and violence which is not our fault, it is on us to recognize that we need help, and seek out healing to move on.
Still, it is possible, and it is important.
Healing starts with recognizing that, first and foremost, the harm inflicted on us was never our fault. Second, one of the most important factors that helped me start my therapy journey was realizing that I am not alone and don’t have to face it alone. I know those days when I could not get out of bed and felt that my life is all over the place and it can never be fixed. Actually I still have many of these days and I totally respect them. But being surrounded with supportive people is extremely significant during those moments.
We talk a lot about solidarity in women’s movements. It is not only a buzzword. It is a lifeline. Solidarity is a fundamental feminist principle. As women can always be there for each other.
Regardless of where you are in the world, or what your experience of trauma is - you are not alone. You are not crazy, or hormonal, or emotional, or any other thing society tries to call us. You are who you are, you bear the burdens of harmful societal expectations, and you are doing the best that you can.
Written By Esra Saleh
Esra Saleh is a dedicated researcher and feminist journalist with expertise in gender-sensitive reporting, as well as a trainer in this field. She was part of our sister to sister mentorship program in the year 2021.