I attended a wonderful singing workshop on the weekend with fellow choristers. It was all about breathing, and supporting the sound so that the throat doesn’t become tense, so that the voice doesn’t suffer.
Part of my experience of post-traumatic stress disorder is that my throat locks up. It’s awful. It hurts – it feels like the bruising in the aftermath of being choked – and it affects my pitch when I sing, and it reminds me of how much I’ve been through and lost. It’s like looking at a scar and remembering the blow that caused it – except that it also affects my capacity to sing, to do the thing which literally kept me alive.
So I asked the workshop teacher about it. And she was a good enough teacher that she didn’t just give me a nice neat little list of vocal exercises I could do – she asked questions to work out the source of the problem. Was it to do with certain notes in my range? Volume? How I stand? So I had to tell her that it’s the result of PTSD. The words came out of my mouth, to a total stranger, in front of other choristers who were waiting to ask their questions: “I have a diagnosis of PTSD and this is part of it…” I felt my face flare with the heat of shame and I couldn’t meet her eyes because I didn’t want to see judgement there – or worse: kindness, or compassion.
I did get my list of vocal exercises. I got a really nice email wishing me well in overcoming PTSD. And I also got a sick feeling of shame, that a lovely, kind stranger who I will almost certainly not meet again now knows this about me.
But then I thought: no. Just no. I disclosed an illness, no different to any other. I didn’t disclose a heinous criminal history, or a secret love of torturing small furry animals, or a frustrated desire to commit genocide. I disclosed something that was caused by something that was done to me. Something that isn’t my fault. Something that I’m a bit sick of feeling ashamed about. It seems that the history of secrecy still runs deep.
And I want to shout it from the rooftops. Splash it across my Facebook status. I HAVE POST-TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER AND I’M NOT ASHAMED OF IT. I AM A SURVIVOR OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND I’M NOT ASHAMED OF IT. I AM A RAPE SURVIVOR AND I’M NOT ASHAMED OF IT. There is no disgrace here. I’m not ashamed. On the contrary, I’m going to be proud.
I have wonderful friends, and the blessing of living in a first-world country where resources are available to me. But I’ve taken up those resources, I’ve celebrated the support and love of my friends, and I’m getting through this. I’m re-building my life, every step of it. I’ve taken responsibility for what I can, learned to let go of what I can’t; I’m becoming the best person I can be. I will always carry my history, and my diagnosis may be with me for a very long time. But I will not let it dictate who I am. I will not let it cripple me. This is me, and I don’t care who knows it.