People ask how I tirelessly campaign for Tharnicaa, Kopika and #Justice4Australia. People also thank me for being transparent about my lived experience of Psychosis. I have some beautiful insights I would like to share to explain how and why. #HealingTrauma
Firstly, there is no tireless effort on my part. It is my passion to share the truth for justice. Secondly, I am transparent about my experience of Psychosis because individuals can not only recover; Psychology now has a phenomenon known as Post-Traumatic Growth.
This week Christine Holgate powerfully shared her truth for justice; she was also transparent that she found the past six months deeply traumatising. Tony Wright, from The Sydney Morning Herald reported:
“Ms Holgate’s evidence that she had become suicidal in the days after the Prime Minister called for her to go as Australia Post boss from the floor of Parliament will surely resonate across Australia’s currently fractured political landscape.” Christine Holgate asserted that she was illegally bullied out of her job.
Tony Wright wrote: “Mr Nutt, Ms Holgate said, had told her she had no choice but to stand down because Scott Morrison was demanding it. “I was told, Christine, you need to understand it was the Prime Minister,” she recalled Mr Nutt telling her.
Those who brought her down over the watches who thought she would go easily, would have no doubt about their mistake when she attended a Senate hearing on Tuesday. “This is the day,” she said in the first minutes of her long and damning testimony, “when the chairman of Australia Post and all the other men involved in what happened to me will be held to account.”
My insight was that this week I witnessed my own Post-Traumatic Growth. It hit me just how terrifying Christine Holgate’s experience might have been; to climb a hierarchical power structure, become the CEO of Australia Post, only to fall down, publicly humiliated worldwide by the Prime Minister of Australia.
My fall was nowhere near that grand scale. However, everything is relative and all stories share the same trauma: the negative operation of power. I climbed a much smaller staircase: I taught Psychology at James Cook University, in Tropical North Queensland Cairns. My staircase came crashing down: Psychosis, suicidal ideation, hospitalisation and three years to recover.
I eventually went back, finished my PhD and also taught at the university again. I avoided politics and the news for years; too much, too soon, made me unwell. Instead I immersed myself into Martial Arts, Yoga and nature. My life became simple and I found wellbeing again.
I went onto work at Corrective Services. A young colleague there noticed I gave much more time than most to “offenders” (humans). I told him read the books: “Chasing the Scream” (on the war on drugs causing more harm than drugs) and “The Body Keeps the Score” (on trauma).
This young man read both books and then convinced me to become a Psychologist. I never wanted to be a Psychologist because I was terrified of Professionals. I even told my own Psychologist we have focused too heavily on our intellect and not enough on compassion.
My Psychologist said: “that is exactly why you must become a Psychologist!” So I began my two year internship. It was the most rewarding two years of my life; I used evidence based tools and shared my own lived experience to help many people recover.
I helped children and adults establish stability, clarity, the ability to regulate their emotions and find a sense of connection and belonging to life. I knew exactly what it felt like to breakdown, be hospitalised, lose touch with reality, be suicidal, anxious, depressed and have panic attacks.
I knew exactly what it felt like to feel disconnected, lose trust, climb your staircase and crash down; to have and then to lose absolutely everything. I also knew the way out of insanity; to come out the other side.
I noticed I used a different approach to the Psychologists I worked with. I had taught Psychology at University; Psychopathology, but more importantly, the history of Psychology and Sensation and Perception (i.e. truth and clarity). My approach was more focused on sharing the truth for justice, even to children as young as ten, than on diagnosis.
I believed both of my recoveries from Psychosis succeeded because my first Psychiatrist refused to diagnose me. She said “You have studied Psychology. You’ve probably already diagnosed yourself enough! Let’s just call this whole experience an existential crisis.”
Looking back it is exactly what is was. My second Psychosis was almost identical. Towards the end of my internship, I got “vicarious trauma” from listening to trauma stories for two years straight. The dark cloud of the system’s negative operations of power had returned.
It started with panic attacks after work. I checked in with my Supervisor who said she did not notice anything unusual about me. She advised I was doing a wonderful job as always. I then felt even more paranoid. I was losing touch with reality; once again unrecognised.
Eventually it kicked in full flight. I was with a client at the time. I could hear them talking but I no longer comprehended anything they said. I stopped work immediately and flew to be with my partner in the Philippines. There we realised it was much more than burn out.
Every trauma story felt like it had happened to me; a million traumas exploding at once. I could not stop crying. My head was burning again and felt like it was on fire; the worst symptom of my first Psychosis. My partner was amazing but no one individual could fix this.
I went back to hospital. The Psychiatrist who assessed me was extremely dry. He wrote down Schizophrenia on my medication chart and a prognosis of months to years to recover on my income protection claim. I was completely shattered.
I told him I recovered from Psychosis, completed my PhD, even won international Martial Arts championships. He said I would go either way and had to wait and see. My symptoms in hospital were fascinating: I felt like every person I came in contact with. I met a guy with Schizophrenia. I felt I had what he had.
I saw absolute terror in a man’s eyes who had PTSD. I walked away crying convinced I had that. I listened to a lady’s story with Major Depression. I also felt I had that. I laughed so much with a lady who had Borderline Personality Disorder. I even felt that I had that.
I saw a broken shell of a women straight from Navy. I felt we had both just seen the same world. I met people absolutely crippled with anxiety. I felt the same fear. However, I also talked with the nurses and doctors. I felt I had their normality even if it was momentary.
I felt this added layer of madness: a Psychologist, a Doctor in Psychology, in a Psychiatric Hospital, in a Psychosis; yet I also felt completely at home and alive. All I knew was Psychology. One nurse pulled me aside and gave me a hard heart to heart talk:
“Look I know this is going to be even more difficult for you because you know exactly what’s going on. You know you are fragmented. You are going to have to fight with everything you have got to come back alright!?” He was unreal. Another extraordinary person was their GP.
One day I returned to my room and found an article she had left titled: Schizophrenia and Successful. A story of a man given the grave diagnosis of Schizophrenia 30 years prior: told he would never live independently, hold a job, find a loving partner and get married.
Then he made a decision to write a narrative of his life. Today he is a chaired Professor at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law; has worked with the Department of Psychiatry at the Medical School of the University of California, San Diego. The McArthur Foundation awarded him a Genius Grant.
It is these little acts of kindness from mental health practitioners that transform insanity into recovery. If only my Psychiatrist had done that. Luckily I got a new Psychiatrist who was trained by my first Psychiatrist; so I told her that she never gave me a formal diagnosis. My new Psychiatrist took this on board.
Because I got help immediately I recovered within eight months. I also used my education to convince my Psychiatrist to retract my diagnosis of Schizophrenia, which she did. How many millions of individuals are not afforded the privilege of education to do that?
All I’ve ever known is Psychology; since my first day at university when I was 17; now 37. It’s hard for me to imagine what my perception of reality would be if I took a different path. Looking back I easily see how each Psychosis emerged. Both times I was being indoctrinated into a system that my spirit could not accept.
I struggled to join a system that contributed to the negative operation of power. You are meant to feel proud graduating as a Doctor. I was not proud. I knew my privilege took me there. I worked with an Aboriginal man diagnosed with Schizophrenia as a support worker for five years; the only person I wanted to bring to my graduation.
I was advised that I could not because it would be crossing a boundary. So I did not share my success with the person I dedicated it to. I was not proud to be become a Doctor of Philosophy which translates to “love of wisdom”. I felt deep shame inside; this emerged again as I approached becoming a Psychologist:
the gap between those in power and those who experience the negative operation of power haunted me. I had climbed the staircase once again only to come crashing down. In another thread (Enlightenment: Is reality an illusion and are we all hallucinating? What does it mean to “break the glass wall”?)
I discuss that if you dedicate your life truly to any practice (i.e. an education, yoga, martial arts, anything really), one day, to your complete surprise, your staircase will disappear. The hierarchical power structure will drop and you will see life just the way it is: whole.
This is what it means to break the glass wall: no more “me” versus “you”; only “us”. I am transparent about my Psychosis because it was necessary, for me, to break my glass wall. My efforts are no longer tireless because I no longer climb that hierarchical power structure. I found love the only place it exists; on the ground.
Now back to Post-Traumatic Growth: I can only imagine what Christine Holgate is going through right now. Falling down an enormous staircase you have spent years climbing can be extremely traumatic; public humiliation only adds an additional layer of shame.
I truly hope she is okay. I wish for her to re-establish wellbeing: stability, clarity, the ability to regulate emotion and a sense of connection and belonging. My beautiful insight is well of course she can.
I feel an enormous sense of relief I have already done this twice. I was curious has she been through anything like this before or was this the first time. I feel thankful knowing it is absolutely a possibility to lose everything and come out the other side.
I feel grateful that I am not concerned about my reputation because I already lost it twice! I feel glad I persisted despite being told my time is up; to write this thread feeling stronger than ever. That is the gift of trauma; Psychology has coined Post-Traumatic Growth.
Our capacity to destroy one another equally matches our capacity to heal each other. It is hard work, it requires an enormous amount of support and it takes time. My first Psychosis was ten years ago; only now I understand it and am comfortable enough to share it.
Psychosis means to lose touch with reality; to experience hallucinations, delusions and disorganised thinking. Schizophrenia is experiencing multiple episodes of Psychosis throughout one’s life. Psychosis is a dirty word throughout society; people assume one must be crazy!
However, Psychosis is no longer such a mysterious phenomenon. There are many reasons someone might lose touch with reality. For example, too much stress in any form can lead to Psychosis: food deprivation, sleep deprivation, isolation, trauma, drugs and so on.
What I am absolutely sure about is that individuals can and do recover. I have seen it often enough in my work and I have done it twice. Medical Director and Professor Dr Lloyd Sederer describes mental illness recovery beautifully:
“Recovery is not a straight line. People improve and then there are setbacks and those setbacks test the moral and determination of everybody involved. Everybody means the patient, the family and even the clinicians. Which is why another way of saying this is never give up; never ever give up.
Even experienced clinicians are not good at predicting when someone is going to turn the corner. We know it happens we see it all the time. We just don’t know when. So never giving up is a way to stay the course because people do recover and find lives gratifying to them but it means staying the course and never giving up.
You are on more of a marathon than a sprint. Recovery is possible. People do get better but it takes good treatment, hard work, support, support, support, it requires the tincture of time and it means keeping hope alive.”
Suicide is now the leading cause of death for young Australians. While each injustice differs, all stories share the same trauma: the negative operation of power. I am transparent to break this cycle; if we all learn to check our privilege we can bring this number down.
“The language of psychosis is an intelligible one, though steeped in metaphor. It is a human language, but a language of despair. And it is only spoken when all other attempts of communication have failed.” Dr Dan Edmunds.
Thank you to my partner Marcelo Alegre Rubic, my mother Gelma Meoli, family, friends and strangers, PhD supervisors and Psychologist supervisors, and medical team for your 100% dedication to my recovery.
My lived experience of Psychosis was published in Mad In America: Science, Psychiatry and Social Justice (2021) and can be accessed here: https://www.madinamerica.com/2021/12/the-year-of-potentiality/
Now you know the power of Trauma Informed Care. Let’s turn this framework into a mindset for personal, social and political change. If you are unable to, you might need help first, to get safe or become ‘unstuck’ from trauma. Reach out for trauma informed care. #YouBelong
Dr Louise Hansen
PhD in Psychology
Human Rights Activist
#HealingTrauma #Justice4Australia #YouBelong
Trauma Informed World was inspired by Kopika and Tharnicaa; two faces that remind us everyday of Australia’s cruel refugee system. One of many systems in Australia that remind us of the negative operation of power. #HomeToBilo
You can listen my talk with Dr Cathy Kezelman AM, the President of Blue Knot Foundation on my own healing journey, training and study and how it has informed my work and advocacy for a trauma informed world here:
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