Breaking Free - March 2022

From the editor

Welcome to the March edition of Breaking Free. In this edition we feature part 2 of our story on dissociation.  DID Awareness Day which took place on 3 March was the catalyst for Blue Knot to share additional insights into dissociation. In this article we explore DID and other Dissociative Disorders, their relationship to complex trauma, usually from childhood, as well as the myths, stigma and common misconceptions that are often perpetuated on TV and in film.  How do you recognise dissociation, and what does it mean to have a Dissociative Disorder? By sharing this important information and helping to separate fact from fiction, we hope to raise awareness and understanding empowering more survivors seeking help and support.

A big thank you to Sarah Holland for sharing her poem ‘Unseen’  with our community – we so appreciate it. We also include a call out to people living with disability to share their experiences of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation. The Disability Royal Commission (DRC) is accepting registrations for private sessions till the end of June 2022 and submissions close 31st December 2022.

We also feature a ground-breaking documentary around complex traumatic disruption – When the Camera Stopped Rolling being released to cinemas nationally this April, a podcast which explores an insightful book, The Deepest Well, a by Nadine Burke Harris, around childhood trauma and adversity, and a call out from UNSW for participants in research around emotional regulation.

March marked International Women’s Day on 8 March.  Dr Cathy Kezelman AM, Blue Knot President was recognised in the book Hope, strength and determination: Celebrating 50 years of women activists and reformers in mental health in NSW, 1970 – 2020 which was launched in an online event on the day. The book recognises some of the outstanding women who have led reform of mental health policy and services in NSW over 50 years.

Until next time, take care,
Blue Knot team

Understanding Dissociation - Dissociative Disorders - Part 2

Person looking out on the beach

In last month’s Breaking Free  we included an article around dissociation. We described the continuum of dissociation from everyday experiences such as daydreaming or highway hypnosis to those which can be trauma-related and also associated with a range of different diagnoses. This article is part 2 of a series around dissociation.

The reality is that dissociation is common during a traumatic incident. A person can dissociate in the hours, days or weeks which follow a trauma. What this means is that the person experiencing the trauma may feel detached from what is happening or may feel as though they are an observer to the incident or are themselves ‘not real’ in some way.

Some people e.g. a person who was repeatedly sexually, physically or emotionally abused or neglected as a child may dissociate frequently during childhood. Unpredictable, violent, or dangerous living environments can also mean that a child dissociates more frequently.

Dissociation is a natural response to overwhelming experiences and sensations. Quite simply it is a way to not be consciously present during repeated trauma especially during which there is no opportunity to escape physically.  Trauma-related dissociation causes ‘disconnects’ between thoughts, feelings, sensations, and behaviour. These disconnects occur outside of conscious awareness. It can mean that a traumatised person can’t function in a smooth integrated (working together) way, and this cause a range of challenges for them.

When dissociation becomes habitual a person can develop what is called a Dissociative Disorder. Many people who have been diagnosed with a Dissociative Disorder have experienced extreme trauma, usually from childhood. There are many myths about Dissociative Disorders and a lot of stigma still exists around them. Some people still question whether dissociation exists at all, and this questioning is most marked around a condition known as Dissociative Identity Disorder or DID.

DID, previously called Multiple Personality Disorder has been repeatedly portrayed in the media in a sensationalised way. However, the reality is that DID makes perfect sense when you understand it as a mechanism of the mind. It is a remarkable way in which the mind protects itself from being completely overwhelmed.

When a child is safe and does not experience repeated trauma, the child develops a coherent sense of self. When a child is repeatedly traumatised their sense of self does not become coherent (work together) and they may develop different self-parts which are quite separate from and often unaware of one another. These self-parts may appear as separate identities and are sometimes called alters. Self-states can hold different experiences, feelings, memories, backgrounds, and genders and interact with the world and others in different ways. Regardless they are all simply part of the one person. Compartmentalising overwhelming feelings, memories and thoughts into separate self-states means that the person can continue to function.

People experiencing DID may lose time, not remember certain aspects of their lives or have gaps in their memory. They may feel detached or shut down and withdrawn, and some people are also anxious or depressed, or have suicidal thoughts, self-harm or experience issues with body image. There are many Dissociative Disorders which have some or all of these challenges. Living with any Dissociative Disorder and particularly with DID can be confusing for the person as well as those around them, especially if the person ‘switches’ into another self-state and behaves in a way which appears unfamiliar (because another self-state has appeared).

The good news is that people with DID can find ways to live in a more integrated or cohesive way in which the self-states can join or work together. Psychotherapy with an experienced therapist in which a strong therapeutic relationship is developed supported by other approaches (e.g. dissociative-informed EMDR, hypnosis, group therapy) which supports safety and stability in the first instance before attempting to process the traumatic memories can over time reduce the need to dissociate.

Through this process a person can begin to tolerate thoughts, memories and emotions which were too painful for the child, and which caused the person to compartmentalize them. This means that the person can develop a narrative for their lives, and a more coherent sense of self in which their life experiences are more connected to their sense of self. The process can take time and requires patience and consistency but many people with Dissociative Disorders including DID lead full meaningful connected lives.

If you need counselling you can call the Blue Knot Helpline and Redress Support Service on 1300 657 380. This service operates from 9am-5pm AEST Monday-Sunday and public holidays. You can also email [email protected].

Unseen – A poem from our survivor community

*Trigger warning

If this feeling had a sound, its pitch would deafen, sharp and shrill
If this pain had a scent, it would sicken, pungent and putrid
If this emotion had a taste, it would be that of blood and bile
But instead it’s imperceptible to anyone but me
Alone, I drown in the depths of silence
Unseen, I scream into the darkness
Unheard, I rage mindlessly, pointlessly
Not understood but underground
Buried alive with a smile on her face.

– Sarah Holland (27.10.2021)

Change Starts with Your Story

Now is the time to share your story with the Disability Royal Commission (DRC).

The DRC want people with disability, their families, support networks and the community, to share their experiences of violence, abuse, neglect and exploitation.

Telling the DRC about your experiences will help create change in the future. What you share in confidence will be protected and remain confidential.

Register for a private session before 30 June 2022.

Submissions close on 31 December 2022.

There are several ways you can make a submission:

Email: [email protected]

Telephone: 1800 517 199 (9:00am to 5:00pm AEST, Monday to Friday excluding public holidays)

Make a written, audio or video submission on the website:

If you would like to share your story in your own language, including First Nations language, we will organise interpreters and translators.

If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can use the National Relay Service, or text 0459 906 629 to arrange an Auslan interpreter.

Counselling and support are available to help you. You can call the National Council and Referral Service – Disability on 1800 421 468.

When the Camera Stopped Rolling

when the camera stopped rolling

This powerful feature documentary portrays the triumph of love and creativity over the pain of complex traumatic disruption.

When the Camera Stopped Rolling documents the trailblazing mother-daughter filmmaking team of Lilias Fraser and Jane Castle and the intergenerational trauma that was its shadow.

Narrated by Jane with unflinching honesty and set against stunning visuals, the film is testament to the potential for post-traumatic growth and reconnection. Balancing meticulous archival research with gripping narrative, the filmmaker interweaves both characters’ struggles and triumphs with clarity and compassion. 

Intimate yet universally relatable, When the Camera Stopped Rolling invites audiences to witness and share in this courageous journey of healing, demonstrating the power of expression to help us make sense of experiences that are too often shrouded in silence and shame.

For screening details and to purchase tickets go here.

PODCAST - Book Club: Navigating Childhood Trauma with ‘The Deepest Well’

Why is it important to understand more about the possible effects of childhood adversity? Host Dr Johanna Lynch; a GP, enlists her trusted friend and colleague, Dr Cathy Kezelman AM, President, Blue Knot Foundation to unpack the popular book – ‘The Deepest Well: Healing the Long Term Effects of Childhood Adversity’ (2019) – by renowned pediatrician, Nadine Burke Harris.

Hear from Johanna and Cathy as they dive into ‘The Deepest Well’ revealing crucial insights into the ‘unseen epidemic’ of childhood adversity. Listeners will gain an understanding of the urgency and scale of this issue for clinicians; the role of awareness in medical funding and policy; and most importantly, the wealth of evidence backing Burke Harris’ key message that, in both the immediate aftermath and cumulatively following experiences of childhood adversity, the question is not ‘whether’ but rather ‘to what degree’ trauma takes its toll on us, our bodies, our health, and our lives.

Listen to the podcast below.

Listen to the podcast here

UNSW Research Call for Participants

UNSW Research Flyer

Researchers at UNSW are looking for participants to take part in a study, to help understand how emotional bonds with your partner and emotion regulation influence behaviour in a romantic relationship.

The study is looking for volunteers that meet the following criteria:

  • In a current romantic relationship that has lasted for at least 3 months
  • Over 18 years old and is living in Australia
  • Proficient in English

More information including how to take part can be found in the attached flyer.

Download UNSW Research Call Attached Flyer

International Women’s Day – The Mental Health Reformers

Women who have led the way in mental health reform across NSW over the past 50 years are being recognised in a new book which was released to mark International Women’s Day.

Hope, strength and determination: Celebrating 50 years of women activists and reformers in mental health in NSW, 1970 – 2020 was released at an online event on 8 March 2022.

“This year’s International Women’s Day theme is ‘break the bias’ and it’s a fitting one for the launch of this new book,” said Catherine Lourey, Mental Health Commissioner of NSW.

“It’s full of individuals who broke down dual biases. They faced the bias and discrimination of being a woman, but also of working to reform and change the stigma and discrimination which plague mental health.”

The story of mental health reform is one of many dedicated women leading and challenging traditional thinking and systems of care in their own way. It is inspiring to see the range of incredible initiatives, opportunities and challenges these women took up, Commissioner Lourey said.

Some of these women are well known and recognised by those with whom they worked, and others such as former ABC broadcasters Anne Deveson AO and Caroline Jones AO, are well known across the community.  Dr Cathy Kezelman AO, CEO of Blue Knot Foundation is also featured.

The reformers featured in the book come from all walks of life, with unique experiences that fuelled their mental health advocacy and reform efforts.

Download the book here.

Download The Mental Health Reformers here

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