By Jude Major
I am hungry for life. Just because I am a “senior” does not mean that I am done. Just because I am a survivor of trauma does not mean that I am incapable. It is time to own some hard truths.
It is a great relief to see that we have become so much more open and accepting, as a culture and as a society, to hurt people. It is, however, still painfully hard to own mental/emotional illness or injury, so I will put that out in plain view. What do I have to lose? I will lose secrecy, I will lose isolation, I will lose fear—especially fear of rejection, fear of myself, fear of falling. It is harder to fear falling into the black hole of anguish if we all speak freely about it.
Many of my friends and colleagues are surprised to hear that I have a diagnosis of PTSD, with an accompanying dissociative disorder. They say they see me as confident and outgoing. But I am hungry for life, so I work at it. I refuse to be defined by a diagnosis. I am not anymore a victim of violence. I am a survivor.
Some background: a childhood of extreme violence, both physical and psychological. And mostly not from males, from my mother. Yes, women can inflict sexual violence, other physical violence, and mental degradation. By the time I was a young adult in my earlier twenties, I still didn’t know that I had a right to my own body, the right to say No. Not only had I lived through my mother’s violence, but then I lived through being raped. Twice. And then through abortion.
I’d had a scholarship to art school, a scholarship to dance school, and a scholarship to design and technical school. But by my mid-twenties, I had to give it all up. There would be no art career, no dance or performance career, no costume design career. Life as I knew it came completely apart. My task was to learn how to become a whole human. For decades that was what I did. Different types of psychotherapy. A stint on a psychiatric ward.
I am hungry for life. Unable to travel anywhere for years, due to the PTSD and especially the dissociative symptoms, I last year finally had the opportunity to travel to the UK. I had always wanted to see where I came from.
I cannot fly. I still cannot drive long distances. But I was going to do this, whatever it took. I took a train, another train, and a ship, to England. I road my bicycle and camped through Wales, England, Scotland, and the Outer Hebrides. I did not lose myself. I did not go “mad.” I did not become dissociated, ever.
Back home, I started over. I’ve revived my art and performance career. I’ve revived my costuming and writing careers. I have a show coming up. I have work still to do.
This winter I will embark on another trip. I will never be able to fly anywhere. I will take more trains and another ship, this time through the Panama Canal to San Francisco. Then another train to Vancouver. I will teach Book Arts classes in Vancouver. I will perform my latest piece of art in Vancouver and Calgary. And I’ll take yet another train home. I will not lose myself again.
I will be writing in the months to come about these physical and emotional journeys. I hope these stories will help someone. Maybe you.
Jude Major is a co-founder of the Musquodoboit Harbour Community Garden.