July 18, 2012

On Victimhood

On Sunday I went to a funeral. The deceased was the elderly mother of a very close friend, a lovely woman whom I'd known most of my life. She was very ill, and her death was not at all shocking; although sad, it also came as a bit of a relief.

Somehow, though, it triggered something in me, and I've been an absolute mess since that day.

My friend's mother was buried in the same cemetary as my sister, and as I stood watching her be lowered into the ground, I had vivid flashbacks to my sister's funeral four and a half years ago. And standing there, at the burial of a very elderly person, I began sobbing uncontrollably, so much so that, absolutely mortified, I had to walk away.

It's funny what sends you back in your healing process - if indeed there is such thing as a healing process. Generally I don't think of myself as a victim of a trauma, but since Sunday, I have felt like a victim of my sister's tragic death. I have also felt like a victim of my anxiety disorder, because I've been triggered right back into a state of constant, low-level panic.

What's more, a couple of medical conditions I have are giving me grief, and so I feel like a victim of them, too.

I got on Twitter this morning and picked a fight with the delightful Helen Razer, who had taken offence to a journo's tweet referring to a 'victim' of Thalidomide.

It's only a tweet, I wrote to Helen, thinking, what's the big deal? And if I was limbless from in utero Thalidomide poisoning, I'd feel like a victim too.

Defining oneself in relation to ability and/or victimhood for one's entire life is, at best, pointless, Helen responded, and after about half a second of outrage, I knew she was absolutely right.

Defining oneself as a victim is, at best, pointless, and is, at worst, completely destructive. The thing is, it takes huge strength not to do so - whether you're a 'victim' of trauma, illness, assault, or grief. It is far easier to blame circumstances and label yourself as a victim than to take responsibility for your own happiness and identify yourself as a survivor.

Usually I find that strength in myself, however, the last couple of days, I have lost it entirely. My survivor mode has gone out the window and I've totally felt like a victim again. I've wanted to lie in bed all day, pulling the doona over my head, taking naps, and just hiding from the big, scary world. I still want to do that. I wish I was in bed right now.

Still, despite wishing I was in bed, I didn't let it seduce me. Instead, I went to Westfield Bondi Junction, where I did everything I could to make myself feel better. I got a cappucino from my favourite organic cafe. I got my nails done. I window shopped. And I bought some stationery from Typo, which will help me get uncluttered, and clear my mind.

And now I'm home again, for a blog, and a nice cup of tea. And soon it will be tonight, and I will have survived an especially challenging day.

And if I can survive that, then I can survive another day, and after that, another. Until eventually - tomorrow, or next week, or the week after - I won't feel like a victim anymore.


  1. That sounds like a crap few days. The only challenge in the two camps of victim / survivor is that one suggests giving up and the other suggests getting through. Labels, regardless of their connotations, can keep people stuck...so maybe instead of being one or the other we can just work out ways to exist in spite of what happens to us, we are all capable of resilience we just have to learn how to find it, which is exactly what you're doing. X

  2. A very wise woman once told me to take things day by day when I feel like that. She also said that if day by day is too much, to just focus on getting through hour by hour. Much love hon. Trauma triggers jump up on us at the most unexpected times. The mere fact that you ignored your normal trauma response of getting under the doona is a great credit to you and an inspiration to all of us who don't yet have that strength but who hope to be there someday. Xxx

  3. I can't begin to imagine the loss of a sibling. I'm sure you've heard all the platitudes of 'you're so brave...', 'I don't know how you'd carry on...'. In reality, you have no choice - you simply have to keep on going through the motions and hope there's more good days than bad. I don't know if it helps you find solace in sharing your feelings through your writing - but I hope you continue to do so. And if all else fails - there's no chance of a day in bed with 3 kids around!

  4. Kerry, this week my sister lost her premmie baby and we nearly lost her. I'm still trying to process it all. I've never commented on your blog before but your words really helped me tonight and I thought you should know. Thanks x

  5. Oh Kerrie, I know exactly what you mean and how you feel. I've just been through 18months of victim/survivor life. I survived a plane crash where my colleagues were killed. I then had to get the bodies back to Australia and identified for their families to be able to grieve properly. I think about this every day. I lost my dream job, my self esteem. I lost my baby nephew to SIDS. Then my dear friend had stillborn twins. And then the final straw, I lost my best friend Whitey. I've been to 8 funerals in the past twelve months. It sucks. Some days I really just want to curl up and do nothing but cry. Some days I do! I find when I'm feeling really down now, I try to go out for a run (or if I cant be bothered putting my gear on, jump on the cross trainer at home). It helps. Big hugs to you - xxxx

  6. I believe there are two schools of people, those who label themselves as victim, letting it define who they become and blaming their problems on that definition. The survivors, on the other hand, overcome their problems and are who they are in spite of what they've been through, rather than because of it. I hope you are in the second group.

  7. I agree with other comments that there is a difference between 'victim' and 'vulnerability'. Much depression and anxiety seems to be caused by repressing deep and strong emotions (like grief) rather than taking the time to let them in. Going to bed for a day or a few may be the best thing you can do. It's a wonderful post, thanks.

  8. I agree with Helen below- "Crawling into your Kerri-Cave to mourn your beautiful sister is not the act of a victim" Crying is healing and respecting your self and your sister and if you need to go into your cave a little bit that is healing-just make sure you come out!

  9. Kerri never forget, you are always stronger than you think. You couldn't have achieved what you have, otherwise. I'm right, you know.....

  10. Oh I feel your pain of feeling you are being sucked back into the anxiety vortex, the worry of relapsing back to the depths is enough to trigger anxiety.... and so the circle begins.
    These days happen and your not a victim, you a warrior. Your honesty and strength has helped more people than you will ever comprehend and that is not a victims actions.

  11. You know, I like every thing about this post but most particularly the bit about me being right. It's like CRACK to me SACKVILLE. CRACK!

    First, as I told you when we enjoyed one of our very many spirited interactions, you can always feel free to pummel me on Twitter. I am a very arrogant and sturdy bitch and can always take it.

    Second. Crawling into your Kerri-Cave to mourn your beautiful sister is not the act of a victim. It's a strong act of quiet worship for a woman who should still be walking the earth.

    Third. Where are all those mini magnums?

  12. Thanks for your post. When I saw the word 'victimhood' in your title, I
    thought aha, now this is something I know about! Victimhood has led me a merry
    chase (and even in saying that, I'm aware I'm making myself victimhood's
    victim). Several years ago now, I was given the choice of pulling up the doona
    for good - why wouldn't I? - mother died when I was three, sexual abuse
    throughout childhood resulted in failure after failure in relationship - no
    mother and no motherhood, surely the most toxic cocktail a woman could be
    forced to swallow in life. By grace, I chose, just for one day at a time, to
    dare to put one foot after the other, rather than disappear into the mire of
    self-pity. What I see now is that collapsing into victimhood is simply an
    attempt to seek rescue, from whomever and wherever, guaranteed to undermine
    one's integrity as a (let's face it) functional adult. The cavalry, sadly (at
    least in my case), is not coming. But hang on, maybe it is, in the many loving
    connections that only become possible once we bid farewell to the victim. Thank
    you again for raising this subject!

  13. It never ceases to amaze me (still surviving anxiety/panic disorder after 30 odd yrs) how easy things can set it all in motion again. I'm traveling a similar path right now and truly believe the gift of being able to express your feelings in words is a key to surviving. All the best for better tomorrows.

  14. Ah, there's nothing like Westfield Bondi Junction to lift one's mood. (I'm not being sarcastic!) I go there all the time. Sometimes, I work. Sometimes I wander. I don't shop. I hate shopping. But that's beside the point...

    I agree that the sooner you can turn the victim mentality into a survivor mentality, the better. I think you should allow yourself a victim day every now and then, though. One of the nice things about working for yourself is being able to have a little time out when you need it and not have to answer to anyone.

    Glad you're feeling better, Kerri.

  15. I just wrote a nice big comment and it has dissolved into thin air! Just wanted to say 'I hear ya!' I have not been doing well at all lately health wise and emotion wise and think I needed that little lesson re the 'V' word.

    I think your reaction at the funeral was perfectly normal. It must be so hard for you even now this many years later to be without your sister. My dad died over twenty years ago and I still have my moments.

    Thanks for sharing Kerri.

  16. I wrote a big comment and it dissolved into cyber space. Just wanted to say that I think it's OK to have days like this. I think it's all part of healing and unraveling the layers. It lets us know that we still have healing to do - still have things to process. Don't be so hard on yourself - you got out of bed and faced the world and that shows so much courage and strength. You survived today, you can survive another day. xx

  17. I love that sentence where you say you didnt let it seduce you.Such strength in those words.
    At the moment I am watching my 18 year old girl go through a broken heart.It is breaking mine as she cries the tears of the victim she feels she is and I want to make that feeling go away so badly.
    I will use your post to help her gain strength and work through this sad difficult heart wrenching time.
    Thankyou for being so brave as your words again will help many.Bless your sweet heart.xx

  18. Loved this. I'm never wanting to be a victim of my illness, but sometimes I do realise the severity of it, and do what you did to make myself feel bette.
    Hope you feel better soon x

  19. Kerri,
    I have read 2 posts today that touched my heart & made me cry, yours & Eden's.
    I lost my Mum suddenly 4 years ago today & grief is no stranger to me. It can knock you right off your feet & flatten you, coming at you from the strangest of places, you never expect it & boom, you're on your arse.....
    I really want to give you a hug right now, you need it & so do I!
    You write from your heart & that's what makes it so touching, keeping putting it out there because we will heal, one day at a time & I'm standing beside you silently holding you up, please know that.
    Love & hugs....
    Lisa xxxx

  20. Your last paragraph is gorgeous. I hope you print it out and stick it on your computer or dashboard or children's foreheads so you will see it and be reminded to press on next time one of these days hits. As Dory in Finding Nemo said, "Just keep swimming, just keep swimming."*

    *I had to get swimming in there somehow.
    **Love you. xxxx

  21. What a beautifully written and eloquent description of what we ALL feel sometimes. Some days it seems the feeling will never ever leave and other days it feels like that it was all a bad dream and that state of mind/body/spirit will never ever return again. Like everything good and bad, it will pass. It will pass.

  22. Well done you - you (and Helen Razer) are spot on here.

    I think your survivor mode is still in tact - it might be beating against the window to get out but it is still there. Otherwise you would be in bed and not loving your stationery and new nails. Chalk this day up on the 'success' side of the table.


  23. Kerri, THANK YOU for this post!
    Today I'm having a little woe-is-me moment. I'm unemployed, back living with my parents in a city where I know no one, and I'm in the process of stepping down off my SSRIs. I've been clutching a bunch of soggy tissues for a while now but your post snapped me out of victim-mode.

    Yes I am unemployed...but I'm unemployed because I quit my job to go travelling for 3 months before leaving London and moving home to Australia. Yes, I am living with my parents... and thank goodness they are generous enough to have me (and my husband) stay with them indefinitely, rent free. Yes, I'm having to learn to cope on my own without the meds... and thanks to a helpful counsellor I am finding my way.

    So, THANK YOU.

    Tonight, instead of wallowing in pity and watching another tear-jerker episode of Grey's Anatomy, I'm going to paint my toenails, have a cocktail and watch a funny DVD with my incredible husband.

  24. I'm sure lots have people have felt like pulling the doona over their head for the day over a lot lesser things than losing a sister..I know I have.
    That's not being a victim, it's just being human.
    If I had been feeling that fragile, with grief and anxiety, the thought of going out anywhere, especially Westfields, would have been impossible for me..so you are definitely a survivor not a victim. xo

  25. I think everyone's prone to moments of victimhood. (My mum talks about 'pity parties'. She was my dad's carer as he had dementia and she - rarely - would comment about having had a 'pity party' the day before. Mind you she also talks about Pollyanna's 'Glad Game' - so we really must let her out more!!!!). Anyway, I think it's great that you're mostly a survivor. I'm prone to play the victim in a horrible attention-seeking way (ie. no one is as bad off as me - when it's not even vaguely true). I know I do it, but can't help it a lot of the time. I'm a bit teary at the moment as I just an online news story about someone who wrote their own death notice in a newspaper - confessing to things they'd done years before, but basically saying that they had no regrets. My dad died about 8 months ago and we finally dealt with his ashes on the weekend (ie. decided where they'd go). I lost it - big time - at the crematorium... so kinda understand the sadness (and overwhelming-ness) coming and going. Sorry about the long response!!! Glad that some 'time-out' helped you a little! Hang in there. Deb

  26. Honey, it is perfectly reasonable to have those days where you think a lot about your sister's death, and it affects you. I know, because my sister died 41 years ago, and my Mum still has those days where she feels overwhelmed by her daughter's death. Yes - those days have become fewer and far between over the years, but they still do exist.

    But over those 41 years there have been some very, very good and happy days, as there will be for you. And you know that, so that means you're not a victim. You are still living your life and enjoying it, just as your sister would have wanted you to.

    But it is most DEFINITELY okay to have the bad days too. You're human after all.

    Hope you feel better very, very soon. xox

  27. Here's what I know about grief: No two experiences of it are the same.

    It's been two years since my dad died and I have gone through what for many would seem a predictable journey of grief and recovery afterwards, but it's always the unexpected that triggers the tears and NO ONE EVER WARNED ME ABOUT THAT.

    Like the time I was watching the Wimbledon men's finals and told myself that I would just watch the first set before going to bed and distinctly hearing dad's laugh. You see, it was what HE always said whenever he watched the tennis late at night. I heard his laughter and I burst into tears, late at night, in my uggies and dressing gown, by myself, in my lounge room and I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed.

    You can't ever know when those triggers will bite you and that's the maddening thing. Until you realise the lesson isn't about avoiding the triggers, or even the excruiating fear that you are back to grief recovery ground zero.

    The lesson is that you will actually recuperate from this episode faster than last time.

    The pain, though horrific, heals a little faster. The bruising around our heart doesn't feel quite as substantial. It helps us recognise just how far we've come along the track. Even if at the time it hurts more than life itself.

    Hugs and strength to you hun. Hugs and strength. xxx.

  28. Hope you are feeling better Kerri. I can relate to what you said, and thank you, what you have said has just helped me.

  29. Big sloppy heartfelt kisses to you, Kerri!

  30. Excellent coping skills my friend x Sorry to hear about these last few days. I think you deserve KikkiK, not Typo.

  31. Oh darling K-Sack. Yes and no. We all have our experiences, our grief, our trauma ... and none of us share the same thing.

    But my belief is this: that regardless of what they may be, or how big or little they may be perceived by others (or ourselves), my hurts/wounds are no less significant to me than yours are to you.

    My child had scary heart surgery. But I know that the mum of a child who is undergoing ANY surgical procedure feels a similar fear/grief to me. And so I feel for her.

    And you.

    So, take it easy on yourself.

    We would not be who we are today without the triumphs and tragedies.

    And manicures. Grief is a funny thing. You never quite know when it's going to jump up and slap you in the head. I don't always 'get' Helen, but I do admire greatly her ability to peer deep inside our human condition. Much, much love.

  32. Life In A Pink FibroJanuary 13, 2013 at 11:23 AM

    Hang in there. Slowly but surely it will all come back together.

  33. Sweetheart sounds rough. Tomorrow will hopefully be a better one xx

  34. Wonderful words Kerry


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