K A T E R A D F O R D
I’m Kate Radford. I’m a 31 year old artist. I am a rape survivor, and for over ten years I have been living with dysfunctional complex PTSD. It has taken me a long time to get to this understanding, and to say it in such clear terms. For so long I could not identify what was wrong with me. This realisation came last year after a trauma-induced nervous breakdown in December 2019 resulting in a complete re-configuration of how I participate in the world, and recognising the need to have an understanding of what was happening, in order to save myself.
I was overcome with suicidal ideation for months- not because I necessarily wanted my life to end, but because the physical and emotional pain I was in, was completely unbearable. I was trying everything I could to save myself, but using all the mechanisms that had gotten me there in the first place. I was stuck in patterns of deep self abuse and compulsion, and was in constant, never ending, ceaseless pain. It felt like my body was on fire. It felt like I couldn’t stop, like I was never able to feel the ground beneath me. I had insomnia, every joint in my body hurt and was tense. I had constant pain in my back and hips, and no period. I couldn’t eat without having allergic reactions. A lot of this was from exercising, at times over-exercising, and never resting, but I couldn’t stop- I thought participating in these activities would lead me to feel better but it never did. It never did because I did not know how to feel better, I couldn’t self-regulate. I was constantly chasing comfort but never being able to access it. My body was literally screaming at me, every day. For years. And after a while, it became normal. I wasn’t going to let the past stop me, so I ran away, and ran and ran and ran and ran, and ran
"We are the living database of our life experience, and although in the containment of the physical world it can be contextualised and framed, the internal world is navigating a completely different ocean."
When rape is (or isn’t…) spoken about, we often refer to the act in itself. We enclose and contain the violence in one moment in time, as if locating it in such a way will contain the force of it, and allow it to self-implode and disappear. That we can solve it, that there can be justice, endings, and moving on. But stranger things happen in the body that do not make it so simple. We are the living database of our lived experience, and although in the containment of the physical world it can be contextualised and framed, the internal world is navigating a completely different ocean. My rape had hidden inside of me for a long time. Afraid that because I was not dead I had not been hurt enough. I was so afraid to be with the experience of what had happened, to recognise it, that I became obsessive about pretending. I hadn’t even told my best friends, family, the people closest to me. As my body started to be unable to function, I began talking. I thought as soon as I started to talk- that the pain would go away. and a small part of it did, but this was just the beginning of the road. Some people really showed up. Listened, were present. And some people weren’t. And the pain didn’t go away- it didn’t disappear like I thought it would. My trauma had hi-jacked my nervous system and it was going to take more than conversation to get me out of it.
Over time I found creative ways to try to communicate what I was feeling. Most notably is constructed a one hour conceptual poetry piece called ‘DROUGHT’. This piece at is core, is a self-documented, ten year long durational poem. I began writing and journalling immediately after I was raped in 2008, and continue to do so to this day. The poetry contained within the performance is fragments of poems written through memory and experience, and framed my personal mythology within ancient mythology. Writing poetry has been extension of journalling and self-documentation. I wrote the poem, before I was able to tell my friends and family in simple words, what had happened. I didn't have the clarity for myself so I was not able to hold my truth. I did not know I had PTSD. I knew I was constantly overwhelmed, and I often felt like my body was ‘on fire’. My symptoms escalated throughout the course of 2019. I had been touring DROUGHT in LA, and staying with my best friend. I was hanging on by a thread, but at the time without the awareness of what I was going through, I was in a perpetual state of anger, fear, and most frustratingly- blame. I was always blaming environmental factors for the disharmony inside. I couldn’t fully sleep, I woke up having panic attacks, I couldn’t last a whole day without needing to sleep. I was using just about every coping mechanism imaginable, and still felt completely unstable. After finishing the tour, I moved out of my childhood home, packed my bags and left to start my MFA in San Francisco. This was the catalyst that lead me into the deepest form of self-enquiry I had yet encountered, and the realisation that I had spent the best part of ten years in a blur of repeating traumas and disassocia.
That was the beginning of the end in so many ways. I began to realise the weight of pretending I was ok, was suffocating me entirely. In theory I was ok- I was living in San Francisco, studying at a prestigious art school, beginning to expand the perimeters of my life and stepping wholeheartedly in to this wonderful next stage in my practice- but I couldn’t. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat, I was allergic to everything. I moved house 6 times. I was exhausted but couldn’t rest, I was having multiple panic attacks during the week, deep breathing in the shower, howling, meditating but unable to sit up- I had no idea what was wrong with me. I was ‘mentally’ fine. I was so excited to be in San Francisco, throughly energised by art school, but my body was not with me. I remember one afternoon at the Jewish Community Centre where I was using the gym, an elder looked at me and said ‘so young to be so tired..’ I could barely walk up the stairs. It took escaping to a cabin in the redwoods, sweating constantly, vomiting for two days whilst all the fluids left my body, thinking I was seriously going to die, but so afraid to turn to an American hospital for me to realise something was desperately wrong- and until I understood what was happening, I was not able to grow beyond the point I was at without getting seriously ill, or surviving at all.
"has anything happened to you i should know about..?"
What I hadn’t realised is that my mind, and body were completely separated. And had been for a very long time. My whole nervous system was on overdrive and I was so used to running off adrenaline, that when I was not in an activated state, I would put myself in one. I had less and less relationships, I couldn’t communicate with friends in an authentic way, and I absolutely could not ask for help when I needed it. I was isolated, and confused, and constantly in pain. One of the repercussions of disassocia, is I had an ability to leave my body. This made me deeply connected to a sense of spirituality- and ultimately through this lens, I was able to follow different modalities to listen to the S.O.S my body was calling out to, and to carve a fragile and faint path towards helping myself. I’m not there yet. I’m writing this whilst lying on heating pad, trying to stay awake at 11am as the constant pain has transformed into chronic fatigue. But I also write this to you absolutely sure that with some of the tools that I’ve found will work, because they already are. Some days I’m still terrified- my body is processing this emotional hangover I tried to delay. And I feel lonely and confused. I don’t just want to talk now, I need to. And from a place of total honesty, total presence- with the reality of what trauma does. It is not just the act in itself. It is not just the moment it happens. And justice alone will not save us from the violence that’s stored in the body. It is not just for counsellors and therapists, but for hospitals, GP’s, and the whole medical industry to reframe how it understands trauma. I have spent ten years in and out of hospital for digestive issues, endoscopies, colonoscopies, undiagnosed problems, depression, suicidal ideation, anxiety, dramatic weight issues, eating disorders - amenorrhea and hormonal dysfunctions, and of course my mental well-being, without one doctor ever asking me,
has anything happened to you that I should know about?
"one thing my journey is teaching me is that I am not the only person going through this. That you can save yourself- and by doing so, you activate yourself as a resource for others."
I’m still on this journey. And although one great storm has ended, it hasn’t stopped the weather. What I have begun to realise and explore is the neurological, molecular, and chemical effects that trauma has on the body. I have been able to use nutrition, meditation, land, art, sound and movement to heal. Most specifically to my work is performance, writing and visual art. The practice that chose me, has been utilising incorporating these elements into creative pieces that are not only art pieces in their own right, but serve as psychic surgeries- wielding the power of sonic frequencies, poetry and embodied practice to create collective healing and release psychic trauma embedded in the central nervous system. I realise this because this is what it does for me, and now I am gradually exploring the science to affirm it.
We are all on this road, this road to exploring and becoming who we truly are. Excavating our own essence. Un-tying the cords that bind us. Some of them we tie ourselves. Some of them were impressed upon us, some of them were constructed centuries ago in order to contain us in only one corner of ourselves. Our lives become maps in which we find the others, in order to find ourselves. We cannot do this without each other. One thing my journey is teaching me is that I am not the only person going through this. That you can save yourself- and by doing so, you activate yourself as a resource for others. So here is my resource- an archive of explorations, linking to others and their archives, through shared knowledge, open hearts and a lot of patience we follow maps forged through fire - In our own way, at our own pace- in our own words
here we are