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Childhood trauma: the origin of my mental health disorder

Picture © Irina Santos

My trauma originated during the early 80s, when times were changing in Spain. I was then 9 or 10, and my memories are a bit blurred. One day I was playing alone with a football on the street, right in front of my doorstep, in my hometown, in a residential area. Suddenly, I kicked the ball into my neighbour’s. I was trying to get it back when, all of a sudden, the neighbor appeared. He was a guy in his 20s that lived by himself. He grabbed my ball and started dribbling. I followed him a few houses down the road, until we reached a working site. There was nobody around. There, that guy sexually abused me in a rough, fast and violent way. Fighting back, I eventually managed to get rid of him and ran off in anger, desperation and tears.

When I got home my mum had been looking for me. I told her what had happened, crying, feeling nauseous and defenseless. My dad’s reaction was to go see the guy to threaten him: “Either you leave or I’ll kill you”. Sometime later, the guy vanished.

I couldn’t go to school the next day. Every day at home, we would have lunch and dinner and watch TV as if nothing had ever happened. My parents overprotected me and if this issue ever came up, silence would be the answer. I had the urge to feel understood and express my rejection for what had been done to me. I didn’t fully understand what had happened but was forced to hide it and digest, all by myself, the thoughts, emotions and feelings derived from my Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) –I believe I suffered from it, though I was never properly diagnosed. Talking to a psychologist would have done so much good to me!

In the meantime, my mother comforted me with food and clothes, and my father would take us trekking, on excursions or practicing sports. They both thought highly of me. Being the youngest, I was pampered and spoilt, while my sister became more independent and left the nest. She was going through a bad path too and had emotional, work and academic problems, like everyone else. Not everything was unhappiness, though; there were also moments of lucidity during my last years of childhood.

However, my academic performance decreased significantly, having low marks, concentration difficulties and progressive isolation. I was also bullied, threatened and attacked by kids from other schools. I would like to clarify that back then PTSD or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) would not be diagnosed. Teachers simply did their classes and exams, and failed to consider the psychological aspect of students. I had self-esteem issues and was highly susceptible to emotional changes. I did my first communion in a religious, semi-rural environment during the first years of democracy in Spain. Post-Franco repression still lingered on, even at schools. In my opinion, the way a 9- or 10-year-old child experiences PTSD is more intense and emotional than the way an adult would, and it overtakes his life extraordinarily.

Later I manifested an oversexed behavior. I would give sex an excessive importance. At the age of 12 I had a secret love: a sweet girl in my class, who I sexually desired in a very impulsive, intense and chaotic manner. I had idolized her, I was madly in love. I would stare at her, thirst for her, and my attention was diverted from studying. My obsession for her would go on for a long, long time…

When I was about 13, I went through a kleptomaniac episode during a school trip. When the school’s headmistress found out, she gave us a very religiously-laden telling-off, and under threat of punishment, I was told to give back what I had stolen. I am not sure if I did, but what I do remember is feeling really embarrassed and guilty, and very emotionally distressed -as I had been condemned in front of my classmates. This led to my biggest academic failure. Though I roughly passed my compulsory studies, I had evidently been suffering from emotional and mental issues since my PTSD years.

When I turned 14, I asked my dad to have me enrolled in drawing lessons, as I was genuinely good at it. I was especially fond of plastic arts and dreamt of success as a fashion designer, an artist or a bohemian. But it turned out that I had to pass Precollege years (Bachillerato) and do Business Sciences at University. I had no chance and the door to my future aspirations was shut. My failure as a student was guaranteed. That added fuel to the flames, before my mental health eventually broke down into a million pieces.

I would like you to think about child PTSD. What are the consequences of raping, when you are still unable to abstract? This should be publicly expressed so we become aware of the severity of PTSD during each stage of a person’s life, when their mind is still not mature enough to assimilate their sexuality.

I wanted to share my experience to show how important some events in our lives can be. These events can become key moments in a child’s life and determine his adolescence and adulthood. Like Antoine de Saint Exupéry said in The Little Prince: “All grown-ups were once children (but only few of them remember it)”.

Two years ago, the abuse I was a victim of prescribed and is no longer punishable. Sexual abuse in children younger than 13 is currently punished with a minimum of 8 years in prison (Spanish Criminal Law, 10/1995. Article 183). For this reason, I encourage everyone to denounce any kind of trauma to the authorities, as long as it can clearly be proven with facts, evidence or witnesses. Listen to children: they will rarely lie if they speak from their heart. I turned to my parents, and they should have turned to health professionals, the police, a childcare helpline… someone. Judges are obliged by law to listen to children and take their version into consideration. So don’t be quiet and denounce!

Dani Ferrer


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