Making Sense of a Stolen Year: Mental Illness in the Context of an Abusive Therapist

Image Description: A white woman with large glasses smiles at the camera while wearing a Toque (deal with it nonCanadians) for the CUPE local 3903
Image Description: A white woman with large glasses smiles at the camera while wearing a Toque (deal with it nonCanadians) for the CUPE local 3903

It all started with the historic 2018 CUPE 3903 strike in Toronto (longest post secondary strike in Canadian history). I mean no it didn’t you don’t trigger your PTSD during a strike only to have it open up flashbacks to your childhood. However, for the purposes of this blog post, I can’t go through that lifetime of trauma. For that you can wait for my dissertation “We Still Hide Madwomen in the Attic” (link to twitter thread on how you can support me and my work, it will be repeated at the end of this post).

The strike was hard for a number of reasons. Initially simply participating with the strike was a struggle. I believed in the principles I believed we were fighting for but I learned quickly standard picketing daily was a physical impossibility. Accommodations for union members who couldn’t picket or who couldn’t picket full time were very poorly organized. This remained a stressor throughout. By the end of the strike (months after it began) I had become so confused by work expectations on and off the picket line, I sometimes just didn’t go.

This was not helped by the inevitable strike staple of being threatened with near constant vehicular death. I was body checked by pedestrians on several occasions regardless of whether I was blocking the sidewalk. The disruption to campus was enough to incur the violent wrath of pedestrians.

Then there were the drivers who always thought that they had special reasons to skip the predetermined picketing schedule.

For those unfamiliar with a legal picket. Picketers are allowed to delay but not stop traffic. Courts have been forgiving in how they define delay versus stopping in a strike scenario.

Picketers usually pick a set period to delay traffic before allowing it to proceed before picketers again take to the streets to delay traffic.

A picketers job description is essentially to walk in a circle in the road and try not to die. Whether that’s getting off the street fast enough when the current delay is over or because some driver has decided that they don’t care about the people in the road. We had people zip through on motorcycles (not safe) or simply drive on the sidewalk to bypass our picket line.

Through it all through the incident that sticks in my mind the most was when a member of staff for York’s Counseling Services decided to oversell the importance of her job to skip the line. It worked a couple of times and at least one coworker started copying her.

The problem? There is no reality in a university campus counseling office where students lives are endangered by an entirely predictable delay. She just didn’t want to shift her morning schedule. When the people who make the decisions on which cars get special treatment (emergency vehicles obviously, parents taking their kids to daycare, I think there were a couple other) were informed of her exaggerated status, she got angry and actually began suggesting that if we did not continue to give her special treatment “people might die”. We didn’t give her special treatment. I wrote a strongly worded letter about using clients as pawns and how that reduces faith in counseling services at York (I’d certainly never trust anyone who works there, I never got that lady’s name).

A strike that started in March plodded straight through June and I actually got a bit of a respite, though not the respite I’d hoped for.

Last year I fundraised to go to a disability law summer school in Galway, Ireland. I enjoyed the summer school as much as possible but unfortunately had some serious medical side effects from traveling. I ended up missing more than a day sorting out how to deal with a bad drug reaction in a foreign country. I was on the drug because medical marijuana isn’t legal in Ireland so, I needed a replacement med for my chronic pain.

I ended up leaving the school early on the second day, to wander around Galway, looking for a health food store so I could pay an ungodly sum of money for CBD oil. I spent the next day in bed purging the demon drug from my system.

Ireland is pretty though

Image Description: Bed and Breakfast outside Shannon Ireland where the airport I flew in and out of was.
Image Description: Bed and Breakfast outside Shannon Ireland where the airport I flew in and out of was.

I did return to the summer school when I fely better and enjoyed what little time I did spend at the summer school.

Hey look they even gave me a certificate.

Image Description: Me shaking hands with a smiling woman with light brown hair. I am holding the certificate in my left hand
Image Description: Me shaking hands with a smiling woman with light brown hair. I am holding the certificate in my left hand

As much as I enjoyed my short respite from the strike, it was still going strong and tensions were running high. I experienced some horrific in person ableism from a fellow union member. On top of the stress from the threats and the near constant messaging of unwelcome we got from the university, I no longer felt safe on the picket line. I rarely went after that.

We were ultimately legislated back to work by our incompetent premier Doug Ford. Who couldn’t even be bothered to include a return to work protocol.

The end of the strike was a confusing nightmare. There was pre-strike work that needed to be done quickly because the Fall semester was imminent. We needed to find out how much we would be paid for that work (there was no standard).

It is around this time that I started dissociating. I was still able to mostly function. I was able to complete my TA duties but that only lasted a few weeks. I was falling apart. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to get grounded on my own again. So I did something that was a long time coming. I went to my doctor and got diagnosed with PTSD and anxiety. I’m pretty sure the anxiety has always been there. The PTSD has been around since at the latest 15. I’ve spent a long time coping.

It’s no wonder that it took events as dramatic as a strike to crack me so bad I couldn’t find the glue to ground myself and move forward. Both my doctor and I agreed that I needed therapy.

I just chose the worst possible therapist. She seemed to be perfect. She advertised with queer friendly service providers. She described herself as,

Whether we work relationally and/or somatically, my practice is grounded in the frameworks of intersectional feminism, anti-oppression, social justice, queer theory & harm/risk reduction. I am sex & kink-positive, sex-work positive, class-conscious & anti-racist.

Amelia Sloan

She also directed her ad at the most vulnerable people

Services Provided: Counselling/therapy

Client Groups: Men, Women, Trans people, Children, Youth, Adults, Seniors,

LGBT parents, Family members of LGBT people, Two-Spirit, Intersex, People Living with Disabilities, Racialized Communities, Gender Independent Children

Amelia Sloan

This quote from her website seems particularly ironic,

I work with individuals using Relational Somatic Psychotherapy, Trauma Therapy & Sex Therapy. My approach creates an empathic, non-judgmental & safe space where you are the expert of your experiences & where we can explore deeply the feelings, memories, thoughts & experiences you have. We will start wherever you are at & moving at your pace using my gentle but direct approach.

Amelia Sloan

As someone looking for trauma informed therapy that would consider my particular location of intersectional oppression seemed perfect. In our first session I laid out my goals and what I felt my current issues were. I made it very clear that I was autistic and would not be masking during sessions as masking has been connected to suicidality. She agreed.

She gave me a brief overview of her approach and we began what I thought was the joint work of therapy. I would discover about nine months later that my therapist and I had never been on the same page. Not only that in the misguided (I really don’t know what her motive was) to heal me, she was in fact doing psychological damage.

I recently received a copy of her clinical notes. Nine months of therapy was summed up in 8 pages single spaced. Nothing that resembles me can be seen in those pages. She got annoyed that I would let her “regulate me” whatever that means.

Those clinical notes paint the picture of someone who had no life whatsoever during the time I was in therapy. While this wasn’t true, in hindsight I can see the way she actively isolated me from my support networks.

Regaining control over one’s ability to regulate one’s emotions is not an overnight affair. I’d been trying to take positive steps even before I set foot in a therapist’s office. Stepping back is why I stopped blogging last year. It is also why I pulled back from a lot of the Twitter activism I was involved in.

My therapist however sought to compound that isolation. She encouraged my justified anger at my sister and expedited an inevitable estrangement but would that sister have called the cops on me when I couldn’t handle processing the abuse I experienced at the hands of a trusted therapist and started making delusional phone calls to my brother, getting weird and inappropriate in certain people’s DM’s and posting weird shit on my timeline.

I was barely conscious at the time, I almost never left my bed. I was the definition of not a threat to myself or others but my sister convinced the police that I was potentially violently unpredictable. This woman initiated the estrangement by the way. She blocked my number and blocked me on social media. I couldn’t threaten her if I wanted to. Not to mention she lives somewhere that requires a car to get to and I can’t drive.

The psych ward wasn’t helpful in sorting anything out. It felt like the attending psychiatrist on the rare occasions I interacted with him was just looking for the volatile and potentially violent person that I have never been. I have asked my doctor to get my notes from the psych ward stay. They should be interesting.

Perhaps, the worst thing my therapist did to me was keep me uncomfortable stasis. I was never ready to return to blogging and shouldn’t I really spend less time on social media? The whole time directing our discussions as much around horrific trauma as she could manage. I genuinely expect my chattiness saved me from a lot worse damage. It’s also probably why I missed the signs of abuse.

According to her notes, I never advanced much past being able to recognize when I’m in a manic state. She maintained this misconception by frustratedly pointing at a terrible visual aid (think basic science over head slides with psych 101 terms and some graphs)and telling me I was in hyper arousal (her word for being manic). I would inevitably have an autistic meltdown because I was trying to tell her what I was doing to regulate my emotions during this time and she kept interrupting me with vocabulary.

Once I got upset though she would swiftly smooth the situation over. I suspect she managed get me to trust her by making the early days of therapy very much about getting me at least vaguely emotionally balanced. Which meant getting me medicated.

After about a week of horrific side effects my anti-anxiety meds worked extremely well. I was also actively doing the work of healing my body to the closest I can get it to whatever its original factory settings will allow for.

In hindsight the fact that I remarked on more than one occasion “it’s weird, I seem to be in the best physical shape of my life but the worst mental health”

It was only very late in our professional relationship that she began overtly telling me to let go of things that I as a disabled person cannot let go of. I remember one incident where she was telling me to let go of some ongoing discrimination I was experiencing.

I was genuinely in tears just repeating “I can’t escape my body, I can’t escape my life or how it is impacted just by living in this world”

Apparently, my therapist thought I was having an epiphany about just laying down and taking it I guess, because I was telling her quite clearly that her method was not survivable.

Clearly,I should listen to myself more. The reason I wasn’t making as much mental progress was because I was being held back.One of the reasons I never saw the control and the danger was because I was accidentally thwarting her by controlling the sessions through chattiness. Everything I aspired to do, the therapist got in the way. She was subtle about it. She’s not even consistent in her 8 pages of notes whether I should be pursuing any goals, long-term or short-term. I have no doubt she was looking for more trauma triggers. That she successfully found so few and the triggering moments of therapy were rare is probably why I failed to notice what few red flags there were until I had escaped her.

I suspect our professional relationship came to such a sudden and dramatic end because I wouldn’t let go of school. This meant that I couldn’t let go of the baggage I had around school because she hadn’t helped me process it. An end was inevitable. School necessitates more social interaction. She would never have been able to maintain the degree of control that she had over me if I was actively a student.

Our last session she was clearly desperate. Much of her advice (when she was egging me on into unhealthy levels of anger about abusive family members who may never be held accountable) involved telling me “to let it go”

This is great advice in moderation. You always have to know when to choose your battles. The problem is that when you experience oppression sometimes you don’t get to choose whether you fight or not. You just get to decide how much fight something is worth.

Which is why I filed a complaint against my abusive therapist. It’s going to be a long hard fight but it’s a fight that regardless of outcome is worth the battle.

Historically, I have survived by jumping from opportunity to opportunity but in my current situation, there was no way but forward. My therapist tried to cut me off socially and put me in a cage that I did not know how to get out of until I fired her.

Now I know my road forward is to get back to my PhD and working on an autoethnography (academic memoir) about how we still treat mad and disabled women tentatively titled “We still Hide Mad Women in the attic” (there will be a shameless plug for help with funding this and just surviving my PhD in general at the end).

This last year I was stuck and I was isolated and I survived this year not because I finally asked for help (that didn’t turn out so great) I survived because people reached out. People reached out just because they were concerned. The incomparable Alice Wong, who actually reached out to check on me the day I got my PTSD diagnosis. The people on social media who respected that I was pulling back from activism but who never let me lose those ties of friendship. Inside jokes save lives. And to the people who reached out because they too were going through their own brand of shit and decided to offer to help carry my load while I lightened theirs.

I was never truly completely isolated but that therapist took a lot of my choices away. She had financially bled me dry. Of course I had to come back to school, I can’t eat or pay rent without that student loan.

It really is only in hindsight that I am seeing the level to which she controlled my life both financially and socially.

The way forward is to focus on my complaint against her but also get back to learning about myself in healthier ways. I’ll probably need therapy again but for right now, I’m energized by working on my dissertation proposal and the journey from being a PhD student to a PhD Candidate so that I can get to the real work of my dissertation and telling my story.

Image Description: A smiling white woman wearing all black stand between the decapitated head of a snow man and it's body. The snow man is stylized like those in the Calvin and Hobbes comics, face seeming to evoke pain
Image Description: A smiling white woman wearing all black stand between the decapitated head of a snow man and it’s body. The snow man is stylized like those in the Calvin and Hobbes comics, face seeming to evoke pain

So now for the very in depth appeal for support for mu PhD. Please read through there are so many ways to help, including just sharing this blog post on social media.

Kindle ebooks read on my iPad are the easiest way for me to read and take notes unfortunately Amazon does not allow people to buy ebooks for others through their wishlist system. I have an amazon wishlist anyway as some of the books can only be purchased in print or from third party sellers because they are out of print. If you could buy me one of the books that can only be had in print, I would greatly appreciate it. If you want to help fund the ebooks I’ll need you can buy me a gift card and send it to the following email address

The email is kimberleyjanephd@gmail.com

I will not be answering queries about my research through this email. It is solely a way for people who want to support my work to be able to do so. (this is a safety boundary). If you want to talk to me, find me on Twitter.

My research and supporting myself will get past the reading phase and there will be field work in my future. If you would like to help me fund my PhD in the long term you can

support me on patreon

Become a Patron!

buy me a ko-fi

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

send me money via paypal

send an e money transfer to the email above (if you have scruples about third party sites)

I also have a generic disability wish list of things that would just improve my quality of life

Thank you for your ongoing support. and just an FYI I’m changing my name socially to Kimberley Jane Erin. You can call me Kim or Jane but I prefer Jane. I am however, not the least uncomfortable with Kim so don’t worry about messing up.

It’s time I really leaned into my identity as a scholar. I hope you’ll support me