I HAVE THOUGHT long and hard about writing my story, Peace and Freedom are My Names, a process I began many years ago.  It is an intensely personal story, sharing with readers something of my descent into madness and my eventual emergence into a place of calm contentment.

            My story began as an unwanted child living on a banana plantation on the outskirts of Darwin in the Northern Territory.  Mine was not a happy childhood by any means, and I was ill prepared to take on the tasks of young adulthood or make an appropriate choice of a life partner.  I married far too early and together with my husband moved to Papua New Guinea where I struggled as a young mother in a foreign land, alone and scared.  It was in Mt Hagen that the first hint that I had a serious mental health issue emerged, and we had to move back to Australia.  In time my distress would take over my life, just one of the destructive consequences of what I eventually realised had been a very abusive childhood.

            Running parallel with my inner turmoil was my ability to maintain some semblance of normality, to be a good wife and a good mother – though I never felt good enough in either role.  I was actively involved in my church and in time completed my Bachelor of Arts with majors in journalism and studies in religion.  Several years later, while I was studying social work, my inner world collapsed and chaos reigned. I was eventually diagnosed with multiple personality disorder, now known as dissociative identity disorder and sometimes as complex post traumatic stress disorder.  At that time my marriage collapsed, further unimaginable tragedy shattered our family, and I entered into unbearable turmoil from which I believed I would never emerge.

            Along the way, I received outstanding care from mental health professionals – psychiatrists and nurses in particular.  I remember so many with deep appreciation for their kindness and expertise in working with me to achieve my goal of personal integration.  Regrettably, there were also those in mental health services who contributed to my trauma and caused further anguish that was completely unwarranted.  I trust that my story will help educate those who, out of their ignorance, cause those in their care added distress.

            My faith in God has been my greatest support throughout my journey.  Time and again, I clung to that faith knowing that without God I would never get through.  I learned so much over those long, lonely years about God’s love, care, concern and compassion, lessons I could never have learnt had life been sweet and rosy.  Sadly, I realised early on in my difficulties that the Church was ill equipped to care for people struggling with the damaging consequences of child abuse, or with mental health issues.  When my world disintegrated, I walked away from church for many years, only recently returning to take my place in a caring community that does want to make a difference in our hurting world.

          A psychiatrist once told me that changing the cycle of abuse from one generation to another is like trying to change the course of a river; it takes courage and a lot of energy to do so.  I am thankful to God that I had the courage to break the cycle of abuse and ensured that my children had a good childhood and heaps of happy memories.  Like every other mother, I was not perfect, but I loved my children and I did my best.  However, I know that each one of them has been affected by my protracted ordeal and for that, I am deeply saddened.  They are all special people – I love them dearly and have appreciated the support they have been able to give me.

            It is my prayer that Peace and Freedom are My Names will be a source of hope and inspiration for all who read it – for those dealing with the consequences of child abuse, family and friends supporting them, and those working with them to overcome their many challenges.


 Irene Frances

Brisbane, Queensland

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