Darren McGarvey’s trauma industrial complex

Publication Date
30/04/2024
Featuring
Darren McGarvey, FRSL
Dr Miriam Taylor

Darren McGarvey leads an evening of exploration of trauma, lived experience, and the stories we tell ourselves about our wounds.

Trauma is everywhere. It shapes debates on education, criminal justice, and health, cited as a cause of addiction, mental health issues, and relationship problems. It’s a common theme in media, yet its discussion is marred by disinformation. On social media, billions consume trauma-related content, often of varying quality, leading to confusion and harmful advice. Trauma has become marketable, with self-diagnosis becoming common. Sharing one’s story is encouraged, but the risks remain unexplored.

Transcript

This transcript has been automatically generated, so it may feature errors.

Sarah Skerratt  04:06

Good evening Good evening everyone it’s lovely to hear so much buzz of conversation in the room already that’s fantastic and sorry to bring it to a temporary halt. Hello and welcome to the Royal Society of Edinburgh annual spring event the signature event I’m delighted to welcome both our in person audience and those watching live stream on YouTube. In person we have 140 people and online 350 So we’re almost at 500 together in a community enjoying this evening’s event. I am Professor Sarah Skerratt in case you just think this random person has wandered up to the podium and I’m chief exec here at the Royal Society of Edinburgh or RSE and I’m deeply honoured to be welcoming you to this evening’s event on this critically important topic. Before we get started tonight, there are a few things to run through. We’re not expecting a fire drill. So if you hear the fire alarm, please follow the evacuation route shown on this slide. And the RSE staff who will wave from the back ones demonstrating now will guide you on where to go. It’s to the dome that is a bar and restaurant, you’re to assemble outside, not inside. So there will be time for audience questions later on in the event. When you have a question, please raise your hand and a member of the RSE staff team will bring you a microphone. For the online audience. Please type any questions in the chat. And we’ll read them out for you that chat is being moderated. We also know that tonight’s topic won’t be an easy one for everyone. So we’ve a few things in place for you. If you feel you need them at any time, we have a quiet room set up next to the reception desk. If you find that you do need a moment, please ask a member of the staff team on the desk. And they will show you where that is. We also have fi who is our Mental Health First Aider on hand, who’s wearing a green lanyard and a badge and she will guide you to that room as well. There’s also a list of organisations to talk to if you feel you need to do so at any point after the event. So please pick up a list of those at reception on your way out if you would like to do so. So on to this evening and the event here at the RSE mission over the last 240 years has always been instil is making knowledge useful. And this event this evening is part of our signature event series which does just that. This series is to design to encourage new thinking ideas and conversations by bringing some of the brilliant minds from across Scotland and beyond to the RSE, sharing their knowledge and ideas with us all and provoking our thinking. Today’s event is no different. We’re delighted to have Darren McGarvey bringing his first show of his new series trauma industrial complex to the stage here at the RSE. Darren, as most of you in this room will know and that’s why you’re here is an award winning author and broadcaster, most recently hitting our screens with his BBC documentary series. The state we’re in his debut book poverty Safari won the Orwell prize for political writing in 2018. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature inducted in 2023. Having published two works of outstanding literary merit. Darren is also a critically acclaimed hip hop artist releasing music under the alias loci and a regular fixture at the Edinburgh Fringe. Joining Darren tonight in his exploration of trauma is Miriam Taylor. Welcome, a non clinical psychotherapist, supervisor, writer and international trainer. Miriam is now retired from clinical practice having specialised in trauma for over 25 years. Miriam includes aspects of collective trauma, social justice issues and climate change in her thinking on trauma, with an interest in the formation of intersecting relational processes, which create traumatic experiences. This event tonight is undoubtedly going to make us reflect on the way trauma impacts our lives. But I will let Darren and Miriam lead you on this exploration for us all. It is therefore with such great pleasure that I welcome to the stage tonight. First speaker, Marian Taylor, thank you.

09:12

Thank you so much for the warm welcome and for the introduction. And thank you to everybody here and online for giving up your evening to this important subject. It’s a bit wild for me to be here speaking to a an audience that, as far as I know, is composed of people from the general public, more used to talking to therapists but it’s also a kind of natural place to be when I read Darren’s two books, both of them soon after they were written I grabbed them very quickly. I realised that he He was writing about trauma through the lens of social justice issues. And in parallel to that I was developing my own training and writing about social justice issues through the lens of trauma. So I think we’ve hopefully got a good place to meet you.

10:25

I want to try and run past you three ideas. They are connected. The first one, Darren has asked me to try and define trauma for you. And in non clinical language. It’s by far the most difficult of the three, the three things I want to offer you. Because there’s something about trauma that doesn’t want to be defined. It has a has its own kind of shape lessness. And on grasp ability, I sometimes think it’s like trying to capture smoke in a niche. So you get hold of one thread, and as soon as you think you’ve got it, it disappears and something else comes up. So it doesn’t want to be pinned down, it doesn’t want to be defined. And put in a box, it has its own kind of energy, which is, which is interesting. But let’s try this, I’m going to give it a try, I’m not going to promise to to send you away from here with with a clear idea of what this what this is about. But I’m going to suggest that trauma is it’s not a thing. It is the way that certain kinds of events and experiences get imprinted on an individual’s life and, and they’re being and particularly on their body, I’ll come back to that in a bit. So for for a definition, it is the effect of an event, an experience or a relationship that overwhelms our capacity to cope on our own. I’ll repeat that. It’s the effect of an event, an experience, or a relationship that overwhelms our capacity to cope on our own. Now, I’ll unpack that a bit. When, when I say it’s an effect, I’ll come back to that in a minute. But let’s look at that word, those words event experience relationship, the event might be something quite concrete, like a car crash, or an assault. So something kind of with relatively clear, a relatively clear beginning and end. When I when I use the term experience, I’m really thinking about the kinds of contexts in which trauma really thrives. So it might be an experience of war, we could we could say living in a war zone, or living on a sinker state, or living in brown or black skin in a white dominant society. And when when that when I talk about a relationship, I’m talking about particular kinds of relationships, relationships with intimate partners, relationships with bullies, with people who matter to you, that really change the way you feel about yourself in the world. And sometimes those things those three things intersect. So for example, we can think about the pandemic as being the experience, the context in which we know that there was a huge increase in domestic violence. So that’s the relationship part. And there may have been specific events within that, such as assault, or rape. So that those three things come together. Sometimes, we can’t always separate things out. Okay, so that’s the next word that I want to focus on is overwhelm, and addict depth a dictionary definition gives us words like feeling overpowered, feeling defeated, or annihilated. That’s quite a huge experience.

15:36

So really, when we’re overwhelmed, we’re completely trapped. We’re completely out of options. There’s We’re helpless, there’s nothing that we can do. It overwhelms our ability to cope. Yeah, there’s nothing that we can do. Okay? So the effects of, of this, I’m going to just give you a couple. The first is a an absolutely pervasive sense of fear. Or perhaps more accurately, we can call it terror. It’s a kind of feeling that gets under your skin gets into your guts, it gets into your heartbeat, it gets into your breath, gets into your nervous system, it floods your body with toxic chemicals. If you’re little, or if you’re a teenager, and you’re living with an experience or a relationship, something ongoing, that creates a chronic trauma these effects may actually alter the structures of of certain the development of certain structures in your brain. So that’s pretty serious. Trauma has been suggested to be one of the most serious of all mental health conditions. That comes from the Journal of Psychiatry. Put that against a tweet that I read a while ago. And I’m not kidding here said something to the effect of “OMG. I’m so traumatised to discover the Boston is further north than New York.” So we have a whole range of stuff going on. And And no wonder it’s important that we try to understand what it means. So as as a clinician, I need different language from what was implied in that that tweet. Now, of course, we don’t know what the person who wrote that tweet had in mind when they chose to use that language when they chose to broadcast this piece of knowledge that they just gained. But I think does hold another possible clue to one of the big effects of trauma. There’s a qualitative disorientation that it conveyed there’s trauma has this feeling of being, as I suggested earlier, I’ve not been quite what you think it is. I sometimes use the image MC Escher staircase when you don’t know which way is up. It has that disorientation and dislocation. I think the idea of dislocation is a really important concept in understanding trauma. Judith Herman Lewis, one of the great trauma writers talked about trauma as breaching attachments of friend friendship and family and society. She wrote about how it tears apart the victims fundamental assumptions about the safety of the world, the value of the self and the meaningful order of creation. Is this why this is worthy of the kind of attention we need to give it? So that’s my attempt at that first, first definition. The second point that I want to Try and get across quickly is that this this way of thinking about trauma focuses on the individual. And we need to take into account among other really important things like genetics and transgenerational trauma and personality factors. We also need to take into account those experiences that I referred to earlier, those contexts in which trauma thrives. Because if we don’t do that, we’re missing half the picture. And if we don’t do that, we risk end up risk ending up blaming the individual, when there may be systemic processes that aren’t aren’t, are really important in shaping this person’s experience. So the narrative in in the trauma world is shifting from one of what’s wrong with you, to what happened to you. Now, that’s not without its detractors. It’s not without its critics and its problems, but it’s a useful consideration. Trauma often, I believe, involves an imbalance of power, where there is a powerful person or system sitting in the place of a perpetrator, and there is the victim or the oppressed person. On the other side of that, so often involving those dynamics of power and depression, I think is kind of helps to define this quite well. Now, I know that some of you have come from mental health organisations. So the third point I want to make might be quite shocking and controversial to you. And it’s about the current narrative of being trauma informed. You see it all over the place, and it is all over the world. I’ve worked with people from many countries who kind of kind of drowning in what what this trauma informed term means. So the bit that might shock you is that I don’t consider myself to be a trauma informed, informed therapist. For the simple reason that we do not have a consensus about what that means. I’ve come across teaching assistants who have gone off and done a three hour workshop and come back and said, We’re trauma informed. That’s one end. The other end is for people to have done, months, years, even of specialist training, I don’t know where we define between those two extremes where we define the point at which someone becomes trauma informed. Often, forgive me if this is controversial. Often organisations write their policies from the perspective of being trauma informed. That’s a good thing, right? Well, maybe they may go on to make some changes in the environment. They put in comfy chairs and a pot plant and a picture on the wall. And that’s nice too, isn’t it? I don’t know what difference that makes to the individuals who come for help. It doesn’t tell me anything. If I’m looking for help, it doesn’t tell me anything about how I might feel safe. When I sit in a room with another person, because the quality of listening in an open hearted and compassionate way of of showing that we do understand how trauma works. That’s something that I don’t think you can pin down in a prescriptive way. I don’t think that we can make policies for that, for those personal qualities that will make the difference for those individuals. So I’m sorry if I’ve kind of thrown the cat among the pigeons about that. But I do think we need to have a conversation about what we really mean. Until we do, the trauma informed is being set up as a gold standard. But there isn’t any standard that goes with it. And so

25:34

we’ll we’ll find out where this where this conversation goes. That’s as much as I’m going to say at the moment, I’m really delighted to hand over to Darren.

25:53

Thank you.

26:00

Thanks very much, Miriam. It’s nice to put someone on first as a human shield.

26:10

Let’s say that, obviously, with a lot of gratitude, thank you for everyone who has come tonight who’s watching online. Thank you to Hanah, RSE, and the whole team here for accommodating us and organising this event. And just before I start, I just want to paint a picture of her close to my heart that says and the level of proximity that I have to these issues. I arrived here 30 minutes later than I said it was going to be here having just been spat out of a therapy session. in Glasgow I got here, arrived in the green room and immediately started oversharing. So I’m sharing to one person Hannah, who I’ve never met in person until then, about what my day has been like, and then another person who I’ve only met online steps and says Darren – boundaries. That is not an unusual day for me. So what you’re looking at right now as the reality of being a person with lived experience of trauma, who is currently in active trauma, and bizarrely finds himself trapped in his own drawing of his life. feeling that something terrible is about to happen, never leaves me for long. Whatever public face I portray. Privately, I am always preparing for the final calamity. When I can’t reach my wife by phone, long after she is to home. I worry. She may be mangled in a traffic accident. Stood in the playground waiting for my kids to come out of school at the end of the day. I suffer dreadful surges of anxiety that one of them may have gotten lost on the 50 yard walk from the gate and the entrance after I dropped them. I imagine the moment a teacher insists my son never came to school and responds to my asking. Where does he whenever I get a call from a family member, I inhale deeply before answering, anticipating an emergency or death. And then my role as a writer and commentator paid to express my opinions publicly with self assurance. Behind the curtain, I live in fear of punishment, humiliation, or some other cruel form of reprisal, simply for the crime of expressing my thoughts and feelings. I feel and daily life for long stretches of most days. The way I imagined fearful fliers must 30,000 feet above the earth and to borrow a well worn Tom a phrase for me turbulence as other people. I can’t be around anyone for too long without feeling the urge to leave even just momentarily to catch my proverbial breath. Moreover, I will not go anywhere unless I have an exit plan in place. And I become restless and agitated, the longer I must linger. Mid conversation. I may tune out and become preoccupied by facial expressions, body language or what’s going on, around or behind me My social instincts seem calibrated for a particular purpose. They seem set to detect, track and anticipate in every interaction I have the intention, temperament, and mood of the other person. That could be a stranger on a bus, a fan at a book signing on my own wife walking in the door from work. What I need to know before anything else can unfold is that I am safe and secure. And I have been like this for as long as I can remember. Enter every now and then for no reason at all scenes from what feel like my past project themselves intrusively on to the busy wall of my waking mind. The scenes do not follow any specific pattern. They are not triggered by any specific stimulus. And I rarey recall them voluntarily. Yet when they do arise, that can feel very much like I’ve never stopped thinking about them. I couldn’t even tell you which order these events fall on my internal timeline. All I can say is that for most of my life, these little movies have been playing in the dark recesses of what I have always assumed to be my memory. Despite my recollection that almost all of them occurred before I was 10 years old. They’re detail remains vivid. I could not see what year each event took place, nor what happened the days before or after. These movies exist only as contextless fragments connected by one thread. They were all I believe experienced by me. I push a cat off a window ledge that claws the wall outside. I am crying at the front door of a nursery as my favourite teacher explains that she is leaving. I don’t want her to go. My mother screams as she rushes out the door and down the stairs partially closed to retrieve a cat. We are now on a rare family walk. My mother and father are both present. This is what normal feels like. My mother lets a dog off the leash. The dog is hat by a joy radar on a motorbike and thrown into the air. The vehicle scrapes to a hole and a trail of sparks. Why do things like this always happen to us? There is a thunder and lightning storm. I am alone in a dark room. The window is open. I am now suspended outside, hanging upside down and the rain. I am now inside a cupboard with another child. A girl. Sunlight is breaking through the locked doors. I hear people outside laughing. Older kids. They wouldn’t let us out until we kiss. I am watching a black cat walking on a kitchen counter by an open window. My mother is crying. She is punching a man in a black motorcycle helmet as a dog howls by the roadside. Now I am laying in the bottom bunk bed late at night. Other children on nearby. One as a baby. Is everyone okay?

33:44

Sure. Well, I keep going. One is a baby. It’s daytime. A man kicks a baby across the floor. I look out the window of a high rise. Another child is tied to a chair.

34:03

I don’t know who the man is. I can’t do anything to help anyone. There is a tussle between adults. I am picked up and carried over house by a woman with brown skin and to a car and driven to another place with a painting of a man in a kilt holding bagpipes as mounted on the wall. My mother is in the garden. She’s trying to dig up the dog buried there the day before. She is crying. She is asking for my help. I am torn. I want to help her. I want to make her happy. The neighbours are all out. We are not normal. My auntie stands at the top of the backdoor stairs pleading for me to come inside the house. I am back in the dark room with my siblings and their bunk beds. We are trying to stay quiet so the man at the door thinks we are not home. I arrived home after school. Child furniture is piled up in the front garden. I am embarrassed because I have a friend with me. A teacher bangs her fist on a desk and screams at me. She makes me admit to something I did not do in front of the class. I am in a phone box explaining that my mum is in the toilet bleeding. My granny puts the phone down and tells me there has been a fire at my house. My granny pulls me away from a woman with a melted face. My granny makes me feel safe. A terrapin swims in an old chip pan and a dark smoke filled room. My mom is showing me how to throw a punch. She tells me to put my thumb and save my fist. A glass bottle shatters on the wall behind me as I ducked behind a coach. An old woman with a melted face laughs. A budgie is celebrated for being able to say bad words. My mother is annoyed because I won’t go to bed. I am showing off in front of her friends. She walks into the kitchen and takes her knife from a drawer. I run upstairs to my bedroom. My mom walks into my classroom to fight a teacher who frightened me.

36:30

A fireball rises to the ceiling from a chip pan. We run out of our narrow kitchen and into a hall.

36:39

I am walking across open ground between two high rise flats in a storm to get cigarettes for my mum and a man. I am blown off my feet and across the grass. An angry teacher kicks open the door of the boys dorm and threatens to kick fuck out of all of us if we don’t go to sleep. Sure that was a trauma informed school too.  He’s the same teacher I’ve seen attacking my friend. He is the same teacher that girls feel uncomfortable around. He is the teacher I’m supposed to go to if I have problems at school. All the other teachers are scared of him too. Adults are watching me from the window of a high rises I lie on the ground. I have so far to walk. Adults are watching me. I have so far to walk and I am afraid to stand in case I blow away. I think they are laughing at me. My mom is angry I’m frightened of a bully. She takes me to his house and makes me fight with him in the street. Other children are watching us. A teacher asks what happened to my jacket, the one I was wearing when I blew away. An angry drunk man is screaming threats through a letterbox in the middle of the night. He’s kicking the door. If he breaks through, I will not be able to protect the children. We are not safe. Nobody is coming to help us. It may not surprise you that somewhere along the line I acquired the idea that my life was uniquely tragic. However, when this notion took shape, I cannot be sure. Was it the alcoholic mother whose unreliability plagued my early years? Maybe the deprived community I was raised and notable for the poverty, violence and addictionit  so effortlessly reproduced. Perhaps leaving the family home abruptly at 16 before becoming a homeless alcoholic in my early 20s was the genesis of this narrative, or possibly the reactions of shock and sadness on other people’s face when I regale them with detailed accounts of family dysfunction, maybe that did the job. Whichever way this idea took root, whether a sudden epiphany, or a gradual view constructed over the years, the belief that my upbringing was hard and had damaged me beyond repair, at some stage, became the controlling idea of my story. A story that was almost as hard to bear as the trauma itself. Like many of my generation, a reluctant millennial. I came of age at the dawn of a 21st century which promised so much. My cohort blossomed in a cultural sweet spot where information was becoming more accessible. But the tentacles of the internet were quite scurrying around in our pockets like they are today. It was a far less informed but far simpler time to be young. When traditional media always got the last word on what was true. On who is good or bad, and on what was considered cool. And the family doctor always got the last word on what was wrong when you didn’t feel well. Back then pop stars and not podcasts ruled the airwaves. What many of the artists of the day were singing, shouting and rapping about was their personal problems. Unlike the moody grunge of Nirvana, where listeners were often left to speculate as to the true meaning behind the lyrics to a song like underneath the bridge. What the hell is that song about? The biggest pop artists of my day were far more literal when offering their perspectives. Queens gangster rapper 50 cent traded on being short nine times. Kanye West captured the charts with his account of a near fatal car crash that left him with his jaw wired. But perhaps this story with the biggest impact of any artist in this period of putting it all out there was budgeting global superstar Eminem’s accounts of trailer park poverty, marital dysfunction, and the child neglect experienced at the hands of his pill popping alcoholic mother beamed into millions of homes, cars and headsets every hour of the day. These artists didn’t want to change the world wide Public Enemy, or wax poetic on the pitfalls of modernity, like Radiohead. These precocious upstarts wanted to talk about themselves and their lived experiences. More than that, they offer detail accounts of that adversities which were as shocking as they were intriguing and by purging their frustrations, their heart aches and their traumas and their music. They modelled a mode of self expression to troubled teenagers like me, struggling to forge an identity. This willingness on the part of ours to disclose their personal tribulations publicly in exchange for greater visibility, adulation, and financial success was part of a general shift in culture across all forms of media. The naughties were a golden age of airing dirty laundry publicly, with some freak shows more trashy than others from bear baiting dating talk vehicles to primetime weekend talent shows. Men and women and children routinely risk scandalising themselves for a short fortune and fame for the promise of feeling loved, accepted and secure. In 2001, grieving the sudden death of my mother and reeling from a family breakdown. I attempted to emulate my favourite artists seeking salvation, catharsis, and above all acceptance by hastily upcycling personal adversity, and to my best attempt at art. The first song I ever wrote was called seems like only yesterday. The lyrics were actually written before my mother passed away before I left home, and was intended as an attempt at reconciliation after many years of feeling angry at her for leaving. Across the four verses I depicted my experiences of growing up as she descended further into alcoholism, as narrated through the eyes of a child. When I wrote the song, I hadn’t really considered the idea that would ever be performed. It was for her. And for me, it was my way of letting her know that I was trying to forgive her, and that I understood on some level, she suffered from an illness and wasn’t a bad parent person. Whether I truly believed that I couldn’t say, but the song at the risk of invoking a horrific cliche, wrote itself. As favour would have it she passed away before I could play it to her. And so by accident, it became a tribute song. I recorded that and I liked how it sounded. And I took rap up as a serious hobby. I am by nature a seeker. When I have a target, I’m aiming for the noise of the world around me and my own head dims to the point of becoming bearable. With rap as my new obsession, there was a thread by which I could pull myself through adversity. Growing up in a community where creative expression was frowned upon among young men, rapping allowed me to remain engaged in a creative process from within the patina of street credibility, which seemed necessary to successfully navigate social environments dominated by young men, as obsessed with appearing tough as I was wirth writing raps. And unlike many of them, who fabricated experiences to seem tougher than they were, I had an authentic hard work story. I had the talent. All I needed was an audience. I began performing locally, and making a name for myself, and was after a time invited to conferences, and onto radio and television to recount my experiences as growing public interest, and my story granted me countless opportunities throughout the years. And despite the many challenges I faced, I established myself as an effective community artist, activist and performer. The 2010s brought with it social media, which effectively turned me into my own publisher. And with a growing sense of my audience came new confidence. I was on the right track. There seemed an endless interest in my accounts of adversity, homelessness. I have my own descent and to alcoholism and addiction, as well as my commentary and analysis of the socio economic conditions of such adversities in which they tend to occur. The interest culminated in the publication of my 2017 debut book Poverty Safari, part memoir, part social commentary, in which I revealed, among other things, traumatic experiences from my childhood. I wasn’t the only person putting all out there. By this point, the type of personal disclosure in which I seem to excel had not only penetrated media, publishing and the arts, but had become a mainstay of civic discourse. Decision makers, charities and philanthropists began to see the value and hearing the perspectives of those of us who had experienced many of the challenges they in their organisations had a stake in addressing. My new prominence as a writer and broadcaster, rendered me a de facto poster child for the boundless merits of what came to be known as lived experience, a concept we’ll explore shortly. Every other day, I was making public appearances failing opinion columns performing on stage, after many long years of adversity. When I struggled to get sober, unaware of the true impact of my traumatic experiences earlier in life, I was now a professional and a public figure, and an expert. No longer on the margins, I was finally included, I was finally important.

46:29

I was finally loved and accepted. Telling your tragic story it seemed, was how you made the best of your bad luck. After years of doors being slammed in my face as an aspiring artist and writer, people, were now interested. My art was complete. overcoming the odds, I was at last redeemed, people loved my story, my lived experience, and by extension, they loved me. What even is lived experience? On what other plane can experience occur, but through life being lived? What is the special genre of experience that we who have suffered, adversity must always be designated, which somehow doesn’t apply to everyone else? I will admit I’m not a fan of the term itself. Though I am a strong advocate of the principle underpinning it. If you spend enough time online, you’re sure to encounter someone like me. We have strong opinions, which we often express with passion and conviction. We believe that experiences are important that they may shed light on certain social and cultural challenges, backfilling the knowledge gap so evident among a well meaning managerial class. From addiction to homelessness, criminal justice, gender based violence, racism, housing, mental health and trauma. Our lived experiences, which take the form of stories are regarded by many, and by ourselves, as the solutions to a complex puzzle. Missing pieces, which when truly grasped by decision makers in wider  society key to help shape a more compassionate informed and inclusive future. But that’s not the whole story. A lived experience is also a commodity. One which adds immeasurable value to workplaces, academic research, and media enterprises dominated by middle class professionals. Everyday lived experience permeates culture, driving engagement on social media platforms, generating millions of views, clicks and comments, posts and status updates online think pieces videosessays, news segments and short form clips online are disseminated, debated and deconstructed. And a free market or willingness to eagerly supply the rapacious demand for authenticity and social realism can certainly leave us with a sense that we are finally making waves. That we are having an impact and making a difference. Regrettably, the allure of presenting ourselves as recovered – because that’s the nice little bow most people want their affirming lived experience testimonies wrapped up in – may pull us further from the truth of who we are, and what we really suffer from. In essence, by falsely portraying ourselves as the finished article, our vulnerability increases, not least in the current climate. The lived experience movement is caught in a crossfire between tribes of a culture war, the term rouses prejudice and suspicion and many, is regarded by critics as a phrase whorthy of wooly minded do gooders and social justice warriors. A Trojan horse that smuggles subjective, unscientific, politically motivated anecdotes and personal opinions into serious matters of science and politics. Those with lived experience it is often claimed are granted special privileges and discussions in debates on social issues like race sexual acts suppression in class, and being seen to challenge or contradict them may get you into quite a bit of bother. Conversely, in more liberal circles, lived experience is often held up as the gold standard where understanding the human impact of social inequalities is concerned. People with lived experience of revered, wrapped in cotton wool and paraded before captive audiences keen to gorge themselves on social authenticity. As well as organisations keen to be seen platforming marginalised perspectives. Every anecdote is accepted as a statement of fact, and fear of being seen to invalidate the lived experiences of traumatised victims and survivors, too often takes precedent over the need to ground discussion and debate fondly within the realm of truth. While wonderful lip service is paid to the value of all of the experience, some of lived experiences receive  prominence or priority over others depending on the objectives or political agendas of the institutions involved in generating the discussion. Sometimes that’s entirely appropriate. Sometimes, it’s a bit cynical. Lived experience also elicits it’s assumptions which are not as safe as they appear. We are believed always to be acting in service of a cause, and never in our own interests. Despite the clear positive incentives at play. We may receive prominence in our community or media be offered public speaking gigs or in my case, book deals television shows. I’d be lying if I said that not developed an acute awareness of how my story and how I tell it can leverage opportunities. While people with lived experience in the organisation, organisations platforming as often have noble intentions, we do also have our ulterior motives, like people in every other walk of life. We have grievances to air, scores to settle, resentment stacked out beneath veils of endless political campaigning. Well, it’s entirely understandable that personal testimony of a lived experience must be treated with sensitivity that are implications where every experience is taken automatically at face value. Lived experiences are not interrogated like other forms of evidence, despite increasingly being asserted as fact and submitted into social policy decision making, not just by testimonies  from campaigners, but also by organisations, agencies and institutions to which lived experiences provide a certain level of political propulsion and cover in the face of challenge of criticism. Essentially, lived expedience is often exploited unintentionally by organisations who use it to create shortcuts and through roads in areas such as public relations, political campaigning, and fundraising. Meanwhile, those who divulge their lived experiences are very rarely involved in decision making, and must instead learn to view the traumatic experiences as a form of capital to be traded in exchange for exposure, employment, educational opportunities. In essence, the sector at its worst functions, like every other industry under capitalism, It’ss governed by the same perverse incentives. And I’m nearly done, don’t worry. While my case may seem an unusual one, most people with lived experience will never write books about or gain media prominence, the pitfalls for those of us who decide to disclose aspects of a trauma publicly at whatever level are the same. And this is really what this campaign is about. We may be prompted on to a platform to aid or trauma publicly by others who have done no such thing and are therefore ill equipped to provide the necessary insight support or aftercare we may require or the expectations may inadvertently rise sensing we are on the cusp of some breakthrough, which has previously eluded us only to be dealt a crushing blow upon the realisation that people we thought were friends and allies. Because we often attach intensely to anyone who gives us the time of day or simply associates engaged in a transaction. And we may experience the nap of negative consequences. When a story is reached a level of prominence we did not foresee provoking unpleasant reactions and others be that strangers will never meet or friends and family members, who share neither our recollections of what happened nor our desire to make a public display of it. This lived experience moment ought to come with some caveats not simply for the benefit of those of us putting it all out there, but also to people on the lower slopes of their own recovery from trauma, who looked to us with a platform for an example to follow what we did our favourite artists. There is a darker side to this lived experience moment, which must be articulated with great care. So it’s not to stoke unnecessary tumult. Though I suspect those currently riding the wave will find some of what I’m going to do in this campaign extremely challenging, no matter how delicately it’s put. So let me first say this. I do not believe people with lived experience are being deliberately exploited by anyone. We have agency and participate willingly in most cases. I wish to cast no aspersions on organisations which have in recent years sought to platform collaborate with or even employ the lived expedience. My concern is that we the individuals being invited to share intimate details of our lives are often not as well as we believe. We are often not as firm in our footing and life as we appear. Indeed the demons have childhood trauma we’d all like to think long banished wait patiently. We worry that showing vulnerability may result in a withdrawal of interest – abandonment. We’re afraid to assert ourselves and our needs, so make commitments we are unsure we can fulfil, while accepting terms and conditions we often sense are unfair – conflict averse and overly complaint. And we often don’t understand the fullness of the consequences that may lie ahead, when we agree to sing for our suppers – impulsivity, lack of boundaries.

55:32

Our desire to help others to participate, to be seen to be achieving, and yes to gain affection and security and love is often so overwhelming that we push aside any lingering doubt as to our fitness to engage in the risky public exhibitionism, which may come to define us. And let’s not forget, we did decant our traumas into a rowdy and unforgiving and radioactive public square, where once disclosed, cannot be undisclosed. There is no shortage of rancour between those who blindly reveal lived experiences and those who instinctively doubt them. But rarely does anyone have anything pointed to say to the people with lived experiences themselves. We’re too vulnerable, you see. Well, that’s where I come in. As a fully paid up member of the lived experience movement. My impulse to overshare leaves me with crippling anxiety in the aftermath. unguarded remarks I have made in good faith a bit past attitudes and behaviours have been seized upon and reframed as admissions of guilt and evidence of my being dangerous and suspect. If I search my own name online, a slew of articles appears in which my mother is invariably depicted as a monstrous abuser. traumas I reviewed believing that with help others have been weaponised against me by the tractors, and stories I thought were my own to tell were in fact the shared property of others to whose perspectives and feelings I never considered prior to disclosure. People I’ll never meet know more about me than my own children. I am so grateful to anyone throughout the years, who has taken the immense risk of encouraging me to keep my powder dry. To edit some graphic detail out to keep some grave revelation to myself. You better have your ducks in a row before you let the genie out of the bottle. Because if I could go back, I wouldn’t have told the world half the things I did. Thank you

56:50

was intense. It was a bit windy. Okay. That is that? Do you need help? Can we help you? Right. motional frankness I like that. Okay, how are you?

59:10

Yeah, there’s a bit shaken by the amount of something about the amount of detail that you put into that. Yeah. And what you, you, you, you did it really skillfully, actually. Because when you asked me to try and define trauma, I thought, well, we were going to be up here. And what you did was really give a live kind of demonstration of it. And of that fragmentary nature, you know, things are so coming thick and fast and, and they don’t make sense because there’s there’s no thread that runs through them.

1:00:01

Yeah, yeah. And when I was, was we didn’t, that passage was on the document is an italics. Just to sort of let the reader know that it’s a bit different from the rest of the body of the text. And as I was reading, it got to a point where I was like, the first timer, when I was practising it. It’s, it’s from the rough draft of the book that I’m working on. And so I’m reading through that. And I normally you get there, you sort of know you have a rhythm of when you know something’s going on too long. And that’s when you stop. But that’s not how trauma works. And so what I wanted to do was somewhat what some comedians do, when they sense the losing faith of the room, because they’re hammering a joke to heart and they just keep going. And they just keep going until the people in the room start to understand why the burner, because that’s what trauma is like, it’s like you vomit and up, it’s just wandering on everything around you. And one of the people understand that that is the intent behind the way that it’s shared that don’t know, maybe some people will think it’s excessive, and it’s detail. But I’ve got to be authentic to how I express myself. Because, for me, this subject is too close to my heart. And if I’m going to talk about trauma, I need to authenticate myself in the minds of the people watching, so that they can say, that sounds like trauma doesn’t sound like a Piers Morgan cynical type of person who just doesn’t like people who are a bit sensitive. Seems like he’s, he’s a process of recovery himself. I’m just sort of vibe I was going for Maririam.

Miriam Taylor  1:02:01

I get that. And yet, I said that when I read your books, when you were writing about trauma. Now was that because I had a particular sensitivity and part of my sensitivity comes from lived experience. Was I’m curious about what’s enough for you?

1:02:23

Yeah. In terms of disclosure? Yeah. Yeah. Well, there’s a couple aspects to it. Because when I was reading that I felt like catharsis. See, when I did the last spec that didn’t have our lived experience, and

Darren McGarvey  1:02:46

people didn’t enjoy reading it as much. People didn’t buy it as much. People said they bought it, but they hadn’t finished it yet. That’s because there’s not a personal narrative pulling them through every page. So the question for me came, when I was like, Why did I write a book like that? I wrote a book like that, because I thought, that’s the book people wanted me to date. I thought people for I’ve got a platform. So I have to write about class and social inequality, or I’m not being true in my community. But I hated every minute of it. And that fucking book was torture. I believed it when I wrote it – I researched it throroughly but it took me a year to edit it

1:03:28

that you didn’t put your put yourself into it, and

1:03:31

I didn’t put myself into it because I was like, I’ve said too much I need to pull back. And over never planned to do this project. I was just sitting observing a discussion about trauma content online and the absence of clinical guidance and mental health services in the real world. And recognising that trauma was beginning to become this Rorschach answer to every question for some people. And while I completely acknowledge the pain, and confusion, and perhaps lack of meaning and support in anyone’s life, who’s looking out to the online world for an answer to explain how they feel, trauma has to be diagnosed, or has to cross a clinical threshold. That is a certain danger, when we take a story is profound and powerful as trauma, and integrate that into our sense of identity. Because it feels right. Because most of the people out there who I encounter on the front line as a journalist, the loving mature mind, they don’t know about the law, my trauma, and they would never think to get up on a stage and talk about it. And in fact, and the lived experience movement, someone like me is seen as representative of a whole cross section of people who are addicts or grew up in poverty or have trauma. But actually the fact that I get up and talk about it means I’m not representative of those people. So there are some things that need to be clarified where we talk about trauma. And you’ve already alluded to it and stability in terms of being cohesively defined even among experts. So imagine what happens when that moves from being a clinical term to a colloquial thing. I’m traumatised, I don’t know Boston was more north of Galloway, you know, whatever it was, yeah. People traumatised by public transport traumatised by something going out, you know, that kid man, Shah winder, Nick and your tongue che. They think conflict is trauma. They think criticism is trauma. And we’ll understand it’s uncomfortable. And well, I understand that maybe trauma, the river, you’re just walking around with a story in your head about how you’re traumatised Yeah, I’m actually saw any guidance or insight. The story is almost as powerful as the trauma that

1:05:49

I think is is where there’s a problem. Yeah.

1:05:53

And that, so no, I was just, I was inviting you continue, but you take your time to think about what you’re saying. So I’m getting in the level? Yeah.

1:06:06

I think there’s, there’s not enough, because Because trauma has a way of kind of narrowing our focus. And we come up really close to it so close that we get we kind of get burned, and go on getting burned. And it’s really difficult to step outside of it enough to be able to say, to reflect on is, is this a is this a good thing to share? Is what might the consequences be? What is what is the story behind the trauma of getting stuck in traffic or finding that Boston’s further north in New York or Yeah, you know, because it’s because it’s not been processed enough. I don’t I don’t want that sounds like a bit of a clinical term. But it hasn’t been worked with enough it has, there’s not enough distance is really part of the problem.

1:07:11

As part of this campaign. This is going to be like the first sort of part of it. And then we’re going to hear a run of podcast, podcast as well. And so they’re going to be different mediums and forums and places that you can engage with us in different ways, are one of the people I interviewed for that that will be published soon as and offered my child psychologist Madeline her write about and poverty Safari. And I interviewed thought, because I didn’t actually know if I had been treated for trauma when I worked with her all those years ago. So I had to get clarification. And then I was thinking, well, that’s interesting, actually going back and in the past and talking to people who are not have not had the story already tell over and over again, who just know me from them. And what did they think and what was that really like? And so it was then it started to make sense that for me engage with this topic through a book had to be personal. Because it’s like our case study. What I’m saying, here are the consequences of telling your story publicly. The potential consequences and now I’m on the extreme end. And for me also, identifying though, trauma and the story of trauma has been a big part of my life, I think we’ll verify if it was true. I mean, which may seem an S area of a formula everyone believes no matter what, it may seem radical, as radical. How many stories have you go about your life, why you got sacked, why your relationship broke down, why your power doesn’t talk to you, that you tell yourself which is not in close to the truth that a life is comprised of the stories that help us to make sense of why our life has to be as an hour and a story that we can live with and all humans do that when it comes to sound like trauma, which is a very difficult kind of energy then you can just be on transmit all the time about the story of healing from trauma is about having conversations you the white half a few if you feel comfortable getting out and talking about your trauma, that’s not what you need to be talking about. Do you know what I mean? Yeah, so just the whole way the discussion publicly set up for them that runs contrary to the actual reality of trauma act of trauma. And a lot of instances are not always be exceptions to rules but the book is basically me trying to clarify all that well all the time saying look, I’ll go fast. I fall che you know, I mean, I have attention want to make money. General I mean, and then make it safe for other people just to put their pride aside and go traumas No, the only thing going on with me right now.

1:10:02

I worry that some people might, I’m kind of playing devil’s advocate here. My take your example. And, and spill it all, without any context without any support, you’ve got some support or you’ve got, you’ve at least got ways of finding it. And you use you use the word vulnerable. I think there are two kinds of vulnerable, there’s the kind of vulnerable that leaves you open for people to go on hurting you. It’s like saying, Hey, I’m, I’m a doormat, you know, kind of this, this, this is what’s happened. There’s another kind of vulnerable, which is which is a useful kind of vulnerable, it’s got its strength in it. It’s, it’s because it’s, it’s saying, I’m a human being. And human beings are not meant to shut stuff out. They are not meant to bottle things up. We do react to stuff, we do have feelings. And I think that’s a different kind of vulnerable. And I’m not quite sure where you are right now from earnings was

1:11:37

at the root of the kind of trauma that’s cause currently, there is this idea that merely by disclosing the details of what you think caused your trauma, you will find closure and meaning and you will hear this is not true. No, it’s not. Well, as true as that you share your experience at an appropriate level and an appropriate context. And then you pass the mic to someone who offers and say and what you’ve just said, Just tell him the story over and over again. That is not necessarily helpful. That really

1:12:11

isn’t. Yeah, you have to tell it, you have to tell it in a different way. Yeah.

1:12:17

So. So it’s, that’s one of the big aspects of the discourse that I want to get to what’s the campaign is looking at that. An illness The other thing is well, where we know that people who are abused could be likely to perpetrate harm later. And if the trauma is not dealt with, or if they’re neglected in some way, if certain behaviours aren’t modelled to them, we understand that everyone understands that. For some reason, when we talk about trauma, we’re well on the table Oh, as long as we’re telling the stuff that happened to us. I’m one of the few people in public life in Scotland who’s openly talked about the things I’ve done wrong other people. Because when people see themselves as trauma, they overly identify with the dynamics in which they were a victim. And they exclude all other possibilities of their behaviour, but they don’t. And that’s why you see certain behaviour and people don’t believe that they’re perpetrating harm against people because they believe that acting from a righteous place that acting from a traumatised place where the idea that the could be harming people, the way they were harmed is have affected them. And they will reject that out of hand, and say that you’re dismissing the trauma by implying that, and what I’m saying, as if we really cared about trauma, we really cared about discussing it openly. And we really cared about healing, then we have to be prepared to look at certain things that don’t make us feel righteous that don’t make us feel good. And that’s something that our model all the time and all of the work that I do. And so really the book is attempt to answer a question I get asked the what what says, I won’t say a story about my life. Have you got any advice for me? Forgive me.

1:13:58

I, I don’t entirely agree with you. I think I think we’re all capable of hurting other people. I don’t I doubt that there’s anybody here who hasn’t, in some way, hurt another. And I think there’s a risk of falling into the myth that if you’ve been abused, you are going to go on to abuse other people the reality or that you’re a danger to your kids. And it does come up but the reality is that most people who’ve been abused, who go on to have their own kids, for example, make a conscious choice to be a different kind of parent from the parents that hurt you. Yeah, that’s that’s my experience. I have worked with people who who have been in that perpetrator position, but it’s far more common that you find people that’s who make a different decision. As as I did

1:14:57

here, when we clarify quite clearly And what I meant by that was simply in a certain trauma algorithm, you can be very selective with what you’re integrating, not integrating. And no, everyone has a similar proclivity for harming others. And that’s life. What I mean, as in that trauma algorithm would encourage to only look at the stuff that happened to us. And as a result, we began to exclude all the possibilities. And that’s not that’s not insane. That’s not that’s a reality. Yeah, you know, but

1:15:26

I get what you’re saying. And it’s over identifying with the with the victim. Yeah, yeah.

1:15:31

The victim role and there’s no healing. Yeah, yeah. I’m getting segments from police. Are we done? Right. Okay. No worries. Anything you’d like to say? Because I

1:15:47

know, we got some questions. That sounds dangerous. Okay, got time for some questions or not,

1:15:56

then we override. I went on about long as usual. We

Sarah Skerratt  1:16:01

can either finish now, if people need to leave, or we can add literally five minutes for questions. What can I have a show of hands finished now? Okay. If I if I just share a bit, because it’s easier than you can engage questions, then, literally five minutes. So who’s going to have their hand up? First, someone right at the back, please. On the back row. If you could say who you are, if you don’t mind, if you don’t want to say that’s fine. And so who your questions for thanks. Yeah, sure.

1:16:34

My name is tarnished. I just want to test to what you just said about intergenerational trauma and people making different choices. I know that very well as the grandson of a paedophile rapist and the son of a child sexual abuse survivor. And I’m sure you could put the two together, work that one out. What I’d like to ask you there and in particular, Miriam, you said some your definition was overwhelming bit of a burden to cope on their own. And bearing that in mind, Darren, could you talk about class on trauma in the context of radical communities, activist communities, political communities, particularly in the environmental or the Green Movement? I know if I recall correctly, or in the poll, you’re involved in public Free State as a way if I remember, is that right as that kid? Yeah, I was a kid I see, yeah. Could you talk? Could you talk about that, and what your reflections would be now on the radical left or the progressive. left at this point, in relating to class on trauma,

1:17:42

I’ve written out, I’ve written quite extensively about this, and both my books, so I don’t want to repeat, old ground with it. But definitely anything that I’ve tried to express, as related to cultural differences between social classes. So on one hand, you have a confident, middle class, confident enough to say it, what it needs, what it wants, what it deserves, at that level. And also that class is also expressing its sense of vulnerability, and sense of fear, and sense of needing certain things to be in place in practice the day before, can you feel safe? Conversely, then you have a bunch of other people who are not engaged in any way and politicians don’t give a shit about they’re not organised. And the living conditions of deprivation, what they’ve been deprived of, well, those economic liberty for a star, but there is also a whole onslaught of other forms of deprivation, and couldn’t relational deprivation, broken family addiction, comorbidity, Corcoran conditions, trauma, and mental health, illness, that’s clinical in nature. All of these things create an environment where it’s very difficult to weigh down the roots required to foster genuine social connection, which is positively charged. And therefore what we see in those communities as social connections, which are negatively charged, which were fear, often rules the day. And those people get annoyed when they see middle class activists running a boat all the time seeing how fucking traumatised they are. And that’s just because of cultural differences. It’s not this lesson one and platform and the other. It’s just I’m in a position where I can articulate that because I’ve been on both sides of it.

Sarah Skerratt  1:19:25

Thank you very much. One last question. But before I give that opportunity, I don’t want to assume that you’d be willing to take questions with people coming up to the stage you I don’t know if you’re comfortable with that or not. So can I just check whether you want people coming up or whether you

1:19:40

This is to both of us, we have a kind of agreement or how long that would go on for well, you can take longer in about as you know, from when I was talking.

Sarah Skerratt  1:19:51

So we just say in 10 minutes, okay, that’s very generous. So one last question in the public forum and you know, you can form an orderly queue For further questions, so you caught my eye can you use the microphone? Thank you.

1:20:08

Can I always ask other people to because I can hear for sure. So my name is Marcia Scott and work for Scottish women’s aid. And I agree with so much of what was said, Darren, I just have a question. And it’s not. In my world, it’s not the job of people who have been traumatised to fix the source of their trauma. So I’m not holding you responsible. I’m just asking, What would feel like this worked for you? Like, what is it that that your campaign? How will you feel like you’ve made a difference with is it with the folk who come to you and say, Tell me how to do this or tell me when to stop or tell me when to start?

1:20:54

I feel that my aim is to say some things that people are ruminating on right now that haven’t quite been structured and laid out and clarified that I think we’ve helped to refine how you’re looking at lived experience that I think would help to grown discussion about trauma, back into something approaching a clinical setting rather than a colloquial thing. And finally, for those with lived experience, are being drawn in by an algorithm that says, tell the world about what happened. Certain things have to be in place before you do that. Otherwise, if you’re loving my act of trauma, you are in for lateral hell trust me. Yeah. And that’s why it’s what I’m aiming to do with this whole project. Thank

Sarah Skerratt  1:21:40

you so much. So in trying to wrap up the event, I won’t obviously do any summary that would be futile. And yeah, just not appropriate. So thank you so much to Darren and Miriam for such an incredible event tonight. Miriam, early on, you said defining trauma is like trying to capture smoke in a net. And I think we’ve had a bit of that tonight. I’ve certainly found it. Just incredible. And I know from the vibe in the room, that that’s been the case for many of us. If you want to catch up on tonight’s event, and many others in our programme, please check the YouTube channel where you will find this evening’s event. And I would like to echo the thanks of our two guests tonight to the public engagement team who are standing at the back particularly harder, but if you could show your appreciation to the team. And in order not to cause them stress, I won’t use the word trauma, obviously not to cause them stress, we do need to leave this room by 830. And in order not to cause you guys stress if you could form an orderly queue for questions, and I will keep an eye on the time that we leave this room at 830. So that’s eight minutes rather than your generous 10. So finally, thank you for joining us. And let’s have one last round of applause for Darren. So if you would like to ask questions, please