Femena: Right, Peace, Inclusion

Femena: Right, Peace, Inclusion
Supporting WHRDs & progressive feminist movements in MENA & Asia.

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Self-Care after Release from Detention

Author: Yara WHRD Center

In the article “Solitary Confinement: Suffering, Endurance and Resistance” previously published by the Yara WHRD Center, we stressed the need to discuss the harms of solitary confinement and detention, and we provided recommendations for resisting and countering the consequences of detention and solitary. In this article, the importance of self-care and specialized and non-specialized support after release from detention is addressed. The experience of imprisonment and interrogation includes a combination of resistance and vulnerability and is accompanied by injuries and traumas that if not taken seriously and addressed appropriately, can haunt us for a lifetime. The suicide of some of the “Women, Life, Freedom” protesters following their release from detention or the suicide of other activists, such as Sarah Hegazi, reminds us of the critical importance of talking about harms resulting from detention, solitary confinement or even interogation, confronting them and healing from the resulting trauma upon release from prison. 

Recognition of Differences

Based on research and published accounts of detention experiences, people experience a wide range of harms as a result of detention and solitary confinement, ranging from a wide spectrum of disturbances and anxieties such as depression, hopelessness, isolation, psychosis, fear of death, self-harm, and suicide. Some individuals have experienced long-term imprisonment, while others have only experienced temporary detention, some have experienced prolonged solitary confinement, and some have experienced physical and sexual violence or other disturbing behaviors from interrogators. Some individuals have a long history of civil and political activism and have acquired the necessary skills to cope with the horrific experiences resulting from interrogation and detention, and causing harm. The first step is to recognize these differences, avoid feelings of shame and self-blame when facing the consequences of detention, and avoid comparing one’s feelings with others. Remember that people after release do not feel comfortable talking openly about their suffering and vulnerabilities, and may intentionally refuse to discuss such issues in order to present a “resilient” and “resistant” image of themselves. Do not be influenced by what you see on social media about how others have resisted pressures of interrogation and detention, as many of these accounts may not reflect realities, or only reflect part of the it. As such, you should not suppress your emotions and frustrations, and you should certainly not ignore them.

Recovery and Healing is a Process

Recovery after experiencing detention and solitary confinement may be a long process. You may experience prolonged periods of anxiety, restlessness, sleep disturbances, nightmares, and may constantly be reminded of your experiences in interrogation, the humiliation you suffered as a result of interrogation and detention, and violent actions of security forces, etc. These unpleasant memories can flood your mind at any time. It’s not unusual for those recently released from detention or prison to have feelings of self-blame for the suffering their ordeal has caused their family members and loved ones. These feelings of guilt and self-blame can overwhelm you and become a disturbing and persistent issue of concern. Be aware that these feelings are natural consequences resulting from the traumatic experiences you’ve been through and healing from those experiences often takes time and can often take longer than expected. Sometimes recovery cannot be achieved without the support of loved ones or specialized professionals. Don’t deny what you’ve suffered, don’t delay taking action to recover, and give the healing process the time it needs.

Rebuilding and Resuming Social Ties

Social isolation and withdrawal is one of the harms that you may experience after being detained, especially if you have experienced long periods of solitary confinement or long-term imprisonment. You may avoid answering phone calls and face-to-face meetings, causing distress to those around you and further pushing you into loneliness and isolation. On the other hand, some acquaintances may distance themselves from you or cut off contact to keep themselves safe from potential risks and security threats that may arise from being in touch with you. Give them time and try not to pressure them. These are common experiences for those who have been detained on security charges. Try to remember that you are not alone in encountering them. The responsibility for this situation and the widespread sense of insecurity lies entirely with the oppressive system that has targeted you and you are not to blame for these circumstances. 

Returning to society and rebuilding or resuming emotional and social relationships can be a challenging and difficult process. Talk to those close to you about these feelings, ask them to understand and help you get through the difficult days you will experience. Supportive friends and groups can help in rebuilding social ties and in recreating a sense of belonging. Connecting with other former detainees and prisoners can also be very effective in this process. Experience has shown that forming groups and links among detainees and even their families or meeting with other released prisoners are effective strategies of resilience. The sense of belonging that arises from being a member of such groups can help with the recovery process and break the sense of isolation, creating a safe space for detainees after release.

Talking to Trusted Individuals and Building a Support Network

Specialists and therapists consider sharing traumatic experiences with trusted close friends and family to be an effective strategy for self-care when facing trauma. Talk to people you trust and you know to be non-judgmental and seek emotional support. Ask for help in returning to your routine and regular life. Empathy and solidarity will help you in coping with feelings of isolation resulting from detention. Especially if you share your suffering with those who have had similar experiences. However, keep in mind that after release, people may ask you to recount memories from your time in detention. Repeatedly reviewing the painful details can intensify the trauma. You are not obligated to respond, and you can share only as much as you feel comfortable. You can also explicitly state that you do not want to talk about it. It is important that what you have been through is narrated based on your desire and choice, not under social pressure. Keep these points in mind when talking to friends and especially if you decide to do an interview with the media. 

Mental Health and Relaxation Techniques

Techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation, and yoga have proven to be very effective in reducing anxiety and restlessness and generally have a positive impact on both physical and mental health, increasing overall well-being. These exercises improve the quality of sleep and reduce muscle tension. These simple, self-care methods are free, low-cost, and accessible, and can always be practiced. Find the techniques that work best for you and make them a regular part of your routine to improve your sleep and overall well-being.

Taking Care of the Body and Physical Health

After release, you may experience physical symptoms such as headaches, indigestion, or other health problems. Visit a doctor and don’t neglect general checkups, especially if you went on a hunger strike during detention. Prioritize your physical health, ensure that you have a healthy diet, and get enough sleep. Make sure to exercise and try to adopt an exercise routine even if it is a routine of simple stretching at home for a few minutes a day. Make these exercise routines a daily habit. Avoid unhealthy coping mechanisms such as denial, ignoring trauma, drug abuse, and excessive alcohol consumption. These methods are only temporary painkillers and can intensify the psychological effects of trauma in the long run, damaging both your physical and mental health.

Occupy Yourself with Leisure Activities

The experience of detention may make you lose interest in activities that you used to enjoy. One of the most important self-care and anxiety-reducing techniques is engaging in leisure activities. Leisure activities such as painting, writing, reading, watching movies, listening to music, walking, spending time with loved ones, or spending time with pets, can be helpful to you after your release. If you are unable to take up these activities on your own, seek help from friends and, if possible, a counselor, and make these activities part of your daily routine.

Seeking Specialized Support

If possible, seek specialized support from counselors and therapists. Dealing with trauma and overcoming it sometimes cannot be achieved alone or just with the support of loved ones and requires specialized treatment. Specialized help and support can be especially helpful and necessary, if you faced physical torture and sexual violence during detention. In such cases, do not hesitate to seek out a therapist, who can help you process your experiences and emotions, access your inner strength, gradually take control of your affairs, and return to normal life. Research has shown that seeking therapy and psychotherapy is one of the most effective ways to cope with the consequences of trauma. Preferably, choose someone who is familiar with the political situation in your country and the challenges and complexities faced and experienced by civil society activists. Otherwise, you may become frustrated. Of course, you can always change your therapist. But before choosing, it is better to ask people who have experienced detention to connect you to a reliable therapist.