Archive for the ‘ me ’ Category

"Oh… So Where Did You Serve?"

“Oh… So where did you serve?” Is a question I’ve had a few times since coming out of the mental health closet and openly talking about my PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) diagnosis. I always reply that I have not been in the military, nor have I spent any time in a war zone.

It’s funny how much the media influences the publics perceptions of disorders. Most people when picturing a PTSD sufferer in their minds get a picture like the one below:

Picture of a white, male, American soldier in uniform looking overwrought

The average PTSD sufferer/survivor on a global scale is actually depending on your preferred way of looking at it is female and not a soldier. They are someone like me. Someone who has been exposed to a very traumatic event that was “outside the range of usual human experience.” Things like witnessing a violent/ unexpected death, rape, torture, sexual abuse, witnessing or experiencing life-threatening physical assault, terrorism, being held hostage and similar are often causes of PTSD. Where many people experience some level of trauma in their lives only about 8% of them will go onto develop PTSD.

So, what is PTSD? It’s a severe anxiety disorder caused by physical trauma and/or psychological trauma. It’s thought to happen when the brain is exposed to extreme levels of adrenaline which causes the brain to store & deal with the trauma in a disordered manner. People with PTSD have the following symptoms as a result of their exposure;

  • Persistent Re-experiencing – flashbacks (v.different from memories), nightmares, intense negative reactions to things that remind them of the trauma and other re-experiencing of the event.
  • Persistent Avoidance & Numbing – disassociation, seriously reduced ability to feel certain feelings and a desire to avoid anything that reminds them of the trauma.
  • Increased Arousal – hypervigillance and associated problems like difficulty falling/staying asleep.

In my case I spent years in a extremely abusive relationship where I was frequently abused (physically, psychologically & sexually) in horrific manners during which I was repeatedly exposed to the imminent possibility of my death. Looking back I’m still not sure how I survived some of the stuff. It all feels like a nightmare I can’t quite forget yet can’t bring myself to properly think about.

It’s funny, I can type about it sometimes but yet if I try and talk to someone about these things face to face my brain simply shuts down on me. I can’t hold the memory of what I was trying to say in my mind and I just end up opening and closing my mouth and eventually apologising for the fish impression and changing the subject. My brain is very good at blocking off the traumatic memories by either making it all feel like a dream or a story. Sometimes it shuts me down and I simply sit and stare into space, it feels like being simultaneously awake and in a deep dreamless sleep. Othertimes it drives me away from things that are likely to trigger flashbacks or re-experiencing. Occasionally it causes head pain so intense I feel like my head has been cut open again. Normally it just makes me forget things that I find extremley difficult to deal with which can be very problematic.

For the last year or so of my relationship and the years that followed I would have these intense re-occuring nightmares where the same horrific acts were being carried out by my ex. I’d find I would be unable to recall how I got cuts & bruises or why I was suddenly terrified of seemingly harmless things. It wasn’t until I escaped his reach that I really started getting flashbacks. Waking nightmares, memories so powerful they are indistinguishable from reality, like having time-travelled back to the time of the trauma and being forced to re-live it again and again. Imagine the most horrendous thing you have ever exprienced, the worst thing to have happened to you, forever etched in your mind. Haunting you with not just the old emotions but the smells, the tastes, the senstations on your skin. I hate them most of all. I think they are now the thing I’m most afraid of in the world. When they started kicking in I broke down. Having recently become disabled I lost the ability to cope as my mind crashed six months after my body. I lost the ability to sleep, lost the ability to disassociate for a while and ended up ready to kill myself. Luckily my GP intervened and got me psychiatric help where I was finally diagnosed and I began to get treatment.

I’m saddened to say that I’m not alone in this. I’ve met hundreds of PTSD sufferers online over the last few years and the overwhelming majority are female victims of domestic abuse, childhood sexual abuse, rape and domestic violence. Not white male soldiers – though I’m not ignorant enough to suggest my experiences are going to be representitive. Yet we often seem to be ignored when a discourse is opened up about PTSD, especially by the media. As well as the issues with inaccurate representation by the media fueling public stereotypes and misunderstandings it also can be very damaging for victims of the above traumas. Denial, silencing & victim blaming (often thanks to that pesky Just World Fallacy) is a really common experience for those of us who suffered in these ways. These problems create a feeling that people don’t/won’t take the horrid thing that happened to you seriously and more often than not they get internalised making survivors blame, silence and doubt themselves. Naturally this makes healing far harder. When the media ignores stories like yours and paints your struggles as being somehow less traumatising it adds to this nasty mess.

The more I think about it, the more sure I am that there is a gender bias in the reporting and coverage of PTSD which fuels the blackout of ‘womens issues’ with regards to the disorder. PTSD from ‘masculine’ causes like the serving in the military or in the emergency services is talked about far more commonly than PTSD arising from incidents that disproportionately happen to women*.

For plenty of reasons, male dominance in the media being a big one, people like myself are being left out of the PTSD discourse. If we want to move forward and stop creating a culture where some traumas are problematically rated as ‘less deserving’ than others, then things need to change.

* rape, domestic abuse, sexual assult – please note that no where did I say these things don’t happen to men.

Domestic Violence Part 3 – The Aftermath

This post is a continuation of my posts about my experiences with domestic abuse. It follows on from;

Domestic Violence Part 1 – How It All Began
Domestic Violence Part 2 – Where It Led

Warning: This post will contain triggers regarding domestic abuse and upsetting images as I talk about my own experiences. 



It’s taken me a long time to write this. In many ways I found what came after the relationship to be the hardest thing to deal with. I’ve spoken about how it all started and how those early steps eventually led to abuse of a financial, physical, sexual and psychological nature. My last post finished with me having finally realised something wasn’t quite right with our relationship and that I no longer loved the man. I had asked him to move out.

The evening after I asked him to leave I came home with a couple of ‘mates’ in tow expecting him to have either left or for their to be a confrontation. Luckily for me he had gone, sadly he had only taken two changes of clothes, his house keys and some of his plastic men he war-gamed with. Still, I was a strange mix of euphoric and terrified. I was overwhelmed with hope that he would try to be friends and that we could all move on peacefully with our lives.

Two days later I saw him and it became painfully clear he didn’t really believe we’d broken up. He thought I just needed a few days space before he would come back and things would be as before. I saw things very differently. That night he came into my flat (as he wouldn’t give the keys back) and started grabbing his stuff whilst shouting at me and the friend whom was still staying there. He rampaged through my belongings until he found a vibrator (which was given to me as a ‘Yay! You dumped the fucker!’ gift, then he really exploded and started threatening me with pretty much everything because it was clearly ‘evidence’ I was having an affair. Eventually he stormed out and I locked the door. For the first time I called the police.

Over the next fortnight he would keep refusing to collect his things from the flat and he would use it as reason to get back in whenever he felt like terrorising me. In one horrific incident he caught me walking to my flat alone, poured petrol on me and whilst I cried on the floor he walked around me flicking a lighter telling me how even if someone called 999 I’d be burned to death before they made it to save me. All he had to do was drop the lighter. Of course I fell into flashbacks of when I was previously burned (something he knew all about) and shut down completely. He must have decided to leave. I was on auto-pilot, being dissociated can be like sleepwalking, and walked back into the flat, put all my clothes into the washing machine and then went and sat in the shower with some fairy liquid whilst I washed my hair and body. I fell asleep and woke up later with no real memory of why I had taken a shower with washing up liquid. I blamed it on feeling ill and just got on with my life.

Reflecting back over it I can see my PTSD at work. I can see how my brain reacted to ‘protect’ me from the horror of what he was doing. I was so sure he was going to kill me. So very sure. Sometimes I wish I could turn back time so I could have called the police and let them see me covered in petrol, terrified and broken. It was clear he didn’t want me back. He was just acting like a spoilt child; if he couldn’t have me then no one could.

Eventually the day came where I needed to close our joint bank account. It was the last thing to be done. I met him and we went to the bank together. He was red and sweating, eyes like saucers the whole way through. He kept snapping so the lady in the bank hurried through his stuff and then, when he was done he stormed out. I burst into tears in fear and the staff kindly came over to check I was ok. They told me they all hated serving him and were scared of him. Eventually I left to meet a friend who said they would walk me home. Just as we left I heard someone screaming “WHORE!” as loudly as they could. I knew the voice. It was him. He strode through a busy high street screaming every insult he could think of at me whilst I froze, like a rabbit in the headlights. He towered over me (I’m 6’1″ but I slouch at the best of times, while he was 6’4″). He asked me if I’d had sex since we broke up (three weeks ago). I was so scared I simply replied “Yes”. I’d been well-trained never to argue with him and to always answer. I thought he couldn’t get angrier. I was wrong. He just screamed in my face at the top of his voice whilst I cowered, head in my hands, braced for a punch. Some people on the street told him to leave me alone and he stormed off. My friend took me back home, but just as we got close we saw him run up and head in the front door. My friend helped me find somewhere to hide (behind a wall) whilst he kept an eye out so I could dial 999. After a while he left the building and started running around the back trying (and succeeding) to smash my windows. When the police arrived I was a mess and he had vanished off into the local housing estate. They took my statement and went out to arrest him. Locals pointed them to where he was hiding; sadly it was a drug dealers house so they chucked him out and he spent a night in the cells. As it was his first offence he was cautioned and released. One of the things I remember most clearly about that event was being sat down by a kind policeman after he had been charged. He tried to give me a leaflet about domestic abuse. Initially I told him I didn’t need it, my ex hadn’t been abusive, he’d just had some temper issues. The police officer just popped the leaflet on my table and soon after left. Later my eyes flicked over it and soon I was crying. I was only just starting to realise that to realise that my relationship hadn’t been as perfect as I thought it was.

The front cover of the police leaflet that finally helped me realise I had been abused.

Over the next 6 months I was bombarded by death threats. He kept calling the police and telling them to arrest me. Eventually they got so pissed of with him they threatened to arrest him. He would stand outside my work and watch me all day flicking his lighter. Just before my shift would finish he’d vanish and leave me terrified that he was waiting to ambush me. Sometimes he would, sometimes he wouldn’t. He told the drug dealers that it was my fault the police had come to their flat (even though he was the one who ran that way) and they started a campaign of hate too. I worked with the police to help build a harassment case against him. They were called out a few more times when his temper would stop him being able to control his urges and he’d just have to hit me with a brick or walk into a restaurant grab my hair and start yelling.

Thinking back, while his abuse was horrendous to deal with, so was the way others behaved when they saw it. I was sitting having dinner with friends the night of the restaurant incident. All I did was cry and beg him to stop when he started, yet I was told by the restaurant manager that I had to leave as well as him. To be fair. At the time I blamed myself for sitting near the window. Now I see how messed up that was. He saw me in a restaurant, where I was a paying customer, and then decided to come in and abuse me and then I was chucked out. Out onto the street where he was. The manager should have called the police, but no, he decided I was equally to blame simply for being a person trying to live their life. Later he would hit me over the head with a brick whilst threatening to kill me in front of loads of witnesses. When the police were called two of the witnesses called me a bitch (even though I wasn’t the one who called the police) and said I “deserved it” for “being out and having fun somewhere he might see me”. I was “a whore, fucking with his emotions”. Others told them to sod off but it stayed with me. I really started to believe I was bringing it on myself.

Eventually a case was made and he was charged. It took eight months to get it heard, during which time he stayed away from me. His friends were an issue until the police explained to him he could be in trouble for ‘acting through agents’. My mental health deteriorated as I was plagued by nightmares, and waking nightmares I’d eventually learn to call flashbacks. I was scared to go outside and scared to stay inside. I was losing things, hearing things, my friends were telling me they’d seen him hanging around near my new ‘secret’ home.

The court case was a horrid. I was too scared to see him so I gave evidence via video link. During my testimony he was repeatedly told by the magistrates to sit down, to stop shouting, to stop laughing and so on. I was so scared I spent most of it shaking, crying my eyes out. I quickly discovered that the case only covered the harassment after the date of his caution for criminal damage. When the court would ask “Why were you so scared when he threatened you with ‘x’?” I wasn’t allowed to say “Because he used to do ‘x’ to me whilst we were together”. I wasn’t allowed to tell the court he’d been abusing me for 5 years before the harassment. Of course him shouting at me in the park didn’t seem that scary when taken away from the context of being part of an ongoing campaign of torture and abuse. He lied under oath, twice during my time in court, but was never picked up on it. Eventually a verdict was reached. Not Guilty. He was warned and told not to come near me again or he would be given jail time, but they had decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. The solicitor told me they thought I was ‘too emotional’ when giving my evidence which made me a ‘unreliable witness’.

Of course, he told everyone the case had been thrown out, I was a liar and he wasn’t guilty. My life became hellish. I broke down. A week later I discovered some people I had believed to be my only friends had been ‘Gaslighting‘ me for ages because they felt sorry for him. I hadn’t been loosing my stuff, they’d been hiding it. Then they began to blackmail me asking for money or telling me they’d tell him where I was and how to get me. I lost all my ability to cope. I hid in my bedroom either crying or catatonic, trying to commit suicide. I was put under the local crisis team and after a few months I decided to move to a new city to get a fresh start. I had a new partner at that point, who was sweet but like my previous partner, had an aversion to financially supporting himself. After living together for a few months in our new home city I broke up with him. I felt that there were too many similarities between his increasingly poor behaviour and his refusal to sort out benefits whilst he was out of work as well as his refusal to do any housework and his increasingly passive-aggressive manner when his damaging behaviour was challenged.

I continued to get death threats every 6 months or so from my doom ex but eventually things started to get better. I started to live my life for the first time since I was 17, I had sex and went clubbing without terror, I cooked food I enjoyed. I fell in love with the man I would later marry. I got diagnosed with PTSD and got some help which is still ongoing to this day.

I guess that’s my story with regards to domestic abuse pretty much told. I should try to sum up what I learned. Often people assume being tortured by someone I loved and believed loved me would be the worst part. It wasn’t. Not being believed by people. Being blamed for having brought it on myself. People telling me that if “he says A and you say C then the truth will be somewhere in the middle” did more damage than I can say. I was minimising my trauma as my way of coping, he was lying and suggesting that it never happened at all. The truth wasn’t somewhere in the middle, it was unimaginably dark and horrid. People were all so keen to give him the benefit of the doubt that they wouldn’t question his obvious lies.

I discovered the Just World Fallacy;

The just-world hypothesis (also called the just-world theory, just-world fallacy, just-world effect, or just-world phenomenon) refers to the tendency for people to want to believe that the world is fundamentally just. As a result, when they witness an otherwise inexplicable injustice they rationalize it by searching for things that the victim might have done to deserve it. This deflects their anxiety and lets them continue to believe the world is a just place, but often at the expense of blaming victims for things that were not, objectively, their fault. [Source: Wikipedia]

I learned that people don’t like to think that someone they rate as a person might have a ‘dark’ side. They often see people as good or bad, and react with hostility and doubt to people who challenge it. They didn’t want to think he could do horrid things to someone. Years later I still have people looking me up on facebook and saying “You know you said he did ‘x’ to you? Well he’s been doing it to [insert name here]” or “I’ve now seen what he’s like when he looses his temper, how did you survive?”, yet at the time they refused to even entertain the idea.

It shocked me how easily people would believe I was an evil, lying, manipulative, cruel, abusive bitch and he was a naive, charming, sensitive fool. Even when they’d watch him rage at me, completely out of control, they’d still try to find away of making me just as culpable, if not more so. I remember losing one of my jobs because he’d stand outside each day and then occasionally wander in and start shouting and threatening me. It was my fault he did that, even though I never engaged him or did anything more than carry on with my job by way of provoking him. It was still my fault.

I spent a long time blaming myself before I realised that a lot of the stuff that had happened really wasn’t my fault and that the blame lay elsewhere. I did a lot of reading about psychology, social psychology, sociology, feminism and other such things before coming to the conclusion that people’s perceptions of my gender had coloured their views. They thought women were hysterical by nature, which made ignoring my emotional distress easier. They believed women often lie about rape/abuse which made my story less valid. They believed women were over sexed ‘sluts’ (often at the same time as believing they were pure and needed a chivalrous hero to protect them from the world) which is why I couldn’t have been raped and why I must have asked for some of my treatment. Of course other things coloured their views, but most things were warped by gender. That’s why I identify as a feminist these days. I believe earnestly that regardless of gender or sex people should be treated equally.

In short, I discovered the world is not fair, sometimes bad things happen to people who did nothing to deserve it. I discovered most people are not comfortable with that simple truth and will go out of their way to try to re-frame the issues. Crucially I discovered that institutionalised sexist* stereotypes effect the re-framing of the issue and help create a culture where domestic abuse regardless of gender too often goes un-noticed, un-challenged and un-believed.

I believe if we want to make it easier for those suffering domestic abuse to get the help they need we need to work on raising awareness around the issues. No one deserves it. Whatever gender they are, however they present. The abuser makes the choice, albeit often unconsciously, to abuse and they are the people who need challenging and helping. Teenagers and adults need to be taught about the intricacies of unhealthy relationships so they can spot them before things get worse. I like to think that if I had regularly seen examples of how behaviour like my ex’s was abusive and dangerous, even in the early days,  it might have helped me realise how I was being warped and broken before it was too late. but If I hadn’t been raised not to complain, not to make a fuss, to believe women were ‘naturally better at housework’ I might not have been so easy for him to manipulate. This list isn’t by any means exhaustive and in 5 years I may well have changed my mind about certain parts of it, but so far these are some of the key areas I’d like to see addressed.

Thank you for reading this series.

* as well as racist, homophobic, transphobic, ageist, disablist etc…

Domestic Violence Part 2 – Where It Led

Warning: This post will contain triggers regarding domestic abuse and upsetting images as I talk about my own experiences. 

This is a continuation of my last post regarding the early years of my abusive relationship, this one will cover the years afterwards.

As we were planning our move to the South I began to notice something, in both of the jobs he’d had since we were together he was ‘being harassed by management’. I was worried my partner was being picked on so I dug a little deeper. I transpired that he had been insulting team members, making it clear he was above getting involved, he was ‘bored’ by the work and therefore not doing it and in one instance, when told planes had crashed into the World trade centre (where the company he worked for had offices) he stood up whilst everybody else was in shock and whooped for joy. Of course he spun it that they were stopping his freedom of speech, other people hated Americans so why make an example of him and so on and so forth. He was a nice guy (or, as I later learned a “Nice Guy“) being tortured by anyone with power over him, normally women, me included – and he was bitter about it. Bitter and angry.

When we finally moved my Student loan was delayed, couples accommodation at the Uni wouldn’t take us so we ended up staying in a guest house whilst we sorted a flat out. I discovered I was liable for paying my tuition fees because my parents didn’t have the spare money and I was only eligible for minimal financial support leaving us with no money. My £700 student loan would only cover a couple of months rent in the South. I quickly got a job with the supermarket I’d been working at before we moved. He could not get a job because “The bitches interviewing him didn’t like him”. He was also very hurt that I had done well enough to get into a good university so he would make me feel so guilty. In the end, I managed to convince a manager to take him on where I was working but he was fired after two months because he was ‘rude’ and ‘always calling in sick’.

Over this time the passive-aggressiveness reached a whole new level. We had a home that needed cleaning & food that needed preparing and I was at Uni all day then at work nearly every evening as well as all weekend, so we decided to share the chores. After all it wouldn’t be fair of me to leave them all to him. Within a week all cooking, shopping & daily cleaning was my job too. He would iron his shirts and carry the shopping (whether I asked him or not). Everyday I was made to feel horrible which compounded my belief that I deserved it when he lost his temper.

Looking back I can see how his control was taking over my life. He continued to build on my self-loathing until it eclipsed everything else. I don’t think he was doing this consciously. I don’t think he ever sat down and planned out exactly how he could intimidate and coerce a person to do exactly as he wished. I think he had an idea of what life should be like when with a girlfriend. He wanted it to be like he was living at home with Mum, someone else should be doing the ‘boring chores’. He didn’t want to question whether or not his behaviour was to blame for his lack of employability or for his lack of positive interactions with women. So he just ignored it, he lived in a state of denial, backed up by pathological lying. He would do something horrid then make out it didn’t happen. He would steal money out of my purse then shout at me when it wasn’t there, even though some part of him knew full well he was lying. When I say he was (and probably still is) a pathological liar I mean it, not only would he lie about most things he would believe the lie was reality after a couple of times of telling it. Even when there was evidence to the contrary right in front of him. I was too scared to call him on it publicly or privately so I didn’t, something I lived to regret later.

Then, after a year or so, he started getting nastier. When we first met I was recovering from having been badly burned all over my back and the back of my legs and looking back I can see the symptoms of PTSD were present afterwards (I still get agonising flashbacks now). When he was angry and I was cooking he’d ‘knock me’ so the scorching oven door closed on my arm, which wasn’t only painful, it would trigger flashbacks to my severe burning before. I would spend ages trying to placate his every more irrational demands just to avoid his temper. Sadly they were all so contrary and liable to change it was impossible, he wanted me to knock loudly before I came in, but at the same time he wanted me not to do it if he had company, which was something I couldn’t judge from outside a flat. So whichever way I did it I was often wrong.

By this point I had lost most of my sense of self. All that I had was the fantasy that if I just tried a bit harder everything would be ok. I didn’t think of myself as being scared or anxious (mainly because I was psychologically disassociating from the emotions), in fact I remember going to the doctors because I kept getting attacks of crushing chest pains and going white as a sheet. They told me it was probably panic attacks but at the time I could feel no fear or terror I was so numb to it all, only the physical pain.

He only ever got more resentful about me earning all the money. To others he’d exclaim we had a ‘modern and equal realtionship’, to me he’d complain he felt emasculated. In the end we agreed that he’d control the banking and the bills so that he could do his ‘man of the house’ bit. I also discovered he didn’t like any of my friends at university, they made him feel bad for being unemployed. So in the spirit of compromise I drifted away from those people and by the middle of the second year I was only the seeing people he would allow me to see. If I tried to arrange to meet anyone without him he’d tell me I could, but that he was going to call over that girl he’d been flirting with and then if she carried on being all sexy he’d have no choice but to sleep with her. Other times he’d just tell me he’d have to spend £40 that we couldn’t afford on buying some DVDs and having some mates around for takeaway if I went out. Each time I’d end up cancelling and another friend would drift further away.

This is where things went from bad to worse rapidly. Once I stopped seeing people that he didn’t approve of I was his. There was no one who was close enough to notice what was going on behind the facade. The only people I got to speak to were drug users, party folk looking only for a good time or sexist metal fans who were big into gender conformity. I received no messages from anyone around me that my life wasn’t normal. In fact, my life was hailed as inspirational – on for a 2:1 whilst working 25-35 hours a week as well as cooking, cleaning and making time to go out on a evening and dance into the small hours. People thought I had good reason to appear so happy.

The truth was that my life was anything but happy; I was miserable. I was terrified all the time, “Would doing ‘x’ upset him?” was the first thing I thought of when posed with any choice, even of sandwich filling or brand of loo roll. His temper tantrums got more frequent. More and more glasses were smashed over me. More and more bits of furniture needed dodging. I had to pretend everything was ok, that I was the one in control, that I earned the money and had the education and that he was just a normal guy being hassled by a powerful woman. After a while I began to believe it. Not only was I a horrid person who deserved to be hurt, I was a horrid person who was forcing him to hurt me. All of our ‘mutual’ friends brought it. Most were of a similar outlook to him and women were the enemy, an enemy that held the keys to sex but refused to let them in. It was always the woman’s fault that relationships broke down, they were always the ‘evil bitch’ when they didn’t accept their advances. I started to see myself and my gender as something inherently evil. Over this period I tried to kill myself twice, I never told anyone about it when it failed, I just saw it as another sign there was no way out of this. I always comforted myself with the knowledge that at least I had someone who loved me.

By the spring of the second year things were getting worse. I had started having to use drugs (amphetamines) to keep up with all the demands placed on me. I was up and dressed by 7am, doing uni work until 4pm, working until 8.30 then having to go out clubbing/socialising until 1 or 2pm then having to sort the house out and do any Uni work afterwards or on any evenings we weren’t out. I don’t know how I survived. I discovered he had spent all my saving which were supposed to pay for my big University field trip so I had to arrange another way to do my dissertation (which was something I had no interest in, so didn’t go too well). I think he felt bad about the money thing, which is why he reacted so angrily to my discovery. I kept telling him it was ok but he wouldn’t accept it. The nasty stuff he’d been doing before when he got mad started to reach a new level of awfulness. To the point I blocked them out for a while, they only came to visit in flashbacks* and in half remembered fear.

One day I was about to cook with beef mince and he saw it and lost his temper. He was sick of cheep food, he didn’t want to eat it… but if I wanted to eat it I could. At that point he began forcing raw mince down my throat as I chocked, unable to breathe, feeling sick to my stomach as I tried desperately to swallow so I could get another breath. After a bit, after I had realised there was nothing I could do and that without air I was going to die, he decided not to kill me and left me sobbing on the kitchen floor. Afterwards I couldn’t think about the what happened, my brain just went blank. I developed a habit of getting little panic attacks when I saw mince in a shop but I couldn’t think why.

One evening I was showering and I heard him through the wall loose his temper. He stormed in to the bathroom to chuck things about and got furious that I was cowering. He slammed the shower screen into me, knocking me over with such force I fell over covered in blood from a big head wound. He stormed out and I, labouring with concussion and the fear inherent in being naked and covered in your own blood, desperately tried to clean the bathroom so he wouldn’t be angry at the mess I’d made. I went through to the bedroom and he followed me in, that evening I was violently raped and once more sure he was going to kill me. I lay in agony making peace with the world and feeling sad I’d been so disgusting he’d had to do this to me. Evidently he didn’t kill me. At university the next day another student told me she thought I had a bug in my hair and started pull it out. It wasn’t a bug, It was a big chunk of scab. She asked me what I’d done and my mind went blank, I couldn’t access the information so I assumed it must have been a drug related injury I’d not noticed.

I’m not going to list all the things that happened because I don’t want to type it all, but that should give an idea of what was happening. I was regally being tortured at his hands, never knowing when my last day alive would be. I didn’t think that he might kill me, I knew he was going to. When I would break down in tears begging him to just kill me he would throw me a pack a drugs and tell me if I wanted to die I should do it. The packets only ever had 6-8 pills in the though and of course I never died. I became too scared to even try and kill myself for fear it wouldn’t work and my life would be worse afterwards.

By that point I had broken completely. I could no longer think of my needs, I just had to keep working so that he, the only person in my life that loved me, would decide he didn’t need to punish me anymore. The months passed in a daze. I dropped out of my MSc to work full time so I could support him and his cannabis addiction, because when he wasn’t stoned he was violent – though when he was stoned he’d do things like spend all our money and then he’d get mad afterwards.

A friend who had been made homeless came to live with us for a while and suddenly he had to be on his best behaviour, he couldn’t treat me like he did in front of a guest. I got some respite, I could feel safer when someone else was around. When he went out to his part time job, I got to talk to someone and see people without him around. To my shock I discovered they liked me! I spent three months slowly developing some sense that something wasn’t right in our relationship. Then, just before Christmas he went into hospital with a rumbley appendix and I couldn’t afford to visit him everyday. I was on my own! I could eat what I wanted. I wasn’t scared. Everyone was shocked by how happy I was. Then he came back. I was back to normal again but something wasn’t sitting right in my mind. I fell into a self-destructive cycle and spent a couple of weeks taking drugs and trying to avoid him. He couldn’t cope with having to hide his temper so it started to slip out in front of our guest and our friends. They were shocked to see him scream in my face for having borrowed £1.87 for milk and bread and not having repaid it 4 hours later. They didn’t know what had come over him. I was so used to it I didn’t understand why they didn’t think it was normal. Isn’t that how you are supposed to treat someone who’s betrayed your trust? Why weren’t they all angry at me too for upsetting their friend?

Another week passed and something about that incident was niggling in my mind. I felt like I was going mad, I couldn’t sleep, sometimes I’d scream if he came close to me. I didn’t want him to touch me and I didn’t know why. Then one Tuesday evening it hit me. I realised I didn’t love him anymore. I told some people and they said they’d stand by me if I broke up with him.

On the following Wednesday afternoon when I told him he was to leave the flat as he hadn’t paid rent in a year. I told him to get his stuff and go, I wanted him out when I got home after nine that evening. I apologised for not having noticed the love had gone sooner but I couldn’t change the past. I told him I hoped we could one day be friends.

I wish I could say that’s where the story ends but I can’t, this is contiuned here; Domestic Violence Part 3 – The Aftermath

* flashbacks are thought to happen when one experiences a extraordinarily traumatic event and the memories, including sensory ones don’t get properly stored so they can be hard to retrieve and often pop up involuntarily when something triggers them.

Domestic Violence Part 1 – How It All Began

It’s domestic violence awareness month and as part of it I want to try and do some awareness raising around how, like most things in life, domestic abuse is more complicated than it is often thought to be.

Warning: This post will contain triggers regarding domestic abuse as I talk about my own experiences.

I spent five years of my life in an abusive relationship, then another two after leaving it dealing with the fallout. During which time I was tortured, raped, threatened with death, nearly killed, emotionally & psychologically abused and left with a complex case of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). During the same time period I not only held down a job working at least 20 hours a week I also studied for and completed my A-levels and a full-time undergraduate degree in Geology.

It’s a long story and I really don’t fancy putting it all in one entry so I will do it in sections. The first of which will be the early years. I also want to apologise in adavnce if it isn’t very well written, I find talking or writing about it hard which takes a toll on on my SP&G.

At the age of 17 I met a chap at college who was charming and sweet. He seemed to be in touch with his emotions, he wasn’t afraid to say when something hurt him. He was still pained by his last break up which he convinced me and our friends wasn’t his fault. She was just a ‘whore’ that had played with his heart. After a few months he kissed me and we started dating. We were living with each other after a year, both of us convinced we were in love. I thought it was idyllic. Sure he had a bit of a temper, but everyone has character faults don’t they? I told myself relationships were all about give and take. Surely if he had to put up with me being a bit snappy before my period each month it was only fair that I let him ‘vent’ his anger at the unjust world he was frequently falling victim to. I saw the fact it made me afraid of him and terrified of accidentally provoking him as proof I was a bad partner. I was supposed to love him and trust him and understand that when he threatened me it was because he cared, it was because I was privileged to be close enough to see him warts & all. I should be grateful rather than fearful and skittish.

I often ask myself why I didn’t see the abuse in those early days. Once I get past blaming myself for being naive and pathetic I start thinking about how I viewed healthy relationships. Firstly no one had ever really explained unhealthy relationships to me. I had a heavily stereotyped and unrealistic view of what domestic violence was that I had picked up from the media and listening to adults talking. As far as I was concerned domestic violence victims were nearly always; married and or with children, they were women from poor backgrounds with no education or educated friends who got black eyes and broken bones at the hands of a man who was normally a alcoholic or engaged in other criminal activities. I wasn’t like that, he wasn’t like the men I thought abused women, therefore it couldn’t be abuse. No one had ever really explained the concepts of financial, emotional and psychological abuse, let alone explained the nuances of physical and sexual abuse so I simply didn’t see it.

I also had internalised a lot of slightly off messages about what a ‘healthy’ relationship was;

  1. They involved give and take. I couldn’t be selfish, putting up with his moods was part of being an adult. 
  2. Sometimes couples got upset with each other, it was important to find a compromise between both parties. There are always two sides so find a middle ground.
  3. People throw things and yell insults or threats when angry, it’s nothing personal, it’s just anger. Getting upset by it is immature.
  4. You shouldn’t say negative things about your partner to friends or family as it will just cause upset in the long run. Speaking about the positive aspects is much more fulfilling.
  5. When one party really wants something the other should do what they can to help them achieve it.
  6. If you are in love you shouldn’t fancy other people, the person you are with should be enough.
  7. If you look like me (6’1″ tall, bigger than a size 12, not Hollywood pretty) you have to work hard to keep your partner attracted otherwise they will want to stray.

Now some of that might seem like valid advice but when I put it into practice things went wrong. He’d get mad and tell me he wanted to kill someone before punching the pillow my head was resting on as hard as he could – I thought getting upset by it was immature. I thought talking about the fact it scared me would cause lots of trouble and would also let everyone see how childish I was. If that was his reaction to me saying I wasn’t ‘in the mood’ I thought in the spirit of point 5 I should just let him do what ever he wanted with my body. It was a compromise, I wouldn’t be scared anymore and he wouldn’t be angry. When he’d spend the night flirting with other women and telling them “If he was single…” grinding against them in front of me I would believe that it was my fault for not being attractive enough and not giving him enough reasons to love me.

Looking back I see how I deluded myself by rationalising what was happening. Of course because of a high level of internalised self-loathing and a lack of positive role-models my ideas of what was healthy give and take were skewed to say the least. I saw my occasional pre-menstrual grumps as being just as bad, if not worse, than when I would say “I love you” and he would tower over me and scream “How dare you!” in my face before making me into apologise for being insensitive. I honestly thought I was a horrid person and I believed he was justified in is actions. He would loose his temper frequently and punch holes in doors and in weak internal walls, when his temper went all traces of self control would. I’d look in his eyes and no longer see the man I knew, just rage and hate. It was terrifying. I couldn’t trust him not to hurt me too. Often I’d get hit as he threw things around in a fit of anger but I told myself it was an accident and that mentioning it was a bad idea. Why risk making him angrier? It started a pattern of behaviour that would lead to me apologising when he didn’t get his own way and he would loose his temper and punch the wall an inch away from my head. He used my self-loathing to his advantage, telling me that I treated him just as badly and confirming my growing belief that I deserved it. 

During this time I changed. My whole world became dedicated to keeping him happy just so that I wouldn’t trigger off his uncontrollable anger. If I mentioned our relationship to anyone I spoke at length about how lucky I was to have someone who loved me and how by compromising we had built something special. I lost touch with many of my friends because he didn’t like them and they didn’t like him. He told me they were jealous and I found it easier to believe that than listen to people telling me he wasn’t great. I lost a sense of owning my body. It was now his as much as mine and if he needed it, it was all his. He had debts which he would assure me were not his fault, so I would work extra overtime so I could pay for both of us. It then wouldn’t be his fault in six months time when somehow I would discover he had never actually paid any money towards them even though I’d been giving him lots of extra money. After a year of wearing down I had untold levels of self-loathing and had lost nearly all my strength to resist unjust criticism or to stand up for myself. After two years it had pretty much vanished. As far as I was concerned anything negative that happened to me was my fault and everyone knew it. I would cling on to anything that inspired positive emotions all the more because I was so so miserable and could see no way of changing it without killing myself. Sadly, he spent all his time putting himself in a position where he was the only positive thing in my world. He was the only person that wanted to be near me, he was the only person that made me feel loved because he had also kindly taken the time to show me that my friends and family didn’t really care for me after all.

At 19 I had finished my A-levels and was ready to start university. He was working at that point but things weren’t going well so it was decided he would move with when I went to university. A whopping great 360 miles away from everyone I knew and the last threads of my support network.

Continued in;
Domestic Violence Part 2 – Where It Led
Domestic Violence Part 3 – The Aftermath

"What’s Wrong With You Then?"

One of the first questions I get asked these days is usually “Why are you in a wheelchair? What happened?”, or “So what do you do?” which leads me to telling them I’m unemployed due to disability and then the “Why are you disabled?” question gets raised.
It always boggles me that people think it’s okay to pry into my health and (lack of) employment before they know my name. I understand why people are curious, I’ve become quite aware I don’t fit many lay peoples stereotype of disability. I look well, I have four limbs,  I’m articulate, I’m 28 and I can walk a little way without using my wheelchair. Other than my mobility aids & my TENs machine there is nothing about my appearance that suggests I’m disabled or unwell. People tend to want to know why someone who ‘looks and presents’ the way I do needs to use a wheelchair to get about? Why can’t I find employment? Why do I need my husbands help to wash? But most pertinently, they want to know if it could happen to them.
I never really know how to answer. I’m not brave enough to say “Sod off. Do you realise how invasive that question is? You don’t even know my name yet!” but telling the truth takes ages and often leaves me feeling really rather defensive. I have no problem doing so, but I resent the amount of times I have to tell the story, because it turns out saying ‘abdominal nerve damage’ doesn’t seem to cut it with the average questioner.
Now, because I’m blogging and I believe my disability will come into it a lot I think it’s only fair to explain what it is…
I got really ill at 14, my appendix burst, but no one caught for weeks (the doctors didn’t think I was ‘ill enough’) and it went to peritonitis. I got an operation at the last gasp which saved my life and afterwards I continued on as before. I stayed physically healthy until 2008 when a operation to remove a tumour that had enveloped my right ovary & fallopian tube as well as to aspirate a large ruptured cyst on my left ovary. 
When I awoke after the operation I was told that I had been under a long time because the damage done to my pelvic & abdominal cavity by the peritionitis has made the operation a lot more complected. Adhesions* left behind from my peritonitis and surgery as a teenager had attached themselves to pretty much everything in my abdominal cavity as well as damaging my bowel and leaving me infertile by damaging my remaining fallopian tube beyond repair. Because my bowel appeared to be being choked my all a couple of adhesions the doctors decided to remove all of the adhesions whilst they were in there.
Afterwards I had some pain in my abdomen, it was weirdly tingly at times but otherwise ok for the first 5-6 months after the operation. Then Jan 2009 arrived and the pain sky rocketed I started getting some serious bowel complaints as well as going through periods of not being able to keep any food down and it has (so far) not got better. 
After a lot of investigations the doctors told me the adhesions had grown back worse than they were before, but this time they had damaged nerves when they grew back in creating areas of extreme hypersensitivity in my pelvic cavity as well as causing my small bowel to continuously obstruct. They won’t operate to remove them because they worry it will cause more adhesions to form and do even more internal damage.

So, how is that disabling?
The hypersensitivity in my pelvis is aggravated when it’s touched/ jolted so now walking any distance causes severe pain, as does bending, carrying and stretching – it’s amazing how many things you use your abdominal muscles to do. It’s also aggravated by the peristalsis in my bowel and little things like my bladder filling and expanding. I spend a lot of my day fighting back tears and yelps in pain. I feel like my abdominal cavity is lined with jagged glass coated in chilli, it tears and burns all day long. My bowel doesn’t work as it should, and because of the pain I can’t control my bladder when it gets full so I need to be in easy reach of a toilet. 
My small bowel twists around all day and gets caught frequently on the adhesions, normally this just constipates me as food can’t pass, but frequently it stops me being able to eat or drink without vomiting. It can also cause extreme pain and every two months or so it gets so bad I end up in A&E screaming uncontrollably being shot up with strong pain killers as the doctors wait to see if it will resolve itself or if it will burst.
It’s not all doom and gloom, I have finally been awarded DLA, my husband helps care for me, I have good loving friends and I’m starting to find ways I can put my mind to good use.

* Adhesions are strands of scar tissue that often form internally after operations & infections as part of the healing process. You can read more here @ wikipedia or here @ the Pelvic Pain Support Network

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