Domestic Violence. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Big words. Scary words. And really fucking annoying to survive the first, only to be told that you have the second.
To be diagnosed with PTSD two years after my violent relationship ended was a surprise. Perhaps it shouldn’t have been. I knew something wasn’t right and I was certainly struggling, but I just put it down to the anxiety that had plagued me on and off for the last few years. A friend had mentioned the possibility of me having PTSD but I had dismissed the idea. To me PTSD was something that people who had experienced real trauma suffered with – military personnel who had seen horrific stuff in war zones; people who had survived terrorist attacks – not average Jo who had been knocked around a bit by her boyfriend.
I felt like a fraud, like I didn’t ‘deserve’ the diagnosis. What had happened to me didn’t feel big enough to warrant it. But, as I’ve written about before, being in that kind of relationship can seriously skew your perception of what is normal. And when you stop to properly think about what happened, you realise that actually, yeah, it was a bit of a big deal.
The reason I’m waking up with night terrors – running out of my bedroom, screaming with terror, utterly convinced that I’m about to die – is because I’ve been pinned to a wall by my throat, unable to breathe.
The reason I haven’t been able to relax, or switch off enough to read a book in the past two years is because my mind is always on edge. Always used to being on guard; watching what I’m saying.
The reason my self-esteem is lower than a very low thing is that the person who was supposed to love me and protect me from harm, was doing very opposite. The person that knows you better than anyone, thinks you’re worthy of being treated like that. That’s gonna make anyone feel a little bit crap about themselves.
So yeah, maybe it does make sense.
The reason I wrote this post was because when I tried to research the issue after my diagnosis (I’m a chronic Googler) I found very few (actually none – but I didn’t venture much further than the first couple of results pages – I’m also a bit lazy) personal accounts of PTSD after domestic abuse. I think this would have helped me feel like less of a fraud, and accept it more easily, if I could see that it wasn’t just me. And domestic abuse is sadly so prevalent, that it can’t just be me.
I also wanted to feel more ‘normal’. Mental health diagnoses are difficult to cope with at the best of times, but particularly so when it comes attached to another stigmatised issue. So this post is for anyone else in my situation. You are normal (for want of a better word). This is a completely valid reaction to what was a horrific experience. And there is no sodding reason at all, to be ashamed.
I also hope that by writing this, I can help to break some of the stigma surrounding both mental health issues and domestic violence. I am a fully functioning adult, with a job, friends, and am raising a child. I’m fairly confident that none of my work colleagues or anybody who encounters me on a daily basis would be aware that I have PTSD. It doesn’t come with a big flashing sign and it really can affect anybody. I completely get that not everybody will want to talk about it, but I am happy to be completely open about the issues, in the hope that it will help at least one person.
I would love for this to encourage discussion and debate, so please feel free to leave comments or tweet me – @joannasbarlow
Thanks for reading.