My life

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after Domestic Violence.

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.

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9 thoughts on “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder after Domestic Violence.

  1. Sweetie. You’re normal, too. I was diagnosed eight years ago. I actually found out the day my divorce was finalized because I full on passed out and relived trauma in the hallway outside the courtroom. It’s real. The injuries and scars imprinted on my mind are real. I had a rough year, this year. I’m not gonna lie. And it’s been murder trying to have a healthy relationship with my second husband. But I’m doing it, and I’m doing much better than I was. I walked away from suicide. I’m still with my second husband. We have three beautiful children and I’m not just surviving. I’m happy. And you can have that, too. Accept the injuries. And then begin to exercise for recovery. You can do this. I’m pulling for you. ^_^

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  2. Hi Joanna
    Thank you for sharing your story. My mother was just recently diagnosed with PTSD due to domestic violence as well and she has a very extreme case of it. She has been hiding everything that happened for 30 years and her body started having a physical reaction because of it. She now has seizures and her body shuts down in order to “protect itself” from the trauma. The seizures are just like when an animal shakes when it is scared. It’s very hard to watch. Your post really helped me understand more about this because she doesn’t like to talk about it with me since she wants to stay strong for her children so thank you for this. The women who go through this are so strong and I hope one day my mother can get past this

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    1. You are definitely not alone and you are definitely normal. I was a victim of an abusive relationship almost 20 years ago. It was more mental than physical but also sometimes physical. As a 19 year old then I did not really understand my symptoms but I developed panic attacks and mild agoraphobia. Unfortunately the panic attacks still manifest themselves now when I am under stress and after being seriously ill I suffered the night terrors again. At least this time I know it’s all in my mind and I have the power with the support of friends and family to bring myself back to a good mental state.

      I am happy to talk through my methods of coping and recovering should anybody feel like they need support.

      I hope you and any other sufferers are getting the help and support they deserve.

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  3. Joanna, I think I’ve told you that I had if not a formal diagnosis then a counsellor tell me it was likely I had PTSD and some treatment for it.

    Whilst I wouldn’t dream of diminishing what many soldiers go through (my Granddad being one of them), it’s important that more people are aware that PTSD is not exclusive to people who have served in the military.

    Like I said on Twitter, I really admire you for talking so openly about this. It can’t be easy.

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  4. The part which I related to was your commenting on feeling like a fraud. I have obtrusive thought anxiety. I’ve experienced domestic violence ONCE, and although I’ve never been in a fight or agree with violence in anyway, I have crazy obsessive thoughts where my head is plagued with hurting people close to me. It tortures my mind and I feel I can’t lose the thought, as if I try it is always “there”. I have to experience the thought in detail to exhaust the thought and let it leave. It’s ridiculous. I could be so happy, with family, offer to make a cup of tea, see the steam rise from the tea and, snap, my subconscious thinks “What would the expression be if I threw this on them?”.. And I have no idea why I think these thoughts, I will never act on them, they torture me and I try to be nice to people purposefully. I don’t want to see a doctor because I sound like a maniac. I CANT tell my family for obvious reasons and my nearest social support group which was a good idea for me was 50 miles away… Whenever I tell people I have anxiety I say I can’t feel comfortable in crowds because I feel like I’m constantly in a job interview, everyone is testing me and analysing me, yet whilst this is true and generic, in my mind Im involuntary thinking these violent thoughts about them.

    This man describes my situation spot on http://www.drmartinseif.com/resources/intrusive-thoughts.html

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    1. Hi Ben, I just wanted to say that intrusive obsessive thoughts can be characteristic of some forms of OCD (OCD is not always being super tidy and checking). I hope you get to the point where you do feel comfortable asking a doctor, a trained professional will not think you a maniac.

      Best wishes
      Fiona

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