The impact of covid-19 on a domestic abuse survivor

The recent lockdowns were hard for all. They were hard for me as I lost the freedom I had known only for a short time. It provided time without distraction which meant for me revisiting my past and the abuse which I would have preferred not to do. Time is not always positive. It really did impact on my mental health but I was lucky I had my freedom.

I was in an abusive relationship for over 30 years. I spent much of that time convincing myself that if I only tried harder things would get better, blanking out what was going on, and convinced that it was all my fault. I knew that things were not right but I didn’t know what was wrong. He didn’t hit me all the time but when he did, he convinced me that it was my fault. He told me that I was unreasonable and mad, that I had changed after I had got married, that I no longer put him first and that somehow, I had hidden my true personality and duped him in to marriage.

I’m only starting to realise the real consequences of this now…How he robbed me of my self-confidence and left me feeling off balance. He controlled what I spent my salary on, counting every penny I spent. Holidays were organised and paid for by me – but he would decide where and when we were going. He would also always sabotage this in the week before we went saying that he did not want to go. I always dreaded going on holiday. I did consider leaving or running away many times but always believed that I would be unable to cope on my own. Even though I had a good job and was financially able to support myself and my children – I had so little self-belief that I couldn’t do it.

Domestic violence was not talked about – and in many ways seemed acceptable. I had no close friends and was ashamed. I did not leave. I stuck it out until he had an affair and decided that I had to go. This was the worst time as he was more unreasonable and violent. I was made homeless, so I returned to the family home before finally moving to a new city to be near my children.
I made a new life – but it was so hard. I had a major mental health crisis. Luckily, I had an excellent GP who listened to and believed me. I was supported.

I recovered and things were in my opinion becoming ‘normal’. Normal to me is being allowed to be upset, angry, happy, joyful, sad or down. My feelings had never previously been valued, and were always dismissed as irrelevant. When you come out of an abusive relationship, your entire world has been distorted. Never the less I did it and revelled in my freedom.

Then in March last year my world changed dramatically again. The enforced sense of isolation that lockdown brought was not new, although it was profound. I talk about having been in training for this all my adult life, being isolated from family and with only very few friends. In my new life I had friends and support. I was suddenly not allowed to see them and, in many ways, cut off once again. I became depressed. I over ate, didn’t exercise, and drank too much.

It made me re-live previous traumas over and over again. I have a particular memory of a single incident where all I remember is lying underneath the bed crying with, only my cat for company. This is particularly distressing for me as I don’t remember why I was there – but I know I was very upset. This and other memories come as lockdown does not allow me to fill my days in the same way I became used to. The change in life feels like a loss.

I had never been allowed to establish close friendships as whenever I became close to someone, he would make negative and demeaning comments about them, saying how they were not appropriate friends for me. I would become exhausted and give up. Once I was free, I found a network of people and we went out for coffees, to the gym, to the pictures, or out to eat. Being busy helped me in my process of recovery – but lockdown ended that. It was like starting all over again, and I would constantly think of the past, experiencing it all over again.

Everything would trigger memories – I stopped wearing make-up because all I could think about was being told to behave or criticised for what I looked like and what I was wearing. It was distressing. It pulls you down and it’s difficult to explain to people because you don’t want to bring them down with the trauma you experienced, or you think people won’t understand, or criticise you for staying for so long.

Following the easing of lockdown and during the short time that the restrictions were lifted, I organised a family meal. My eldest son and his girlfriend announced that they were expecting their first child. For most, this would bring a great sense of joy and hope for the future. For me it brought on an episode of acute depression. Again, I started eating and drinking too much and retreated into myself. I really did not understand what was going on. It was like a black cloud that would not move.

Over the months that followed, I have spent a lot of time unpicking my thoughts and feelings. When I was pregnant, I was ignored and never allowed to feel joy in my pregnancy. Whilst pregnant with my second child I was hit on more than one occasion. When I once complained about being tired, I was met with screams of “well you wanted this baby!” It was hard work bring up children alone in an abusive relationship. Their news was a major trigger for me that I had not expected. It was a stark reminder that the impacts of domestic abuse do not go away, even years after leaving. Luckily, I have a great counsellor who I can talk to and make sense of things. I’m coming to terms with my feelings and starting to enjoy the prospect of being a grandparent now. Christmas was great a quiet family affair with just myself and my children – not stress on having to prepare ‘the perfect day’. It was perfect.

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