September 11, 2012

I developed mental health problems during an abusive relationship. When my partner of fourteen years walked out I was relieved but the reality of what I'd been living with surfaced. I basically shut down. I was unable to function. I lasted about three weeks before I had to stop working. I didn't eat or sleep. I didn't leave the house. I spent hours and hours sat in a fog, trying to survive the pain. I suffered from flashbacks and was permanently afraid.

I had begun to self harm during the relationship and battled with this afterwards too. I wanted to die. For a while, every day was a struggle to stay alive. The pain was unbelievable. Along with shame, self-hatred and many other negative emotions.

I knew I needed help to stay alive and sought it wherever I could. My experience of the assistance I received varied. At its worst it added to my trauma.

The first people I told were two acquaintances who knew me and my ex

The first people I told were two acquaintances who knew me and my ex. They expressed shock and were supportive at first but then went on to support my abuser and ceased contact with me, even when they knew I was suicidal. One of them was a psychologist who worked with people who had mental health problems. I could not understand how they found it acceptable to treat me the way they did. It added tremendously to my hurt and my poor self-esteem.

My doctor referred me to the community psychiatric nurse when I attended the surgery seeking help. I was appalled at the treatment I received from her. She listened to me talk about all the abuse, my self-harming, my lack of friends or support and my feelings of worthlessness and wanting to die. At the end of the session she diagnosed me as having severe anxiety and mild depression. She suggested counselling but I was already on the waiting list for this. She gave me some leaflets about cognitive behaviour therapy and how to deal with depression and said there was nothing else she could do and that she was discharging me from her list.

My boss at work was also very unsupportive 

My boss at work was also very unsupportive (although colleagues were kinder). She promised to refer me to occupational health so that I could access counselling more quickly. She never did this and I self-referred some time later. The counselling I signed up for myself took six months to arrive. I never forgave my boss for this. I suffered because she didn't care.

Fortunately, I continued to seek support and found it in other places.

The first was at a local centre for victims of domestic violence where I attended a weekly support group. The lady running the group recognised the fact that I was desperately alone and set aside time during the week for me to contact her. She did not have to do this, it was extra work for her. She was a fantastic support, had a good understanding of abuse and helped to keep me alive.

The doctor said... that I could go back and talk to her about how I was feeling

The other place I received support was from my doctor. I returned to my GP as I wanted to know if there was any other help I could tap into. I was offered anti-depressants, which I declined. After years of hiding my own feelings and suffocating my own emotions I knew I needed to open up to my feelings again. The doctor said there wasn't really anything else she could offer but that I could go back and talk to her about how I was feeling. I did this a few times until she left on maternity leave, each time staying around fifteen minutes (longer than an appointment slot). It gave me hope to know I had time coming up where I could talk and it was good to know she cared enough to let me do this.

I felt that my biggest barrier to improved mental health was my lack of friends. My abuser had seen to it that I had none. Making new friends when you don't feel mentally well is tremendously hard work. I still struggle with this today, though I'm getting there.

I would like to see more support groups opening their doors in the evening so that those of us still managing to hold down a job can still access help.

I'll happily talk with anyone about the counselling I've had or about having been depressed

I'll happily talk with anyone about the counselling I've had or about having been depressed. I do, however, still find it difficult to ask for help when I'm feeling unwell. I tend to play it down. I don't like to admit that I'm suffering, I'm frightened that it's a burden on people and that they won't like me because of it. I'm working on changing this though.

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