Domestic Violence: A Hidden Cost of Disability
When I was 25, I married an abusive man.
Previously independent, I quickly became scared and submissive, no longer in control of what I did, where I went, or even what I wore. Every word I uttered was a potential bombshell, every facial tic a cause for a fight. As the months flew by and his rages only grew, I made myself smaller and smaller, weaker and weaker, convinced that if I could just become what he wanted me to be, then his rages would stop.
It didn’t work; it never does, but oh how I tried.
At 25, I was what I never imagined I would be: one of “those” women. The abused wives.
Why? How did I get there?
You may be thinking, “Oh, come on. There were probably a million reasons you got yourself into that mess. Don’t blame it on your illness.” And, that’s okay. You’re right.
But, you’re also wrong.
I fell ill with intractable migraine about nine months into our relationship, about the time the warning signs of abuse were flying brightly all around me. Within just a few short months, I went from running every weekend, going out to a show or dinner nearly every night, and engaging as a talkative, social being at work to lying in bed more often than not, too dizzy and in too much pain to move.
I went from doctor to doctor, specialist to specialist. No matter what therapy or medication they gave me, nothing helped. The migraine stayed firmly rooted in my brain, never dipping below a 5 in severity, often getting as high as a 9.
My friendships fell to the side, my work suffered. Nothing was fun. Everything took effort. Worse of all, my self-confidence was shaken to the core.
No matter what else I had faced in my life – loss, poverty, unemployment, single motherhood – I had always had faith in myself. The complete trust that I could rise above it all, start over, and make a life worth living, all by myself if necessary. Intractable migraine robbed me of that. It became the obstacle I couldn’t see my way around.
The truth was I was too sick to start over, too sick to make it alone. So, when my partner began threatening, belittling, and controlling me, I let him. And, as his actions escalated and my condition worsened, I married him. Despite the yelling, name calling, threats, intimidations, rages, and coerced sexual encounters. Despite the foreboding feeling of disaster on our wedding day. Despite it all, I married him because I didn’t trust my ability to make it alone.
It wasn’t until my migraine cycle finally broke, and the intractable became chronic, that I finally had the energy and the strength to look around at my life and figure out how I’d gotten to such a bad place. And, it took nearly another year of small changes – leaving the house, working part-time, and making friends – for me to begin to regain my faith in myself. Eventually, I managed to leave, but my leaving was as heavily tied to my illness as was my marriage. There’s no way I would have had the strength to leave at the peak of my illness.
I’m thankful for the lessons I learned during my journey. Grateful for the compassion it allows me to feel for the many others in similar situations, and for the chance to share my experiences with others. Hopefully, as the relationship between chronic illness and domestic violence becomes more widely known, we can find a way to help the abused leave their abusers. Hopefully, we can find a way to ensure disability doesn’t rob us of choice.
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