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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?

Chronic illness.

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.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • stacysillen
    5 years ago

    The truth is that it’s just like in the animal kingdom where weakness brings out the dominant, bullying instincts in others around the weaker person. If their own moral code allows it. This means women, elderly, children, sick mentally and physically, are each indicators and time for society to take a closer look for signs of abuse. I believe it falls upon the strong to protect the weak.

  • bluesguy
    5 years ago

    It made me both sad and angry to read your story. It is so wrong for anyone to have to live that way. I am relieved to hear that you are free from the fear that kept you tied to that relationship. My own Chronic Migraines began in a different sort of abusive relationship. Mine was at the career that I had loved for over 20 years. Mine became violent, and I was a victim as well. It took much more violence, and 8 more years until I finally left. Unfortunately I still have the chronic migraines, and PTSD to go with it.

  • Sarah Hackley author
    5 years ago

    Thank you for reading. Careers and jobs can be abusive, just like romantic relationships, but I am glad to hear you were able to get free of the situation. PTSD is something that many migraineurs deal with, especially men. I hope you have doctors who are helping you with both. May you feel better soon. Warm regards, Sarah

  • mjsymonds
    5 years ago

    Oh my goodness Sarah, reading your story took me by surprise. Why? Because so much of it is like reading my own history. In my case, though, it took me until five years after it was over to even fully accept I’d been married to an abuser. He even continued to exert his control over me after the divorce through our child. It has been a long road putting my life back together, and chronic migraine hasn’t made it any easier, but I am in a much better place today. Thankfully.

    An abuser will exploit any “weakness” he or she perceives in a partner/victim and having a chronic illness is a big one. This is an important issue and more people need to be aware of the connection. Thank you for sharing your story.

  • Sarah Hackley author
    5 years ago

    I’m glad to hear that you and your family were able to escape a bad situation. The road to recovery can be long, but I’ve found each day is a little easier. I hope you can say the same. 🙂 Thank you for reading, MJ.

  • MargaretB
    5 years ago

    Oh, my goodness, my sons and I were in the same situation until 3 years ago. The alcoholic passed away last year, but it’s taken all of us a long time to get better. But together we’re healthier! Thank you for this post, Sarah. I truly appreciate your honesty in bringing forward a difficult situation! ♥

  • Sarah Hackley author
    5 years ago

    Thank you, Margaret. Too many of us have been in similar situations. I’m glad you’re in a better place now. May you continue to find health and happiness in your new life. Warm regards, Sarah

  • cbakerok
    5 years ago

    I have also been in both situations. Unfortunately, I can’t always tell what came first….migraine or not taking care of myself in relationships. I had my first migraine at age 12. The decision to fight and change is not easy, and anyone that can make it through has tremendous personal strength. I keep reminding myself of that as my chronic migraines continue. I have chosen to be thankful for all of my past experience as well, and serve on the Board of the local YWCA as a way to pay back (forward) the wonderful things they did for me 20 years ago while I struggled with DV and Migraine. Thanks for your story, and know you have sisters that have walked that path. We support and applaud you!

  • Sarah Hackley author
    5 years ago

    Reaching out to others is a tremendous way to pay it forward. I’m so glad you’ve found a way to turn your painful experiences into something good. That’s truly inspiring. Thank you for reading, and for your kind words of support. Warm regards, Sarah

  • Becky
    5 years ago

    Dear Sarah
    The strength it takes to do what you did is tremedous! I also suffer terribly with Mirgaines and almost daily pain.
    Many years ago I found the strength to change, it took every ounce of energy I had to leave an abusive partner, but I found it from somewhere deep inside.
    By sharing your story you inspire others to reach out and make that change! Like you said one tiny step at a time.
    I hope your pain is less and your happiness is more!

  • Sarah Hackley author
    5 years ago

    Thank you for your kind words, Rebecca. I am happy you were able to garner the strength necessary to leave a bad situation, and I hope you are living as well as possible. I hope you find some relief from your migraines soon.
    Warm regards, Sarah

  • Janet
    5 years ago

    Next to my brave and courageous daughter with migraines who is now 3-1/2 years sober… are my hero also.

    It takes more courage to fight and overcome.

    God bless you and my Leana Joy for your courage to believe in yourself.

    Your article inspires and encourages those who feel weak and small.

    Thank you for sharing ..

    Janet Jones

  • Sarah Hackley author
    5 years ago


    Thank you so much for your kind words of support, and I congratulate your daughter on her achievement. That takes a lot of strength. I wish you both love, joy, and health.

    Warm regards,


  • Kerrie Smyres moderator
    5 years ago

    Thanks for being brave enough to share your story. This is such an important topic that gets frighteningly little attention.

  • Sarah Hackley author
    5 years ago

    Thank you, Kerrie. By sharing our personal stories, we let people in similar situations know they are not alone. That was my intention with this article, and I hope I achieved it. Warm regards,

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