All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…


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How forgotten victims of emotional abuse are building new support networks online

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Home comfort. (Shutterstock)

Written by Ria Poole, Research Associate, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University

Two women are murdered every week in the UK as a result of domestic violence. The issue affects one in four women and one in six men at some point in their lives. Domestic violence also has more repeat victims than any other crime and costs the public £23 billion every year. And of those victims who have received hospital treatment for domestic violence injuries, 400 will go on to commit suicide within the year.

Such statistics are shocking, but what they don’t tell us is how many additional victims suffer from emotional abuse, which is another form of domestic violence. Emotional abuse is not regarded as a criminal offence in adult relationships but it is just as destructive to victims’ mental health, as a review in The Lancet revealed. It affects their self-esteem, emotional well-being, relationships with others and personal freedom.

Emotional abuse features across the entire spectrum of domestic violence. It can take the form of destructive criticism, put-downs and name calling, but also isolation, harassment, monitoring behaviours, and lying to a victim and their friends and family. It may also go hand-in-hand with sexual abuse.

But because emotional abuse is not a “crime”, its victims find it especially difficult to receive protection or even to be taken seriously by others at all. Research suggests that this may also be because emotional abuse lacks the public and political profile of physical and sexual abuse.

Limited support

Unlike victims of these crimes, emotional abuse victims may not seek help because they are unprotected by the law. The government hopes to address this lack of support as it introduces a new domestic abuse law later this year. This will criminalise the emotional abuse which underlies many abusive relationships.

Emotional abuse is a common occurrence affecting a fifth of intimate partner relationships. Despite far-reaching effects, there is a surprising lack of research on emotional abuse in adult relationships. At present, emotional abuse does not receive the attention from researchers and health services that it needs to enable victims to be recognised and professionally supported.

So, where do people go to receive the support they so desperately need? If victims are not protected by the law, if they are misunderstood by family and friends, and support from health services is lacking, then to whom do they turn?

Call for help. (Shutterstock)

Online groups

In the digital age, one obvious place to look for support is online. Through numerous online forums, “victims” of domestic violence become “survivors” who seek the emotional support from others they lack elsewhere in their lives. As with forums for patients with long-term conditions, these websites offer common components of support. This comes in the form of sharing experiences, seeking and offering advice, comparing coping strategies, and signposting to professional resources, as well as simply letting users know they are not alone.

Another of the more interesting uses of these forums is discussion of the perceived personality disorders of abusers, such as antisocial personality disorder and narcissistic personality disorder. But rather than focusing on the perpetrator’s issues, forum advice commonly concerns the victim’s self-protection. This makes sense because these personality disorders are typically thought to be resistant to professional treatment.

Many of these forums have been created by “expert survivors”. These people have escaped and recovered from emotional abuse, and now aim to support others by sharing their experiences and creating a platform for others to discuss their own. Crucially, alongside nearly all of these forums is some form of psychological education in the form of blog posts or other websites with information about how survivors can be helped in the longer-term.

Empowering and advising

There are multiple ways these forums may help victims or survivors of emotional abuse, but further research is needed to explore these mechanisms more fully. It may be that support from an online group validates victims’ experiences and empowers them to safely confront or leave their abusers. They may feel protected by an anonymous online identity as they confide in sympathisers about the abuse, perhaps for the first time.

One way to describe these insightful and empathetic forum users is as “enlightened witnesses”, who help others understand and accept their experiences and regain their independence. And with online forums, this support is instantly available. Advice and coping strategies may help victims rebuild their confidence and increase their self-efficacy. Their self-worth may increase as they realise they are not to blame for the abuse. As well as reducing feelings of isolation, a shared perspective may also develop compassion, friendship and humour.

So how can these “survivor forums” contribute to the services provided by health professionals? As a starting point, they give victims a voice that could help highlight needs unmet by the health service. But they could also give health researchers another way to study the nature, prevalence, language and outcomes of emotional abuse, and the coping and exit strategies survivors find to be most effective.

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


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SOC: The problem with poverty

As I’ve been having trouble writing lately, mainly because my stress levels have been so high, I’m experimenting with stream of consciousness writing as a way to overcome my current malaise. As such, this post was written as a Stream of Consciousness on Sunday 13 September 2015 between 10:15 – 10:33am. Apologies for any grammatical or spelling errors that occur throughout, they are part and parcel of stream of consciousness writing.

Ever since I returned from my (much-needed) holiday my neighbour has been exceedingly loud. If he’s not playing duff-duff music at extremely high volumes, he’s shaking the foundations of my unit with his bass heavy television sound system. It’s got so bad, and has such a dramatic effect on my mental health, that I can no longer be in my house. Every day for the last two weeks I have left my unit by 11am and haven’t returned until at least 7pm. Throughout that eight-hour block of time I do nothing. I just sit in a park, or camp out on a bench, and wait aimlessly for time to pass. It’s frustrating. It’s infuriating. It’s a permanent reminder of my homelessness. For during that long five-year period all I did was sit around, waiting for time to tick on.

The whole situation has been a massive blow to my wellbeing. My stress levels, from being forced out of my house, have been exponentially high. My boredom, from being forced to sit on a bench and do nothing, has been off the charts. My anxiety, from being forced to be around other people when all I want to do is hide away, has elevated to a whole new level. To say I am unhappy would be an understatement. For the last three weeks I have been miserable, positively saturnine. All I want to do is be able to relax within my own house, but my neighbour, and his ‘to hell with the rest of the world’ mentality, is making that impossible.

And it’s making life unbearable. Last week, I ruminated on my hatred of Wodonga and how I believe my mental health will never get better as long as I live in this suffocating, gloomy little town. And my neighbour isn’t helping. Is it too much to expect a modicum of serenity within my own walls? Is it really necessary to deafen your neighbours day-in day-out? Sure, every now and then would be okay, but a constant stream of noise with bass so loud it (literally) shakes the walls of my unit? How is this acceptable? How is this decent?

Perhaps I’m being too sensitive. Perhaps I’m being a little finicky. But when my stress levels are so high that I feel a heart attack will shortly befall me; something has to be done. I want – nay, need – to move away. To leave this rotten town behind me and start afresh somewhere more inspiring, somewhere that speaks to my soul and doesn’t drive me into a suicidal stupor every two minutes. I need things around to entertain me; to inspire me; to speak to my soul and enable my brain to flourish. But no matter what angle I look at the problem from, no matter how I approach the dilemma in search of an answer, I can see no respite. Accommodation in Melbourne is simply too expensive. Even the outer suburbs are not cost-effective for my poverty-stricken life. Even alternative accommodation in Wodonga, which would at least get me away from Mr. I Play Deafening Music At All Hours Of The Day And Night, won’t fit into my extremely limited budget.

I am trapped here. Emotionally. Mentally. Physically. There is nothing I can do. And that just adds to my already disintegrating mental health. I can’t keep sitting on a bench for eight hours a day, too scared to return to my unit because of the incessant noise that blasts from next door. I can’t keep living with this elevated stress. I can’t keep living in a town that suffocates me; that drives me to madness; that has imprisoned me within it’s soulless walls for the rest of eternity. But I just can’t see the answer.

And that’s the problem with poverty. You have no choice. You eat what you can afford, not what you want to eat. You live where you can afford, not where you want to live. You wear what you can afford, not what you want to wear. You spend your meager life making do with what you have instead of becoming the person you could so easily become. Your life, when you live in poverty, is nothing. It is just something you have to put up with until the sweet release of death comes along to end your suffering.

I am miserable at the moment. I am stressed. I am unhappy. I am sad. I am despondent. I have toyed with suicidal thought and have found myself harboring self-harm urges for the first time in months. All because of my neighbour. All because of my home town. All because I have no choice over what to do with my life.

 


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SOC: How do I live the life I deserve to live?

This post was written as a Stream of Consciousness on Tuesday 8 September 2015 between 9:52 – 10:24am. Apologies for any grammatical or spelling errors that occur throughout, they are part and parcel of stream of consciousness writing.

Federation Square Abstract

Before going on holiday, I was apprehensive. Melbourne has been the staging ground of some of the worst, most abhorrent, actions that have ever been inflicted upon me.

It was in Melbourne where I was emotionally abused to the point of suicide and homelessness; emotional abuse that cost me my tertiary education, my income, my social and support network, every possession I’d ever owned and left me a terrified, hollowed out shell of the person I once was; emotional abuse that has caused a lifetime of lost opportunities and trauma of the like I’ve never before, or since, experienced.

It was in Melbourne where I found myself homeless, eking out an existence on the streets of Victoria’s capitol, scrounging for food in bins, begging for loose change on the streets, and doing whatever I could to survive in spite of my new-found station in life as the world’s biggest loser. This too caused untold psychological damage and trauma that I haven’t even begun to deal with.

It was in Melbourne where I was physically assaulted, not once, not twice, but several times. On some occasions I was doing nothing but sitting in a park when a gaggle of alcohol/drug fueled sociopaths set upon me for their own entertainment. On other occasions the assaults were warranted; when I intervened upon seeing a boyfriend beating up his girlfriend, when I refused to hand over money in a run-down boarding house. But whether warranted or not, each assault inflicted emotional damage, each assault traumatized me.

So before going on holiday I was apprehensive. How easily would my traumas be triggered? What emotional pain would I find myself revisiting? How would I control the surge of PTSD symptoms that would inevitably overpower me? How much of my holiday would be lost to the memories of nightmares past?

So colour me surprised when nothing happened. Walking around the Kings Domain, my old ‘home’ throughout my homelessness, brought back memories, but they didn’t come close to overwhelming me as much as I thought they would. Traipsing around my old haunts of Carlton and Fitzroy, major locations throughout my abusive relationship, became more nostalgic than triggering. Even lazing around the city’s alleyways and open spaces, key locations of my various assaults, were more relaxing and subdued than nightmarish or painful. The PTSD that I expected to overwhelm me was only a problem for a brief few hours, brought on by tiredness and exhaustion instead of memories and triggers. And even when the PTSD overwhelmed me, I was able to control it, I was able to occupy my mind with beautiful art or a canister of Cherry Coke, instead of losing myself to the pain of times past.

All of my fears. All of my apprehension. All of my nervousness about Melbourne. Everything I feared proved unnecessary; a complete waste of energy.

My time in Melbourne, rather than being a carefully balanced nightmare of trauma and psychological distress, was a wonderful escape from the terror that (usually) dominates my mind. It was not Melbourne that I should have been afraid of…it was Wodonga.

Since my return two weeks ago, I have been so stressed, so wound up, so overcome with nervous energy, that I’m surprised I haven’t had a heart attack! Not a single minute, not a single second, has seen me as calm, relaxed and happy as I was in Melbourne. I’ve just been well and truly overwhelmed by anxiety, by depression, by PTSD symptoms and the resultant stress that these conditions create.

Hours have been lost to violent, volatile conversations with the ghost of my abuser. There are no triggers in this town of her sociopathic narcissism. There are no reminders of the vile, cruel attacks that she used to direct upon me. But flashbacks, reliving and nightmares have dominated since I returned to this quiet, sleepy little town.

In Melbourne, I was regularly walking past hundreds of people a minute, but not once (not once) did my anxiety present any problems with this. There were no anxiety attacks. There were no panic attacks. There was just me, losing myself into the breathing heart of the city. But since my return, the anxiety has reigned supreme. Within an hour of returning I walked to the supermarket, passed one person, and suffered a crippling panic attack that left me a jittery, bawling wreck on the side of the road. Hundreds of people in Melbourne I could deal with; but one person in Wodonga overwhelmed me.

Throughout my week in Melbourne depression never entered the equation. I was happier than I’d been in years. I was skipping down the street, singing songs to myself and, unless I was taking selfies (I never smile in photographs), had a stupid grin plastered to my face. But back in Wodonga? I don’t remember how to smile; I walk around with a glum and gloomy expression on my face because happiness has escaped my soul; replaced with a dark, black, bleakness as I topple on the abyss between life and death.

I never once though of ending my life when I was in Melbourne; but since being back in Wodonga, the suicidal thoughts have returned, overpowering my belief that I’m a decent person and leaving me convinced that this world, and everyone in it, would be better off without me. After all, what do I bring to the world? What magic do I pass on to the lives of others? I’m just nothing. A nobody. This world would be better off without me. That I’m convinced of; when I’m in Wodonga.

And that is the crux of the issue, the life lesson that my holiday in Melbourne taught me; the major problem in my life isn’t my anxiety, isn’t my PTSD, it isn’t my depression, bipolar or suicidal ideation. My major problem in life is Wodonga, this sleepy hamlet where there is nothing to do, nothing to feed my passions and nothing to occupy the cravings of my mind. For me to get better, for me to recover, for me to live the life I deserve to live, I need to leave this place. And I need to leave soon, before the stress-caused heart attack strikes and I am taken from this world forever.

But how?

How does someone living in abject poverty move house?

Yes, I’ve reached the conclusion that I need to leave this suffocating town, but there is no way I can. The money I receive from the government doesn’t  cover my costs as it is. Last week I had to humiliate myself at the food bank as I couldn’t afford to feed myself. Whilst I’m walking around with a hole in the crotch of my jeans so big that I can put my hand through it, but the measly DSP I receive won’t allow for the cost of a new pair. So how do I realise my realisation and leave this unhealthy place when I can’t afford accommodation, can’t afford deposits, can’t afford anything?

The thought of being trapped here stresses me out something rotten, but that’s exactly when I am; trapped. Enslaved within a town that is damaging and detrimental to my mental health because, as I live in abject poverty, I have no choice of where I live or what I do with my life. Life. I don’t have one in Wodonga. I just have pain and trauma. I just have stress and depression. I could have a life somewhere else. Somewhere like Melbourne or London or Glasgow or Edinburgh or Inverness. Somewhere where my heart would be allowed to sing and I could occupy myself with cultural, artistic and inspirational pursuits. Where I could distract myself from the trauma of my life and allow myself to skip and sing and be happy.

But how?

Before going on holiday I was apprehensive. I thought I would be overwhelmed with pain, but instead I was showered with happiness. The pain came when I returned to the town that I hate; the town that, for better or worse, I have been forced through poverty, through lack of choice, to call home.

A town that will continue to suck the life from me until I’m nothing but the empty, worthless, shell of the man I once could have been.

 


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Melbourne 2015: Day 07. A rather solemn affair

My final day in Melbourne was a rather solemn affair. It began innocuously enough; sliding myself out of bed, stepping into the shower, slipping my clothes on and then sidling out the motel room for another day exploring and relishing in the greatest city in Australia, but as the day progressed and time ticked slowly on, I was overcome with a melancholy that I wasn’t expecting. The fact of the matter was I didn’t want to leave. Since being in Melbourne my mental health had, for the most part, not been an issue. I was walking past hundreds of people a minute and my social anxiety was nonexistent. I was in constant connection with memories of the most traumatic periods of my life – abusive relationship, homelessness – but my PTSD had barely registered. Being in Melbourne, it seemed, was good for me.

Unlike the other days of my Melbourne adventure, my final day in Melbourne saw no tourist attraction being explored. I considered going to the zoo (but that was too expensive) and I looked into going to the Old Melbourne Gaol (but that also proved too expensive) so instead I just meandered around the city. I undertook a laneways tour; reacquainting myself with the alleys and back streets that I used to know so well. I explored the Queen Victoria Market; and felt ashamed by the grotesque prices being asked for tatty tourist merchandise. I meandered various shops that I once knew so well; PLAY, a DVD shop selling rare and hard to find titles, JBHIFI, a music/DVD shop selling mainstream titles and various booksellers at the top end of Bourke Street, whose collections were interesting and diverse. Alas, I couldn’t buy anything. After seven days in Melbourne my finances were low and I needed what little money I had left for food and beverages.

Flinders Street, Melbourne.

Flinders Street, Melbourne.

It may sound boring, just walking around a city, but it was anything but. Melbourne may not be the prettiest city known to humankind, but once you get past the hipsterfication, it still heralds many architectural and retail gems. Walking around the city was something I used to do every week, and as I strolled around the CBD that final day, I was overwhelmed with memories of my past lives. Of when I was overwhelmed and excited upon arriving in Australia. Of when I was happily in a relationship with Louise. Of when I worked my arse off at the backpacker hostel. The memories flowed thick and fast that final day in Melbourne, but never once tipped me over the edge, never once did the PTSD overwhelm me. For once, I was in complete control.

By 1:30pm I was settled into Federation Square, shocked at how fast time was moving, so decided to slow things down with a final visit to one of my favourite places in the city, the NGV: Australia in Federation Square. It would be my third visit since arriving, but I didn’t care. There is something calming, something altogether relaxing, about roaming around the gallery, soaking in the majestic, inspirational art on show. To add some diversity to my visit I decided to undertake one of the free gallery tours they offer, in which a volunteer guides you through the gallery, regaling you with stories and history of various, important artworks. There were only two of us in the tour, but the information provided was interesting and informative. It cast the artwork in a new light; adding life and vitality to work that I have grown to love and care about.

Inside the NGV: Australia

Inside the NGV: Australia

After the tour I left the gallery and, on Audrey’s request, returned to the secondhand bookstore we had found days earlier. Bookshops, like galleries, are also a calming and relaxing venue for me. There is something about being surrounded by books that fills me with happiness. For nearly half and hour we scoured the shelves for anything that sounded interesting and, eventually, left with two books; one for Audrey (Riders in the Chariot, Patrick White) and one for me (Glencoe, John Prebble).

After a brief visit to ACMI we still had time left on our hands so, spontaneously, decided to return to the NGV: Australia, where we spent another hour roaming the halls and photographing the various artwork that spoke to us the most. It still amazed me how calming I found the NGV to be, and it hammered home just how stressed I have become from living in Wodonga, and how much I desperately need to leave that rural backwater town.

We ended the day in our usual way; a canister of Irn Bru, a visit to the Little Library and a relaxation session on a bench in Flagstaff Gardens. This bench, like many places in Melbourne, I had a personal history with. When I was homeless in 2007, following a year of abuse, breakdown and mental catastrophe, it was the first place that I called my ‘home’, with many nights spent curled up upon it trying desperately to sleep through the night. But I sat there, that final night in Melbourne, reflecting on my life now and my life then; how far I have come in certain respects, and how similar I remain in others. After solemnly leaving the bench I meandered to the pizza shop, treated myself to another beautiful potato and rosemary pizza, and returned for a night of relative calmness in the motel.

The first bench I slept on when I was homeless in 2007.

The first bench I slept on when I was homeless in 2007.

Unlike my other days in Melbourne, this last day was far more reflective and quiet. I didn’t undertake any lengthy walks, I didn’t spend a huge amount of time doing the tourist thing. I just allowed the city of Melbourne to wash over me and, in turn, reignite my love for the Victorian capital. As I drifted off to sleep, filled with a cantankerous malaise over the end of my holiday and my inevitable return to Wodonga, I realised once and for all that I would need to leave that suffocating country town. For the sake of my mental health, for the sake of my sanity, for the sake of my life; I needed to leave Wodonga.

The next morning I awoke early, switched on breakfast television, and put off packing for as long as possible. I knew that packing would mark the end of my holiday and, truth be told, I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to be walking back into the city for another day exploring the urban landscape and relaxing in the concrete jungle. But I couldn’t. All I could do was stumble out of bed, throw my possessions together, and make the long, slow walk to the train station where a stressful four hour train journey awaited me.

My holiday was over…and it saddened me greatly.

The small library I acquired in Melbourne!

The small library I acquired in Melbourne!

It had been seven blissful days of excitement, exploration and (occasional) extravagance. I had seen centuries old artwork, chillaxed in gardens, played with penguins, fought my demons and reacquainted myself with a city I once called home. It had been exactly what I needed; a break from my mental health, a break from stress, a break from Wodonga and a break from myself.

My holiday was, in one word, blissful.

A week I will never forget.

 


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The day has finally arrived!

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Well, the day has finally arrived. In just a short few hours my support worker will be picking me up to drive me to the train station, where I will board a train that departs for Melbourne, and then…I will be on holiday! For one whole week I will be able to gallivant around Melbourne doing all sorts of exciting, bizarre and wacky things. Art galleries, museums, aquariums…they will all be my oyster! I will get to take random photographs of street art, architecture, the hustle bustle of city life and (of course) the occasional selfie! For seven days I can do whatever I like – or rather, I can do whatever my anxiety and extremely strict budget ($15 a day) allows!

Meadhbh is super excited about the trip. She’s been squealing and babbling for days about all the things we can do in Melbourne. She doesn’t understand the budget may interfere with some of our plans, so there may be a chance she’ll be let down throughout the trip, but it’s nice to have her happy and excited. Audrey, too, is longing to walk the galleries of the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria) and check out the numerous laneways that mark Melbourne as the place to be. It’s rare for Audrey to be so excited about something, so it’s nice to know she can get giddy and overwhelmed, instead of being the staunchly stoic person she usually is. Shay, meanwhile, is gagging at the mouth over the sheer number of “quality totty” (his words) that he’ll get to check out (read: perve on) throughout our adventure. Despite his misogyny, it’s wonderful to have him focused on something positive, rather than endlessly pointing out the negatives which is his standard.

Vanessa, however, has been in overdrive. Over the last few days, in the lead up to our holiday, her abuse has been escalating. She’s been quick to point out all the bad things that happened to me in Melbourne, bad things that I will be reminded of as I roam the city and revisit locations from my past. These triggers are things I know she will seize upon; they will cause her to abuse me, to bombard me with critical comments and hurtful words, but I’m hoping my anticipation of her abuse will allow me the strength to ignore it. After all, I’m determined not to have anything (especially Vanessa) ruin my holiday.

Because I don’t have a laptop or smartphone capable of accessing the internet (abject poverty, remember!) it’s doubtful I will be online much over the next several days. I may visit an internet cafe if time (and money) allow, but don’t go expecting many updates or photographs over the next seven days. Know that I will be okay. Know that I will be having a good time. And I promise I’ll update you all on my adventures upon my return. And yes, you can expect a plethora of photographs to decorate your screens when I do have internet access again!

I have a few finishing touches to add to my packing, so will sign off now. Suffice to say, I am exceedingly excited, and can’t wait to board the train!

Wishing you all a happy, safe and healthy week. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do! ;)


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It is never too late to be what you might have been…

The final prompt in the 30 Day Self Harm Awareness Challenge asks
Post your favorite picture of yourself and write a positive message to look back on.

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