Too close for comfort

I have been a massive fan of the BBC Radio 4’s The Archers for years. The radio is what has got me through the last few weeks as many days I find the only way I can cope with the head pain caused by my suspected CSF leak is to lie in a darkened room and hope that a few hours supine will relieve the pain.


The story of late (if you are abroad or haven’t read the numerous newspaper articles) has been one of domestic violence mainly the psychological controlling kind. The storyline to hit this soap / drama has divided fans of the show due to the fact that this is normally about farming life in a sleepy village. Nothing like this has been portrayed in this soap. Some fans have complained that the story line has dragged on for far too long. However I would argue with them that this storyline has ended far too quickly as many who suffer from this type of abuse are victims for years before they finally break free.


Most break free in a far less dramatic way than Helen Titchener, who stabbed her abusive spouse Rob, when he threatened violence against her 5-year-old son Henry, after she told him that she was leaving. This part of the storyline is scarily accurate as victims are in far more danger when they try to end the relationship or get away. Many have to go into hiding due to the escalation of the threats against them.


The storyline has been dramatic, tense and far too realistic for my liking. I have previously written about a psychologically abusive relationship I escaped in my youth. This current storyline has had it all flood back, Rob’s tone of voice, the words he uses and the actions he has taken over the last 12 months or so have caused me to be filled with anxiety. Before the big climax of Helen stabbing Rob I only had to hear Rob’s voice and I began to feel sick. I have never felt so scared by a drama on the radio as this has made me. No drama I have watched or listened to has ever affected me in this way.


I have been in two minds as to whether or not to continue to listen as it has caused flashbacks and the fear I felt all those years ago sits as a massive knot in my stomach as I have listened. Some evenings after the show has finished (it airs at 7pm and finishes at 7:15pm) I have lain awake shaking with fear for several hours afterwards. Not great for someone who suffers with tachycardia at the slightest provocation.


I know that I have escaped my abuser, I was lucky after 11 months I woke up, mainly because he had moved across the country it forced a natural end to the relationship. Despite that he wouldn’t let me go and wouldn’t accept that I had ended it. I was initially bombarded with flowers and gifts. When I told the florist I would no longer accept them I then received abusive letters. It speaks to the cowardice of the man that he wouldn’t pick up the phone and try to speak to me, it was the days long before caller I.D.  I was scared to answer the phone for months afterwards in case it was him at the end of the line, maybe that was his plan.


Like the character in The Archers Helen Titchener, by the time the relationship ended this man had destroyed any self belief I had previously had. For months afterwards I never truly felt free of him and it took many years to rebuild my self-confidence that he had eroded over that short space of time. Whilst the storyline was unfolding on The Archers quite regularly I would end up shouting at the radio “Helen for god sake leave him”. It is easy when you are on the outside of the situation to sit in judgement. When you are in the eye on the storm you are so busy walking on eggshells, trying to ensure you are good enough that you just can’t see what is happening.


No one choses to be in a relationship with an abusive partner, if we knew what we know by the end of the relationship at the start of it, we wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole. All too often people are victim shamed for “allowing” themselves to be treated in this way. The victims or survivors as I prefer to call myself carry a lot of guilt. Even as I am writing this, thoughts have gone through my mind blaming myself for his behaviour, why was I so naive? Why did I allow myself to be manipulated? Why couldn’t I see his abusive behaviour? It is odd because I have nothing but sympathy towards Helen and do not blame her for the way that Rob has behaved.


Unfortunately domestic violence / abuse is far more common than we would like to believe. It happens in all types of relationships, it can happen to both males and females. I have friends who have survived these types of relationships however because psychological or controlling or coercive behaviour  is such a new concept in the realms of domestic abuse / violence, many people don’t even recognise that they have been a victim of it. Just because the perpetrator never used violence against you doesn’t make you less of a victim. A close friend of mine still refuses to admit she was a victim despite ample evidence to the contrary. Another friend repeatedly blames herself for being the victim of domestic violence on more than one occasion. She can not see that she has done nothing wrong it was her partners that perpetrated the violence and psychological control. As a fellow survivor I know the guilt she feels, it is almost as if we think we share the same personality flaw for “allowing” ourselves to be taken in by these people. Perpetrators of this kind of domestic abuse seem to like targeting strong-minded independent women so that they can reduce these women to nothing. To them it is a kind of sport and when the game is up they move on to their next victim.


Both my friend and I would say we were good judges of character but when you have made such a fundamental error of judgement (how it feels not what actually happened) it can shake you to the core. It can make you reevaluate all your relationships and view prospective partners with deep suspicion. It leaves you feeling that you aren’t good enough because let’s face it, it is all you have been told for the duration of the relationship. As a survivor you can feel a great deal of shame, that you have let others around you down for your poor choice in partner. For many years I wouldn’t admit what had happened during that 11 month relationship. It’s only in the last three years I have been able to tell people about it. Some have met this “confession” with disbelief, some with silence and some have come forward with their own stories of abuse.


People who haven’t experienced it may find it hard to believe that others would “put up” with that kind of treatment. The pace of the storyline on The Archers has been spot on, abusers don’t start off revealing their sadistic sides, it is a slow descent into complete and utter control. It starts with the odd comment, which at the time you let go because they’ve never said anything like it before. Then those unfounded criticism become more frequent, often said to be “just a joke” when you confront them. So you start thinking perhaps I am being oversensitive? But the criticisms sting and you start to think there maybe a grain of truth in them. Then the abuser starts questioning your friendships / relationships and make things difficult if you want to spend any time with people other than them. So you stop seeing others or change the way you view the relationship as it’s easier than dealing with their sudden explosive outbursts.


Before you know it you’ve become a totally different person, whose anxiety levels are through the roof. Nothing you do seems to please them and you’ve got nowhere to turn because of the way you have behaved towards those you once held dear. Now everyday is spent walking on eggshells never knowing what will provoke an explosion of anger. There is no violence involved but the way they explode means you fear it. The fear is enough to keep you there, after all it’s your fault they are angry.


Some will never understand how people stay with abusive partners. I was brought up to believe that domestic abuse / violence was exactly that violent. When you have been brought up with that belief it can be very difficult to accept that abuse doesn’t always mean violence but it can mean psychological control, which unfortunately is very difficult to prove in the legal sense. There is no evidence as there are no bruises, no trips to the hospital or the gp. Perpetrators of this kind of abuse are very careful of their public image. They may take on the role of protector / carer or the perfect partner in front of others. They may reserve their comments until you are behind closed doors or a look in public may be enough to reduce you to a quivering wreck.


As a society we have to get away from the belief that the victim in this kind of abuse is somehow complicit. It seems fictional characters deserve our sympathy, our friends and family members can be judged harshly. With the belief that “they should have got out”, “How could they not see it?” “Why didn’t they say something?” “Why didn’t they ask for help?” And so the victim starts to believe that they must be in some way to blame for what happened to them.


I thought I had dealt with what happened to me, that I would never feel the anxiety and fear again until this storyline, it has been far too close for comfort. So although The Archers current storyline has been uncomfortable listening for me it has opened up a conversation about psychological domestic abuse. Which has to be a good thing even if it means I am dealing with emotions that I thought I had buried more than 20 years ago.


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Just a quick update.


My head has improved slightly in that I can sit up for longer before the headache kicks in however the salt tablets are causing fluid retention especially around my ankles.
I have now been referred for an epidural blood patch but how long that will take to come through I have no idea. So it is just a waiting game and learning to deal with the symptoms and be more proactive in their prevention.


So I find myself in much the same position as I was last week. I am still having the orthostatic headaches, neck pain, back pain and the constant taste of salt in my mouth. Just for added variety I came down with a UTI last week which knocked me for six and I have been sleeping a lot ever since.


My gp has increased my salt tablets (600mgs) to 10 a day and this has helped a little. Meaning I can spread longer periods sat up than before but everyday I have a headache that increases as the day goes on.


Thankfully hubby had an appointment with the gp this morning (we share the same one),  he explained how awful the last few weeks have been for me and how this is impacting his anxiety. He doesn’t know how I am when he is working and he is worried that I may collapse again, injuring myself. The gp has now decided that I need the referral and that is being done this week. I have to contact the gp on Friday to let him know how things are going.
So that is the current state of play, I am still in limbo and have no idea how long I will have to wait to get the epidural blood patch or if indeed the consultant will agree to it.