I haven’t been myself for some time now.
Well actually that’s not true is it. I am myself, who else would I be? I’m just not the me that I like or that I want to be right now. I’m not the me that got me through the last six months. Writing this has taken a long and drawn out process of opening the laptop, typing a few sentences, deleting it and closing the laptop before mentally bullying myself about how weak and useless I am. I rarely experience bouts of writer’s block but when I do I know it’s the sign of something much deeper, darker and more sinister than a simple lack of imagination or creativity. I have had almost no desire to exercise, no attention span longer than about 10 minutes for one activity and a decreasing passion for interacting with people face to face.
I first experienced depression like this when I was about sixteen or seventeen. Back then I was a time bomb of hormones and emotions waiting to go off and about two years later I detonated like a suitcase nuke when I came out as gay. I didn’t just come out – I launched out of the closet. I was like that scene in Deep Impact where the asteroid hits the Atlantic seabed and annihilates several continents. It was a tumultuous time of regret and anguish accompanied by an incredibly painful journey of self discovery with the end result being the man I am today. But that nagging little voice in my head has always been there. Sometimes I can tune him out so that when I tell myself I’m not good enough or I don’t deserve to be happy or successful or loved I can ignore it. My inner Twitter troll as I call it. But sometimes the volume gets turned up a little too much and it distracts my focus to the point that it becomes my focus. I can hear nothing else but that voice and I can’t always fight it.
This bout of depression is something I need to tackle head on. I can’t afford to burn out and I won’t let myself burn out. I know what is causing it and I’m going to talk about it now, not for any grand reason or for publicity but this is something I need to talk about because I didn’t realise it was happening to me until it was too late.
I was the victim of coercive control.
Back in February of 2015 I met a guy by the name of Ollie* who was funny, charming, not bad looking, independently minded and kind. He was fun to be around, made me laugh, was interested in what I had to say and before long I was sure that I loved him and that he loved me too. In the September of that year we moved into his apartment together and looking back on it I know it was very fast but we were in love (or so I thought) and above all else I wanted to be settled and happy. The price I paid was that I was unsettled and deeply unhappy almost immediately.
On the day of my birthday in 2015 Ollie accused me of cheating on him, of not paying him enough attention and threatened to lock me out of the house. At one point the argument got so heated that he put his hands around my throat and I defended myself. The police were called, I was convinced that it was over and tearfully I was prepared to walk away from it. For whatever reason I second guessed what was best for me and I went back with him and stayed with him, all the while being constantly reminded by him of the time I had defended myself but never once was I allowed to mention him putting his hands on my throat first. It got to the point where he began to flatly deny that he had ever done that and that I had hit him first in a drunken, jealous rage.
The crazy thing is that after a while I started to believe it. I started to think that I had an anger issue and that I was going crazy. Over the next few months I seen my own friends less and less, as well as my own family. I almost exclusively hung out with his friends and family and anytime I mentioned making plans with my own friends he would fly into a rage, begin accusing me of cheating, threatening to lock me out of the house and tell the police that I had been beating him. Because I had by this point believed his bullshit about my anger issue I was terrified that I would be arrested and charged with domestic abuse or battery so I dropped the topics of conversation that made him angry. The list of things that triggered his emotional blackmail were things like spending my own money, wanting to see my own friends, making plans to spend time alone without him, going to my best friend’s house (This one became such a sticking point that I was expressly forbidden from seeing him unless supervised), not coming home from work immediately, not spending money on him, if I needed to use the car (he didn’t drive so I was basically his taxi), not lending money to his friends/family when they needed it and often times he would fly into a rage if I didn’t call in sick to work in order to spend the day with him.
Ollie would twist my words in such a way that it made me believe that I was genuinely a bad person. I justified my staying with him to friends and family by claiming that I loved him and that I had been a terrible boyfriend and needed to make it up to him. Ollie would call me names, insult and belittle me about my clothes, my friends, call them names etc. He would destroy things that I owned that belonged to friends of mine that he had a dislike of (I came home one day from work to find that a chest of drawers a friend had donated to me was lying in about 30 different broken pieces in the back garden as Ollie had taken a hammer to it whilst I was at work). Ollie would constantly call me, text me and message me while I was at work and would refuse to acknowledge that I wasn’t able to use my phone in work. In my head I would make excuses for him, even when he would go through my text messages, log onto my laptop (which he later broke) and read my Facebook messages, Twitter DM logs etc. At one point he began threatening a friend of mine via my Facebook profile to stay away from me – all whilst I was completely oblivious to this.
I became miserable and in February of this year I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia – a condition that affects the nervous system and can cause great amounts of pain and chronic fatigue. The condition is exacerbated by stressful situations but Ollie didn’t seem to care. My pains would get so bad that I would have to use a walking stick, something that I found embarrassing and emasculating, yet Ollie would claim that I was showing him up or even faking it. At times he would completely gaslight me and tell me that fibromyalgia didn’t exist or that I didn’t have my diagnosis. My favourite was when he claimed that I had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia to make life difficult for him! Ollie also began taking incredibly potent sleeping tablets that he claimed were prescribed because he was terrified of me and what I might do, so he needed them to help him sleep beside me.
Ollie used the tablets as another way of controlling me. He would take them on week nights at around 6 or 7pm and as they were fast acting he was in bed about twenty minutes later. Ollie would do this regularly if I had suggested meeting up with a friend or doing something that wasn’t explicitly his idea or didn’t benefit him in some shape or form. And since I wasn’t allowed out of the house this meant I was effectively on my own in the house with nobody to talk to unless he had decided one night to stay awake past 8pm.
The tipping point came in May of this year when my father was taken into hospital with a superbug infection in his chest. After about eight weeks of intense treatment and therapy we were told that they could no longer do anything for him and that he would be gone in less than a week. Ollie chose this as the precise moment to tell me that if I didn’t cut off all contact with my friends and the family members he didn’t like then he and I were finished. To rewind a bit, Ollie had met my parents on a number of occasions and was a completely different person with them than with me. He was the golden boy, all smiles and sunshine and could do no wrong so that whenever he and I had an argument there were times when he would call my mother on the telephone and tell her that I had threatened him or harmed him when indeed the reverse was true. This created a situation in which my own parents didn’t believe me at first when I told them the truth which in turn made me doubt myself and come running back to him every single time.
These mind games persisted over a course of about nine months – from September to May. I didn’t realise what was happening and I kept pushing myself deeper and deeper into the lies I had told to convince myself that I loved him, that he loved me and that this sociopathic behaviour was normal.
When Ollie gave me the ultimatum of choosing either him or my friends and family the decision was easy in my mind. With my father dying in hospital I knew exactly where I needed to be and in a moment of clarity I packed a bag, walked out of the house and left, never to return. What followed was a barrage of abuse from Ollie and his family over the next few days, all of whom were acutely aware that my father was on the verge of death but none of whom seemed to care. I was threatened with violence as were my friends, I was told that my belongings in Ollie’s house would be destroyed or sold, that I was going to be arrested for beating him etc – to put things in context it’s safe to say that Ollie isn’t that bright overall as this was all relayed to me via text messages which I screenshot and saved for my own protection.
I eventually got my belongings as he harassed my mother (who’s husband was dying) to come to the house and collect them along with my brother and aunt. I wasn’t allowed near the property and I was only too happy to oblige. The threats and the taunting became such that I threatened to call the police myself if I heard from any of them again. My father died peacefully in his sleep a few days later but I will never forgive Ollie for trying to take even those precious moments away from me. On the day my father died I had a combined total of fourteen missed calls and about twenty to thirty venomous text messages from Ollie. Despite my utter dread that he would do so, he didn’t come to my father’s funeral and didn’t contact me again yet I remained terrified of him until recently.
I was convinced that I couldn’t tell people about what had happened as I couldn’t quite believe it myself. It took the longest time for me to realise that I had been the victim of domestic abuse – psychological, financial, mental and emotional and that it had taken such a toll on me that I had actually become physically ill as a result. I was embarrassed to tell friends about what had happened and found out through the grapevine that Ollie had taken to social media to post update after update about how abusive I had been, how I had broken his heart etc – this was damage control on his part as he knew that it was only a matter of time before people heard the truth.
I still don’t know where I found the strength from to finally pack that bag and leave and I know I should have done it a year ago in that September. I guess I decided that the consequences of leaving him (and I knew he would make it next to impossible for it to be an amicable breakup) were more manageable than the consequences of staying with him. Not once have I ever regretted leaving him and any time I got a tinge of sadness or if I missed him just a little bit all I have to do is remind me of how little he made me think of myself. Ollie made me believe that I didn’t deserve to be happy or have my own personal freedom and independence respected. I realise whilst writing this that the voice in my head is a lot like Ollie’s voice and that makes it easier for me to ignore.
Nobody will ever tell me again that I can’t be happy whilst telling me that they love me. That is not the heart of a confident and loving relationship – that is the core of abuse. I walked away from coercive control but it could have been so much worse.
*The name of my ex has been changed for privacy purposes