Gaslighting is Not Just a Movie: Recovering from the Effects of PTSD, Depression and Anxiety
by Felicia Darlington
Listen to Editor in Chief Gabriel Nathan read this post aloud:
Standing at the kitchen sink, washing dishes, my son asks if he can do something or play with something, I can’t remember what it was. I feel infuriated that whatever it is my child is asking for, I can’t provide, emotionally or materialistically, at this moment.
Six months ago I left an abusive relationship from the other person who helped create my children. I left him while I was five months pregnant with my second child. I had not yet realized the extent to which that trauma was affecting me, until I had this meltdown. At the sink, my son keeps asking for something and I think to myself, “Why am I here?”
My parents pay for everything, I have to ask permission to use their car, I have to ask for money. I feel trapped. I haven’t moved on from the intrusive thought of my abuser because I so desperately wanted to be in a relationship. I wanted to raise my children with someone I could share all the ups and downs of parenthood with. It didn’t help that I only left the house for doctor appointments and grocery store visits now while living with my parents, not much social interaction with new people. My kids don’t need a mope for a mother. I feel like I don’t have control of my own life.
As I’m in a fog of memories and flashbacks of the encounters I had with my abuser I don’t hear anything while I stand at the sink, but I see my son’s mouth moving. I remember how my abuser would coerce me into having sex with him and how after he would hide my undergarments. I remember situations of being accused of cheating at a time my personal hygiene had slipped away from me because of the abuse. My legs were hairier than my father’s, no one wanted that. I remember how I never moved the damn dishes but he kept telling me I did it. I turn to my precious son, and say a sentence that makes me cry just thinking about it, let alone typing it or saying it out loud, “I’m not your mom, go get it from mommom.” He looks at me with sadness and confusion. My mother says, “Oh, stop it. That’s ridiculous.” I say, “No, it isn’t” I come out of my fog enough to tell my son to get what he wants from his grandmother and proceed to explain to my mother loudly and full of tears how my abuser fucked me up, BAD, and I mean nothing to my children.
My mother, thrown off from this unexpected outburst says, “Look, see, you’re scaring your kid.” My son is now hiding in the cubby of the kitchen until my mother makes this statement, then my brave little man steps out into the open, wiping his tears and states, “No you’re not Mommy, it’s ok, I’m fine,” smiling, big and happy at me. I let out a huge cry and agree that yes, he is fine, no need for me. My mother tells me to go to my room and I quite reluctantly tell her if I do she will never see me again. She insists.
I feel ignored and angry. In stating that she wouldn’t see me again, I meant that I was going to leave my children with my mother and father so I could go back to my abuser. Then he could finish torturing me, any way he wanted, which meant that he would most likely take my life. It felt like I wasn’t being taken seriously I was speaking of serious matters of life versus death. I surely knew that going to my room wasn’t going to fix anything
On my way up the stairs my father meets me and says, “This isn’t you.” In my best smartass voice, through my crying breathes, I reply, “NO SHIT!” My father looks at me and says, “Get dressed.”
I walk up the stairs to my room, “What do I even dress for? What am I going to be doing and where am I going?” Yoga pants, a t-shirt, a jacket and a pair of sneakers act as the lucky outfit to take this unknowing journey with me. I feel bad for myself. Not an “Oh pity me” moment, but an, “if I saw someone else go through the fit I just had I would hug them, hold their hand and tell them to start from the beginning, to get out their feelings!” moment. I can’t believe how much pain I’ve been bottling up.
We end up at the hospital. It is the most silent silence I’ve ever heard, waiting in the tiny emergency room. As one of the staff members goes over the instructions and rules of the three day visit, I can’t wrap my head around how I even got to that point. How was I admitting myself into a psych ward? It felt like the reason was because my feelings weren’t justified to other people’s standards. Most people conclude I had postpartum because I had an infant. They didn’t understand the trauma I had experienced.
Most people don’t ask questions; they just assume or make up their own judgment. If they only asked they would know I was abused—mentally and sexually abused— while pregnant, with my abuser’s child.
He became enraged as he sparked conversations that caused conflict and anger towards me. If I left the house with him he acted like we were the most lovable couple in the world. If he left the house alone he would come back five minutes later and say that he saw another guy in the backyard. He ignored my son and the fact that I was again pregnant with one of his children. I felt sad and scared for my children fearing that they wouldn’t feel loved by him.
There were consequences if I fell asleep after putting my son to bed, or while we were doing couple activities “with no distractions.” I would wake up feeling his breath on my face as he towered over me, intimidating me to do whatever he was saying. He would turn all the lights on in the middle of the night and say that if he’s awake I need to be awake. Not caring at all he was disturbing an innocent sleeping child instead of just me. He flirted with other women in front of me and cheated on me when I wasn’t around. I wasn’t allowed to talk to my family.
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He threatened to kill me and my son. I didn’t know how to react to when he said this. Would anyone believe that the biological father of my child was threatening to KILL his own flesh and blood; along with the woman carrying another one of his children. I was concerned and scared but I didn’t know what to do. This lasted for six months and then two more months after I left him. He would still harass me through text messages and phone calls, confusing me with his whiplash antics. One minute over the phone he’d convince me he was going to therapy to work on himself so we could become a happy family, the next minute over he’d state how untrustworthy of a person I was for leaving him and that he would never go to therapy because he’s not the problem, I am.
These are just a few of the things he did, these things that someone would know, if they were to simply ask, instead of making a judgment. The nurse was shocked but completely supportive when told her what had been going on after she had prompted me. I finally felt acceptance.
Because I was breastfeeding at the time I was hospitalized, I worked it out to have a small breast pump so I could still feed my baby even though I was not with her. In mid use of pumping for my daughter, sitting in the psych ward wishing it was her and not a machine, I knew I did not need to be there. I wasn’t the one who was wrong, I wasn’t crazy, someone had altered my mind and my body. I needed to heal and understand what actually happened instead of living in a fog of what had happened. I cried a happy cry, smiling to myself knowing that I’d be much better after this realization. I had been so defeated by my abuser, losing both my mental and physical health. I forgot about ME. I was finally going to be me again. A stronger more lively me, that I was absolutely thrilled to meet.
I was referred to a psychiatrist and psychotherapist. I then found out I have PTSD, depression, and anxiety due to the effects of gaslighting and sexual abuse. I did not know quite how bad the situation was until I was finally able to talk to someone about it without feeling shameful. I grew up bottling up my emotions because that’s what I learned from society, otherwise you were considered weak. There are only a few authorities in the world that understand just because you don’t have a bruise or blood to show, doesn’t mean you haven’t been abused. When I had the opportunity to go into detail of the twisted conversations and scenarios that had transpired, I was able to see the path a little clearer.
My recovery has been hard. Now that I know it is one hundred percent normal and healthy to talk about your experiences it feels a lot easier to process my trauma. The car ride home from the hospital was the longest, most anxious ten minutes of my life. I was trying to process all of the possible reactions of my children and parents when I got home. I wondered, if my children were going to look at me differently or even want to be around me. Maybe they thought that I tried to abandon them. Were my parents going to look down on me now? Were they going to act like I am an incapable mother?
As I walked in the door after being away at the hospital, my son ran to me, jumping in my arms, smiling. He told me how happy he was that I was home and how much fun he had with his grandparents. I picked up my daughter and she cuddled right into my chest. How resilient children! I was relieved by how totally fine they were. Since this time, I have been able to be the happy, cheerful mother I was before the abuse. We do arts and crafts, we play outside, we sing and dance around the house, we have fun being a family!
I like to do activities to keep myself busy when I feel that I’m about to have a meltdown, this prevents me from having one. This typically looks like crafts or movie time if my children are up and willing; otherwise this Mama is making decorations or getting outside for fresh air. Doing activities when my mind is running wild makes me feel that I have control. My abuser no longer has any say over what I do. I can be myself and do what I want without being punished. I focus on becoming grounded and aware of my present surroundings. Other things that work for me: cleaning around the house, making lists, reading and researching the next fascinating topic I want to learn about. I’m finding ways to make peace with life after the bullshit. I gravitate toward spirituality, the meaning of signs and symbols the world naturally but knowingly throws at you to help you remember, you’re alright, stay positive and move forward. I saw the number eighty-seven on my receipt, then on a screen for my gas price, then on a license plate. I looked into numerology for eighty-seven, ”… an auspicious sign of manifesting prosperity, achieving success, positive progress and spiritual advancement. Be grateful for the blessings entering your life and remember to share your good fortune with others. Family, prosperity, and organization.”
A few days later I was searching to write for mental health magazines or websites and came across OC87 Recovery Diaries. I cried, reading the “About” section because I felt at home. I felt like I have a purpose and a true meaning to my life. That maybe I can help people in some way or another. I needed to find this amazing family to help remember I am not alone. We are all fighting the good fight, side by side and we are standing TALL!
EDITOR IN CHIEF: Gabriel Nathan | EDITOR: Laura Farrell | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman
See Related Recovery Stories: Anxiety, Depression, Mental Health Aloud, Mental Health First Person Essays, PTSD