Domestic Abuse and Depression

The depression resulting from rape and domestic abuse first overwhelmed me when I was 26, six years into my marriage. I believe I succumbed to the symptoms of depression simultaneously with giving up control over my Self to my husband. The fear I felt at the thought of “going against” my abuser caused me to look inside myself for a solution to our relationship problems. I finally believed him – I was the cause of all of our issues.

One day, during my child’s routine medical appointment, I broke down in the doctor’s office. He told me that I was Depressed, and he said there were medications that could help ease the symptoms and get me back to feeling “normal”.

Domestic Abuse & Depression Symptoms

I believe the diagnosis of Depression was both a God-send and a curse because the diagnosis of Depression hid what was really going on at my home, even from me.

The symptoms for both Depression and domestic abuse are eerily similar. WebMD gives several symptoms of Depression (D); following the symptoms are my understanding of symptoms of domestic abuse.

  • difficulty concentrating (D) coincides with the abuser’s use of repeated interruptions during arguments and when the victim tries to do something for anyone other than the controller.
  • difficulty remembering details (D) coincides with the abuser’s continual remaking of history and insistence that their memories are correct and the victim’s are wrong.
  • difficulty making decisions (D) coincides with the abuse victim’s knowledge that nothing they do will be “right” so decision-making becomes tough and anxiety provoking.
  • fatigue and decreased energy (D) coincides with the unending stress caused by living with an abusive person.
  • feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness (D) are also ideas a controlling person want their victim to feel so control is easier to maintain.
  • feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism (D) are the resulting feelings an abuse victim undergoes due to the abuser’s control of them.
  • insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping (D) are also signs of stress abuse victims experience.
  • irritability, restlessness (D) can evolve after sleep disruption, anxiety, and other symptoms of domestic abuse.
  • loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex (D) are usually present in abuse victims because the controller limits their pleasurable activities and sex with an abusive person is not “fun”.
  • overeating or appetite loss (D) along with substance abuse can become coping mechanisms used by victims.
  • persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease with treatment (D) are also side-effects of stress caused by abusive relationships.
  • persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings (D) are hallmark signs that a victim feels “with no reason” since the abusive partner denies those feelings should exist in the victim because they “have it so good.”
  • thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts (D) also plague many victims of domestic abuse who are ever-increasingly hopeless as to find a solution to their relationship problems and may hear their abuser say “We’d be better off without you. You’re a terrible mother!” or similar statements.

I believe the abuse I suffered at home triggered my Depression. The abuse came first in 1991, and I was diagnosed with Depression in 1998. I probably would have been diagnosed earlier if I didn’t go along with my husband’s idea that the only thing wrong with me was that I was a spoiled brat.

Treating My Depression

Over the past 14 years I’ve been on and off anti-depressants always thinking that I didn’t need the medication to be “normal” – I felt that having this mental disorder was something to hide – a shameful secret that I could overcome if I were stronger, smarter, or a better person (feelings reinforced my my husband who hated my “happy pills”).

Now I realize that Depression and its symptoms are not my fault. Depression is my brain’s misguided chemical reaction to stress within the unique confines of my genetics and environment. Try as I might, I can’t control what my brain chemicals do (or neglect to do), but I can work with my brain to ease the pain of Depression.

The best thing I did for myself was leaving my abusive relationship. When I lived with someone who exhibited disordered behaviors, I was destined to fall into his unreal world defined by control and confusion.

Although I’ve been on my own for two years, I continue to struggle with Depression. I don’t know if my brain re-wired itself within the 18 years I was married to accept the depressive state as “normal” or if the depression is a genetic trait triggered by abuse. At this point I don’t much care what “caused” it as I care about finding a solution for it.

With medication and by taking care of my body, I can control my Depression. For now, getting back on my feet is priority one. Neither the symptoms of Depression nor the symptoms of abuse are enough to keep me down.


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13 Responses to Domestic Abuse and Depression

  1. Pingback: Mental Health Month Blog Party 2012 – Round Up | Your Mind Your Body

  2. Peggy C. says:

    I was in an abusive marriage for 2 years. It was physical, verbal, and emotional abuse. Through years of therapy, I have found out that this was my Comfort Zone. I had been abused as a child by my ‘mother’ physically, verbally, and emotionally! It was all I knew. I knew my ex was an abuser prior to marrying him yet I did so anyway. I’m thankful to have lived thru both accounts of abusive living. I am now married to a very respectful loving and caring man that loves me even though I’m #bipolar. I still struggle through every moment of ‘Mothers Day’….. Maybe someday that will change. Thank you for sharing your life experience with us and I say try to find the positive in yourself everyday. Make a running list of these great characteristics of yourself, post them on your mirror so to see them every morning and night. Remember the Great You! The one that was brought down by abuse. Rise again! You are worth it and you deserve it!

  3. nikky44 says:

    Thank you so much for this post, for all your posts about domestic abuse. I speak a lot in my Blog about domestic abuse too, but I only tell my own experience, my living in Hell. Your articles are helping me a lot. I wrote that yesterday:

  4. Kellie Holly says:

    Nikky44, I read your blog and I’ve got to tell you that your man sounds DANGEROUS. Please begin making your safety plan if you haven’t already. You can find a good one at

  5. Nikky44 says:

    thank you very much Kellie. I will check it now <3

  6. anxious girl says:

    Such a great blog, i wish you all the luck in the future, i hope you get to be happy you deserve it :) xx

  7. alexandra says:

    Kellie, this is such a wonderful blog, so eye-opening that I read it with my mouth wide open. I’ve been in a marriage that really became verbally abusive over the last 20 years. Now, at age 65 I chose to stay and cope as divorce and living on my own isn’t a good option. There are many older women like us out there.

    Your article on depression really is significant because most symptoms of depression aren’t specifically related to domestic abuse. This explains it all as I know that I’m depressed, but the reasons made so much sense to me. I am normally a cheerful and social person, getting along with everyone except my husband. It’s so true about the constant interruptions, the blurring of memories, the inability to communicate can have detrimental effects on my relations at times. People have told me that I talk too fast, but it’s because I’m trying to get a word in with him. The loss of hope comes from not being able to make any decisions with him, be they simple daily ones or the really important ones for the future. I understand why it’s hard for me to start projects or to pursue my interests because I can’t fully concentrate.

    This really hit home because women in abusive relationships are experiencing depression because of their living conditions.

  8. Howard says:

    Thank you for posting this. Today I’ve been diagnosed with Clinical Depression. On telling my wife the news, she turned it completely on me. She asked me if I had been depressed all my life because of my lack of communication since she met me. I find it hard to communicate with her as she is extremely verbally abusive at the flick of a switch. I’ve been very anxious over the last year because of her mood swings. Following one particular episode where I made the kids lunches wrong I was insulted, ridiculed, hit as well as the usual verbal abuse. On leaving the house I had a mental breakdown and did not want to live my life anymore. I’ve not always dealt with confrontation very well and I guess I’m not the greatest communicator in the world, but I don’t believe I deserve to be abused so consistently. It’s no surprise I’ve been diagnosed the way I have. Thank you again.

  9. Laura says:

    I just realized that I really am being verbally abused. At the start of our marriage I was the one who was so insecure that I was mean to my new husband. But I changed and became a loving, caring person. Now, over the last two years (since I started working)it’s my husband who has ‘turned’ on me terribly and is very abusive. I am becomming depressed over this whole situation, but wan’t so badly to repair the marriage. Any advice or input would be so very appreciated!
    Thank You..and I really feel for all of you…

  10. Kellie Holly says:

    You mentioned that your husband “changed” after you started working. On the one hand, you working outside the home could be a triggering event for him. Perhaps he feels threatened and does not feel he has the control over you he did before. However, you said that you changed into a loving, caring person. I trust you when you say he is now verbally abusive. Read The Verbally Abusive Man, Can He Change?: A Woman’s Guide to Deciding Whether to Stay or Go, and create the “contract” described in it. Talk to your husband, mention his “switch”, see if he’ll work with you to change. My gut tells me he may be one of the ones who will change. A clue to my feeling is that he became ugly once you became more independent. Typically, abusers become more controlling when you give up your independence in some way. What do you think?

  11. Laura says:

    Thank you so much Kellie!
    I think you are right…about his not having control over me when I started working! am so glad that you have a gut feeling he can change. I think he can too, and will read what you recommended.
    One factor that may be causing him to get so mean could be the testosterone injections I give him once a week for his low testosterone levels…what do you think??? High levels of that hormone can make men more aggressive I have heard…and he almost doubles the dose!
    I wonder if that could be a factor???

  12. Cat says:

    I was just wondering if I was the only woman who still dealt with stress and the resulting depression nearly 2 years after leaving my abusive marriage. The worst thing for me is that my ex sees our teenage children on a regular basis, and tells them that he is the victim because he was arrested and had to leave his home. He also tells them that he “does enough” and its not fair for him to pay child support.
    I lost a job that I studied long and hard for because I couldn’t perform well with the constant worry. Even with a protection order in place, I don’t trust him.

  13. Kellie Holly says:

    Cat, you are certainly not alone. I’ve been out longer than you have, and although the stress and depression lingers, it is not nearly as difficult to deal with as it was before. I’ve seen my doctor and take prescription anti-depressants; if you haven’t talked to your doctor yet, I recommend that you do at least try a few medications to see if one will work for you. The protection order only does so much, I know.

    It is very tough to live fully day in and day out wondering if today is the day he will snap. The best thing I’ve found to do to reduce this worry is to follow all of the personal safety rules. Put them in place in your life, make them a habit. Besides, there are other “big and nasties” out there to protect yourself from too – not just the ex. For example, check your backseat before you get into the car – every time, even when you think the car was secure in the garage (this is how you make a habit). However, by all means tailor some of your self-protection habits around your ex. You know him best, what would he be most likely to try with you? In my case, I never let my ex in my house when I was home alone. He is sneaky and crafty enough to do some damage and then say he found me that way or whatever. I didn’t LIKE to let him inside past the front door when other people were there because I didn’t want him to get the lay of the land, so to speak.

    You can’t positively protect yourself against your ex anymore than you can against any other big and nasty who wants to do you harm. BUT you can protect yourself and arm yourself against the odds. It goes a long way toward easing the fear.

    Whatever he says to your kids doesn’t matter. I know it “matters” because its a lie and just plain wrong to say those things (especially to the kids!), but in the big scheme of things, his lies will show themselves as lies if you’re patient. If/When your kids report to you what their father says, you can say simply, “Your father and I disagree on many things, and that is one of them,” then leave it alone. If he’s told them something stupid like “Mom is going to abandon you when she finds a boyfriend,” then they are sharing a fear with you (would it happen, mama?). In that case, say something like, “It is wrong of your father to say such a thing. I promise you, Name of Child, I will never, ever leave you. I haven’t done it yet, and I’m certainly not going to do it later.”

    The point of your responses is to NOT badmouth dad like he’s doing to you. Agreeing/Disagreeing, pointing out that you wish he wouldn’t fill their heads with nonsense, etc. in a calm way that quickly puts the focus back on the REAL struggle (in the case of fears) or dismisses it out of hand (in the case of agreeing/disagreeing), is the key. For a while, you may go back and forth with it in your head, having those internal arguments “with him” – but don’t let it come out in your words. Your kids get enough crap from him. Your ability to “leave dad at dad’s house” will bring them comfort. In time, when you see how your kids react to your calm, confident answers, you will come to feel that way, too. Your ex says those things hoping to stay in your head. Right now, he’s getting his way. Only you can shut him out.

    Hang in there, Cat. It will get better.

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