Domestic Abuse and Depression

Domestic abuse and depression share many symptoms. A long time ago, I told my doctor how I felt and he instantly diagnosed me with depression. Unfortunately, way back then, I don’t think I had depression yet. I think the symptoms of domestic abuse were my problem. Unfortunately, the doctor didn’t ask about domestic abuse, just depression. Maybe now, 20 years later, doctors do ask about domestic abuse and depression during the same visit.

I believe my diagnosis of depression was both a God-send and a curse. On the good side, the diagnosis opened up solutions like medications and counseling. The medicines helped, but I didn’t attend counseling. My ex-husband does not “believe in therapy,” and I wanted on his good side as much as possible. Maybe the truth of both the domestic abuse and depression would have come out in therapy.

So the curse of the diagnosis was that it hid the domestic abuse, even from me. And doubly unfortunately, receiving the diagnosis caused me to believe that maybe my abusive ex-husband had been right all along. Maybe I was the cause of all our marital problems.

Domestic Abuse & Depression Symptoms

The symptoms for both depression and domestic abuse are eerily similar. Following are several symptoms of depression (D) and then my interpretation as 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 domestic abuse would have happened because of who I married. But maybe the depression didn’t have to happen. 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 Domestic Abuse And Depression

Getting out of an abusive relationship was the best way to treat its symptoms.  When I lived with someone who exhibited disordered behaviors (abused me), I was destined to fall into his unreal world defined by his control and my confusion. No one can live with the dis-ease abuse causes without developing a disease for his or herself.

To treat depression, I’ve opted for anti-depressants and therapy when I could get it. I didn’t make therapy a priority; I wish I had. I’ve visited a few therapists at different times, and I’ve been on and off anti-depressants for many years. I thought that I shouldn’t need the medication to be normal, but every time I stopped the meds, I fell into depression. I felt that having this mood 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 ex-husband who scornfully called my medications “happy pills”).

Now I realize that depression and its symptoms are not my fault. Depression is my brain’s misguided chemical reaction 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.

Domestic abuse and depression wove a tight knot around my thinking. My abuser’s disdain for my “imaginary disease” and refusal to talk about it helped cement the stigma of depression in my thoughts. Now, without the domestic abuse, I feel I can heal from depression like I never would have if I’d stayed in my abusive marriage.

Although I’ve been on my own for two years, I continue to struggle with depression. I had hoped that the depression would disappear with the abuse, but it seems here to stay. With medication and by taking care of my body, I can ease my depression symptoms. Neither the symptoms of depression nor the symptoms of abuse are enough to keep me down.

You can also find Kellie Jo Holly on her website, Google+, Facebook and Twitter.

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21 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.

  14. Nini says:

    Thanks for this post. I only recently realised that my relationship is abusive because it was always verbal and emotional (just like my father made me used to), never physical so I failed to accept it for what it was. The problem is also that I’m coping with bipolar disorder – and wherever you look all pages are about how the ill person can be/is abusive towards the person they are in relationship in the cases of mania or escalation. I have no anger issues, it’s mostly severe depression with hipomania that most people treat as my normal state (“Why can’t you always be like that”, “I miss normal you”, “You makde it all difficult because you don’t work on yourself enough”, “You’re too much to bear when you’re depressed” and so on). I must note that I go to therapy and I’m under psychiatrist’s supervision and I do try my best. But because I’m ill, I’ve become a scapegoat. Something in the relationshop goes wrong – it’s me and my illness to blame. My partner feels bad – again, it’s always the fault of me and my illness. I’m struggling with powerful guilt issues so I really have trouble coping with that. But when I look for help, there is always “oh, abuse in a relationship with a bipolar? Yeah, the loved ones of the ill ones are in so much danger! They are basically saints and those ill ones hurt them all the time, wheter unconsciously or on the contrary”. So at one point I believed everything’s my fault. Now I refuse to do it. I have no idea what to do and how to cope but realisation is already something, right?

  15. Jess says:

    I suffered from depression my whole life, I the the madness was normal. I didn’t know any better until I was medicated. The verbal abuse that comes with depression is no reflection on who a person really is. If your spouse gets help and treatment for his depression and he is a totally different person then don’t refer to him as your abuser. He clearly was not in control, don’t let his depression ruin your marriage or your personal out look on him. Give him a break and learn to forgive

  16. Lachey says:

    My name is chey I am 24 and now a mother of three, I was abused since I was a child by my mother and by my children’s father. I am now not with my kids father but I struggle day by day with life threatening depression and identity crisis. I tell myself every day that I need to keep pushing for my kids but I sit with a fake smile plastered to the world but in inside I have no feeling I dread every hour that passes that I am still living with myself I feel as if I can’t breath… I wish at least my kids don’t have to struggle with the memories of the actions there father put me threw and how now they live there lives with a broken mother..

  17. Chey, you aren’t broken. The depression that threatens you is a consequence of the abuse, and by not living in the abuse, you are giving yourself room to heal. Depression isn’t causing nearly the amount of damage to your children as living in an abusive home would. You’re strong. You can keep going.

    There will be a day when you’ve got the depression under control and you know who you are beyond the shadow of a doubt. I know you feel guilty because depression amplifies any feeling of “I should have …” and turns it into undeserved guilt. And I know you ruminate on the past because depression plays a tape of memories in your head that is difficult to silence. But these thoughts and feelings are due to the depression. They’re not real. They’re the imaginings of an injured brain, nothing more.

    Hang in there with us, Chey. You can get that depression under control. You can feel better. Reach out for help from doctors and a therapist. Speak your truth to people you trust. Your children will come to understand your strength, and they will never consider you broken. You are their mom, and that’s enough.

  18. Amy says:

    I am so glad I have come upon this page. I have been in denial of being a victim of domestic/emotional abuse, which has turned into two episodes now of physical abuse.
    I do have some of my own personal issues, so I allowed my abuser to use that against me, convincing me that the problems in our relationship are all my fault. He does have a very giving, emotional, broken side that reaches out for help – but when he ‘flips the switch’, he become a raging monster of a bully that will often would not yell or scream, but would become frighteningly calm and describe ways he would like to hurt or even kill me. Other times he would yell and call me names, so bad that I can’t even type them here. Even our pitbulls cower in a corner with their heads down and tails hidden beneath them in fear while he would verbally attack me. It never failed though that shortly thereafter, as if scolding a child, he would come to me quietly and apologize and say that he would not have to be that way if I would only do what I was told and not defy him. I have desperately tried to help him because I know there is a good man with good intentions inside of him, because I did see that side of him more than the monster, and I have believed that if I stay and continue that someday he would just magically have some epiphany and change his ways. Today after he physically struck me and kicked me out of the house, I now realize that this is MUCH bigger than I am and that I cannot help him at all. When I left, I went to my mother’s where I am staying and blocked his calls and texts, even though he swore on his life he was NEVER going to contact me ever again. Sure enough, about 4 hours went by and he began his rant of messages through facebook messenger. Relentless of how everything is still all of my fault because I am a no good, stupid, most pathetic **** ***** on the planet. I simply messaged him back asking him not to message me any further and to let me get my dog because he beats her too and I am not there to protect her. Of course because she is something that I love, as he believes “more than him”, he will not allow me to come and get her. I now know that I need to seek abuse counseling to stop this rollercoaster he has me on because clearly I am not strong enough to handle this alone. I have every single symptom listed above, ALL of them. I am already seeking help but now I know that I need to open up about how abusive this relationship has really been and stop covering it up and hiding it from my doctors and family. I just want to thank the author for this post in helping me finally admit to myself that I am a victim and no longer have to be subjected to his cruel and heartless abuse any longer.

  19. Lucy says:

    Im in an on and off again relationship with my childs father. We have 3 kids. The last time i left he choked me til i almost passed out. I havent been back. Its been 10 months since i have lived with him. He swears he has changed. Im scared to find out.. I been feeling so sad all the time. I dont have confidence anymore and feel so alone.. I dont know who i am anymore.

  20. He senses your vulnerability, Lucy. That’s probably why he’s after you. That and with 3 children that he’s paying child support for (I hope), getting back together with you would save him some money. Abused women who have been choked are 7 times more likely than other abused women to be murdered by the abuser.

    This man is not going to give you your confidence back. He’s not going to help you find yourself again – he made you hide from yourself in the first place. If you compare being lonely to being torn down every day, mentally and physically, which do you prefer?

    You’re 10 months clear of him. Stop sleeping with him, stop letting him inside your house. Don’t meet him except when he’s going to see the children. Sadness is normal during abuse recovery, but you should see your doctor – you could be depressed.

    Please Lucy. You’ve been remarkably strong so far. You aren’t alone. Don’t go back to him. Instead, visit and find some support groups in your area. Run toward support; run far away from him.

  21. Dear Amy, I am so happy you’ve had your moment of clarity. It’s wonderful that you’re going to fully open up to the people who really love you. Maybe one of them can go over there and get your dog.

    If you haven’t already, block him on Facebook and any other social media you use. Keep his emails, keep a record of his texts (for example, if he uses a friend’s phone to text you). Write them down with the date and time. If you go to court in the future for a restraining order, for the dog, or for whatever lies he makes up, the court can subpoena your records if they need to, so you don’t have to keep them on your phone after you record them.

    Counseling and support groups will help you a LOT. Remember that you’re already strong – you lasted all those years living in abuse AND you left his sorry butt. You’re as strong as we get. In an ideal world, the effects of abuse would disappear as soon as we left. As it is, we need help getting past the effects of the abuse, so get it.

    I am very happy for you and proud of you! I don’t even know you, but I know what you’ve been through, and what it took for you to leave. <3 You’re awesome!

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