This is something that 18 months ago I could never have imagined being emotionally strong enough to tell anyone other than my family and closest friends, let alone write on a blog post. But World Mental Health Day has had me reflecting on the progress that I have made with my own mental health and the struggles that I still face every day.
Last year I managed to break free from an abusive relationship that lasted almost 2 years. Although there were times of physical abuse, it was predominantly emotional abuse that manifested itself in so many different ways. I met, we'll call him 'James', in my final year of school, having started off Year 13 with a really good group of friends who I loved and the prospect of achieving strong A level grades that I had been working extremely hard towards. We met at the start of October, and by the end of November I was no longer socialising with any of my friends and was barely at home. He convinced me that my friends were bad for me in some way and that when they wanted to spend time with me they were trying to take me away from him, so by accepting their invitations to hang out I was being a bad girlfriend. I am naturally a very self-critical person, so being told that I was not being the best girlfriend I could be really hit me hard and his control over me got stronger from that point onwards.
From a young age I have loved to learn, and always sought to enhance my knowledge on anything I found remotely interesting. This desire to learn was inherent within my nature. He took that away from me. He mocked me for working hard. Made me work for his business whilst he went out with his mates because he knew I would not let his career fail, whilst letting my own vital revision go undone. If I said I couldn't work for him one weekend because I had school work to do, he would tell me that he would have one of the (many) girls he had cheated on me with work for him instead. It doesn't sound like much, but the way he made me believe that the relationship would fail unless I spent all my time investining in him rather than myself and that it would be entirely my fault is hard to fully describe.
I had always wanted to go to university, but he had tried multiple degrees and dropped out as it wasn't for him. As a result, my dreams of higher education were 'wrong', and he did everything in his power to convince me that I wanted to spend my life working for his business. He isolated me from my family, telling me that they were pushing me to go to university as a result of their own failures and their intentions were nothing to do with wanting the best for me. He repeatedly told me that I would not be able to cope and that if I did get a degree it would be useless and he would come and find me stacking shelves in Tesco in a few years. I went home once every couple of weeks, as he had manipulated me into thinking that my parents were my enemies and if I saw them he would be angry as I wasn't listening to him, the one who 'truly' cared about me.
Perhaps the most emotionally damaging thing that occurred throughout the relationship and has had the greatest lasting impact on my mental health was the interrogation about any of my previous relationships, and the comparisons he constantly made between me and his ex-girlfriend. Pretty much every hour of every day I was having to answer questions about the nature of any of my previous relationships, what the guys were like and would have to swear on my family's life that I was telling him the truth. About 8 months into the relationship my nan, who I was very close to and absolutely adored, had a stroke and I messaged James to tell him. I remember his response so vividly that it still makes me burst into tears as I write this. The message read: 'Oh dear. So you promise that you're telling me the truth about these guys. On your sick nan's life?' When my nan passed about a month later, he then moved on to making me promise on my dead nan that I wasn't lying about anything and that I accepted that his cheating had been my fault because I was stressed and had made him upset with me. He would constantly reiterate to me that his ex-girlfriend would never have done that to him, and how everyone thought that the two of them would eventually get married. I can't tell you how damaging that is to your mental health. Most people are insecure about ex partners to begin with, but to have it told to you on a daily basis that he is constatnly comparing you to them is soul crushing. Any insecurities you have about yourself are only increased, and things you weren't even insecure of conscious of are suddenly at the forefront of your mind every minute of every day.
I remember one day he came home and decided that he didn't want me to have blonde hair anymore, and had bought a box of brown hair dye for me to use. He told me he preferred girls with darker hair, and would find me more attractive and would basically be less inclined to cheat on me. I won't delve into the cheating too much as it is just too difficult for me to write about and is nothing anybody wants to be bored with, but there is no doubt that it impacts how I view any friends or potential partners as I believe that everyone is going to behave in the same way which sends my anxiety into overdrive.
Thinking about this now I honestly can't understand how I ever allowed any of this to happen, which just goes to show that it can happen to anyone and we must all keep an eye out on our friends. If you see any of your friends isolating themselves and losing the person that they used to be, please talk to them. If they are anything like me, they will refuse to listen. But trust me, keep telling them that they need to leave. Because when they eventually realise that's what they need to do, they need to know that there will be a support network around them in order for them to be able to leave. Encourage them to get therapy or talk to someone, as I honestly think I would be in a much darker place than I am right now had I not been lucky enough to have parents who fought for me to have a therapist in the immediate aftermath of the break up. Look after eachother guys x