SURVIVING DOMESTIC ABUSE
Updated: Apr 2
Hannah Fisher was born and raised in Birmingham, UK.
A single mother to 3 children and survivor of domestic abuse, she started writing more seriously about 10 months ago. A lot of Hannah's work hints at the abuse she once suffered and the grief of losing her father to a brain tumour when she was 20. She has a voice at last and is finds writing very therapeutic.
Hannah is new to spoken word and is looking to perform at open mic events soon. She is also an artist and specialises in portraiture, but as her confidence grows she is starting to develop her own style.
Freedom is so important, and Hannah was without it for so long. Now she is free to tell the world her story in the hope that people may relate and perhaps even be comforted to know they're not alone. So, today, Hannah is doing just that...
1) Hey Hannah, how are you?
I’m doing a lot better than I was a few years ago.
2) How are you really?
I still struggle daily and that is something that I have realised more recently. I didn’t realise I had any mental health concerns, so it’s been quite overwhelming but also very reassuring at the same time.
3) How important is it to feel heard when you're speaking about personal feelings?
Very important. It takes a lot for me to open up completely. I am always there for everyone and I know that people will come to me with any problems they have and know I will listen, and if they want it I will try to advise them as best I can. So, when I do eventually realise I’m struggling with my own mental health, it is so important that people listen to me, even if it is just for reassurance or validation of how I am feeling at the time.
4) What are your mental health diagnoses?
I have a diagnosis of anxiety and depression, but I am also being investigated for other conditions such as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and ASD (autistic spectrum disorder). I have recently been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder.
5) What impact does anxiety have on your life?
A lot bigger than I realised. I would never have said that I was suffering from anxiety, but I am and have been for years. It affects everything and I just didn’t realise because I was so used to that feeling. That surge of adrenalin constantly, fight or flight. My whole day is dictated by my anxiety. I feel like a caged animal. I have all of this pent-up energy and worry but no idea why or how to release it. This leads to frustration, anger, emotional breakdowns, hysteria and at its worst, panic attacks.
6) For someone who has never experienced depression, how would you explain it?
This is a hard one for me because, similarly to anxiety, I didn’t know I was suffering from it. I suppose I can feel like an empty vessel floating along and I’m being hit by things, but I can’t feel it. Just existing, drifting in and out of reality (I feel a poem coming on), no sound, just me. I shut people out and I just want to be on my own because nobody will understand this or be able help, so I protect them from it by shutting off. It’s a very lonely place to be. I will also cry endlessly and not know why.
7) What is the most challenging thing for you about any of the mental health issues you experience?
Accepting that I have them. Unfortunately, it seems I have been led to believe that mental health issues mean you are mad or bizarre, this has not come from my family or friends but perhaps due to a complete lack of awareness of how these conditions can manifest or present. Since being diagnosed I have found that so many people are happy to talk about mental health, even their own, and it makes me so sad and angry that so many of us suffer in silence because of stigma that still exists. I do really struggle with the flashbacks I get of how I felt during my abusive marriage. I am also suffering with PTSD as a result of the abuse I endured daily for 9 years. This is a more recent issue for me. I think its because now I am freer to explore my emotions, I am experiencing it fully, hence the panic attacks too. My panic attacks are very recent and usually induced by flashbacks. Certain areas, roads, places and even smells can take me straight back to those days and I feel consumed by it. The lack of control I feel in those situations is what I struggle with. It is frightening, so I have tried to equip myself with techniques to de-escalate them as quickly as possible. I have also made my friends and family aware so that they know what to do if it happens when I am with them.
8) Do your diagnoses of anxiety and depression stem from a particular time in your life?
I believe so yes. My Dad was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2007 when I was 19. He was given 12 months to live. During the same year I met my now ex-husband. I was completely grief stricken and my mental health was probably at one of its worst points. I became more and more detached from everything and everyone. I watched my dad slowly deteriorate and die. He was so strong and so intelligent and he was destroyed, and so was I. I’m still learning how to allow myself to grieve for him because the agony of it all feels too much to cope with. As I mentioned before, I had met my now ex-husband during this time. He was a master of manipulation and deceit. A complete narcissistic psychopath and I was so easily manipulated by him. I had moved out of my family home and we were married within a year. I then fell pregnant with my first child. I wanted so much for it to work to prove people wrong and to be everything he wanted me to be, and during this time I lost myself. I was his possession and he was obsessed with me. I was abused daily. Every day for 9 years. Threatened verbally and physically with knives. His favourite was to say he would ‘slit my throat’. I didn’t even know there was more than one type of abuse that could exist within a marriage but there are and I was victim to all of them. I started to realise this properly when I fell pregnant with my third child. He would ridicule me for feeling unwell, insist I make meals that made me feel sick, laugh and scoff when I slept due to fatigue. I googled ‘signs of an abusive marriage’ and of the 15 things on the list I ticked 11… I then read ‘if you have ticked just one of the above you are in an abusive relationship’. I ticked 11!
9) How did you learn to process the grief of losing your dad at a young age?
Erm… I didn’t. I completely detached from it all. I was too lost within my abusive marriage to even think about grieving and even when I did. He would tell me to stop crying. I am starting to do it now and it’s really hard, it hurts a lot. I had counselling after I left my ex-husband and that was brilliant. I have asked to be referred back but as we all know these waiting lists seem never ending, so in the meantime I will continue to talk to my family and friends about how I am feeling. I am very fortunate that they check in on me regularly, as I do with them.
10) Can you tell me what it was like to process the trauma of an abusive marriage at the same time as coping with depression and anxiety?
I say to myself a lot, ‘I don’t know how you did it for so long’. I was a shadow of my former self. Vacant and completely removed from society. I cried a lot. I still do but it feels different now. I’m free to cry now so I cry hard and loud, not hiding in the car or in the shower. I’m processing the trauma and it’s hard. The grief of losing my Dad is painful and is as raw as the day he was diagnosed and the day he died. I talk about it a lot. If it surfaces, then I discuss it. I’m really trying to open up but it’s not natural for me. It is a conscious effort still.
11) If someone reading this is in an abusive situation, what advice would you give to them?
Talk to somebody you feel safe with. It helps to validate what you’re thinking and will reassure you. Since opening up about my experiences, two of my close friends have too. It happens a lot and to so many people. I have found talking about it very therapeutic.
You need to leave but you must do it safely. There are charities that are discreet and help you to formulate a plan to leave. I was fortunate to have my parents to go to but I’m aware that’s not always the case.
12) Do you have any techniques which work to control your anxiety if you can feel it building?
Stop what I’m doing so I can address it properly. Talk to somebody about how I’m feeling because I don’t always know, and they might help me to figure it out. Going outside can help. I close my eyes, listen to any sounds, breathe in for 4 seconds and out for 4 (and repeat). I make a list of things to do and check them off when they are done. I also love to paint and write, it seems that this is the only time my mind is calm.
13) Are certain situations a trigger for your anxiety?
My ex-husband, who I still see due to childcare arrangements. Anything outside of my control. My children being away from me (usually with their Dad) or if they are unwell. Any event such as birthdays and Christmas.
I have recently been suffering from panic attacks which are triggered by driving past certain areas that remind me of my ex-husband, the perfume I used to wear, people we used to know. Anything that is linked to my time married to him.
14) Was your recent diagnosis of PTSD a shock or were you expecting it? And how does PTSD impact your life?
It wasn't a shock because I've known for a while that I've been struggling but I didn't want to admit it. The flashbacks are so real and they throw me into a complete panic. It's triggered by certain areas and of course when I see my ex-husband. It's as if I'm right back there in that hell of a life I was existing in. The dread and fear is so real. I'm totally consumed by it and it's frightening. I don't enjoy that lack of control at all and it can strike at any time. Somebody can say something in a similar tone to how he used to and it floors me, smacks me in the face and I'm lost. It's so difficult to get myself back to reality. I still suppress it but even that's becoming a struggle now. Everything's coming to the surface and I have asked for help with how to deal with that now.
15) Do you have ways of coping with the past experiences in your life?
I have always loved to write and paint but I couldn’t during my marriage. So, since then I have been doing both and loving every minute. I started painting portraits in 2019 and more contemporary / abstract pieces more recently. I am thoroughly enjoying experimenting and expressing myself in this way, and I indulge in drawing / painting daily. I started writing more seriously in early 2020. It has been a great way for me to pour out my thoughts and I've found the poetry community to be incredibly supportive. I have more recently plucked up the courage to do spoken-word pieces and submit my art work for competitions.
16) Tell me more about your creative pursuits...
I started painting again around two years ago. I have been painting portraits mainly as I have found that faces are so beautifully expressive and I hope to capture that. The freedom to paint is amazing and something I am definitely really enjoying. I can express myself through my paintings and find it very therapeutic. It seems that when I paint it's the only time that my mind really rests. I am completely calm and at peace. I used to dance and I found that this gave me a similar feeling; freedom. I started writing around a year ago and have found that it is a brilliant tool for me to use when I need to get my thoughts down and out of my head. My mind is busy and it's difficult for me to explain that, but I have found that I can do it better through my poetry. I have always loved literature and art, I studied it at school. It’s crazy how I have almost come full circle with it and I’m now using them both as a therapeutic tool to express myself.
17) For those who may not already be familiar with them, what are ADHD and ASD?
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a condition that includes symptoms such as:
Disorganisation and problems prioritising.
Poor time management skills.
Problems focusing on a task.
Excessive activity or restlessness.
Low frustration tolerance.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects communication and behaviour. Symptoms which can be attributed to autism include:
Little to no eye contact.
Trouble holding a conversation.
Poor motor skills.
Repetitive routines or mannerisms.
Similarly to ADHD, diagnosing ASD can be difficult because there is no medical test, like a blood test, to diagnose the disorder. ASD and ADHD are related in several ways. ADHD is not on the autism spectrum, but they have some of the same symptoms, and having one of these conditions increases the chances of having the other.
18) With regards to the ongoing investigation into ADHD and ASD, how does it feel to be going through this process?
It’s difficult because I am an adult so I get asked why I am going through it. My answer is because it gives me some reasoning or understanding of some of my behaviours throughout my life so far. I've always felt different, so getting a diagnosis will help me to feel more understood. Also, I have noticed that my children are displaying similar behaviours so it is important that this is picked up early so they can access the help they will need throughout life. It is hereditary, so if I get a diagnosis it will be easier for the specialists involved to diagnose my children.
19) What is the best reaction someone can have when you tell them your mental health diagnoses?
I think for me it’s that they recognise them to be serious and by doing so it supports me. Not to pass them off as something I can just deal with because there are times when I really can’t, and I need people to know that it affects me every day and at times so much so that I cannot function as I normally would. It is important for people to respond in a way that shows me I’m not exaggerating and that how I’m feeling is important, that mental health is as important as physical health.
20) How do you feel after doing this interview today?
I feel good. I enjoy talking about myself, not in a vain way but it’s so important to me to address my problems and talk them through. Talking is therapy for me. I feel like I’ve had a great session with a therapist because by talking about it openly it helps me to acknowledge that its really there. Thank you for this opportunity.
Hannah, thank you so much for sharing your experiences with us today. It's so important that people feel as though they can talk about mental health and domestic abuse, and having your story out there will no doubt encourage others to share theirs and to reach out, and get out, if they need to. I can't wait to hear your spoken-word on a poetry stage in the post-pandemic future. In the meantime, keep doing what you're doing, be kind to yourself and look after yourself because you are important.
You can (and totally should) check out Hannah’s creative pursuits on her social media:
If you are in an abusive situation, myself and Hannah are encouraging you with all of the love and understanding in the world, to reach out to someone you trust. You can go to the 'support' page on this website where there are contacts to help you. There is a life worth living waiting for you outside of that person.