I recently read, and have below included a relevant excerpt of, a magnificently informative piece of writing in abuseisntlove.com about the absolutely debilitating fatigue that comes from being abused – an issue I’ve been struggling with for some time now, even when I didn’t see why it was so. I was feeling so wiped out I couldn’t work, and Scox even belittled me for how tired I was, labeling me a “lazy freeloader.” I understood he wanted me working (Hell! So did I, for that matter!), but I knew I wasn’t able to, suspected it had to do with Scox and thought it was a residual reaction from his psychosis, not part of something that was ongoing at the time.
I’m still feeling completely wiped out. I’m also dealing with a lot of sleep problems, and massive amounts of stress as well, which probably serve to exacerbate this issue. Nonetheless, I still find myself too exhausted to take on a job. I find this incredibly frustrating because I am also acutely aware of the fact that, right now, working is something I absolutely need to do in order to better my living situation in any way.
Excerpt from Abuse is Exhausting: “That’s not intended as hyperbole, nor is it flippant. I can always tell a survivor who is either still in or has recently exited an abusive relationship, as she/they appear drained of life, alternating with a distinctive, hypervigilant look, like a frightened rabbit. When I treat clients who are still in these relationships, they universally complain of a deep fatigue, down to their souls and their bones, as well as strange physical maladies that appear to defy any medical explanations. Headaches, vertigo, gastrointestinal issues, chronic fatigue, thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, and hormonal imbalances are all commonly cited. My personal symptoms were insomnia, crushing fatigue, heart palpitations, and the worst stomach pain I’ve ever experienced. None of these had any medical explanation or were caused by any physical condition, many tests and doctor visits later.
Once a survivor is successfully free (for some this process can take years) of the toxic relationship, there is a lot of healing to do. Many complain of a kind of fog that seems to permeate their thinking and how they move through the world. I would argue that this is still shock and denial hijacking the body, as well as the ongoing processing all abuse survivors go through, resolving the ‘cognitive dissonance’ of the person they fell in love with vs. the real person behind the mask. However, once a survivor is in a safe space and has had sufficient time to rest, I see color return to cheeks, the light return to eyes, much-needed weight gained, and an almost immediate feeling of physical relief. ‘Observationally, the fact that a person’s health improves upon leaving or or modifying such relationships certainly suggests there are benefits to stepping away,’ writes Dr. Ramani Durvasula in ‘Don’t You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility.’
I’ve heard many survivors describe this exhaustion as a kind of soul fatigue. It’s unbelievably taxing on a person’s nervous system to always be walking on eggshells, never knowing what would set their abuser off, in their own homes. A place where we very much expect and deserve safety. I compare the effect of this experience to combat, and while some may take issue with that, I’ve seen nearly identical PTSD symptoms in both domestic violence survivors and combat veterans. Sleep can feel impossible, for a long time. Nightmares and re-experiencing are common. Irritability and even rage at times. Difficulty navigating intimate relationships. Substance abuse to numb…”