When we hear about caregivers abusing patients it usually has to do with elderly abuse. There is a big part of this abuse we haven’t talked about. Caregiver-inflicted abuse can come from anyone, at any age, and can take many different forms.
The abuse inflicted by a caregiver can be incredibly difficult to notice. Frustrations are high when dealing with the illness and sometimes that can lead to excusing unacceptable behavior. Emotional abuse may be even more difficult to recognize. Often the chronically ill person feels like the caretaker is doing them such a huge favor that they could never complain about how they are treated. Why wouldn’t we? We are constantly told we are lucky for having friends or partners in our lives.
Unfortunately, I speak from experience. I consider myself an intelligent person and I knew what red flags to look for. I thought I knew better; I would never find myself stuck in an abusive relationship. But anyone can fall into an abusive relationship, especially when they feel like they don’t bring much to the table (like many of us with chronic illnesses).
When I moved across the country a couple years ago it was really hard to function without support. I felt incredibly alone. At one point, I paid a cab driver to be my ride home after surgery. I was living in cheap hotels, in my car, or on couches; I was also really struggling with handling my health.
Then along he came. He didn’t treat me like a sick person. He treated me like an equal, at least in the beginning. It was wonderful to have someone else help to face the struggles of illness face on.
The abuse started gradually. Small threats, constantly getting mad at me, and insults became more and more common. He was constantly making me feel guilty for being sick and even claimed I was faking it. I had no one else and he was helping me some with day-to-day life so I just didn’t even recognize the warning signs. After all, I felt like a burden to all my loved ones anyway. He was just confirming what I already thought. In my mind, this messed up relationship was exactly what I deserved.
I finally began to see the problem when he had a problem with me trying to make friends and began to steal from me. Even then, it was hard to leave because I relied on his help so much. I made excuses. It is hard to date me, dealing with illness is hard, he isn’t bad all the time. I tried to break up with him a couple times, but he convinced me to go to couple’s counseling and scared me into staying with him.
Looking back there was an abundance of warning signs. He put his fist through a microwave because I didn’t feel well enough to clean it out. He broke the trash can because I couldn’t take out the trash. He refused to close the blinds when I had a migraine. He refused to let me keep the apartment cold so as to not faint. He threw me on the floor when I didn’t dry off in the shower to his liking. He left me stranded without a ride on multiple times, once over an hour away from home. I had to limp miles in the snow at more than one point. He locked me out of my apartment.
The warning signs may seem obvious, and they are now looking back on that time. However, it took me nearly having to die before I did finally recognize him as abusive. One night he drank too much, pushed me off the bed onto my head and gave me a concussion after trying to strangle/kill me. I was able to claw at him with my nails enough to get away, but still lost consciousness.
I’m sure he still has scars. It was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever gone through and he was the only person I had in my life at the time. The concussion was so severe I had to withdraw from school. I could have died that night, and I truly wished I could have seen the big picture before getting hurt.
This is not an easy topic to write about, but I need to share with you what I wished I knew then:
- You are not a burden. You can enrich the lives around you, illness or not.
- You deserve supportive and loving relationships even if you are sick. Do not stick with anything less.
- Emotional abuse can be as damaging as physical abuse. It should never be ignored or excused away.
- You don’t deserve to be threatened, hurt, or mistreated by anyone just because you are sick.
- You don’t deserve to feel guilty over feeling sick when you’re unable to control it.
- If you are in an abusive relationship do not bother with couples counseling. Abusers won’t be honest or work on their problems. Everything will be turned on you as if it is your fault. Couples counseling made my partner more violent and convinced me further that I deserved to be a victim to his bad behavior.
- Ending up with an abuser is not your fault. It is difficult to not feel stupid for getting into the situation, but it can happen to anyone. It is more likely to happen to you if you have a disability. What you go through is your abuser’s fault, not yours. However, make sure you don’t allow yourself to remain a victim out of embarrassment when you finally do see the signs.
- Don’t stay with an abuser because you are worried about being alone or taking care of yourself. Being alone is hard, especially with a chronic illness, but it is definitely better than getting hurt or nearly killed. You aren’t alone in your struggle. If there aren’t friends or family you can reach out to there are online and in- person support groups. There are also counselors who work with chronic illnesses and abuse that can help you recover. Shelters are an option if you have no one else to turn to. For more information or to speak to someone right away the domestic violence helpline should be able to help: thehotline.org or 1-800-799-SAFE. It isn’t easy to get away from an abusive relationship, but it will be so much better for you and your health.
- If you see the warning signs or red flags that your caregiver is abusive talk to someone you trust and get away from them as soon as possible!
Caregiver-inflicted abuse doesn’t have to come from a romantic partner. It may come from friends, parents, and even health care professionals as well. No one deserves this abuse and you should never stay in an unsafe environment because you feel like you deserve it.