Hi, I’m Hannah. Which means, I’ve written a whole bunch of articles about male behaviour, girls fighting, dating woes and recently, I touched on mental illness. I’ll tell you something about abuse, mental illness and how the two can overlap like a messed up Venn diagram.
Abuse goes largely unreported in Malaysia, and for good reason. The way people treat abuse survivors are ‘nut up or shut up’ – you have to suck it up, as a form of fidelity. Common thoughts according to WAO (Women’s Aid Organisation) are that domestic violence is not a serious offence. 39% of Malaysian women are estimated to have been victims of domestic violence – based on a research study of Malaysia conducted by WAO, it was estimated that in 1989, 1.8 million or 36% of women over the age of 15 were beaten by their husbands or boyfriends. Only 909 women have actually reported violence to the police. Many battered women have told WAO their stories of seeking assistance and how they were not listened to, were advised to be more patient, told not to provoke their husbands and to persist with the marriage.
Behind these responses are the common attitudes that domestic violence is not a serious offence, that the woman is to blame for instigating violence in some way and that the role of a wife or girlfriend is to accommodate her partner’s demands and behaviour. Many people in Malaysian society still believe that violent domestic disputes should be worked out privately between husband and wife and that if the situation is really as bad as women say, then battered women would leave their husbands rather than stay.
Now, I’m going to tell you my story.
I have Borderline Personality Disorder, which is a Cluster B mental illness that messes with my perceptions and how I respond to emotional distress. The best way I’ve found to describe it is aural dyslexia – my mind is constantly in a state of fight or flight, and the prospect of abandonment (implied or not) leads me to do some irrational things. I’ve disappeared for weeks due to a manic phase, lashed out uncontrollably – even though I know rationally I shouldn’t react that way, I can’t stop myself. I haven’t figured out why this happened, but it’s there. It’s something I have to live with.
I got myself involved in a series of abusive relationships over the last five years. I still blame myself to this day, to some extent. It ranges from “how was I so blind” to “why did he do that to me?” I was not a pretty teenager, at least – I never thought I was. So, coming out of my shell and becoming the person I am now was interesting – you know the drill. Unpopular girl gets a makeover and suddenly everyone is fawning over her. It was insane. It was magical. It was perplexing.
I will never forget the day I was thrown across a bedroom during an argument, the way my back hit the bed frame – I still have a spine injury to this day. I will never forget the terrifying experience of attempting to climb out of a moving car in KL traffic because I was terrified of the argument, and being yanked back by the seatbelt being pulled taut across my throat. I will never forget trying to hide purple, black-and-blue bruises; yellow-green skin across my arms and back – making weak excuses in attempt to cover for them. I loved them. I had done something wrong, right? I deserved it?
People said I did. There was a general consensus that I was a bitch, that I was the one at fault. That if I got hit, it meant that I deserved it. It meant that I was supposed to sit down and take it because I am by no means ‘the perfect victim’.
BPD leads me to idolise people. I put them on a pedestal. I had my insecurities, which led me to think I was coming into a relationship at a lower level. These people had seen those insecurities, and I didn’t realize it but I was manipulated into obeying every command. I was not myself during those years, and I have fought my way into trying to function like a ‘normal human being’. I’m still not. I still lapse back. I still dwell on it, and it has affected all my interpersonal relationships. I’ve been used like a piece of meat, broken up with because my mental illness and experience give me way too much emotional baggage for my partner to handle and so on and so forth.
There are studies being done on the effects of domestic violence and mental health, but given that both these things have severe social stigma in Malaysia – they don’t necessarily get the attention they deserve. I wouldn’t wish my experiences on anyone, but it’s all too common. How depressing is it when someone says that their parents won’t allow them to get help or when another girl comes in with her face caked in concealer, covering a bruise? The wife who has to ask her husband permission to even leave the house, or the boyfriend with the girlfriend who obsessively calls him and lashes out when he does something she doesn’t approve of?
I survived. How many people didn’t?