Dear Abusers, Stop Using Mental Illness as a Weapon to Abuse Ones Around You
I was in the second year of my graduation, and had just been dumped after a two years long relationship with a childhood friend. I was sad of course, especially after putting in all those self depriving effort I had put in to make the relationship work, only to see them fail for no reason. He was from my hometown, was studying in Kolkata, while I got through Miranda House, University of Delhi after my 12th Boards result. I was very sure of going to Delhi to pursue my graduation. I wanted to leave Kolkata desperately because of the horrible experiences I had had in that city, I had been severely bulllied by my vernacular accented English, unplucked eyebrows, the lack of my frequency in popular places to hang out, absence of tags of certain brands on my clothes and many more other things. Before his arrival in Kolkata and us getting into a relationship, the only person I knew in the entire city, my local guardian, who also was my father’s friend, had been abusing me for a whole year. My first blowjob was a forced one, in the passenger side seat of a black Ford Aspire. It has been almost 8 years since then, and I, a confident, strong, feminist woman cannot still sit on the passenger side seat of a car, sitting there makes me go through flashbacks of the black interiors of the bottom of the car, my face beside the gear, his hand over my neck holding the gear making it impossible for me to move my head upwards, the chocking feeling at the back of my throat, everything keeps coming back to me. I feel claustrophobic, suffocated, choked, nauseated. Just like those times. The reason he got to do it for so long without me being able to break out of it was because he used my relationship with my father to an advantage. My father, a patient of hypertension, had sent me out to study against everyone else’s wish and I had a huge burden on my head to prove him right, and the education system of the school completely unaware of or insensitive to what difficulties vernacular medium students may face after changing the medium of instruction and board, was making it very difficult. Academic struggles, paired with the continuous bullying by my classmates had led to me shutting myself close, I had stopped going to school for a long time and my local guardian was called for the attendance shortage. He listened to my teacher and agreed to have a conversation with my father in front of her but knowing the kind of relationship I had with my father, the guilt I had in my mind for not faring as well academically as my father would like me to, he made a deal with me, if I do certain things according to his will, he won’t be saying things to my father, saving thereby the string of affection between my father and I that was almost dead by bearing brunts of clashes between two people. I was 16. I tried resisting, before threatening to tell my father, his final weapon, he told me how terrible his wife was and how I am the only one he can seek refuge to, I was 16. He told me he was under medication for the emotional turmoil he was going through, and I can only save him. He made himself look vulnerable and made me look heartless if I did not agree to be in the situation. I resisted, I tried saying no, but he used his final weapon after that. The abuse went on for a year, 12 solid months, every week, thrice, whenever he had to go pick up his son from his tutors. Then I got in a relationship with the guy I mentioned in the beginning. It was less out of love and more out of an urge to get out of whatever was going on. The fact that now I was in a relationship and I had to be loyal to my partner gave me the courage to break away from it. Not my self esteem resisting the fact that I was being violated. Because there was not left any of it and this shattering of self esteem at the age of 16 lasted pretty long, it still hasn’t come back to what it used to be.
My lack of self esteem affected the relationship I got into as well. When I spoke about the abuse to my partner, I felt apologetic for letting it happen to me, for not studying hard enough, for not going to school regularly, for giving him the chance to blackmail me, for having a bad relationship with my father for everything I blamed myself. He took advantage of it.
“What’s the problem? You have done it already.”
“Ya, ya, say NO to me because I listen to you. Had he been here, you would know.”
They along with many more. I was not allowed to go to his college because I wasn’t pretty, his seniors would make fun of him, once I went to surprise him, and he guided me to the gate of the campus and sternly told me not to come again. And this, let me tell you, is considered West Bengal’s one of the best universities. Apart from all this, he made me spend money on him, citing reasons that made me feel sympathetic towards his condition. If he saw something in some shop, he would hint me to buy it for him, and if for any reason, I could not buy that, he would make me go through emotional turmoil for next couple of days, sometimes until I buy it for him. I started fearing this situation so much that I started depriving myself, I stopped taking autos, I started walking, I started eating cheap, I stopped shopping anything for myself just to be wealthy enough always to buy things he fancied, to recharge his phone balance, to pay when we ate out. After I went to Delhi, I remember it was our first anniversary and to save a paltry sum of 400 rupees for couriering his gift to Kolkata, I had not spent one penny in college, I skipped lunch, walked back and forth between college and hostel for a whole week. I did get tired after one point of receiving missed calls, and calling back always, understanding that his seniors will make fun of him and he cannot talk to me in front of them but apologizing every time I failed to return his missed calls immediately. I went back home and wanted to break up, but he met me once when his house was empty, and told me that he was going through depression because of his terrible academic performance, because apparently me going to Delhi to pursue graduation made life difficult for him and he kept on asking me if I want to break up because I have found someone better in Delhi. I did have feelings for him. And I felt guilty for not being there in such times, I felt I was responsible for his mental state, I felt guilty for studying in the best university in the country. He made me feel ashamed of my qualities because they were somehow making him feel inferior to me.
Two months after that meeting and me agreeing to stay in the relationship, he dumped me for a prettier, junior in his college. She dumped him after one month and he tried coming back, blaming me again for letting him leave.
I did not get back into a relationship with him. Thankfully.
The next partner after that, said he was depressed because he could not get placed and 10 months of knowing each other and 5 months into the relationship, I got to know he was already in a relationship with somebody for 2 years, and cheating on her with me, and later I got to know he was cheating on both that partner and I with a third person and neither of us had any clue about the other two. When I tried to confront him, he almost got violent and later, as if nothing was wrong, said that he had anger issues and I should have been careful. His explanation for his action was I was not supporting him in his problems, and he needed emotional support. He blamed me for not being able to provide emotional support for him and held me accountable for he cheating on me.
My best friend in college had suffered from terrible experiences of sexual assault. After that she started cheating on her boyfriend who contrary to mine ones, had been a really supportive one. He also used to be a good friend of mine, and seeing my best friend cheat on him did not feel good. I advised her to have a conversation with the boyfriend regarding the sexual exclusivity of themselves. I did not have a problem with the idea of sexually getting involved with multiple partners. The problem I had was with the blatant lies being said to an unsuspecting soul while expecting exclusivity from him. That was sheer double standards for me and I could have not intervened had it not involved me having to bunch up lies to support hers. Whenever the boyfriend was busy, or they had a fight, or he suspected her even remotely, there was always a threat saying she will hurt herself. The boyfriend used to work elsewhere and being the only person close to both of them in her physical proximity, it was always me who had to go and pacify her while informing him. This became so toxic that when I joined politics and had friend from other background, I had to go through passive aggressive emotional treatment for a long time. And that’s when I gave up. I had just gotten into a relationship then, and with the help of my partner and a few other friends I got out of that relationship without the burden of guilt that previous such relationships had managed to get inside my mind.
That was when I realized people who don’t actually have mental illness but are aware of the gravity that the issue of mental illness bears in certain sections of the society, use it as a sword over other people’s head to avoid being confronted for their actions. This is a pattern in emotional and physical abusers, they use mental illness to threaten people around them who know the seriousness of mental illness, the thing it can make one go through, and that sensitivity regarding mental illness has come after a lot of struggle against society’s attitude at large towards mental illness to call it unimportant, dismissing it by saying craziness or rendering it invisible or of minimal importance. And using mental illness as threats to people to avoid being accountable for one’s actions, or using it to abuse someone further. While working in the social sector later, on the issues of violence against women and girls, this pattern kept coming up in cases after cases. In one case, a college student had to go through an physically, sexually abusive relationship for two and a half years, because whenever she tried to leave, he would threaten her with suicide, and after coming back would hit her repeatedly for trying to leave him when he apparently was in need of her. He sexually abused her repeatedly saying this was a compensation she had to pay as she had not been as supportive of him as she should have been.
The rakhi sister of my partner, who also was close to me and knew many sensitive details of our relationship went around telling them to people in the common friend circle while we were going through a rough patch in the relationship. She had been doing this for a long time, but whenever remotely suspicious of being confronted, she would start telling me that she had 40 or 50 sleeping pills. She would behave like an alcoholic, bordering on being a narcotic addict whenever I would try to ask her about any of her actions and I would get anxious. By the time I got to know that everything she did was a lie, the only mental health issue she has is she is a compulsive liar, she uses this habit to lie about having other mental illnesses to keep people from confronting her about lies. It’s a vicious cycle that have been proven even more harmful to people around her and their lives. She had been so abusive to both my partner and I and systematically planned towards creating difficulty in the relationship when we were in a long distance relationship, when it was difficult for us to meet and sort things out.
Such cases are classic examples of toxic relationships. While using mental illnesses as an excuse to not being confronted of their harmful actions, what they actually are doing in trivializing the topic of mental illness. I am sure worrying about the attitude of the society at large regarding mental illness is the last thing on the mind of the abusers, but using it systematically to harm people leads to the dismissal of the actual experiences of the mental health patient who really suffer from it, who don’t dangle it like a sword over other people’s head to avoid being held responsible for one’s action harming the lives of people around them.