C&Q Writers on Mental Health #5: J. Cassidy

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Today J. Cassidy is here to tell us how easy it is to spiral downwards when the one you love is a sociopath, and how quickly you can lose your grasp of reality.

*****

The best way to deal with a sociopath is to avoid them altogether but that isn’t always possible and of course, you have to realise that is what he is before he takes your brain and turns it into a bouncy-ball. And that they’re not really as fun as the TV makes them look.

It might be you. It could be even now, you realise something is horribly wrong with your relationship but you can’t exactly think what it is. That even though he never outright says anything concrete, he has a way of showing you how useless, helpless, stupid and ugly you are. You’re lucky to have him, he knows that and makes sure that you do too. Even though there is nothing there that you can grasp and point and say… “But this.”

You could be looking for any reason to leave the relationship, hoping against hope that you catch him cheating so you have a legitimate reason to walk out on him and it will never cross your mind that you don’t need a reason. If you’re not happy you can leave him, and you don’t owe him any explanation even though he will insist you do. That person could be you. Once upon a time it was me.

He was all charm

At first, he was everything I could want. Polite, helped with the housework, didn’t have a job but was looking so hard I couldn’t fault him. He designed himself to be the man he thought I wanted and got it very right. The change was so gradual I couldn’t see it.

Slowly, less and less of the housework was done while I was at work. I would come home to: “I’m so tired from all the cleaning I’ve done today, do you think you could make dinner?” Even while I had been working all day, it wasn’t an unreasonable request. Soon it was “Do you mind doing the dishes, too?” and “I didn’t get to the hoovering today, what with there being so much else to do. Could you…?”

The sad thing is the person that drew me in wasn’t real. It was someone he pretended to be and I had to mourn the loss of someone who never existed.

Friends disappear

One of the first things he did was spread rumours about me to my friends and about my friends to me. So-and-so made a pass at him. Miss what’s-her-face was telling people I had herpes. Who’s-she-called laughed behind my back. And so on. All the while he was telling my friends similar things about me. It didn’t stop with friends, either.

My mother hated him and was trying to break us up, my sister also tried it on. It was awful that my family could treat me like that and maybe I should reduce contact with them, just to protect myself from their evil ways (that was actual wording… seriously). He went to great lengths to make sure I was completely alone. And now I have ‘ronery, I am so ronery’ stuck in my head. Thanks, brain.

Sometimes friends aren’t as good friends as you thought they were and sometimes a friend can be pushed too far. Mine got sick of telling me what he was doing and getting nothing but “He wouldn’t…” from me.

Is your friend really so jealous of you and him that she would make it up? Has she always been that poor a friend or has she always looked out for you? If your friend has been around longer than he has, for goodness’ sake listen to her. Don’t put love and lust above friendship. That is a good way to drive away the people who could have rescued you ’cause knights in shining armour are in short supply.

Manipulation

When he was young his family died and he was adopted. That I know to be true, his adopted parents confirmed it and I saw the paperwork. What I have come to doubt is that his adoptive parents abused him in horrible ways. I never questioned his allegations at the time, I mean, why would I? Who would make up something like that? He would. I had to make allowances for him. Sometimes he got angry and it was because of the abuse. The foul language that came my way would make a sailor wince. There were always apologies afterwards and promises that he loved me. So sincere that I knew without a shadow of doubt that he was trying hard to be better, that he truly regretted saying and doing those things. Every, Single, Time.

Every time a new apology with compliments on how amazing I was for putting up with it. The old charmer who caught my attention came back out to play as he applauded how well I dealt with his insanity in a way that no one else could. He told me over and over that I was special because I knew that those awful moments were not the ‘real him’ and I wasn’t easily scared off by them.

But I also needed to be more understanding of how he felt. I needed to show compassion. When he felt tired and couldn’t do his share of the housework I needed to step up and take care of him because he was depressed over his childhood and couldn’t help it. When we had a disagreement I needed to step back and stop making reasoned debate that he couldn’t counter. When I pointed out that we couldn’t spend seven times what I brought in I needed to realise he was damaged and needed me to make an exception for his behaviour and spending habits.

Another manipulator was the what I’ve come to think of as Topping. One time I dislocated a finger, which is more painful and a bit funnier than it sounds. It was nothing compared to the arm he broke in four places as a child. My father was a rather unpleasant fellow, which is when his abuse story was first told. I was bullied at school but he was bullied so badly he was hospitalised several times. You get the idea. I was never allowed to complain because compared to him, I had it easy. I couldn’t be allowed a day off to feel sorry for myself (we all do it, don’t lie) because he needed me to be strong so that he could take part in the pity-party.

Lastly was his unshakeable belief that he had a super-brain. It was quite frequent that he made claims to intelligence, with no proof of this, and that he was better than me because of that. While it wasn’t a manipulator on its own, coupled with manipulators and Gaslighting, it turned out to be fairly effective in decimating my confidence in my braining abilities.

Gaslighting

“You remember it wrong. You’re too sensitive. You’re too emotional. You’re overreacting. Stop being so defensive. It was a joke. I thought you had a sense of humour. Are you just trying to get me in trouble? You’re a drama queen, just chill out.” The implication with different varieties of the above is that ‘normal’ people would find his abnormal behaviour…. normal. That I was the one at fault, not he. It’s hard to explain how it can come about that anyone would fall for that.

Imagine living where friends were no longer around so there was no one who could say ‘that is wrong.’ That it had been happening for months and at some point you have to wonder why he would be so insistent that I was being too sensitive if there wasn’t at least a small grain of truth in there. Imagine being told that everything you remember, you’ve remembered wrong. And that he loves you, so he wouldn’t lie.

When he hit me hard enough to leave bruises and told me I was just too sensitive and was overreacting, I believed him. He made it seem as though other people wouldn’t worry about “Just a tiny bruise (the size of a tennis ball) that happened by accident while we were messing around.” Then he would get angry, accuse me of trying to call him an abuser and forbid any mention of said hitting again. “You promised you would let that go. Why do you always bring up the past like this?”

To this day I can’t find an answer on how to deal with Gaslighting. If it’s something that happens again, I don’t know how to protect myself from it. Probably with a less polite “Go forth and multiply.”

Financial Abuse 

He forged my signature, which can be proved so I am quite lucky there. But other times he just plain bullied me into signing loans I couldn’t repay or taking credit on items he would sell when he got bored with, but left me stressing over being taken to court when I couldn’t make repayments.

Because even though I worked, he kept hold of my bank card and he kept hold of any cash. According to him it was for my own good. He pointed out that I’m just a small girl and if I were to get mugged, we would have lost everything. No one would mug him, he was a big lad.

What with the Gaslighting, manipulators and his ample charm, I couldn’t argue and at first didn’t think anything of it until it came to paying for things.

It was humiliating asking him for money, never mind money that I had earned. Every time I wanted to pay a bill, buy some make-up (which later I stopped wearing because why would I wear make-up when I already had him, was I trying to attract other men?) or get some food, I had to ask him. And if he didn’t want, the answer was no.

I found out from my landlord he hadn’t paid the rent, the electric was cut off before I realised he hadn’t been paying them either and guess whose name they were in? He made sure that as much of the debt as possible was in my name, destroyed my credit rating, stole my pay and stole my savings. When it came to leaving him, I was in a very bad position. I’d lost my job, I had no savings and a mountain of debt I had no hope of repaying. It seemed my only chance was to stay with him and of course, that was the idea. I was dependent on him for money, even when the money was mine.

I was ready to leave the relationship a long time before I did. Money worries were a large factor in keeping me there.

No one understands and it wasn’t my fault

The self-doubts will never fade and the emotional scars are here to stay, though these days I have a clear head and I am now in a position to lead a happy life.

But to explain to my current partner why I let him get away with doing the things he did is impossible. I cannot get the concept across in a meaningful way. Even now, many people are likely wondering why I and others like me put up with it. The answer, however unsatisfying, is this:

He had me so twisted round, so upside-down and arse-backward, that I was incapable of thinking for myself. He had done so much damage to my head that I couldn’t do anything for myself. I couldn’t tell my elbow from Tuesday. Leaving him was miraculous because I was in no position to even think leaving him was something I had the option of doing.

That answer just doesn’t quite say what I mean. It doesn’t get across the sheer conflict of emotion, all bad, going through my warped brain. No answer will ever be enough to explain exactly what kind of state I was in, how I got there and why I didn’t know anything was wrong until it was too late.

I was lucky. I had friends who were patient and a family who understood. When I left him it was because of a friend, who though I don’t speak to these days, I am certain I owe my life to. It was him telling me “When you leave your partner, we should go get a drink,” that got me thinking about what kind of life I would have without the sociopath. This led me to thinking about the life I was presenting my child and THAT is what got me out of there. Leaving was only the start of the battle though. He didn’t take well to me clearing out and hounded me for months. I had to get the police involved. I was so badly damaged that if my mother hadn’t been there to pick up the pieces and forgive my sins, I shudder to think where I would be now.

It took quote never againa cancer diagnosis to clear out the cobwebs and pain that he caused, because there is nothing like “You have a disease that kills people” to put things in perspective. It emptied my head of everything but the cancer for a while, putting my broken brain in a position to start fresh and fix itself. Even so, it took me six years to come to the realisation that none of it was my fault. I was duped.

In retrospect

I used to look back and think “I could have done things differently.” I wondered why I had been so easy to lead down that dangerous path given that I had grown up with parents who had the exact same relationship. Everything he did to me, my father did to my mother. I had experience, I had seen it all before and I was convinced I should have known better.

There was no way I could know better, though. He wasn’t like that when I met him or I would never have stayed with him. He changed over a long time, a little at a time, twisted everything round and left me with nothing to hold on to and only a bare grasp on reality. I couldn’t have done anything differently because if I could have, I would have. I couldn’t have seen it coming because it was me he was fooling. I wasn’t watching it from the outside this time. It was never me, and it was never my fault.

*****

j cassidyJ. Cassidy

J. Cassidy used to be an oak tree growing in a park in England. She still likes to be decorated once a year. Pink, sparkly fluffles and rainbows make everything better.

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