Rupa* is in her early 40s and has experienced physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her husband for more than 20 years. After going to her GP she was offered counselling. She has a support worker at Anawim where she attends psychological support groups.
I suffered from domestic violence since the day I was married. I was bred and born and everything in England. My husband came over from Bangladesh 20 years ago – the first time I met him was when I went to get married to him.
My mum would teach me that heaven is beneath a husband’s feet. The more you suffer it’s good because when you die you get reward. Don’t get me wrong I’m not blaming her, this is what she believed.
I didn’t understand anxiety or depression. In the little community that I come from it’s like a taboo word. You don’t say it, because you’re ‘mad’ if you say you’re depressed.
I was suffering so much over the years and I never knew what it was. All I knew was I needed help.
Eventually I collapsed, I couldn’t get up in the morning. My back – slipped disc – and that was it. I couldn’t get back into work. Then I was dependent on others.
My husband used to kick me because he thought, this is it, she’s gone, she’s not going to get up again. He thought he was going to get married again. I couldn’t get up even to feed myself. I was housebound for three months, then another three months I was like wobbling around. I didn’t know what to do, so I went to the doctor’s.
Obviously when you go you get worried what you’re going to say and what repercussion’s going to come home. Initially, 10 years ago, even though I knew I had a problem I wouldn’t go because I had a child. Everybody say if you say there’s something wrong with you, if you’re depressed, they take the children. I’ve got friends now who are self-harming, who will not go to the doctor’s because they’re scared.
But I was ready because my son was older. I was still scared in how much I should say but because my son was older, I knew nobody can take him.
The doctor referred me to a psychologist because he didn’t know what I needed. It’s only when I was there – she gave me two hours – she heard my story and she said, you just need counselling. And you know what, she made a good decision.
Waiting time took two or three months, then they gave me counselling in another area. Initially I never came out of my own area, even though I drove. I would never go nowhere, not even the gym, nothing, because you’re not supposed to. Where I live a lot of women need permission to just walk out of the front door.
So I taxied it even though I had a car. Because you’ve never done it, you think you’re going against the norm, against your culture. Then I figured out how to use my Tomtom on my phone. It’s so easy, like, it’s only up the road!
Throughout the counselling I spoke, spoke and spoke, and questioned. I answered myself, I answered it in a way which is acceptable for me in my life. Because counsellors can’t tell you what to do. Until you find your light bulb moment you’re not going to be changed.
They make you feel so lovely, so comfortable. It helped me that everything was on the ground floor because I couldn’t go upstairs. I grew in confidence in counselling and that’s why my appearance started changing slowly and I would wear make-up and stuff. I started loving me a little bit. I did one year and then the counselling had to stop because of funding, which I understand.
It was my counsellor from the NHS who referred me to Anawim. She told me about it and I thought, you know, this journey to the unknown is better than the known I’ve had for years. I walked in and met Laura* and she was amazing. She supported me, and she said, ‘What groups would you like to attend?’
The first group I attended was called ‘Need to please’. Wow. All my life all I wanted to do was please others. The word ‘boundary’ had a new meaning, I never knew it existed!
All the groups here have been good. It must be just over two years now and I’ve been attending every week. We learn off each other. You sit in a group, you don’t have to explain what anxiety is, they all understand.
You know what the beauty of coming to Anawim is? Where I am, I only see Asian women, mostly Muslim women. You know, my best friend here is a white lady. I love her to bits and she loves me and I’m just so happy because I met such multicultural people. Pain is pain no matter who you are, no matter what colour your skin is. I know women from where I come from, they don’t understand English, they tell me go out and come back and tell us.
I was helping a girl who was in fear of getting molested; she felt she had no way out. I proudly can say that we’ve got locks on her room, and everything sorted. She has the strength now to pick up that phone and call the police where she never had it before.
Since my growth, my husband has been trying immense hard to keep me at home. I get dressed like this, which he’s never seen, and I go out, and he doesn’t like it. He doesn’t want me to have the friends that I have. He just wants me to be who I was 20 years ago, the quiet one. I don’t know who she was, but she’s gone now.
The only thing positive now is, he will not touch me. The other day he came towards me and I said, ‘Touch me and you see what happens!’ And he believed I will call the police. Now he knows I’m strong, and I put my foot down.
It’s all mental abuse now. The last two years he’s been going and destroying me to my family. My family are supportive, it’s just that they get turned by my husband. Half the time he lies now, and I don’t know how to prove it.
I just need to kick him out of the house but I can’t because sadly we’re all related. If I divorce this man his relatives will attack my family. For the sake of sanity for everybody else, I just take this.
Recently my way to handle him was not to talk to him at all, just get by, just do the cooking, cleaning, just do what’s needed and not talk to him, so I can survive. I’ve become strong even though it’s killing me inside. I’m surviving in this marriage the best way I can. I talk as much as I need to, minimum, and then I’ve got my own life.
The doctors do not understand the mental. They just prescribe you medicine. I find the doctors for years have been trying to put me on anti-depressants. They definitely need to concentrate on mental health first before they prescribe any kind of medication. I wish they can allocate time to people and really get to know what the problem is.
At the doctor’s, on the board, it says just one thing per appointment but sadly you can’t mention one problem when it’s all connected. With depression, with anxiety, it can give you constant flu like symptoms, it gives you these physical stuff. But the doctors want to just deal with your physical because they’ve got no time to listen to your mental.
About a year ago in my head, it was all blocked – from vast amount of stress, I call it brain fog. I didn’t understand it then so I didn’t know how to explain to the doctor. I did say I feel like a zombie but he never understood it.
The doctor put me on medication for depression. He gave me Amitriptyline and I slept for five days in a row – and that is not my life. I want to get better. I don’t want to be on tablets if all it does is numbs me. I went and told him, ‘This doesn’t work, my life isn’t meant to be slept away, I’m sorry!’.
I don’t want sympathy, but some empathy wouldn’t go amiss. If somebody had diabetes then somebody would feel sorry for them. But they don’t realise how serious mental health is.
For the future, I just want this to go away, this brain fog, so I can feel relieved, so that I can concentrate. I didn’t want to waste it, this time that I’m recuperating and getting better.
I’ve been doing my level 1 and level 2 mental health, just to understand better. Now I’m doing my counselling level 3, and then going to do my level 4. I want to get into some sort of work to help women – to help everybody. I want a goal that helps all levels, all age groups.
Hopefully one day, with all the struggles behind me, they’re going to make me become a stronger person. That’s what I believe.
As told to Milla Gregor
Agenda’s Women in Mind campaign is calling for women’s mental health to be a priority and for women to get the support they need, when they need it. Support the campaign here.
Anawim is a Women’s Centre based in Birmingham that provides a holistic service to women across the city.
*Both Rupa and Laura are not their real names.