Dorothy Day said, “Life is a haphazard, untidy, messy affair” and few people manage to get through it without some kind of mishap, tragedy or upset.
The world of work rarely allows for such events however, which means most people have to “put their work face on” and just get on with it, despite the difficulties they’re experiencing in their private lives.
In a series of articles over the coming weeks, we will hear from women who continued to ‘put their work face on’, and keep going, while experiencing turmoil in their personal lives. After all, life doesn’t stop between 9 and 5.
Here’s Elizabeth’s story.
Elizabeth* was working as a manager for a local authority whilst being in an abusive relationship.
“I didn’t realise I was in an abusive relationship until I was in too deep. He had been badgering me to have a baby and against my better judgement I went with it. I didn’t know that domestic abuse gets worse when you’re pregnant, I didn’t find out any of that until much later.”
“You often hear with domestic abuse that phrase “walking on eggshells”: that’s how I felt around him. He was threatened by my work, I earned more than him.”
Elizabeth’s partner would belittle her and her professional achievements. “He would make comments about me and my work, putting me down and saying that my job wasn’t “real work” and that I’d never had a “real job” in my life.
I never told anyone at work what was happening to me at home. I wasn’t being physically abused and at that time I didn’t realise about other types of domestic abuse
“It was hard to deal with being put down at home, being pregnant and there were changes happening at work as well. I had a new boss who didn’t allow me as much autonomy as my last boss had.”
Despite the changes in her workplace, Elizabeth says that work became a place of safety for her during this period in her life and that it gave her a sense of normality.
“Working was difficult given my home life but it also kept me together. I felt like I had a purpose and that I was needed and valued, and these were feelings that were being eroded by my boyfriend at the time so I think work kept me a bit more together than I would’ve been if I was at home all day.”
“I never told anyone at work what was happening to me at home. I wasn’t being physically abused and at that time I didn’t realise about other types of domestic abuse.”
Elizabeth’s partner was financially abusing her as well as using coercive control and emotional abuse. “My partner was very controlling with money. He was bad with money and would spend his quickly then rely on me to give him money. This caused me to be short with my own financial commitments, something I paid for for a long time after we split up.”
It’s very gradual, a drip, drip until one day you’re a shell of your former self.
“It seems silly to me now that I “let” him play me like that but the thing is it’s very gradual, a drip, drip until one day you’re a shell of your former self. I used to feel like I was going crazy because he would gaslight me so much – he was making me doubt my sanity on purpose – it’s one of the tools domestic abusers use to control their partners. I even started to doubt my ability at work as he would constantly belittle me.”
Elizabeth says that her bosses and colleagues kept things very professional and rarely talked about their private lives.
“Looking back I wish my workplace had leaned in more. I’d worked there for years and I don’t think anyone could have failed to have noticed my decline. I was arriving at work late (because I was dependent on him to give me lifts and he would make me late on purpose), I was depressed and crying a lot – eventually I was suicidal, I just wanted it all to be over, I wanted to die. If I hadn’t been pregnant I would be dead now.”
I wish someone at work had asked me if things were ok.
Because of the domestic abuse Elizabeth says her world became very small, it was just work, home and being with her partner’s family. Her partner had isolated her from her own friends and networks.
“I wish someone at work had asked me if things were ok. It was mostly men I worked with and they seemed oblivious to my situation. Although while I felt ignored emotionally, I suppose I also valued being treated like a normal person in work. Work was an anchor for me I guess. It was one normal thing in the sea of awful I was drowning in.”
Elizabeth says she feels workplaces should have information available about domestic abuse, like leaflets and posters to spread awareness.
“When I finally found out there was a name for what was happening to me I couldn’t believe it, I felt so relieved to know there was help available for me to leave and recover. This information should be everywhere! Up at bustops and in every workplace. 1 in 4 people in Ireland will be in an abusive relationship yet many don’t even know they are, so how can they get help?”
After having her baby Elizabeth did not return to her manager’s job. “He didn’t want me to go back and I was so under his control I just went with it. Things got worse and worse until one day a woman I knew spoke to me about the different types of domestic abuse and I recognised myself. I finally left him and I’ve never been happier than I am now.”
If you have been affected by the issues discussed in this article you can contact Women’s Aid for advice and support.
*Name changed to protect Elizabeth’s identity.
About the Author
Taryn de Vere is a writer, a colourful fashion activist and a mother of 5.