• Generation Mental Health Team

"I walked myself out of the dark, abusive relationship" - Prarthana's story of finding happiness

As part of our effort to empower and inspire the global mental health community, we are supporting people to share their lived (or living) experience stories. Today, Prarthana Sharma shares her inspiring story of finding courage and happiness through a difficult relationship.

At 16, I was in year 11, making memories with my friends before we would transition into our final year of studies, the following year. I was an outgoing, loud, rebellious teen. I had gotten into reading poetry through the inspiration of my literature teacher who was the most incredible woman with such a caring and encouraging personality. I had big dreams, dreams to write books and work with children as a psychologist. I wanted to be known and be someone important. I wanted to contribute to society in every way possible.

That very year I got into my first relationship. I had fallen in love with a boy from the same cultural and religious background as me and my family. We were from the same state and spoke the same language. To me, and many girls like me, you are considered lucky and “settled”. I thought the same, I was settled, this was it, he was the one for me and I was the one for him. It was a “match made in heaven".

The second month, he approached my dad, to tell him all about our relationship. The way I felt about this is questionable to me, currently. I was amazed by his courage and felt proud of his choices. This was when I decided that he was serious about us. He wanted this just as bad as I did. We were teenagers, how did we expect to know what we wanted? Well, we just did.

My father on the other hand, was uneasy but supportive. Being a strong, ethical immigrant man in his late 40s, he just did not know how to say “no” to his daughter’s wishes. But this boy on the other hand, did not understand the incredible relationship between his girlfriend and her father. My father worked hard to get my sister and I an exceptional education in a foreign country, whilst supporting our teenage dreams and wishes as we settled into the western culture “Go ahead but be mindful of your studies and yourselves” he said. Right in that moment, I wanted to throw my arms around my dad and cry in pain.

Three to four months into our relationship, he decided to dig a little deeper into my past, which to me or anyone was not an incredibly big deal. However, his views on my past made it seem like the biggest crime ever committed by any woman on this planet. It was against his morals and values. It was at this point that I got the first foretaste of abuse from my boyfriend.

He approached my father at our school grounds when we returned to school after term holidays, during which the disastrous drama about my past occurred. My father had found out about my past with the other boy. I arrived midway into the conversation after reuniting with all my girlfriends. I was unsure about what had happened when I arrived, but I noticed the unwelcoming, stiff expression on my father’s face, and a sense of victory and power on my boyfriend’s face. I would hear about this later on after school from my father, who would express his embarrassment and anger towards his young daughter. His idea was to dominate me, my father, everything and everyone that was in my life. He instilled fear in me and made me succumb to him, just as he wanted.

I was deep into the relationship and reached a point where I had forgotten all about myself, my studies, my interests and dreams. We had transitioned into year 12, the final year of secondary school. I slowly lost my friends and conversations with those remaining just felt forced. I was always dull, always tired, always drained, always anxious and afraid. I had lost an incredible amount of weight and was underweight for a 17 year old.

It is almost exam time; our school organised a farewell for all the year 12 students. All the students sat in the auditorium as they listened to speeches and watched presentations filled with memories. I sat down as well, right at the back, uncomfortable and lonely, next to a girl I did not really know, as I watched my boyfriend who was my only friend, boisterously mingling with his large group of friends. Everyone cried and embraced one another. I sat, still and stiff with a smile forcefully drawn on my face to appear happy in case someone questioned me. I was as empty as the busy Melbourne roads at midnight when everyone slept. My world was now different to everyone else’s. It was not a fun world.

Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention this relationship lasted seven whirly years. Seven years. A big solid chunk of my life. My boyfriend and I started to mature as adults whilst studying at the same university. I am still in love with him, but we are different. One day he loves me, one day he does not. I found myself pulling out a petal each day to help me decide how I needed to adjust to that day’s setting and mood – “he loves me, he loves me not, he loves me, he loves me not…” . The relationship dynamic became more controlling, demanding, expecting and aggressive on his part. I was always adjusting to him, catching up to him, cheering him on, supporting him, loving him, accepting him. I remember after every fight, I would cry so loudly and aggressively into my pillow, my throat would throbbing from pain and my head pounding loud in my ears.

My dreams, wishes, plans. Yet, I was still adjusting to new ways and new rules that he set. I was a victim to verbal and emotional abuse for a long, seven years. It was a whirlwind of gaslighting, toxicity, verbal abuse, ignoring for weeks, blocking and being emotionally violated. It was seven years of pretending to be happy, forcing myself to stay, making plans for future – to marry, and find new ways to adapt to his demands.

No one in my life ever found out about the abuse, except for the little girl within me. I had thoughts of suicide, thoughts of self-harm, I had thoughts of running away for good. The nails and skin on my fingers were brittle from biting them out of anxiety, my eyes were dark and lifeless. I was lifeless. But it was all too easy for me to put on a ‘happy mask’ and make him smile.

August 2019. I was fed up with him. I was nearly 23, a long way from being 16. I was older, mature and finally beginning to realise how unfair my relationship had been. I was kicking myself for giving into his power. I sat down and wrote a letter almost 10 pages long. I remember the intense ache in my hand and wrist, but I kept writing. I aggressively wrote down all the pain I experienced from him for seven years. I told my mother that I could not do this anymore. I sealed the letter into a tight envelope, wrote his name and address and posted it. Mind you, I made various attempts to talk to him face to face about all the issues on my mind because I was the self-claimed “fixer”.

It has been nine months now since I walked myself out of the dark, abusive relationship which added zero value to my life. Since then, I have ticked off things I had wanted to do but could not because of his orders and rules. I took up a Master of Counselling degree and reattached with my dream of working with children. I volunteered in Bali as a part of a mental health placement. I met new people, I faced new fears. I cut my hair. I cleaned my room. I bathed in hot steamy water to wash away the old scars, I read books, I studied and made constant plans. I connected with a new group of incredible women and embarked on a brand new journey. But most of all, I reconnected with my family.

Fast forward to the quarantine period for Covid 19, my family and I decorated our house, we bought rugs, couches, plants and candles. It is all still a work in progress, but I was finally home. I was finally present. I mean, I have always lived with my family, but the last 7 years felt like I was just existing in a house but not actually living in own my home. I was just there, dull and empty. My recovery from that relationship has been slow, but I am certain that quarantine has never been more enjoyable. I love being at home more than I ever did.

I took this quarantine as a positive note to learn a new skill, start working on a new interest, declutter my space and work on my previously planned but postponed assignments and projects. Honestly, most of all, I chose this time to be with my parents. We took time to practice self-care together, reflect back on our childhood whilst looking through old photos and make hilarious memories together. I have regained a new kind of strength by being in their presence. I cook new recipes for my family and we watch movies together. I am home! I am finally home! I am free! I am rebellious! I am back. My 16 year-old self is jumping for joy, the light is burning bright again. I feel like a kid again. Everything is better. I am happy.

By Prarthana Sharma

Read more on lived experience from our Global Lived Experience Ambassador Matthew Jackman here.

Interested in sharing your own story? Send an email to Matthew at matthewrjackman@outlook.com.