Domestic Violence: A Hidden Cause of Chronic Illness

An alarming 44 percent of women say they have experienced abusive behavior from a partner. Years after the bruises from domestic violence fade, the physical effects can linger in the form of serious health problems—migraines, arthritis, even gastrointestinal disease. Our groundbreaking investigation

by Alexis Jetter
hidden cause of chronic illness image
Photograph: Photographed by Julia Fullerton-Batten

Sarah sees the connection all too clearly. She recently coedited a collection of essays by men and women who describe their experiences with abuse and violence. Sarah told her own story in the book and says she has paid for that dearly: “When the book went to press and we started speaking publicly, my cortisol levels went through the roof. I lay in bed for months with extreme fever and migraine-strength headaches. And no doctor could find a physical cause for it.” She chalks it up to going public. “I think it’s the last bit of survivor in me that’s afraid for my safety,” she says. “But being open about what happened is what is going to put all that stuff to rest and push it into the past.”

And she has even more reason to believe her past is behind her. Finally, she was able to deliver a healthy baby girl. “I guess I should have known what I was getting myself into,” Sarah says now, laughing. “She’s five going on six, and she’s just an unbelievable kid.” Sarah pauses for a moment, then breathes out. “My memory is lost at the age of five,” she says at last. “I’m getting a chance to pick it up again with her.” 

*Not her real name

Next: The shocking results of our survey

See also: How Domestic Violence Makes Children Ill

ALEXIS JETTER’s previous feature for More was “The Lawyer of Last Resort,” in the September 2012 issue.

First published in the November 2013 issue

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