Superbowl Lll is tomorrow and this blog post has been on the tip of my tongue all week. Like many women just the thought of the Superbowl triggers flashbacks. It is said that on this day domestic violence takes a leap. Sadly, I have read articles that say these statistics are not true, but if you are one of the thousands who have lived through it then you know the truth. Even if your abuser’s team wins you will spend countless days dreading the build up to game day, you will walk on eggshells throughout the game, and hold your breath and just pray that you escape this year without incident. Men, booze, testosterone, and sports can be a very scary world if you are an abused woman.
As I sat in the car dealership to have my oil changed the other day I caught a morning talk show with a few ex NFL players. The subject was CTE or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Trust me that I would have turned the channel if I could as listening to millionaires talk about their head damage was not of interest to me. However, within two minutes of listening I heard something that made me shudder to the core. Football players and war Veterans are not the only ones likely to suffer from CTE, but also survivors of domestic violence. WHY had I not heard this before?!
Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative brain disease found in athletes, military veterans, and others (domestic abuse survivors) with a history of repetitive brain trauma. In CTE, a protein called Tau forms clumps that slowly spread throughout the brain, killing brain cells. The symptoms of CTE include memory loss, confusion, impaired judgment, impulse control problems, aggression, depression, anxiety, suicidality, parkinsonism, and, eventually, progressive dementia. These symptoms often begin years or even decades after the last brain trauma.
This kind of brain trauma in domestic violence often goes undetected and untreated, making women vulnerable to problems with thinking, mood, and behavior. These can be debilitating conditions for the survivor. About one quarter of American women have experienced severe physical assaults by a domestic partner in their lifetime. These assaults can include hitting, punching, being slammed into something hard, pushed down the stairs, and having things thrown at them.
In 2014 Ray Rice, a Baltimore Raven, was caught on an elevator video knocking his then fiancee, Janay, out cold. When this happened the attention was all about how Ray Rice had previous concussions and that the rage and aggression shown could be contributed to CTE. Nobody mentioned that Janay, who we all watched being cold-cocked had just suffered a brain injury right in front of our eyes. The more pressing issue was if Rice would be allowed to play football again.
Survivors of assault often don’t seek immediate medical care for the trauma they live through and when they do there are often creative excuses for the injuries. Symptoms can start years after an assault and it makes connecting them to the cause of domestic violence difficult. I am a survivor of domestic violence and an advocate for other survivors. Even though I suffer from terrible memory issues it has never been suggested that I might have CTE. All it takes is a CT scan of the brain that can be done by any neurologist to diagnose it. I have been diagnosed with PTSD and my memory issue has been brushed off even though it is one of my biggest complaints and concerns. Needless to say I will be getting my CT scan soon.
I believe that all women who have a history of domestic abuse should be educated to know that they need to get these brain scans. They need to know where the symptoms they are experiencing are coming from. Memory loss, depression, and anxiety may not just be a result of PTSD. They may have a much deeper and far reaching cause. This is a critical issue and it is one that needs to be put out there. Doctors and victims need to be educated. Sometimes an imaging test of the brain that shows scarring, in a strange way, can be comforting to the survivor. There is then a concrete reason as to why they are having symptoms. It can be a relief to know that you actually have a physical reason for your problems. It needs to be stressed that early intervention is critical for CTE.
As you watch the Superbowl this year please be mindful of the women around you. If you are one of the many women who are reading this today and are living in dread of the game tomorrow, I beg you to try to find an alternate plan for the day. If you cannot then have a safety plan set up. You do not need to continue living like this. Trust me that there is a way out. I know you are scared and tired, but freedom is on the other side of this. I know this because I have lived this. You were not born to be another person’s punching bag. You were not born to be held captive by another person or to be physically, mentally and emotionally tortured either. You are not the crazy one. You are meant for much greater things. There is always a way out so don’t you dare give up. Tomorrow I will be routing for you. #nomore
Domestic Violence Hotline: 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224
RAINN Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
** The header picture is from an article Behind Closed Doors by Jennifer O’Neill that appeared in Good Housekeeping 2016.