Often when we think of mental health, we think of a neurological disorder, diseases that are physically obvious, or those that we can diagnose. Our president declared May 2013, National Mental Health Awareness Month. In his proclamation, President Obama highlighted mental health ailments by saying, “They shoulder conditions like depression and anxiety, post-traumatic stress and bipolar disorder -- debilitating illnesses that can strain every part of a person's life.” Emotional disorders are often overlooked as mental health issues but they impact a person’s physical and mental well being. In light of National Mental Health Awareness Month, I need to highlight the stress and agony that crime victims face in the healing process.
I am a survivor of dating violence and a victim of crime. My abuser attacked my mother leaving her severely injured; she was bludgeoned, set on fire, and left for dead. After a couple of months in an ICU burn victim unit, they released my mother to an acute traumatic brain injury facility in upstate New York. She was still in a coma at the time and even further away from home. My family had to make serious lifestyle adjustments just to visit her. At first there were a more than a dozen of family members constantly around to support my mom and I. The support group consisted of anyone from long distance relatives to childhood friends, but as time passed it dwindled down to just immediate family members.
It was hurtful when all of the familiar and comforting faces stopped coming around, I felt abandoned and hurt by those I expected to be there but as expected people become consumed and overwhelmed with their own lives. There was a turning point for me during one of my therapy sessions where reality hit me; horrible things happened to me and I would have to accept them in order to move on. Going public for the first time, in an article with Glamour Magazine was just the beginning of my healing process, I had to put aside my healing while being there for my mother during her recovery.
From New Years Day of 2011 to the end of 2012 we spent all of our birthdays and holidays at the hospital and if we weren't at the hospital, we were at court. Every time there has been a hearing either myself, or a number of my family members have been present in court. It was important for us to follow the case and make sure the family’s opinion was considered in the district attorney’s office. The whole court process was very exhausting on all of us. We had to take off of work and spend full days there waiting for him to be called up and hoping he would eventually admit his guilt.
At one point we believed that the case would be presented before a jury, so the assistant district attorney began preparing me for trial. My mother was interviewed and prepared to take the stand to discuss her injuries. I spent hours in their office rehashing old painful memories and opening up about my prior relationship. I recently received a call from Safe Horizon reminding me that they were there for me if I needed any guidance during the court process. They offer legal and counseling services, and support during the court process, all of which we took full advantage of when we began the court process.
Earlier in the month my family and I gathered at the courthouse for what was supposed to be the sentencing day. We would have finally had that day where I could address the negative impact his actions have made on my mother's lifestyle. I spent two weeks drafting a seven page letter on behalf of my mother, my family, and myself. Unfortunately, we were struck with another blow stalling the process, and our closure. While I do believe in due process, my spirit was crushed. The A.D.A on the case explained the process and assured us that he cannot change his guilty plea that he previously accepted, but it does not change the fact that our justice is prolonged.
It seems as if he is doing whatever he can as an act of desperation to avoid the inevitable. As he made his way out of the court room he glanced over to where my family was seated and smirked. I rushed out of the courtroom feeling sick and upset after learning that there would be another 3 week delay. We are back to playing a waiting game and hoping our closure is soon to come. I can't help but to wonder what type of emotional turmoil happens to dating victims without large support groups. Who is there for them throughout the healing and litigation process?