“If you had met me two years ago, I was monosyllabic,” says Sophie. “I couldn’t speak more than one word at a time, I couldn’t connect with people, and I had severe anhedonia.”
Sophie’s description of herself is in stark contrast to the woman that stands before us today, whose articulate construction of sentences and understanding of the science behind her mental health challenges would have most people reaching for the dictionary. Anhedonia, for example, is a common symptom of depression and other mental health disorders that leads to the inability to feel pleasure.
Considering the complex trauma she experienced throughout her childhood relating to ongoing physical and sexual abuse, Sophie was actually thriving up until eight years ago. Working as a marketing manager for a local community television station, and then in contracting roles within government departments, things began to unravel when, at the age of 35, she entered her first adult relationship that would lead to domestic violence. Staying in that relationship for five years before having the courage the leave, Sophie then met someone else who proved to be even worse.
“As sad as it is, I have become what I suppose is a statistic,” Sophie says. “I honestly thought I had broken the cycle of violence when I moved away from my family. Having achieved academically and being successful in my career, I thought I had gotten away from my childhood trauma unscathed. But after doing so much focused therapy and courses in mental health, it’s sad to know that it was just a matter of time before the inevitable happened and my past caught up with me.”
Isolated from friends, estranged from family, and having lost her job and home through the ordeal, Sophie found herself couch surfing, staying in hostels, hotels and B&B’s. Soon enough, all her finances dried up as she tried to secure a roof over her head each night.
“Because I had a strong rental history and no dependent children, even with police and hospital reports as proof, I wasn’t eligible to get on the priority list with the Department of Housing.”
Sophie eventually referred herself to St Bart’s Women’s Service and has been with us for the past 12 months.
“I’m the most stable I’ve been for years with my mental health, and I’ve slowly started reconnecting with friends,” she says. “I’m actively looking for a house and I’m engaged in mental health and domestic violence groups, which have been really helpful for me.”
When asked what support groups have been the most beneficial for her, Sophie’s eyes light up. For her, knowledge is power.
“I prefer educational programs because it helps me understand what is going on mentally, and that it’s not just emotive, there is scientific background to it. It helps me to comprehend neuropaths, hippocampus and the parasympathetic nervous system, and understand how my body is responding so that I can acknowledge that there is something historical there.”
Looking forward, Sophie’s number one priority is to find a home that she can call her own. From there, she is keen to engage in voluntary work to help build her confidence and develop new skill sets, and may eventually look into returning to university to study social work and human rights.
The future looks promising for Sophie, and we at St Bart’s feel honoured to be a part of her journey.
“St Bart’s is the most steady environment I’ve had in years. It’s actually been a safety net and has been pivotal for me in working towards my recovery.”