The Sisterhood of the Travelling Jacket: Daniella

Monday 29 September 2014
Photography: Marlene

Sometimes I’d like to think of my life as a book and who knows? Maybe one day it could be. I believe anything is possible but in the mean time I am excited, nervous but humbled to have been asked to be a part of this wonderfully inspiring project. 

I was ten going on eleven and very athletic. I ate well, enjoyed school and life in general. I became unwell with many different symptoms but no one could figure out what was actually wrong with me. At one point, the doctors thought it was merely my imagination and an attention seeking ploy to get out of school. It was distressing to hear their prognosis. It was just as difficult for my parents to hear it who had to, a certain point, acted on the given information.  

After six or so months of being in hospital, my weight had plummeted down to three and a half stone (22kgs/49 lbs). I was fed through a nasal gastric tube, unable to walk and almost reached the end of my short life on an operation table. My parents and a young registrar had previously voiced their concerns to the NHS doctors that my symptoms could possibly be M.E but were dismissed instantly. Thankfully, my parents had the foresight to check me out of hospital and take me to an M.E specialist. They had a hunch and decided to trust their intuition. 

The M.E specialist saved my life. I was overjoyed and felt an incredible sense of relief that someone within the medical profession finally believed that there was something legitimately wrong with me. And it had a name. An actual diagnosis. It took enormous weight off both mine and my parents’ shoulders. Fourteen years on, I still suffer from the debilitating illness but have learnt to manage my condition better. I don't know if I will ever recover. I always hope but for now, I take each day as it comes and I do my best to manage my energy levels.

The ongoing battle trying to deal with the ignorance and being judged by people as well as the majority of medical professionals, is exhausting. One day, I hope to find a way to contribute in order to dispel the ignorance, lack of understanding and government support in funding scientists to get to grips with this loathsome disease.  

There has been another struggle that my family and I have had to face. Up until three years ago, my family could’ve been easily mistaken for a normal family (if there is such a thing) but on the inside, we were far from it. No one could make you laugh the way my father did yet no one could bring as much misery as he did. Our lives were in the hands of a mentally and verbally abusive man. I didn’t always have a horrid childhood for I have had some truly wonderful memories. My sister and I have had a somewhat privileged upbringing. Ever since I could remember, I have always lived in fear of my Dad. He has a ferocious temper and a loud voice which when used in anger, was terrifying. His temper could be provoked at the flick of a switch. He was admirable in many ways. He came from nothing and along with my mum, they built a successful business. He always said that there was no such word as can't and anything can be achieved if I put my mind to it. He really was someone I looked up to in many ways. 

However, when he turned forty, his unpredictable outbursts reached frightening levels. None of us knew what was going to trigger an onslaught of verbal abuse. It could be as simple as leaving a light on, not being able to find the T.V remote, not answering the phone in time (bearing in mind my sister and I suffer from M.E and a simple task like that, at times, can be very tiring) or walking too loudly. 

Once when I was fifteen, I’d accidentally spilt sugar on the kitchen side. I was having some Weetabix (cereal). I figured I’d go back and clean it up once I’d eaten (Weetabix goes soggy very quickly, Weetabix lovers will know this) but unfortunately, this led to another verbal attack. After sitting there listening to him rant on at not only myself but my mum and sister,  I, being the hormonal teenager that I was, swore at him. I knew instantly it was the wrong thing to do. It was only going to add fuel to the fire. He picked up the nearest object (a dvd in this case) and hit me across my curled up body several times. In their attempts to defend me, he simply pushed my younger sister and mum down. 

On another terrifying occasion, he threw my sister and her 1 year old son out whilst waving a knife erratically after yet another heated argument. His unpredictable anger made us all very nervous and wary. We were constantly walking on eggshells, and even now, I am overwhelmed with anxiety if I’d dropped something, a door slammed or if someone went down the stairs heavy footed. It was noises such as these that would set him off. Though a lot of the abuse was verbal, I believed that it was down to our compliancy that kept us safe and prevented him from escalating into physical violence. 

In hindsight, there were always elements of mental and verbal abuse but when you've grown up with it, you believed it was the norm. It was only when incidents spiraled  to extreme levels, that my sister and I knew something wasn't right. Reading certain articles really brought things to light. It was an indescribable feeling when you read about someone being in an abusive relationship or coming from an mentally abusive family and being able to relate. It was reassuring, as it certainly helped me to feel less alone whilst giving me a glimpse of hope. 

Three years on, my father is still doing everything he can to hold off the divorce. It’s an ongoing battle but I know one day, we will be free. It hasn’t been not an easy hill to climb in the slightest. It has taken courage and a lot of self healing. I do wonder if some of the mental scars will ever heal but it will always be better than living in a abusive home. We have gone from being well off financially to literally scraping by at times. As long as we have each other, that is all that counts. There will always be someone somewhere worse off. We will continue to show grace, strength and courage. 

For years, I’d struggled with the possibility that I might not ever be able to have a "real" job due to the unpredictable nature of M.E. It wasn't so bad when I was a teenager but as I approached my twenties, I felt an immense pressure and guilt for not being able to pursue a career. Starting my blog was a defining moment for me. It was a way for me to create and express my love for style, fashion and clothes. It is also a form of escapism, a way of forgetting my illness and the stressful environment within my family home. 

My boyfriend, Conan has helped me to build up my confidence and I guess, liberated me in a sense. He bought me a camera so I could document my outfits and also lent a hand to develop my blog in a big way. My sister who is psychically gifted had also assisted with opening my mind to endless potentials, which at the time I didn't believe but she has proven to be right in her predictions.  

Despite it all, I count myself tremendously lucky. I have an incredibly supportive mum, boyfriend and sister. I have a beautiful nephew who is by far, the greatest gift from God. In my darkest hours, he has given me a reason to live. I have been able to grow spiritually, understand and see things in a different light. While I have missed out on all those normal things teenagers and young adults normally do, I’ve been blessed with learning life lessons that you simply don't get taught in school.

Sharing this story in particular has been a bit of a process for me. I have barely spoken out loud about this before now,  let alone write about and share it with pretty much the whole world but the reason I felt that I should talk so openly, is with the hope that this might just help someone who has either been in a similar situation or is going through one. You shouldn't feel guilt nor shame as it's not yours to carry, it's the abuser’s. Be an inspiration, not a victim, for you will be surprised at how much inner strength you possess and maybe, just maybe, you'll be able to share your story one day and bring to light what is too often left in the dark. 

Daniella also blogs at Lella Victoria.

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  1. Beautiful... in the sense that you're so inspiring! xx, Alma

  2. That couldn't have been easy to write down and share, it takes a lot of courage but I know this will help someone somewhere. Stay strong, positive and graceful too. You are an inspiration xx

  3. WOW, that's a big thing to discuss in the open (both the M.E and the living with a man like your father) but I've no doubts that your voice today will go on to give hope for others.

    My sister in law has suffered with M.E for 25+ years, I've seen first hand what it can do to someone :-(

  4. I love the innocence of your photo Daniella its truly beautiful! You are a real survivor & inspiration & have dealt with way more than most people of your years. You have courage & faith & thats a great base. Keep on keeping on! I found sharing my story a great release & I'm sure you did too! Ax

  5. I never understand why some men are like this, why is it always men? Perhaps it's not but it seems hard to believe a woman could inflict this kind of misery on her family. I pray that your mum does get her divorce and that your father will have a long time to reflect on his actions. Trouble is they never think they have done anything wrong and he most probably blames the rest of you as it is you who infuriate him. I wish you all well and that you all have great happiness to come xx

  6. Another amazing story. Daniella, I've loved your blog for a long time now - you're so beautiful and composed in your photos...and your style is impeccable and inspirational. I'd never have thought you'd had such struggles in your life to date. You are another of life's fighters and you should be so proud of all you've achieved through adversity. Avril x

  7. We all put out images that can be so deceptive. You look serene, calm, fit, healthy and totally in control. It just goes to show that you can never take anything just at face value. There is such a depth, to your' story, and some truly shocking and upsetting revelations. I am full of admiration for your courage to share this and to have the tenacity to be creative, and produce your blog, in a world that can, at times, be very one dimensional. I am sure you will go from strength to strength and I wish you all the luck in the world. Lovely photo, as always, from Marlene. H xx

  8. Reading your post has been very cathartic for me today. I, too, have suffered from a chronic condition that is often dismissed by society at large and the medical community but it was your father that really hit home. WORD FOR WORD, you described my childhood. Exactly. Only through silence and by walking on eggshells did my mother and I have any peace. Standing up to him or talking back only brought physical violence.I always blamed myself for his rants and tirades over nothing. "Only if I had blah blah blah, he wouldn't be angry with me." Unfortunately , I married a man exactly like him. Seeking my father's "approval" I suppose. It was a long unhappy marriage and I finally found the courage to leave after many years - though we have two children, so it is never really "over". His tirades are now about my parenting and our children - using my love for them to try to instill fear in me.

    Thank you for your story and for letting me know I'm not the only one. It seemed so "normal" growing up like that and only well into adulthood did I realize how wrong it was and how I had repeated the pattern. You seemed to have healed at a much younger age through the support of your family and boyfriend. God bless and good luck in all things.

    Oh and PS. A slamming door was one of his triggers, too, and I, too still get anxious when I hear one. What a world.....



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