Doctor stories
November 25, 2021
Dr DonDiego on escaping an abusive relationship and turning her life around

November 25th marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.

Today, many women around the world are still victims of rape and violence. Globally, 1 in 3 women have experienced domestic violence and lockdown has seen cases escalate.

The naming of this day is designed to raise awareness around this ongoing and serious issue. Today, we wanted to catch up with Dr DonDiego who experienced domestic abuse whilst working the long hours of a doctor.

in 2016, Dr. Danielle DonDiego was burnt out. She was working 80 hour weeks, dealing with stressful experiences on the frontline, and at home she was in an abusive relationship. Now, she has the career and life of her dreams.

Her book Self-Care Rx: A Doctor's Guide to Transformation After Trauma provides advice on the road to recovery after suffering abuse.

"Death by internal self-destruction only begins to show mercy when we have left that abusive relationship or job, stopped turning to food, drugs, and shopping carts to soothe us, and stared the culprit in the face with the determination to fully overcome. And start over" said Dr DonDiego.

In the book she reminds us, domestic abuse is as common in white-collar-wearing couples as it is in the blue-collar world. She wants to ensure that every reader can spot the earliest signs of an abusive predator-partner, leave before their sanity is disrupted, and live a rich life that is sealed from entering another toxic relationship pattern.

What was it like for you, working as a doctor, but also dealing with an abusive partner at home? 

It was very stressful, but I am not sure I fully realised how much I was dealing with. I dove into my work and training but didn't reflect too much on what else was going on. I didn't feel I had the time or bandwidth to fully acknowledge what was going on at home, so I ignored it longer than I may have in less stressful work circumstances. I knew my medical training was top priority, so I ignored everything else.

Jealousy is often a trait of an abusive relationship, did you experience this when you had long night shifts. How did it affect your mental health? 

Definitely! I am typically a very outgoing and friendly person with everyone, but found that if I became this way towards any male I was met with insults or manipulation to keep me from being friendly. I became much more reserved over time, always being careful not to upset my partner for my own sake more than anything else. But this ultimately wasn't who I am. Not every interaction a female has with a male is at all based in attraction, and I've had to remind myself those thoughts were placed in me by someone else and not by my intentions. 


Did you feel like you could talk with your colleagues about what was going on at home?

Not at the time. Everyone was just as busy as I was, and I wasn't sure how to communicate it. A few times I tried I could just feel people didn't know how to respond or help. I think I knew it was bad, but speaking it out loud made it more real and I wasn't quite ready to face leaving yet. When things were absolutely awful at the end, I eventually confided in a few close friends at work who helped keep me safe from stalking and threats that ensued afterwards. I ended up getting multiple protective orders while trying to start a brand new job as a new doctor. It was a chaotic time and I couldn't function without that support.


How did you get out of the relationship, and what did it feel like when you finally left him? 

I felt really liberated internally, but I lived in fear for several years.

I had a lot of help leaving. The most dangerous time in an abusive relationship is when you take action to leave. I had to get multiple protective orders, was almost run off the road on my way to work after being stalked, the security team at my apartment was aware of the situation, I moved several times and got a different car to become less noticeable. I moved a lot differently. The court system helped to an extent, but not to the place that I really needed at the time. I also started therapy which was the best thing I ever did.

Can you tell me a bit about your healing process? Is this what your book Self-Care RX is about? 

Yes! Self-Care Rx discusses my process of healing. The book really isn't about the relationship so much as it is my journey of taking action in my own life. I discuss some details of events that occurred for context and to bring awareness to narcissistic abuse, but I wanted to be completely transparent at how resilience can work against us. I was too strong, too numb, too busy, too unaware until everything came to a halt. I remember thinking I wouldn't survive the relationship, and that lightbulb made me leave. It just took me a while to acknowledge it. Therapy was the best thing I ever started. I still see my therapist weekly, I'm still evolving. They say those that are in therapy are because of those that aren't, and that sums up my journey. I also regularly have a spiritual and yoga practice I nurture, I have invested in a lot of personal and business development groups and being able to speak about my experience to help others has also been healing. I've actually been able to help several other women out of their own abusive relationships, and that has been pretty cool. Self-Care Rx also has other women's stories of similar situations. The psychological patterns are very recognisable. 


Do you have any advice for other women in the industry who could be suffering domestic abuse at home? 

Find a therapist that specialises in narcissistic abuse. I've met several over the last few years now that there is more awareness as to how intricate and manipulative that rabbit hole can go. You need a professional to be objective and walk you through your own situation and help you assess your risk and your own psychology. Friends are great support, but it isn't the same as a professional therapist. Second, invest in yourself and take care of yourself. Healing is a full-time job. You have to give it the energy and merit that you would any other life-changing long-term goal. Third, find other survivors you can relate to. Unless someone has experienced what you have/are going through, they won't fully understand. It's an isolating time, so finding a tribe of other survivors can really help the healing process.

You can buy Dr Danielle DonDiego's book Self-Care Rx: A Doctor's Guide to Transformation After Trauma on Amazon here.

Instagram: @drdondiego

Main photograph by Alessio Filippelli @ale_ssiofilippelli and Manuel Pergugini @manuel_perugini

Article by
Dr Danielle DonDiego

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