I want to share something with you that is very difficult for me to share. In fact, there is a little voice inside my head that tells me to push this away as deep as I can, so that nobody will ever know. That’s the trouble with shame—it only survives in the dark, mucky places of our soul where it can fest and eat away at you.
The thing I’m talking about is C-PTSD: Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. This disorder turns a funny, loving, and positive person into a blubbering mess who’s ready to just give up on everything she worked so hard for. It turns her focus from joy—and all that she’s got to live for—into such excruciating, emotional pain that there’s nothing she wants more than to disappear so it’ll stop.
I’m not looking for pity, I’m really not, but I’m constantly uneasy and every day it is pretty much like getting up and going to war. Once I shift into the mindset of ‘Yeah, you’re alive. It’s tough. Let’s do what we can today,‘ it’s easier.
You’ve probably heard of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder). Most people relate it to war veterans. Some may realize that it can also be caused by other traumas like violent crimes or traffic accidents. Without wanting to bore you with an essay on PTSD, below is a short definition of what it is.
“People who experience chronic trauma often report additional symptoms alongside formal PTSD symptoms, such as changes in their self-concept and the way they adapt to stressful events.” (From: PTSD: National Center for PTSD)
So if PTSD is the consequence of a traumatic event, C-PTSD is the consequence of being continually exposed to traumatizing events like the prolonged experience of sexual or psychological abuse, etc.
Imagine, If You Will
I’m just going to ask you to imagine something you’re afraid of; heights or spiders or some such. Something that, rationally, you know isn’t going to hurt you, but when you’re confronted with it, your heart races, you get the chills, and your hair stands on end. In a nutshell: your body reacts as if you’re facing a threat. You either fight, flee, or freeze (the three trauma responses). When your average person is dealing with a situation like this, they’ll eventually override their fear response with rational thought and nothing will happen; they’ll step down the ladder, or walk past the spider and it’s over.
But now imagine that it is not just the fear you feel over a minor threat. Imagine it’s a fear that says, “You’re about to be hit”, “You’re about to lose everything”, or “You’re going to die. And you really should because you’re a great big disappointment, and you fail at everything. Oh, and nobody has, does, or ever will love you!”
Speaking for myself, some days are worse than others: one experience might be a three-step ladder that I’m struggling to get down from, another might be a three-story building, and another could be the size of Mount Everest. Today, I felt stuck at the top of the latter and broke down sobbing in the middle of afternoon lattes. PTSD/C-PTSD amplifies feelings of threat, and therefore our responses to certain situations. Today, I was planning my escape; ready to run away and put geographical space between me and where I’d experienced most of my trauma. Mostly because I thought doing so would keep me from being triggered anymore. The only problem is, as the saying goes, ‘You leave, but you’re problems go with you.”
So What Are The Triggers I’m Talking About?
It could be anything. In the last few weeks and months, I’ve been pushing myself through a hectic move and a bunch of complicated factors surrounding it. So at the moment a trigger could be going to the supermarket or taking a break from work. I know that I need the break and shop for food. I also know that taking proper care of myself is the only way to battle the harsh, critical voices in my mind at most any given time. The challenge, though, is that those same voices are telling me I am not worth the effort of looking after myself.
Don’t get me wrong! I LOVE MY LIFE!!! I have amazing friends, I love my job, and my clients are such special people—all of them are such amazing additions to my life. Not to mention that I’m super proud of the business I have built in less than three years! But I’m most proud of how far I’ve come since making the decision not to let people abuse me anymore. And that I’m transforming my mental health experience.
I’m ultimately a funny, loving, and positive person who has waves of utter despair because of the trauma I’ve experienced. And I don’t have to do it alone.
My Family of Choice help me to lessen the CPTSD responses by amplifying my rational thoughts. They remind me of the fun, love, and positivity. They bring me back to focusing on my talents and achievements. They remind me that I am, and forever will be, loved. And when they do my brain—slowly but surely—starts to realize that I am actually not under threat; that I am safe. The more I experience this on a regular basis, the more I realize—with relief—that I don’t have to live in survival mode forever.
So Why Am I Telling You All This?
Because it’s likely that you (or someone you know) is either dealing with or recovering from extended trauma. Survivors of physical and/or emotional abuse, spousal or parental abuse, survivors of spiritual abuse, survivors of sexual assault, survivors of bullying, and the list goes on.
Remember the shame I spoke of in the first paragraph? That’s why I wrote this article. Because people living with PTSD and C-PTSD are suffering in silence and they need those around them to be supportive, understanding and remind them that they’re safe and loved.
I hope with all my heart that the information here has equipped you to help someone feel less ashamed of how the consequences of their trauma manifest.