The Washing Care Label for My Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder


When purchasing an item of clothing, particularly hoodies, I always check the label for the cotton/polyester blend. As although the polyester makes the hoodie soft at the time, after one wash it loses its new softness and starts to bobble. Less than ideal. The label tells you what it’s made out of, how to wash it, how to dry it, what not to do with it and the size. Very informative for such a small add-on. Without the label, you have to resort to trial and error and a bit of guesswork.

There are many pros and cons when it comes to mental health diagnosis and labeling. Diagnosis can help people feel understood and get the appropriate treatment; however, it can also come with stigma, the feeling of being reduced to a label and in real terms may be seen as little more than the psychiatrist’s opinion about the information you have made available to them.

With this in mind, I feel it is extremely important for people to feel empowered by their label and associated “washing instructions.” My hope is they feel they have worked collaboratively with the psychiatrist in sewing on the appropriate label. Instead, if someone feels as though they’ve been attacked by a rogue sewing machine, they might find themselves in a washing machine when they felt they were dry clean only.

When I was 13 years old, I was given the label of autism, more specifically Asperger’s syndrome. I wasn’t told I was wearing the label until I was aged 15, and for some reason my parents thought it a good idea to tell my friends about my washing instructions before they told me. Not only that, but they would brandish my label at anyone I was likely to come into contact with. Can you imagine? Telling someone how to wash the clothes you’re wearing even when they haven’t complimented you? “Hi, I’ve got Asperger’s syndrome, oh by the way did you know my name is Trevor?” Worst part about it was, I wasn’t wearing the right label. This meant I ended up being on the wrong wash cycle for years. Years. Like wool on cotton wash, I became damaged, felted and had feelings of being unwearable, unlovable.

Before I received my diagnosis of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) I had no idea what was going on. To put it bluntly, I just thought I was going “nuts.” To say it was distressing is an understatement. When I met with the psychiatrist in April 2016 and could answer “yes” to all of his questions, I was like, “He is flipping reading my mind, man.” Finally I felt understood. Being given this diagnosis label helped me to apply a structure of understanding to what I was experiencing. I wasn’t to be tumble dried.

So what does my C-PTSD label say?

What my CPTSD is made of:

I was once washing the pots up after a curry at a friend’s house, and I noticed the tea towel had picked up a curry stain. I felt completely humiliated, guilty, frightened of any perceivable consequence; my heart was going ten to the dozen, with shallow breathing and a heightened awareness of my surroundings. I did not feel safe. I was panicked.

On another occasion, I was at the same friend’s house. The kitchen door got closed. Not slammed. Closed. I had a huge influx of adrenaline and a fight or flight response at the same time as feeling powerless, constantly assessing my surroundings for potential threats, whilst experiencing vivid emotions telling me something bad was going to happen.

Early on, again when I was staying with a friend, I woke around 5:30 a.m. Terrified, no other word for it; terrified, overwhelmed by the feeling of needing to run away. I got dressed and headed downstairs. I was putting my shoes on when my friend came downstairs and could see all was not well. I was so intent on leaving that very second I shoved my slippers into my shoes and went out the door; my friend followed me, linked my arm and walked me up and down the surrounding rural roads until I stopped hysterically and uncontrollably crying and trying to get away. Tears and snot everywhere. My friend was only wearing her pajamas and dressing gown. We both sustained blisters. We both had a cup of Yorkshire tea on our return.

These are a few examples of my experiences. I actually found them quite difficult to write about. When I first wrote them down, I included the reasons behind why I was “triggered.” The thing is, when it’s happening, I don’t often know why.

How to wash my C-PTSD:

I have been really lucky in that since day one of my mental health deterioration — when I was prescribed antidepressants and signed off work — I have had a consistent and caring GP working in an outstanding medical practice. This has not only meant I have had continuity of care, but also a cracking working relationship. He even waited with me after hours for the ambulance to pick me up when he admitted me to hospital, though I have to admit — at the time — I wasn’t his biggest fan.

How to dry my C-PSTD:

For the last year I have been attending weekly integrative counseling sessions. Primarily we have worked on stabilization techniques such as self-soothing, grounding and being aware of where I sit in the window of tolerance.

I’ve become obsessed with the process, reading all the books that appear in my Amazon recommended reading list. My particular favorite is “Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving” by Pete Walker.

Since my hospital admission, I now have a Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN). She is recommending I attend group work specifically tailored towards learning coping strategies for PTSD. We are going to work on crisis planning and in the future I hope to be referred on for psychology.

I’ve had Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. Very weird but weirdly effective.

What not to do with my C-PTSD:

Way back I sought counseling but it turned out he was not trained in trauma. My label: do not see a counselor who is not trained in trauma work. Do not bleach. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200. This resulted in me being destabilized and re-traumatized.

If you know my triggers, avoid them. I’ll work with them in my own time at my own pace. Do not force me to confront them.

The size of my C-PTSD:

Day by day, month by month, I’m learning more about myself, learning more about my trauma, where it comes from and how deep it runs. I’m not sure at any point I will be able to quantify the size of the abuse I experienced but I definitely understand it a lot more.

Remember though — this is just my label, which is on the inside, tucked away. I’m actually a complete item of clothing … but now you know I need to drip dry.

Mental health diagnosis or not, what does your label say about you and your washing instructions?

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

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Thinkstock photo via Tarzhanova.


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