8 Things I Want My Boss to Know as an Employee With C-PTSD


Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) is an absolutely horrendous daily battle. C-PTSD is formed as the result of repeated and ongoing trauma. It looks different for everyone. For me, it looks like frequent flashbacks and panic attacks, episodes of dissociation (or feeling completely out of it, numb and disconnected), overwhelming tsunamis of depression and crushing anxiety. After a day of fighting this, I go to bed exhausted, only to have my mind and body relive every trauma it has experienced as I fall asleep, in nightmares, and as soon as I wake up.

C-PTSD makes every day into a war zone, and it makes basic life functioning difficult. My struggle is getting better with lots of therapy and huge amounts of medication, but it is still a fight. In the middle of all of this, I do manage to be a productive and functioning adult, hold down steady employment, have a social life, and work part-time on my Master’s degree. That said, sometimes life is excruciatingly difficult

These are eight things I want to say to my boss about my life with C-PTSD in the hopes of greater understanding.

1. I did not choose this, and I do not want this.

I know it frustrates you when I have to leave early, or when I call in without much explanation other than the vague, “I’m really not feeling well.” I know you are confused by the combination of the fact that I am productive and get my work done, but that I also struggle to stay at my cubicle for 40 hours a week. Trust me: as much as it frustrates you, it infuriates me. I would give and do anything for my brain to work right. I would do anything to erase the past. I can’t though, and so I have to do the best I can. I do not want for this to be my reality, but it is and so I am determined to not let it hold me back.

2. What you see is not the whole picture.

You see someone who is productive most of the time and works hard. You see someone who is capable. You also see someone who is jumpy, nervous, anxious, downcast, and at times sporadic with her attendance. You see someone who goes from working incredibly hard one day to needing to take a medical leave the next. What you do not see is what goes on behind the pictures. You don’t see that I’m so exhausted because I’ve just spent 20 minutes in the stairwell trying to get a hold of a panic attack, or that I’m groggy because of the calming medication I just had to take. You don’t see that I am easily startled because every noise sends my brain into “red alert.” You don’t see that I am worn out from the simple weight of living, and that I come and do my best anyways.

3. I handle almost all of my issues outside of work.

I wish you could know how hard I work to keep my struggles from affecting my job. Twice a week I go to therapy with a psychiatrist, but in order to keep that outside of work hours, it means I have to meet with her at 7 a.m. Sometimes reprocessing my trauma in therapy is so brutal that by the time I get to work it feels like I have already worked a full day, and my brain and body are exhausted from the effort. This means that functioning for a full 8.5-hour day of work can take the rest of my energy, making basic life things like cleaning and grocery shopping impossible. There are a lot of other management items that come with this, like filling my prescriptions, taking my meds on time and being careful to make sure I’m nurturing my body.

4. Everything feels like a threat.

I am always tired because my body feels like it has to fight. Staying at work is almost unbearable sometimes as my brain perceives every noise, every movement, every voice, every interaction as a threat. My nervous system is perpetually in a state of hyper-vigilance, looking for where the next threat will come from. Every time I hear someone or something unexpected, I have to consciously remind myself that I’m not about to be attacked.

5. When I need time off, I really need time off.

This may seem like a strange statement, but the fact my brain and body are constantly dealing with this is exhausting. Sometimes leaving a few hours early or taking a leave for a few days is what I have to do in order to keep this from getting worse.

6. I am doing my best, and fairly well given this situation.

I can be engaged and productive in a meeting while also having a flashback or feeling dissociated. I can work hard and fast and accomplish everything on my workload and some things from other people’s workload and do it well. My disorders do not define me and I refuse to let them limit my life. They just mean that sometimes I might have to take an unconventional approach to getting things done.

7. This is getting better.

I wish you could see where I was a year ago, or two years before that, or three years before that. I have come so far and am proud of my healing and growth. It’s an ongoing fight to make it through, but I am learning and growing and finding ways to heal every day.

8. I can do even better with your help.

Compassion, grace, understanding, reassurance, support … these things all help me feel grounded and safe. They make me more productive overall. Sometimes, I may even need you to help me think outside of the box on how to accomplish everything productively. Disability accommodations go a long way towards helping me succeed. Working from home from time to time may allow my brain to reset itself while also allowing me to accomplish my workload. More than anything, your understanding that I am trying my very best and your flexibility for when I need to be creative with things like my work schedule allow me to grow, succeed and thrive as your employee.

I treasure this job and working with you, and am doing my best to make it through. Your support allows me to be successful, so please, help me to succeed in everything I’m doing.

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Thinkstock photo via Szepy


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