How I Found Hope After Being Diagnosed With Complex PTSD
Rejection. It became a classic reenactment. I knew what was going to happen. I’d experienced it over and over again. I knew I’d feel intense emotions, and it was going to become hard to be around someone I cared about and wanted to keep in my life. It was unfair. It was unfair to the person and it was unfair to me.
My past was about to fuck up my life again. I tried to explain it to them but couldn’t find an easy way. They didn’t understand so I dropped it. I knew I was going to have a hard time in the future, and was afraid I was going to hurt them and get hurt again. I had a lot of wounds, but trying to explain that to someone I barely knew was difficult. I could barely explain it to myself.
“Maybe I’m just broken,” I thought to myself.
I became frustrated and just like years before, I again looked for the answer I had been seeking. “Why don’t I just have a grip on my reality?” But this time, I was ready to find it.
Complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). I read the words after searching for information regarding emotional flashbacks. I figured emotional flashbacks must be what I kept experiencing. What else could explain my almost random emotional responses? I had searched to find answers, frustrated and driven by the pain, but I never expected to actually find the medical answers to what I experienced.
I started to read the symptoms: depression, anxiety, disassociation, suicidal tendencies, negative self-perception, loss of systems of meaning, emotional dysregulation, hypertension and emotional flashbacks. I immediately felt like I had run into a brick wall. I stared at my phone, completely dumbstruck as I realized what the feeling inside me actually meant. I was reading about myself.
“Oh my God.. I have PTSD. I was traumatized. I have relational trauma.”
That was a year ago. Life is strange. I worked through codependency, low self-esteem and even started doing inner child work years before, but barely considered that maybe I’d experienced trauma. I still remember how I called my closest friends and told them. They’d heard my story before, but one of the final pieces of the puzzle was there. I had been working on emotional wounds for four years but I never imagined I was traumatized.
I had a mixture of such excitement and sadness telling them I finally figured out why I am the way that I am. Sadness knowing that C-PTSD is a chronic, long-term diagnosis of PTSD resulting from repeated childhood trauma in inescapable situations. And excitement knowing recovery was possible and I was given a second chance. I had a chance to finally get my life back.
I came to terms with the fact I had a rough childhood years ago, but this was on another level. I remember crying. A lot. It became clear I was suppressing a lot more than I realized. I was finally in a place of acceptance and so much emotional pain rushed through me that I felt like I was being torn apart. Every day for the next six months, I would randomly cry.
“This is my life. This is serious,” I thought.
Trauma survivors are at a high risk for suicide. Trauma does not just fade away and physically affects your brain and body, which can result in an unruly amount of hopelessness and frustration. I remember thinking, “This will kill me if I’m not careful.”
It became a dark joke that I would tell myself, “I’m just trying not to kill myself.”
The long-forgotten suicidal thoughts came back. When all you feel you’ve known is isolation and pain, even if people tell you there’s greener grass on the other side, it is very difficult to have faith. It is work to have faith. I didn’t learn that for a long time.
With knowledge came responsibility. I read books upon books about trauma, PTSD, attachment disorders and what I could do to turn my life around. I made myself a priority and declared that I would take the entire year to focus on my recovery. That would just be the start.
I started seeing a therapist I could trust. I stopped drinking. I re-evaluated my social life. I started doing yoga for the first time in my life. I started journaling more often. I focused on staying present in my body and feeling my emotional flashbacks. I opened up to the safe people within my life about my story. I started to notice things I hadn’t before. I started to try different things with different people I didn’t know. And I kept trying to give myself all the things I needed, despite how strange and “wrong” it felt. I tried to imagine a brand new life, something different. Deep down, I was terrified.
I wish I could say it has been a smooth ride but it hasn’t. My world was flipped upside down and I realized every aspect of my life has changed. I was given a trial most people don’t even know exists. Sometimes I feel I am climbing a mountain while everyone around me is walking to where they want to go. But I’ve realized this is my own journey and I am the creator of my future, despite my previous experiences and their influences. I can’t say how long my recovery will be, but I know sometimes it is easy to get dragged down by it all. So I try to remind myself that these are some of the benefits I’ve seen:
New Priorities: Most of the nuances of life seem so small when you’re faced with life-changing losses. I’d rather find fulfillment and be my true self than try to fit in at this point. I became my priority, and all the drama and other people became a play I would watch instead of try to change. I decided my world would change, starting with me.
Deeper Relationships: There are some people I have never been closer to than now, and I’ve shared very personal thoughts and feelings with them. Feeling emotional pain from trauma eventually allows you to feel and share emotions more fully, such as joy and love. My recovery has allowed me to feel safe and connected, even after I’ve experienced so much disconnection and pain.
Personal Strength: I knew as soon as I started working on recovery, this would be the hardest thing I ever had to do in my entire life. Not a whole lot scares me beyond that now, such as writing this article, which would have intimidated a younger me because anyone can read it. It already feels like I lost 20 years of my life. After you’ve been through that, what does life really have on you anymore?
Heightened Spirituality: This can be a very debatable topic for trauma survivors for good reason, but personally, I know a higher power exists. I have experiential proof that I will never let go of. There is a reason I am here and my experiences brought me closer to that, no matter how painful they were. I hope every trauma survivor remembers that.
Understanding: I have a very unique life-view after my experiences. Almost no one is intentionally hurting people. Hurt people hurt people. I know this firsthand. Understanding trauma allows you to understand underlying human complexities most people don’t take the time to understand. It opens the door to compassion. Life is complicated until it isn’t.
Sometimes I realize this was the biggest blessing I’ve ever received in my life. It has been my hidden hope to understand why my life has been filled with suffering, despite everything in my current life being fine. Is it so I could rebuild and create something better? We are all searching for answers to questions we dread asking, but what will you do when you find them? It is so strange writing this with confidence, but I think I’ll be OK. And you can too.
Getty Images: Bojanikus