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What It’s Like to Have a Complex PTSD 'Hangover'

Most people know what a hangover feels like: headaches, dizziness, sickness, a general feeling of grog. Many claim to have their personal “cures” – mine happens to be orange soda — and if you’re lucky, you’re usually feeling alright again come the afternoon or evening.

In my experience, though, the only thing my trusty orange soda can’t cure is a mental health hangover.

Whilst different to your traditional “morning after the night before,” the symptoms of a mental health hangover aren’t all that different (in my experience) to the body’s common response to a night on the town.

What is a C-PTSD Hangover?

I’m talking specifically about complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) because it’s what I know, but I’m sure this is something experienced by people who live with all sorts of mental health conditions. I’ve heard the term “adrenaline hangover” before and I absolutely understand that — I’m talking about something similar here.

An adrenaline hangover is often experienced after you produce a fight or flight response — a panic attack, a trigger, an “episode,” extreme stress, whatever — and is basically where you feel like absolute shit afterward. It’s like if you’re somebody who experiences severe anxiety and you spend the day doing something emotionally tiring or difficult for you, and you experience hangover-like symptoms afterward.

I think a C-PTSD hangover is slightly different — for me, it is anyway. Doing something that makes me anxious is quite different from experiencing a C-PTSD trigger response.

I feel like more and more people are becoming aware of what PTSD is and how it can affect a person and even C-PTSD, which is ever-so-slightly different. But I’m not sure people are so aware of the C-PTSD hangover that I’m talking about here.

Sometimes, I can come into contact with a trigger, recover quickly and be OK after a few minutes, and other times it affects me for days. Sometimes it’s just a trigger, a physical and emotional response and then recovery, but other times there’s the trigger, the response and then feeling like any positivity has been sucked out of you for days after. I’ve known this to last for a week sometimes.

It provides a persistent reminder of your trauma and keeps you in a state of whatever it is your body does to respond to that, which can make it really difficult to return to your day-to-day life after experiencing a trigger.

I’m not sure people really know about this. PTSD is much more than flashbacks — so I just wrote a post to be like “hey, this is a thing,” really.

The only way I know how to describe a “C-PTSD hangover” is how dementors are described in “Harry Potter:”

“They drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them … every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. You’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.”

A version of this article was previously shared on the author’s blog.

Photo by Tom Roberts on Unsplash