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This Isn’t What I Thought Recovery From C-PTSD Looked Like

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One day last year I shaved my head. People around me panicked, so I told them I did it because my hair was so damaged from decades of hair dye. The truth was, I didn’t fully understand why I did it. I shaved my head because I was constantly recalling having my hair pulled. Over the years, I had had my hair pulled by my parents, teachers, nurses, police and security, mostly as a way to force me to make eye contact, which as an autistic, I hated. These memories were plaguing me 24/7, even though it had been nearly 15 years since it last happened. I couldn’t shake the memories and this left me in tears for hours at a time. So I shaved my head. Problem solved. No one could pull my hair again.

• What is PTSD?

Except the problem wasn’t solved. Much of my trauma is a result of medical abuse. I feel physically sick making a doctors appointment. I hyperventilate waiting in the waiting room at the doctors surgery. It was 17 years between dentist appointments. I wouldn’t go to the emergency department to save my life. My shaved head didn’t fix any of that. So I started therapy.

I was terrified even going to therapy. Unfortunately the medical abuse included the allied health professions as well. The therapist told me that these memories and these episodes were a result of complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). So treatment began. And continues. The night before therapy, I cry almost all night. The memories of past trauma keeping me awake and scared and in tears. I don’t know what I thought the end result of therapy would be. I suppose I thought I would be “better,” as in “cured.” I attended every appointment, I still do. I put in a lot of hard work, always telling the truth, no matter how uncomfortable I felt.

Last week as I sat in the waiting room at the doctors surgery, hyperventilating, it dawned on me. I’m never going to be OK with attending appointments or visiting the hospital. I will probably always have a fear of these situations. I’ll never gleefully bound into the doctors surgery with a bright and sunny smile and make small talk with reception. And I realized, that’s OK. I’m in a much better place now. In between therapy and other appointments, my memories don’t plague and distress me the way they use to. I will probably always struggle with some aspects of C-PTSD, but the majority of my days don’t need to be plagued by it.

Getty image by Victor_Tongdee

Originally published: February 14, 2021
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