Guest post #3: Facing Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

I’m happy to introduce my third guest blogger, Alisha, who has a blog about living with Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) and chronic pain. She was kind enough to write this powerfully written guest post for this blog. I loved reading it because it ends with a message of hope, no matter how bad things might seem. Please visit Alisha’s blog, The Invisible F.  She has another blog featuring her fantasy writing, including her novel, The Return of the Key.

From her About page:

alisha

Hi, my name is Alisha. I’m a proud alumnus of the University of Westminster where I did my MA in International Journalism. I love parrots, singing, drawing, sharing stories, fantasy movies, games and books, and people who like fantasy movies, games and books.

I live with a number of chronic health conditions including fibromyalgia, clinical depression, anxiety, & Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and for much of my life have suffered from debilitating symptoms. I want to raise awareness to help people understand but moreso to share and engage with all those whose lives are touched by fibromyalgia and mental health problems in one way or another, so they know they’re not alone.

Facing Complex-Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder
By Alisha, The Invisible F.

pain

I was sitting in a small room at hospital when the psychiatrist’s voice called me away from the brilliant white walls that were pulling me in.

“You’ve had a very difficult life Alisha” she said, looking at my notes. After asking me to recount some of my ordeals, she said “From your symptoms, I would say you have Complex-Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder (C-PTSD).”

I had to ask her how C-PTSD differed from PTSD, which many of us associate with soldiers who have served in warzones or conflicts. She explained that C-PTSD tends to occur in people who have suffered repeated traumas for a prolonged period, with no chance of recovering from each incidence.

The more she told me about it, the more I felt like she was telling me about myself.

I had a long history of abuse starting in childhood, when I honestly believed I wouldn’t live to see the age of 18. I survived, thankfully, but I continued to endure traumas past my teenage years and into my twenties. I can’t say which incident was worse, because I felt the enormity of each one added to the already heavy weights that I carried. At 16 I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety, suffering terribly painful anxiety attacks that made my chest hurt so much I thought I would die.

I tried to ignore the feelings my past stirred up, because I lived in a society that stigmatises mental health conditions. I thought I was fine. It was only years after my stepfather and friend were brutally murdered, that I started getting glimpses of the brokenness I had masterfully hidden from the world and myself. I packed my bags and left everything and everyone I loved behind, moving to the other side of the world. Surely pain wouldn’t follow me there. But we can’t unknow things, and there was a lot of pain etched on my heart and mind. These parts of me would not let me forget.

C-PTSD manifesting

The C-PTSD diagnosis made sense but I was still surprised. Mostly because I wasn’t expecting another label. I already lived with fibromyalgia, depression and anxiety and several months before had been slapped with borderline personality disorder, which I was still struggling to come to terms with. I could say very clearly what some of my symptoms were, but I couldn’t always say which diagnosis was responsible for what I suffered on any given day.

As time passed and I connected the dots, I understood more about how deeply C-PTSD had been affecting my everyday life, unknown to me.

Days before I met the psychiatrist at hospital, I was sitting in Accident & Emergency having a meltdown, unable to cope with the avalanche of emotions tumbling through me. I wanted to give up again and almost did. I didn’t understand why the smallest upsets felt like utter catastrophes, or why I seemed to attract bullies or why getting close to people terrified me so. The doctor was most empathetic about it.

“Well you’ve had a lot of bad experiences with people so that is going to shape your outlook. It doesn’t mean your outlook is wrong. It only means your experiences have shaped your perspective” she said.

If only other people were that understanding. Not too long before I had encountered very unsympathetic people in a shared flat where I resided. Just when I thought I was recovering from the dark feelings that led to two close calls on my life, I discovered that approaching the close of my twenties, I was having night terrors. I had never even known there was such a thing until it was googled by a flatmate who constantly complained about my screaming at night. I couldn’t believe that I was screaming while asleep with no recollection of it the next morning. I didn’t believe it until my own screams woke me in the dead of the night. Frightened and panicked, I searched around my room until reason returned, and I questioned what it was that I was looking for, and so terrified of.

Nightmares

I have a long history of nightmares, which started in childhood. The kind that leave you so terrified you’d do anything to keep yourself from drifting off, anxious of what’s waiting for you in the realm of dreams. Consequently, I developed insomnia from a young age. Generally, my anxiety tends to get worse at night. It’s not uncommon to find me wide awake in the wee hours of the morning when most people are getting their best sleep. I’ve always slept better in the day, when the sun is out and it somehow feels safer. When I (reluctantly) have to go to sleep at night, I clear my room to make sure there’s no clutter that might form awkward shadows, that may frighten me when I wake in between my cat naps.

My flatmates couldn’t understand the nature of night terrors, and I was accused in person, by email and text like a perpetrator. I felt bad about it, truly. The accusations though, only distressed me more, and increased the frequency and severity of the night terrors.

Recently, I started sleeping walking, and I often wake up running towards my bedroom door terrified, with no recollection of my dreams.

Living with C-PTSD has been like sitting in a prison inert, long after the doors have been opened. I have wanted so badly to walk through, tending to avoid things and places that remind me of past traumas. I think of all the positive things I’ve managed to achieve through my beleaguered time here. I spend my waking hours keeping extremely busy so I rarely have time for stray thoughts, and it works; but everytime I go to rest, my subconscience reminds me of the many demons I’ve buried and hidden away.

In my dreams I am always running, looking for an ally, and an escape that is rarely found. I often run in different directions, only to end up right back in the place where my captors are waiting by the prison doors. When I am not shut away, I am violently murdered, again and again, like a broken cassette sticking in the same sickening place.

The things I said I’d never do

I suppose I never realised how my past traumas were affecting me until my late twenties. People would say, ‘it’s the past, just leave it behind and move on.’ Or worse ‘everyone has problems.’ If only it were that simple. I’d give these people a chance to walk in my shoes if I could, and silence any doubts. I want to forget, and I do everything possible to move forward, but the mind is such a powerful thing. All my efforts have been no match for my mind which digs up torments when I am asleep.

Owing to C-PTSD, I’ve done a lot of those things I said I would never do. You know when we watch others suffer and silently judge, telling ourselves, ‘that will never be me’? At 17 I remember watching my 30-something year old friend elaborately explain how she avoided the doctor’s questions when he asked how she accidentally cut her arm again, needing stitches. When I asked her directly, she brushed it off, and I sat there thinking I will never understand this.

I didn’t think of my friend when I first hurt myself. All I remember thinking was how good the external pain felt, taking the focus away from my internal turmoil. Months later I diverted from my healthy diet and found myself facing bulimia. The first time I felt confused, wondering why I kept eating though I was satisfied. But I craved the food badly, I ate and I ate, until I felt so physically upset I had to empty my stomach. I cried & cried every time because I wanted to badly to stop but I had no control, and that was the part that got me. I didn’t even have control over me.

It’s sad that after everything I’ve suffered I’ve also had to deal with bullies who have targeted me because they know they could. I try to build myself up, to be stronger and braver in the face of this. I do psychotherapy and I’m not sure it helps. Maybe? Doctors say I will likely need therapy for the rest of my life. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Every day is a challenge. But I wake up and set out to do my very best. I try to practise mindfulness and celebrate my successes. Whether they are publishing a new book, managing to stay out of hospital or simply getting out of bed when I feel like shit, I celebrate them all equally, because I know what it is like to be crippled by depression and C-PTSD. I know very well what it’s like to lie in bed unable to will myself up; to want to shower or make a cup of tea and not be able to do so. I know what it’s like to feel that it’s safer to stay alone than get close to people…to stay indoors for days, unable to set a foot outside the front door. So every day I achieve something, no matter how small, I pat myself and say ‘well done, you’ve done it today so when you think you can’t do it tomorrow, just remember you did it today.’

The one dream

I’ve told you what many of my nightmares consist of. But it would be remiss of me not to mention the one dream that overshadows every nightmare that comes.

In this dream, I carry a heavy babe in my arms as I climb a tall, rickety winding staircase leading to a wall. With every step I take, the child becomes heavier. When I’m almost to the top, the staircase crumbles like dust in the wind. This part of the dream ends abruptly, like a director’s cut in a poorly edited movie, and when I open my eyes I am on the sea front, surrounded by people who cannot see me. The rippling turquoise waters beckon me and I do not resist. I walk into them and as I float farther in, the waters envelope me, washing away every heavy burden my soul bears. I embrace the waters filling me up as I begin knowing a kind of peace. It almost feels…like home, where my soul will find rest, so I let it consume me. But as my consciousness ebbs, a hand reaches through the veil of the waters, and pulls me out. And again, the scene ends abruptly. I awake as a child, amongst the laughter and play of my fair cousins.

My aunt, an interpreter of dreams says the heavy child I carry represents the burdens I bear; the seaside scene is the deception of suicide and my subconscience believing that it is there I will find rest from the pain that plagues me. She says the hand pulling me out of the waters, is the truth that I am not lost, that redemption can, and will be found…that even when I am drowning, no matter how close I come to death’s doors a power higher than any torment and death will lift me up.

I press on, finding strength in my faith and true friends who embrace me, imperfections and all. I am encouraged by sharing with others in the same boat, by bringing a good word to those who need it. Maybe doctors are right…maybe I will need therapy for the rest of my life. Maybe. All I know is I’ve managed to make it this far, when I didn’t think I could. You could have told me a thousand times that I’d make it, but I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t walk this road myself.

A million hugs & prayers for your courage & peace of mind.

Love Alisha

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About luckyotter

Recovering from BPD and C-PTSD due to narcissistic abuse from childhood. Married to a sociopath for 20 years. Proud INFJ, Enneagram type 4w5. Animal lover, music lover, cat mom, unapologetic geek, fan of the absurd, progressive Catholic, mom to 2, mental illness stigma activist, anti-Trumper. #RESISTANCE
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51 Responses to Guest post #3: Facing Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

  1. Reblogged this on The Invisible F and commented:
    Read my guest post on life with C-PTSD featured on Lucky Otter’s Haven.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You indeed already came this far. I’m happy to read that you think about this often. Every little step is a big step for you (and me). It’s something you should be really proud of. We need to be kind for ourselves.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. lynettedavis says:

    A very powerful testimony! “Your experiences have shaped your perspective.” I could feel the writer’s struggle and the dream had me in tears. It reminded me of a recurring dream that I had in my late teens. Even through all this she still has hope. Truly remarkable and encouraging…

    Liked by 3 people

  4. S says:

    Thank you very much for sharing this. Recently I had been wondering about what makes some PTSD complex. What helped me the most in realizing that I most likely do have it is that, like Alisha said, one trauma after another with not enough recovery time in between(not her exact words, but, you know what I mean). Also, my reoccurring dream from youth was walking on a very narrow bridge high above endless waters. And what made the walk, if you could call it that, was that the bridge wasn’t only narrow, but, also very rickety and unstable, made of wooden planks and rope. I would have that dream repeatedly. The stress of thinking I might fall. I guess it’s almost like walking a tightrope without any training. Great, great article here. This girl knows how to move her readers. It helped me.

    Liked by 3 people

    • luckyotter says:

      I felt the same way, S. I liked the way she described the differences between complex PTSD and PTSD because a lot of people don’t really know the difference, and C-PTSD isn’t even recognized by the DSM (but it should be!)

      Not only that, but I think a lot of people, mostly women, are erroneously diagnosed with BPD (which has a terrible stigma) when really what they have is complex PTSD which has similar symptoms. For all I know, if C-PTSD was recognized, I might not have been dx’d with BPD. Not that it really matter, I accept the BPD diagnosis but know I also have complex PTSD. (I did get the PTSD diagnosis concurrent with BPD). So who knows?
      I think I might write a post about that!

      Like

      • S says:

        Yes, yes! My therapist said that too recently. That BPD is really a whole lot of PTSD. I like the diagnosis Complex PTSD better than BPD, because C-PTSD gives us credit for our suffering rather than BPD. I was a former Psych RN a long time ago, and there WAS a stigma, even amongst most of the staff. The highly skilled staff knew better, that BPD’s weren’t troublemakers(rather the other way around). But, at the time, this is going back 20 or more years, the majority thought of us as ‘bad.’ Which is what narc mother would be very happy with. Sad. But things ARE getting better for us. I hope most people become ‘in the know’ during our lifetime. Wouldn’t that be great!?

        Liked by 1 person

        • luckyotter says:

          The good thing is, a lot of BPD bloggers are helping to reduce the stigma (a lot of people believe that because BPD is “Cluster B” that we’re demons and not even human). You don’t see too many NPD people doing that though or blogging about their challenges (if they blog, it’s usually to brag about how their narcissism makes them superior or something), but that’s because they don’t think they have a problem! Most Borderlines know they have a problem and struggle with it constantly.

          But I think also, BPD may not be accurate in many cases, or could be the same thing as C-PTSD. At least one blogger (BPD Transformation, who used to comment here but stopped for some reason), doesn’t even think BPD is a valid diagnosis and shouldn’t exist.

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      • Im so glad you mentioned that Lucky! because a psychiatrist told me that in medical circles many practitioners use BPD and CPTSD interchangeably as they’re so similar! She practically said it’s like the same thing! and yes definitely write a post about it! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you S. IM so encouraged that my little blog could help you. Your dream moved me to tears! it is really interesting our as C-PTSD patients our dreams are often so powerful and connected with our traumas. Thank you for sharing with me and allowing me to share with you. Keep fighting xx

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is breathtakingly brilliant. What an amazing writer! As someone who has also been diagnosed with Complex PTSD, I can relate to every word.

    Liked by 3 people

    • luckyotter says:

      I could too! And I agree, she is a wonderful writer.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much Linda! sorry only now seeing the replies! so good of Lucky to respond so promptly to everyone! Thanks Lucky! x

      Liked by 2 people

      • luckyotter says:

        Always a pleasure.

        Liked by 1 person

      • You are welcome, Alisha. And yes, Lucky Otter is amazing, how well she writes, how much she writes, while working a full-time job — and still she replies so promptly to people’s comments! I don’t know how she does it. I am struggling to finish a guest post for this blog that I told Lucky I would have ready for this weekend… and it still isn’t ready. I am worried that I might not get it done in time. 😦

        Liked by 1 person

        • Oh no! you can do it Linda! would it be helpful if you set aside some time to just write? I havent had much time for blogging lately but also because Ive been so unwell, I think it’s really affected my motivation and inspiration! I cant seem to think of anything that interests me enough to write about! hope you manage to make your deadline, if not just let Lucky know- Im sure she’ll understand! and I dont know how she does it either! I need to take a page out of her book! hugs! xxx

          Liked by 2 people

          • Thank you. I actually did make the deadline, yay! Lucky published my guest post yesterday. I know it would have been better with a little more rewriting and editing, but at least it’s finished. 🙂

            I’m sorry you have been unwell. I hope you feel much better soon. ❤

            Liked by 1 person

          • luckyotter says:

            You’ve been unwell? I’m sorry to hear that 😦 I hope you feel better soon.
            I haven’t been feeling good the past 2 weeks either (there’s a nasty virus making the rounds) and this weekend felt so sick I barely blogged at all.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Oh noo! so sorry Lucky! Are you taking anything for it? getting some rest I hope? It’s been hard for those of us who have to work. I’ve been for four weeks, one respiratory infection after the other-first bronchitis, sinusitis and fever then throat infection..and lots of antibiotics. So this week I am flushing my system out with lots of raw fruit and veg juiced. Feel better soon my dear! Ive been so behind on my blog and lacking inspiration and motivation. I dont know where it’s gone 😦 xxx

              Liked by 1 person

            • luckyotter says:

              Oh, I’m sorry you’ve been sick too. I finally got some antibiotics today–I have a upper respiratory infection that started as a cold two weeks ago, then turned into a worse cold or the flu. I’m drinking a lot of fruit juice and eating very little except soup (not much of an appetite). I feel a wee bit better today, I think. I hope you get back to blogging soon. It’s hard to get motivated when you aren’t feeling well. Hugs.

              Liked by 1 person

            • Aww hun! Im so sorry to hear! they can be so awful those respiratory infections! i wish you better soon! Im finally starting to feel a bit better and then I was hit with the most horrid back and neck pains! 😦 Im still fighting infection off cuz my window is still broken and it gets cold where I am (the weather is pretty rubbish nowadays). Try to make yourself some ginger tea from the root and get lots of rest. Sending you healing hugs and love! xxx

              Like

  6. Diana says:

    Thank you for sharing Alisha! I just followed your blog and I’m so happy that Lucky Otter featured you on her blog! I love your comment, “You could have told me a thousand times that I’d make it, but I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t walk this road myself.” as it really resonates with me. I am a Christian but at times, my suffering is so deep, that even Jesus can’t just say words to make me feel better. Sometimes, at the end of the day, I didn’t know if I would make it there until I got there. Some days I am shocked I made it!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hmm Diana Im really glad that I had the opportunity to share and you read my post. I can relate to that- I am a believer as well, and at times it’s often difficult reconciling the suffering we’ve endured with our faith. But I comfort myself knowing that He didnt come for those with perfect lives, but he came for the lost, for the broken and torn. To save. Never forget the times when you made it against all odds. We find strength in these moments.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. You are not alone in this.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. S says:

    I read somewhere that God said(I don’t want to speak for Him, but, the article read that He said), that there will be individuals on earth who have lives very much like His Son.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. I remember night terrors. It’s been a while…knock wood…but yeah, they’re scary. I didn’t scream because I couldn’t. I would try so I could wake myself up, once I knew it was a dream/nightmare/night terror. But I could never scream. I would manage to pull myself out though and my heart would be pounding out of my chest.

    I have it written somewhere what happens in the ones I have, I’ll have to post it sometime. Dreams that can be interpreted are the best though. Even if they’re disturbing or dark, there are messages. So cool you have a relative who’s a dream interpreter.

    I have a general question for anyone who knows the answer: How are people being given the dx of CPTSD when it’s not in the DSM? How is it recognized as a diagnosis?

    I was dx’d with PTSD (and although she recognized it as the complex type because of on-going trauma, I wasn’t dx’d with the complex type) by one therapist and BPD by another later. I think it’s all complex trauma now, but at the time, I actually pursued the BPD dx because I really thought that was what was going on, given all I was reading at the time. And quite frankly, the therapist who dx’d me with BPD wasn’t exactly the best therapist. I regret pursuing that dx.

    Great article I’m sorry Alisha that you had such a rough life. My heart goes out to you.

    Liked by 2 people

    • luckyotter says:

      I wonder about how people get the C-PTSD diagnosis too. Are they self diagnosed? (I am) Or are there unconventional therapists who give the diagnosis?
      I used to have night terrors as a child. They were truly horrible. Fortunately I don’t have them anymore, but I remember them. I can’t even imagine having those your entire life. Ugh! They are worse than nightmares, I can’t even explain it. There’s also this weird feeling of familiarity about them that’s extremely creepy. I can’t explain that at all but I’ll always remember it. Shudder.

      Liked by 1 person

      • When I was having night terrrors a few years ago pretty regularly, I googled, “night terrors” and found stuff about it that said that it was something specifically that happened to kids. But I beg to differ on that theory. I didn’t have them as a child, only as an adult. I don’t know why I was having them so much then and not so much now. I hope I never have one again, but I won’t get my hopes up.

        And yeah, I know what you mean about familiarity. I never thought about that before you said that, but I feel that too.

        As for the dx, I am self dx’d on the complex part. But have an official dx on the PTSD part.

        Liked by 1 person

        • luckyotter says:

          I think they can happen at any age. They’re more common in kids, but adults can get them too. That’s interesting though that yours didn’t start until you were older. The last one I had was when I was 20.

          I also have an official PTSD diagnosis as well as BPD (i got them at the same time). Complex PTSD I gave to myself but I’m sure I’m right.

          Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you Tiger! IM really glad that you no longer suffer night terrors! I think it’s a difficult one. The psychiatrist I saw, when I asked her to ensure that CPTSD was entered on my records she mentioned that it is not recognised, but that many practitioners see it as being the same with BPD, or at least very similar. I had also been previously diagnosed with BPD, interestingly enough.

      Liked by 2 people

      • That’s frustrating that they basically see it the same as BPD, at least it is for me. Why not see it as PTSD? There’s such a stigma behind BPD and it’s all a result of trauma.

        Oh and I’ve had a night terror since this comment. lol. I may be stuck with them.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ohh no! Im so sorry to hear! 😦 the stigma behind BPD is horrid. It’s just so wrong. And I thought it weird too that they connect CPTSD so closely with BPD! wishing you sweet dreams from hereon! gentle hugs 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

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  11. hbsuefred says:

    As I read your hospital experiences, I couldn’t help thinking how much more humane the socialized medical system is in other countries, i.e. Canada and most of Europe. We in the US hear too much about the long wait times I guess are sometimes encountered in that system but, if even one truly injured person like Alisha gets the kind of caring, insightful and intelligent treatment she has described, then I might be willing to personally risk a long wait for it.
    I know Bernie Sanders is an outspoken advocate for a socialized one payer system. As I recall, this is what Hillary Clinton tried to proposed when Bill put her in charge of this issue. That being said, I suppose and believe that we Americans should be grateful for Obamacare. Most people, especially those that had no medical insurance at all, couldn’t get it or couldn’t pay for it, will likely agree it is an improvement over what was available before.
    No system, including socialized medicine, is perfect i.e. it won’t get everybody the right treatment when they need it or the first time they seek it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • luckyotter says:

      We need much more than Obamacare but I agree it’s a step in the right direction. ITA agree about single payer healthcare systems being far more humane and it’s an embarrassment that the United States is the only industrialized country that still does not have one. Personally, I hope Bernie Sanders gets elected. Could America finally be ready for someone like him? I think the Millennials are largely supporting him and he has a very good chance. The younger generation truly gets it. It’s ironic that he’s the oldest of all the candidates, a member of the Silent generation.

      Like

    • That’s true Sue. I’ve seen doctors in the US (NYC) and was appalled at the service- the last time I saw a doc there was 2009 when it cost $400 for a ten minute visit! and bad attitude! I mean it hasnt all been perfect in London but nowhere is. Overall I’ say the care Ive received here has been extraordinary. It is sad that a great nation like America hasn’t come as far as it should where it concerns health.

      Liked by 1 person

      • luckyotter says:

        I think it’s a great tragedy that the American health care system is such a mess and is motivated primarily for profit,not for healing. I;m glad you received good care in London, but sorry about your bad experience. Unfortunately there are bad therapists everywhere.

        Like

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