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:
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.
By Alisha, The Invisible F.
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.
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.
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.