Guest Post #11: Life with Complex PTSD

Alexis Rose has a blog about Complex PTSD (C-PTSD) called A Tribe Untangled.  Her C-PTSD was brought about by a family tragedy (a terrible accident that befell her young daughter, something every loving parent fears with every fiber of their being) and it opened up a Pandora’s box of long repressed years of abuse and torture. Alexis Rose also has written a book, Untangled: A Story of Resilience, Courage and Triumph.

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From her Book information page:

Recalling her life, the author takes us on a journey of unimaginable abuse with continued explicit threats that eventually led to her being sent overseas on an impossible mission.  She repressed the memories of her past until a family tragedy forced her to face what her life had been. A history of abuse, torture, and threats to maintain her silence or be killed could no longer be denied.

This is the story of facing the truth and risking the consequences of breaking the silence. The author learns to accept the effects of the trauma that echo through her daily life as PTSD.

Through years of self-exploration, she learns to live her life fearlessly, with eyes wide open. Ultimately this book is about resilience; hope for victims who have suffered trauma and for the people who support them.

Alexis is an experienced speaker on the topics of living with courage and resilience in the face of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. She has also presented multiple interactive workshops titled, Using One’s Innate Creativity (writing and drawing) as a Tool for Healing and Personal Growth.

For more information about Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph, to request a book signing, or to ask Alexis to speak to your group or lead a workshop, email alexis@atribeuntangled.com.

Alexis has been kind enough to write a guest post for this blog, which when I read it brought me to tears because I could relate so much to so much of what she wrote.   She is one strong woman.  Here is her wonderful post.  Please follow her blog: https://atribeuntangled.com/

Life with Complex PTSD

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I was diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder about eight years ago, after a family tragedy. My daughter was hit by a van at 30 miles an hour as she was crossing the street on her way to school.

The year following Aria’s accident I was busy with tending to her health, taking her to appointments, trying to work full time, and keep our house hold running as normal as possible. And at the same time, I kept having these experiences that were making me feel crazy. I had worked so hard to keep my life, my family and their world so protected that the instant Aria got hit, my controlled snow globe world came crashing down. In fact when my son and I were talking the day of the accident, he looked at me and innocently said, “things will never be the same again.”  Extremely prophetic words, that at the time myself nor my family had any idea what they would come to mean.

I was becoming anxious. I started losing time, I was called into meetings at work because my performance was terribly erratic. I was physically sick all the time, and kept having these bizarre memories leaving me feeling crazy.  I knew something was seriously wrong with me so I made a call to a psychologist who agreed to see me the next day.

When I started working with my first therapist, I was so anxious to tell her everything all at once so I could just feel better and get back to work. I didn’t understand that I was having flashbacks, or that I was living in a constant state of crisis. I was writing her letters from a dissociated state which made no sense to me when she would read them aloud. I would lock myself in my room for hours for fear that I was going to hurt myself and I didn’t want to be around my family.

My first therapist diagnosed me correctly but neglected to start my therapeutic process by teaching me any kind of safety or distress tolerance tools.  I was out of control, thinking I was losing my mind, feeling like I had failed my family, and spiraling down a very slippery slope. She did the best she could but was way over her head and within nine months of seeing her, I knew intuitively that I had to find another therapist. I have been working with my current therapist for seven years.

When I first started seeing my therapist I was dissociated most of the time. I was in crisis, I was anxious, confused, and convinced I was going crazy. After a couple of sessions, it became apparent to him that we had to get some safety plans in place. Once that was in place we could begin the process of working on and processing my trauma.

I (sort-of) started to come to terms with the idea that my erupting memories were in fact true. I was so overwhelmed by my memories and what we would process during session that I would remember, forget, remember, forget; until I started to turn a corner and forget how to forget. That’s when I found I could really start taking the baby-steps towards health.

Not only was my therapy about processing the memories, I also had to start accepting that there were some pretty intense effects of the trauma and that influenced how I saw and reacted to the world.  I knew I had some pretty deep-rooted trust issues. I also had large, thick, almost impenetrable walls holding back any feeling or emotions that I was willing to let the world see. I also began to understand that because of my trauma I had a pretty significant attachment issues, which for me, has been one of the hardest things to learn and accept. For some reason the attachment issue fed into my very low self-esteem and it’s something I still work on.

I also had to face down how my trauma effected my relationships with my family, friends, parenting style and career. In the midst of dealing and coping with the trauma, there were a lot of AHA moments, when I saw how my behavior and ways of coping with life, had been a direct result of my trauma and not because I was a bad person.

Eight years later and one of the biggest reasons I write is because my PTSD symptoms still have a pretty good choke-hold on me. As with many mental illnesses PTSD can be invisible on the outside. I had always been the master of wearing many masks, and deflecting any conversation away from me, all with a supportive smile for everyone else. But when I couldn’t hide my illness any longer my friends began to ask me, what does it feel like inside. I couldn’t really explain it, so I wrote a poem and shared it with my friends and family. I found that by writing I found a way to share with others and begin to understand what PTSD means for me, and find a way to cope with my fear that I would be plagued by the symptoms forever.

My symptoms include (not limited too) flashbacks, concentration issues, becoming overwhelmed and my brain shutting down, not being able to make choices, anxiety/depression, and sensitive to the triggers that start the whole shebang of symptoms. We use the term, triggers, triggers everywhere. The wind can blow a certain way, or fireworks, or a car back-firing, even the moon can bring on flashbacks.

Unfortunately, my symptoms have left me with the inability to work. I went from having a wonderful career with the fringe benefits that provided me with some comfort for the future and the ability to provide for my family. I’m only able to work about 2 hours a day…on a good day.

It seems as if my symptoms (depending on the time of year) can start a chain reaction, so I needed to learn to work within my deficits. This isn’t easy or comfortable for me and because I’m still pretty new at learning how to work within my symptoms, I can find myself becoming frustrated and angry at my PTSD! Actually most days, if I’m going to be honest I am VERY angry at my PTSD. But then I settle down and think about what I want for my life and try to rest and reset.

The inability to concentrate can be over-whelming for me. I know what I want to do, what I want my brain to do but I simply am unable to do it. Making choice at the grocery store, or a restaurant can be so uncomfortable that I will just simply lose my interest in eating and shut down. Sometimes as night approaches it feels overwhelming because I know that its highly likely that sometime during the night I will have nightmares. Even practicing good sleep hygiene listening to podcasts, all the tricks can’t stop the nightmares sometimes and it gets overwhelming. And sometimes I’m overwhelmed because I’m a survivor of trauma and have PTSD and that’s just the way it is, even though I wish it was different.

Writing gave me the courage I needed to address the pain I was feeling. I would write even when I thought I had nothing to write about. At first, I strictly used it for bilateral stimulation. I would write and send what I wrote off to my therapist. I started to find that I was able to write down what I couldn’t say aloud.  It provided distance from having to use my voice at first, but then I found it actually gave me a voice.

What I hope to convey as I move forward: Try to remember to notice those perfect moments. Celebrate each step on the path towards health, know that it is a long and never linear process, and that it really is just one foot in front of the other, you need to do a lot of resting, a lot of just sitting and metabolizing.  And even though healing can feel like be a lonely process, through a blogging community and other support systems, we realize that we are not alone.

I’ve been hurt, I’ve been threatened, I’ve been abandoned, but I wasn’t going to let the effects of what happened to me keep me from trying to have the life I wanted. I never lose sight of my goals. They are to live with my past, live in the truth, and recognize and relish in the feelings of internal contentment. Some days those goals seem as far away as the furthest star, and other days I can see them just through the clutter, almost there. I still need a lot of therapy to manage my symptoms, and I may need a lot of assistance for the day-to day grind, but I’m motivated to keep moving forward, spurred on by the hope for a better life. A life where I am living, not just surviving.

http://atribeuntangled.com

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I’m looking for guest bloggers! (Round Two)

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My Sunday guest blogs have turned out to be a success! I want to take this opportunity to thank the writers and bloggers who were kind enough to share their personal stories and struggles with mental illness, mental illness stigma, or narcissistic abuse on this blog. These personal stories turned out to be among some of my most popular posts, and hopefully these bloggers also saw a boost in their hits due to posting for this blog.

Unfortunately, it seems that I’ve reached the end of my list, and I’ve had a few drop-outs too. So I’m once again looking for people who are interested in writing a guest post for this blog.

YOU DO NOT NEED TO HAVE A BLOG TO WRITE A GUEST POST, and this invitation is extended to my lurkers as well as those who regularly comment.

The types of articles I’m looking for:

— Personal accounts of living with a mental illness
— How mental illness stigma has affected you
— Inspirational stories about how you have coped with or even benefited from your experience.
— New therapies you have learned about or are using

This time, I’m especially interested in personal accounts of living with mental disorders caused by early trauma or abuse, especially the following:

— Cluster B personality disorders (as long as self awareness and a willingness to change is present)
— Cluster A or C personality disorders
— Dissociative disorders
— Complex PTSD

I’m also interested in blogs by people with Aspergers or autism spectrum disorders, and anxiety disorders such as OCD, Panic Disorder, or Social Anxiety; and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Since there were no posts about substance abuse/alcoholism from my last batch of guest bloggers, I’d be interested in those as well.

The rules are few. I don’t have a minimum or maximum word count, and you are free to submit your own graphic or photo if you wish. If not, I will find one for your post. I only ask that the writing be clear and the post is honest. Profanity is okay but should be kept to a minimum. The only other rule I have is that if you have a blog and write a guest post, that you reblog your post on your own blog (NOT re-publish it, just reblog it from here).
If you have already written a guest post for this blog, please give others who haven’t a chance.

Again, you do not need to have a blog yourself to write a post for this one. However, if you don’t blog, you will need to provide your email or link to your social media account so I can contact you. If you’re interested please leave a comment (with a link to your blog, if applicable), so I can compile a list from these. When your article is posted, I’ll share it to my social media so it gets as much visibility as possible. I’ll reply to you in the comments, so keep checking back after you have posted. If you want to go ahead and send posts to me now, my email is under “Contact Me” in the header.

***PLEASE SHARE THIS POST***

Guest Post #7: How hypersexuality plays a role in Bipolar disorder

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I’m honored to introduce my 7th guest blogger, Jess Melancholia from The Bipolar Compass, a blog about her experiences living with the manic-depressive form of Bipolar Disorder. In her post, she will be discussing how hypersexuality can be a symptom of the manic (or in Jess’s case, hypomanic) phase of this disorder. I applaud Jess for her courage in openly sharing this delicate but surprisingly common symptom of the manic phase of Bipolar disorder.

From her About Page:

Jess Melancholia is a bpHope Magazine blogger who resides in San Diego, California with her husband and cat. She was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder 2 in May 2014 after suffering a 6 month bipolar depression triggered by extreme family medical stresses. Through medication and a strong support system, she works tirelessly to live a “normal” life and keep her hypomanic and depressive episodes under control. Her hobbies include playing horror video games and wine tasting. Her daytime profession is a molecular biologist at a biotechnology company.

HOW HYPERSEXUALITY PLAYS A ROLE IN BIPOLAR DISORDER
By Jess Melancholia, The Bipolar Compass

I know what you’re thinking; if I’m writing about bipolar 2 disorder, then why am I talking specifically about sex? No one in their right mind would talk about sex to promote their mental illness blog. Why risk chasing away followers? Why not make it easy on myself and just talk about the other bipolar symptoms of mania such as anxiety, overspending, and feelings of grandiosity? Because that’s what everyone else talks about. And while those are important to me, the one that impacts my life the most is what I want to focus on. And if that makes you uncomfortable then stop reading. But I think that we are all adults here and that things like this need to be addressed. There are countless people out there that want me to talk about this. That need me to be their voice. And I want to be there for them, because they deserve to have their story told.

What in the world is hypersexuality?
That would definitely be my first question if I was reading this post. Well I’m glad you asked. I’m actually very excited to talk about such a delicate subject with you. Please be aware that this is not a joke and that I’m being completely serious about this. If you need more information, please refer to the links in the article and my personal blog for more details. If you are experiencing bipolar hypersexuality, then please contact your doctor immediately to get some help. I’ll start off by giving a little bit of background on this topic.

Hypersexuality is essentially, from my personal experience, an overwhelming desire and obsessive preoccupation with sex and sexual content caused by the presence of a manic episode. In the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition), it’s listed as a primary symptom of bipolar under the category of “sexual indiscretions.” bpHope.com is a fantastic resource when it comes to articles and expert advice on what the symptoms look like as well as professional opinions from leading experts in bipolar disorder. The technical content I relate to in this post is accredited to them.

According to some studies, hypersexuality can occur between the range of 25 to 80 percent of all patients with mania! Recent studies suggest around 57 percent! For something that prevalent, it’s amazing that such a subject is rarely if ever talked about.

There are varying opinions as to the cause of the symptom. One such opinion pioneered by Louis J. Cozolino, PhD, a professor of psychology at Pepperdine University in southern California, and leading bipolar disorder guru, says that it’s akin to sexual addiction. He goes on to say that people who are manic with this symptom display “vulnerability to a ‘disinhibition’ of social restraints during manic periods.” In fact, there are studies to suggest that there is more blood flow to the left part of the amygdala (almond-shaped part of the brain that deals with fear and panic) in bipolar patients than in other people. Furthermore, feelings of pleasure and arousal are related to a sort of calming effect. Sort of like taking painkillers.

For me, it IS essentially a painkiller. Whenever I’m hypersexual, I stress the need for sexual satisfaction as a top priority. With being happily married to a wonderful husband, this kind of symptom tends to get me in serious trouble. Last year, I had a terribly bad manic episode that lasted several months. During that time period, I lost complete control of myself and acted out sexually towards some stupid college kid I met chatting online. He seduced me into cybersex and phone sex with him along with eventually meeting up a few times. As many times as I told myself and him no, that I can’t and won’t do this, he always managed to get inside my head and change my mind. Under normal circumstance, none of his tricks would’ve worked on me. However, when I was manic, all I did was focus nonstop on sexual satisfaction. The worst part was nothing was ever enough. I needed more and more. Nothing would satiate me. It took over my entire brain and wouldn’t let go until the mania finally died. Despite the fact that I fought fervently against my overwhelming urges, I still was constantly unable to stop myself from falling into temptation.

Now that the clouds have parted and the dust has settled, I can think clearly and work around the triggers that caused me to lose control. My husband and I educated ourselves thoroughly on hypersexuality and he has now forgiven me for my actions. Whereas I was and am still responsible for all actions I take, I understand now that my behavior was a symptom of an illness. A common symptom of bipolar mania. Armed with this information, him, my best friends, and my healthcare professionals have all agreed on a strategic prevention plan to help minimize my triggers and prevent any future mistakes.

Although I do feel guilty everyday for what I did, I no longer feel ashamed of myself. What happened was a terrible mistake but I’ve learned considerable information from it. With knowledge comes power and I’m trying every single day to bring that power back into my own hands. Hopefully I’ll regain it fully one day.

Don’t be ashamed of your actions. Learn from them and grow.

Please visit The Bipolar Compass:
http://bipolarcompass.com/

Guest Post #6: Getting By One Day at a Time (Survivor Road)

Survivor Road is a blog written by a man who is a survival of childhood sexual abuse. I am not sure if he wants me to use his first name so I’ll err on the side of caution and not use it.

From his Welcome Page:

Researchers have found that 1 in 6 men have experienced abusive sexual experiences before age 18. And this is probably a low estimate, since it doesn’t include non-contact experiences, which can also have lasting negative effects.

If you’ve had such an experience, or think you might have, you are not alone.

If you wonder whether such an experience may be connected to some difficulties or challenges in your life now, you are not alone.

If you are a male–or female–survivor of sexual (or any other kind of) abuse, please stop by Survivor Road and say hello. You may find exactly what you’ve been looking for there and people who have been through similar trauma.

This brave man was kind enough to respond to my invitation for guest bloggers, but his post isn’t about abuse or mental illness per se. Instead, he wrote this inspirational post about how to survive as an abuse victim, the 12-step way: one day at a time. This sage advice can apply to almost any problem or situation which is tripping us up in life, not just surviving abuse.

GETTING BY ONE DAY AT A TIME
By Survivor Road

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I’ve never liked public speaking.  When Lauren asked me to write a guest post for this blog I thought I might feel different.  I was wrong. This is so much akin to walking into a room filled with people that are all used to hearing from one person and now here am I, this new guy, a stranger, and what can he possibly say that is going to be of any importance? And I will agree what is important to me may not matter to you. (That doesn’t help the self-doubt either)…

If I could bottle up everything I’d like to say into one line, it would probably be:

You can survive each day if you live each day as just one day. No reliving the past or hiding in fear of the future. Today is more than enough for today.

I know, rather trite. But being trite doesn’t keep it from being true. I’ve found it works for myself, but so many I have talked to have expressed the same idea. You can only live in this moment, so don’t expend all your energy on any other time but the present. Don’t judge your past actions based on your present understanding. Accept your actions were acceptable for the time and place they happened.

This used to be much easier for me. For over thirty years I didn’t remember much before turning fifteen. Some good some not-so-great, but mostly my life as a kid was more mystery than memory. In my “gut” I knew there was more – there was something, but I couldn’t tell you what. I went through dozens of therapists by the age of forty, all with different ideas and philosophies. Religious, secular, it didn’t matter. I just wanted an answer to what happened so I could know who I was. The major hitch in all this – I believed who I was depended on what had happened to me.

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Then, when the memories started returning, I wove a new ‘understanding’ – I believed I was what had happened to me. I was the abuse. Then I was the cause of the abuse. It was all my fault. And if I was so flawed I could cause those kinds of things to happen to me at nine, or five, or two… just imagine how screwed up I could make life yet to happen. So in one bucket I had my life, guilt over my past, and fear of my future all stewing together. And that sucker got real heavy in a hurry.

I’d love to say I have it all sorted out now. That I’m doing so great that I agreed to be a guest blogger. But that’s not the case. There are times I still wonder if my intense draw to other men is wrapped up in my abuse. And there are the nights I cry myself to sleep or sit up screaming in the middle of the night, reliving the pain, or worse – humiliation, of something from my past. I still deal with triggers which can be as innocuous as a word, sound, or smell.

I used to think that, if other people can manage, I can. I’ve heard/read stories so much worse than what I suffered of people who are survivors and living each day strong. But, for me anyhoo, trying to live my life because someone else manages to — that doesn’t work. I have to be because I want to be.

And, bottom line, there it is. I want to live. I want to accept all of me. That does not mean accepting what happened to me, but it does mean accepting that it did happen. Maybe a fine line, but a major difference in viewpoint. What happened was horrible. But it did happen. And that’s the other point – it did happen; but it is not happening anymore. And even when my dreams are interrupted by the terrible truth of the past, it is still of the past. Does it impact today? Sure. But does it rule today? No.

At least it doesn’t rule this day. Tomorrow is another day, but I will live that day when it gets here. My hands are still way too busy juggling to add anything future.

Life is not always sweet and wonderful. But it is life. Regardless of what I believe lies on the other side of death, there are things here and now that I am not willing to let go of. Even with the pain. Even with the memories. Even with the bouts of unfathomable depression.

You have the choice over how you live. I know it doesn’t always feel that way. And sometimes we can’t see anything but the destruction of our souls. But even when all is dark and we’re trapped within the cellar of depression, our actions are still our choice. Make the choice you are best able to make and there is no reason to regret it later.

Whether or not you can be at peace with the world around you, my hope for you is peace with the world within you.

Guest post #4: You Are Empowered (Just Plain Ol’ Vic)

I’m happy to introduce my 4th guest blogger, Just Plain Ol’ Vic.  Vic’s blog is one of my favorites.  I’ve been following it almost from the very beginning of my blogging journey and have found it always inspiring and thoughtful.    Vic has helped me through many of my own rough moments and is a regular commenter on this blog too. Be sure to stop by his blog!

This is from his About page:

Just Plain Ol’ Vic

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Bio: Thanks for taking a look at my blog. I am Just Plain Ol’ Vic, however Vic will do just fine. I originally started this blog as a form of writing therapy. I am happily married, with kids but my wife suffers from bi-polar disorder, clinical depression, has an eating disorder and is a recovering alcoholic. Needless to say it is quite a bit for one individual to handle, thus my blog. I started this blog to connect with others that suffer from mental health issues and/or have loved ones that have mental health challenges. This is a way for me to connect, discuss and educate myself about my wife’s condition and perhaps in turn, allow me to be a better spouse. Perhaps too, in hearing my story, others will know that they are not alone and there is help, empathy and resources out there. My blog has since developed beyond just talking about mental health (although that is still a priority). I pretty much discuss what is on my mind or happening in my life. I am not afraid to spout verbal diarrhea, give unsubstantiated opinions and generally exercise my 1st Amendment rights. Along the way I hope to provoke some thoughts, get you interactive with my blog…perhaps even make you crack a smile and belly-laugh every now and then. So if by now you are still interested and willingly join me on my journey, thanks for coming along and don’t forget to buckle up! http://justplainolvic.wordpress.com/2014/07/19/tempting-fate-taking-a-leap-of-faith/

Here is his guest post, not really about himself, but about all the wonderful things he’s learned from living with his wife, who suffers from Bipolar disorder.   Through their relationship, joys and struggles, Vic says he has developed a level of empathy and understanding for the mentally ill he might not have otherwise had.  I thought his story was very touching and inspirational and I even got a little misty-eyed reading it.

YOU ARE EMPOWERED

By Plain Ol’ Vic (http://justplainolvic.com/ )

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Introduction:

Hello there, my name is Vic and first of all I would like to thank Lauren for giving me this wonderful opportunity as a guest blogger.  I don’t think my story makes me any more special than the next person, thus my moniker of “just plain ‘ol” seems very appropriate.  I am just a guy, husband and father that is trying to make sense of his world and do right by my family. There are days that this is harder than it sounds; as my wife has bi-polar disorder, has attempted suicide, has had multiple hospitalizations, is a recovering alcoholic and recovering from an eating disorder.  Guess what?  She is and will always be a wonderful woman and I am lucky to be married to her.

 Instead of telling my story and the trials and tribulations we have faced as a couple and family, instead I would like to talk about some of the positive things I have learned as I have become more educated and empathetic to the challenges my wife faces on a daily basis. As tough as the challenges have been, as daunting and insurmountable as the obstacles seem to be – we are still here, engaged in the moment and are as strong (perhaps stronger) than we ever were.

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It is so easy, when someone suffers from a mental illness, to have it consume their lives and allow it to define who they are, how their perceive themselves and become the cornerstone of their existence.  I am here to tell you that does not have to be the case!  You ARE empowered to be who you CHOOSE to be, should EXPECT people to treat you the way you DESERVE to be treated and you should NEVER SETTLE for anything less.

YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL

I know it is hard to look in the mirror and not “see” your mental illness.  I challenge you to look beyond the physical and see your spirit within.  See the inner beauty, the inner resilience and the inner fighter that you have become.  “Normal” and “perfect” do not exist, they are made up abstractions.  Who you are, your uniqueness is what makes you beautiful.  If you can embrace that inner beauty, it is the first crucial step to learning to love yourself.

YOU ARE WORTHY OF LOVE AND AFFECTION

Having a mental illness does not make you “less deserving” than the next person. Despite the challenges you may face every day, you are deserving of a partner that will love you for who you are – not what they want you to be.  While a relationship can and will be challenging at times, you can find someone that will accept and love you the way you are.  The key to this is communication:  being open and honest from the first moment.  Making sure you have a partner that you can talk to, confide in and lean on is critical.  No relationship is ever perfect but it can work for you as long as you are willing to work for it.

YOU ARE POWERFUL, STRONG & CAPABLE

Having a mental illness does not make you less of a person, less capable than someone that is “healthy.”  Indeed you may actually be much stronger than a “healthy” individual because you have to endure so much more.  Never doubt your ability to lead a full and productive life.  You are capable of achieving whatever you set your mind to.  Now I am not going to deny that it may be tough, that there may be setbacks – however you are powerful, strong and capable – you can take back your life.  Your life and your contribution is just as important and relevant as anyone else, so shout your message from the rooftops and embrace all that makes you unique.

I would like to show you this video where I drew inspiration from for this post.  Now I have made it clear that while I am not religious I am a spiritual individual, however despite that I cannot deny the power of this message.  Please also understand that I think is message (and my message) is geared for both men and women.  Take the time to listen to some of the words that are said and understand that this IS you or CAN be you If you so choose.  There are so many things misunderstood when it comes to mental illness, so many stigmas out there.  However if you empower yourself, share and communicate your story then you too can help other see what makes you so wonderful, so unique and so human.

I wish everyone the best.  Be well.  Take care of yourself and each other.

Just Plain ‘Ol Vic.

 

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:

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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.

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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

Guest Post #2: “Accepting Limits”

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Here is my second guest post, “Accepting Limits,” written by BoxingandBallet, who has a blog about living with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and depression, Discovering Ratchet. Boxing is an accountant, and she has a deep love of both boxing and ballet, an interesting juxtaposition! She is also a great writer.

From her About page:

I am an accountant. It is surprising how big a part of my identity revolves around this fact. Many of the stereotypes associated to accountants apply to me:

–risk-averse
–conservative
–a bit nerdy (I really do love Excel)
–I look great in black, grey and navy.

But like most people, there is more than meets the eye. I have a deep love for ballet, and will try convince you it is gangsta. I enjoy boxing. The incongruity of my accountant (“vanilla”, so I have been told) lifestyle with my boxing interest is the source of many of my amusing stories. That, coupled with my attempts at both online and offline dating, will be the focus of this blog – a catalogue of funny events in my life, however small.

My catchphrase, which I am trying to bring into the mainstream is: “Let your phoenixes arise proudly.” Slips easily into everyday conversation.

Boxing’s [“Vanilla” is what she calls herself in this post] article is about the years from childhood to early adulthood and how she coped with oscillating depressions and ADD episodes, and her struggle in learning how to set limits for herself and knowing what are realistic, appropriate goals and what aren’t.

I appreciate her post because it’s about a disorder I know little about, and have never had a post about before. Here is a good informative article about ADD and ADHD if you want to learn more: http://www.add-adhd.org/ADHD_attention-deficit.html

Thank you, Boxing/Vanilla, for sharing your story. People, please stop by and visit her blog, Discovering Ratchet.

ACCEPTING LIMITS 
By BoxingandBallet/Discovering Ratchet
https://discoveringratchet.wordpress.com

knowyourlimits

“You are not your ADD. Don’t ever use ADD as an excuse for not succeeding. You can do or be anything you want, you just might have to work harder, smarter and differently than someone who doesn’t have ADD.” – My mother, circa 1988, repeated daily until her death in 2012.

She sometimes said it encouragingly, but usually yelled it at me in frustration during our daily tutoring sessions. All through elementary school, I did 3-5 hours of extra school work a day, even on weekends. Math drills, grammar drills, geography drills, essay writing, book reports. Relentlessly, she supplemented my public school education, and we did all this without the support of Ritalin: studies showed that habits learned without medication were more likely to stick. We waged wars. The more she nagged, the more I procrastinated. I practiced escaping from my study on the 2nd floor of our home by climbing onto the roof of the house to avoid my homework. She called it stubbornness. I called it boredom and free will.

“Of course you can live your life without medication. I completed medical school without it. But taking medication when you have ADD makes life just a little bit less hard. You notice, for the first time, that the sun shines brightly. It’s a pity to live your life without seeing the everyday beauty around you, because you are so caught up in the whirlwind of your mind.” -– My pediatrician, circa 1998

At 14, I got caught shoplifting several times at my local pharmacy. My disgrace came in the form of a stern letter drafted by the store’s legal department requesting I reimburse them for all stolen goods, and a warning that if ever I shoplifted again, they would press charges. My mother was heartbroken and confused. She wanted to know why? I was bored. Shoplifting was a fun challenge. Textbook ADD. My mother marched me into my doctor’s office to get me a prescription for Ritalin. I was reluctant: I didn’t want my mind and my successes to be a product of pills. I didn’t want to be medicated into good behavior. My pediatrician convinced me to give it a try.

“I don’t believe in this ADD stuff. Everyone has inattention issues nowadays. You’re just a bit flaky.” – My ex-boyfriend, circa 2005

I’d stopped taking Ritalin, right around the same time I discovered beer and boys (I’d gone to an all-girls high school run by nuns). I’d been shocked by the level of effort required to succeed in university, and overwhelmed by it all, I’d taken a nap. By the time I’d realized how much trouble I was in, the semester was too far-gone, so I procrastinated until I failed. Several semesters in a row. I flunked out of mechanical engineering with a GPA of 1.13.

“I think Ritalin is a cop-out. An unfair advantage. A crutch. Drink coffee instead. Why did you pick a field that requires you to take Ritalin in order to succeed? If you can’t do your job without relying on medication, maybe that is a sign you shouldn’t be making that your career. I’m pretty sure you’d be an excellent high-school teacher, and then your quirky ADD wouldn’t need to be medicated away, it would make you more fun for your students. What will happen the day Ritalin gets taken off the pharma market? Your career will end? Pffft, I don’t think it’s wise.” – Same ex-boyfriend, circa 2008

2 years after dropping out of school, I decided to put myself through Uni, and pursue my professional CPA designation in accounting. I was studying part-time, while holding a full-time job as an admin in an office. Determined to not repeat the mistakes of the past, I’d gotten myself a prescription for Ritalin. On average, I studied 30 hours a week, for 2 university classes. I did practice problems at lunch, on the bus, every moment I could find, because I’d learned from my first experience in Uni that I wasn’t as smart as I’d always thought, and if I didn’t give it my everything I’d fail. But I wondered…maybe I did have an unfair advantage over all the other students? I kept my pills hidden.

“Sadness is a choice. Have your sad thoughts, acknowledge them, and then choose to be proactive and focus on the good stuff. Why do you worry so much? It is just making you unhappier. Try thinking happier thoughts. You’re a vortex of despair.” – My ex-boyfriend, circa 2009

I was in the midst of an undiagnosed depression. To be fair to him, I was excelling at school. I’d quit my job, saddled myself with a boatload of debt and was in school full time. I refused to let myself ever get less than an A-, or to have a final grade that wasn’t in the top 5 of the class. I’d also stopped using Ritalin, because I couldn’t handle feeling like a fraud – that my success at school was due to the continued ingestion of a pill. I succeeded. I graduated at the top of my glass. At great personal cost.

“Vanilla, I’m worried about you. You’ve stopped smiling at work. Every time I see you at work, you look more unhappy, and anxious. Please, let me help you. What’s wrong? ” ­– My mentor at work, one of the top 4 accounting firms in the world, circa spring 2012.

I’d gotten my professional title in December 2011. Instead of celebrating, I fell apart. My senior coworkers had told me that passing the UFE (professional exam) and getting my title would be 2 of the happiest days of my life, right up there with my wedding day or the birth of my first child. I felt empty. My career was booming, I was making my mark at the firm, I was good. Except I felt like a huge failure: my finances were in a mess, I’d been single for 2 years, some of my team members found me hard to work with. I stopped taking Ritalin, to prove to myself that my ex was wrong. I could do this job without my pills. I started having serious panic attacks on my way to, and at, work. Getting showered, and showing up at work was a herculean feat – sometimes I’d show up 2 hours late. My bosses didn’t complain much, because once at work, I delivered excellent work. I didn’t mind the late nights on the job-–it meant avoiding sleep, and therefore less time for the nightmares.

“You have to accept your limits, in order to properly address the issues at hand, and determine the best course of action. Everyone has limits. Refusing to accept your own is not a sign of ambition and drive, it is a sign of immaturity.” – my new therapist, circa August 2014

I’d sought out a therapist because 2 weeks after getting a major promotion at work, I stumbled head first into the most intense, vicious depression I’d experienced in my adult life. I’d cry uncontrollably at work, sometimes for over an hour, several times a day. I’d pray that I wouldn’t wake up in the morning. Quickly, we identified my job as a key component in my emotional instability. I’d given absolutely everything to my work in the year leading up to my promotion. I’d always put in 25%-30% more time on the job than my co-workers, to compensate for my ADD inefficiencies. “You can do or be anything you want, you just might have to work harder, smarter and differently than someone who doesn’t have ADD.” I was prepared to do just that. Except…I was already consistently putting in 60-75 hour weeks, year round, compared to my colleagues’ 45-50. The promotion required me to level-up, significantly. I had nothing left to give. My personal life was a mess, the only aspect of my life that I was proud of was my career, and I could not face the next step. Either I went back on medication to do this job, or else I had to change jobs.

“What do you mean you are depressed? You just got promoted! You’re nervous. Maybe you need to work on your time management skills. Why are you throwing away your career? Don’t be a quitter.” – my coworkers, when I resigned from my job, September 2014

“Good for you, Vanilla. I’m proud of you. It’s ok to want to be happy, you know. You’ll figure out a way to have a career that doesn’t break you: it just might be slightly different from the one you envisioned.” – my mentor, September 2014

I suppose it’s a compliment, that my coworkers reacted with disbelief, even contempt, when they found out I have depression and ADD. I suppose I am blessed to be able to manage my ADD and depression through lifestyle changes and constant therapy, without resorting to medication. But I guess I am pretty immature, because I still have trouble accepting my limits. Quitting that job feels like an admission of defeat, even though I’m much happier now. Who knows? Maybe one day, I’ll be able to reconcile myself to the idea of medication, and like my pediatrician promised me, I’ll notice the sun shining a bit brighter.