Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Dedication: All victims of domestic violence by alcohol or drug abusers.

I knew early on in my life that it was not good, Not for me, my siblings, nor my relatives and friends who were growing up in very similar situations. Life that included alcoholism, domestic abuse, emotional abuse, bullying, poverty, and lack of family, social, neighbourhood, spiritual, cultural, or societal support. It just was what it was and we just survived, some of us. My mother’s first born didn’t, and the rest of us are now among the walking wounded in adulthood. #MeToo un-named as it was, was rampant. Patriarchy reigned supreme.

Some clarity came of my internal damages to me as an adult working as a secretary as I typed out papers for my boss’ thesis on Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Holocaust and the Gulag. The more I typed, the more I felt I was typing my own parallel emotional experiences. It was difficult and unnerving. I felt a full fled traumatic body reaction. I even told my boss that I more and more I felt like I have been through a war. And that I too perhaps had PTSD. She didn’t take me seriously. That was in approximately 1984. PTSD was only becoming a diagnosis for war veterans. How could anyone who had not been in a war have it? I felt differently!

Just recently, I have come to learn of the newly recognized disorder. C-PTSD! Imagine that! COMPLEX – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder! Worse than PTSD in that it is considered to be a chronic trauma that continues or repeats for months or years at a time! Reading about it, of course I’ve come to realize that there are many, many who have had it much worse than I, like those who have suffered at the hands of sexual abusers, hostage takers, torturers, war criminals and the like, but I most certainly do fit in a surprising number of the criteria listed in tables of experiences that qualify a person to be identified with C-PTSD. Those would be:

long term childhood domestic violence
long term childhood emotional abuse
childhood bullying
childhood body shaming
adult bullying
long term objectification
long term exposure to push-pull, splitting or alternating raging and hovering behaviours
long term taking care of mentally ill or chronically sick family members
long term exposure to crisis conditions

I was amazed with this finding. Many years too late for me but very good for the newer generations so they may identify and seek appropriate help. I am 63 and have survived by various coping mechanisms, fortunately for me it never came to alcohol or drug abuse, though I was known to sing a tune by John Prine on a regular basis “ … and you will see me tonight with an illegal smile … it don’t cost very much but it lasts a long while … someone please tell the man i didn’t kill anyone … i’m just trying to have me some fun … “

My self treatment and coping approaches interestingly increased over time to what is very similar to that which is recommended now for sufferers. My instincts helped me survive and get further and further away from situations that were traumatic for me.

I did my best to recognize and remove myself from the source of trauma and abuse by leaving home at 16 (but my older brother and an even older cousin thought it was such a good idea they came along with my friend and me – first big red flag that even moving five hours away couldn’t fix – they were both alcoholics)
I acknowledged the problem at a very early age … i even encouraged my mother to leave my father at age 5 realizing even then it was undeserved (she responded with her marriage vows, getting worse not better and said what could i know? You’re only 5 years old)
I acknowledged it could not be avoided until i left home (as life would have it though, within 1.5 years i became legal guardians of my youngest two siblings rather than have them in Children’s Aid where my mother put them as she put herself in a rehab situation – my father, who was never a father was filing for child custody out of spite and it would have been horrible for them – they were 8 and 14 yrs)
I knew even if no one else agreed with me that i was suffering significantly and kept trying to figure out what to do about it (despite crisis after crisis)
I did a lot of self help research viambooks in many subject areas (alcoholism, abuse, survivors, etc)
I sought out therapy. Still though, without the recognition of the underlying problems all along, therapy did nothing to address it and many therapist considered it simply marital issues. Many therapists simply told me they could not help me! Even recently!
I acknowledged the medical diagnosis of chronic unipolar depression and sought medication that worked for me.
but the crises never stopped – a doctor showed me a list of stresses that if one was dealing with three or so at any one given time, there were concerns for health issues – looking at the list i laughed to myself seeing that I had been dealing with three, four, five or more at any given time in my life up to that point … and beyond, actually … much beyond

As you probably know, crises and stressors can be good and bad … both are hard on a person. Here is a list of stressors, with ones I was dealing with (noted with asterisks). Again, i was dealing with many of these at the same time.

Examples of negative personal stressors include:
The death of a spouse.
* Filing for divorce.
*Losing contact with loved ones (abandoned by so called friends -i was their doormat.
***The death of a family member (mother while i was pregnant with my first, uncle, and father – all who I had to make the arrangements for).
**Hospitalization of oneself or a family member (Mother with cancer, father with cancer, me going gestationally diabetes and requiring to go on insulin, a brother in a car accident, another brother requiring brain surgery, brothers beaten to a pulp, and more, many more).
**Injury or illness (oneself or a family member) – (I incurred head injuries by falling down a rock face and a car accident – brother had a stroke at 45 and although institutionalized I became his primary caregiver for what they don’t provide, and due to what I believe was my body breaking down, my thyroid went hyper and had to be addressed, and i got C-Diff due to the use of antibiotics prescribed to treat a skin condition that had me requiring up to 60 bandages daily for about 28 years – traumatic enough by itself being on all parts of my body including my face, neck, and arms -visible to the world, and many more).
*Being abused or neglected – emotionally as a child and in my first marriage .
*Separation from a spouse or committed relationship partner (it was supposed to be an amicable one but quickly wasn’t).
Conflict in interpersonal relationships.
Bankruptcy/Money Problems.
**Unemployment – only twice.
******Sleep problems – too much or too little and nightmares of injustices.
Children’s problems at school (more so out of school).
Legal problems.

Examples of positive personal stressors include:
Receiving a promotion or raise at work (I likely didn’t qualify no matter how good I did since I did not complete my high school education).
*****Starting a new job – that many – the last institution though lasting 20 years at it (not without its crises and stressors).
***Buying a home.
**Having a child (two that have only come to be reasonably nice to me in adulthood and the first was a distressing birth that became critical to one or the other of us’s survival near the end – a traumatic experience).
*********Moving (that many times).
****Taking a vacation (mostly visiting inlaws ☹️).
*********Holiday seasons (being the lessor of the walking wounded in my family, all holidays were celebrated where I lived in the effort to try and keep a dysfunctional and broken family together – leaving home obviously didn’t help since the all followed me).
*Retiring (ok for a while and then the loss of a sense of purpose and being in a town that we knew few people).
*Taking educational classes or learning a new hobby (i did go back to high school at 25 to pick up grade eleven and then went to university for 1.5years as a mature student – that was hard! – then after moving and having the opportunity to retire i pursued my desire to learn to paint and joined a local group and did so well winning awards at every juried show that i was bullied and ostracized by the members – damned if you do, damned if you don’t).

Work and employment concerns such as those listed below are also frequent causes of distress:

***Excessive job demands (too many management by crisis situations).
*Job insecurity (mostly self induced by lack of education, confidence and self esteem).
*Conflicts with teammates and supervisors (there were those after my job and bullies).
Inadequate authority necessary to carry out tasks.
*Lack of training necessary to do the job (though my intellect carried me through this with flying colours, learning each job requirement by the sink or swim approach and I did well fortunately, but definitely stressful).
*Making presentations in front of colleagues or clients (i discovered at the beginning of a presentation I had the fear of public speaking and did a terrible job of it and thinking of the experience even years later reduced me to tears it was so traumatic).
Unproductive and time-consuming meetings.
*Commuting and travel schedules (second husband took a job 300 miles away against my wishes and advice – those were disastrous and trying times).

Now, again I suspect my body is still responding to having been under such constant stress and through so many crises (I didn’t even touch upon the most recent, my older brother’s aborted attempt of suicide bringing himself to my doorstep to live with me and needing me to help him through his crisis which included dehoarding his house which I said I was happy (in a sad way) to help him with it because he was alive!! … I would have had the duty if he succeeded even) I am experiencing what may be neurological issues with balance and gait!! I have a slight drunken sailor walk that has yet to be diagnosed.

Although I am in a better place now (if you can call all this better) with a better understanding of it all, I still deal with triggers, flashbacks, horrible memories and nightmares

I do not think i have properly mourned for that what has been lost and cannot be recovered and I cannot fathom what has been lost or recover, never having had it
I still respond to triggers of childhood times, my first marriage times, my work times, and my parenting times
But, I am in a more supportive environment in many respects (but triggers and nightmares still happen- it is said, the body never forgets)

I will continue to learn more and more about C-PTSD, will be good kind and loving to myself when times are trials, will not deny my past, but share it when and where I might think someone may benefit from it, even myself, and will stand up for myself no matter how difficult it is when I am wronged. I definitely do consider myself a survivor since I have lasted this long and have not succumbed to the urge to just end it all, which has never really left me, from early childhood and even to this day. It seems I stay strong for others. I have always been the caretaker for my family but now find myself exhausted and depleted. That is what I deal with now. How to be strong in this state.

Actually in reality, I go to sleep hoping I don’t wake. I wake and I am sad. I will stay in bed as long as I can ignoring hunger and bodily requirements. I get up to eat eventually and dress if I have to go out somewhere. If not, I return back to bed to use my ipad to read news, I follow social media, research topics, read books, communicate with others when the opportunity is there, read interesting articles, watch tv or play games; not all in one session, each perhaps for only a little bit of time, because I will often escape to sleep. So, I am not living normally, but trying to in some ways and trying to escape in others. I am avoiding life.

Being retired I do not have to get up so often so I just don’t. While I am succumbing to my self serving desire for warmth and comfort I’m overdoing it and avoiding the outside world and my husband. He knows I am dealing with a fresh crisis and thank goodness does not harp on me and even takes too good of care of me, doing things for me that I really should do for myself. But I let that happen for all the times I did not have such things done for me even if i realize I am taking advantage of it and not all of it is good.

One thing I have done that has kept me sane and maybe even alive is that I joined a seniors group that plays a game of cards I enjoyed in my youth and they are a large and friendly group. So three afternoons a week, now reduced to two because I cannot be around people as much as I’d hoped to, I have found some fun in my life. It still is a struggle, though, to convince myself to get out of bed to attend these games even though they begin at 1:00 pm!! Thankfully, I have managed to do it the vast majority of days. It forces me to do better at personal hygiene too, which is also an area I need to work on considering my mental health. It’s one of the ways I am not good to myself. So is housework, so is being fair with all the household and outdoor chores that need to be done. I just want to be in bed, warm and comfortable … womb-like. Or dead. I am just so tired of life and the few rewards there are.

Well, that’s my C-PSTD story. I know not as horrible as some others are, but it is definitely complex. The big difference.

Thank you to those that read it to the end. And to all C-PTSD sufferers out there, I wish you strength to deal with it. Perhaps with my surviving rather than succumbing, my story will inspire some to persevere and learn how to be good kind and loving to themselves as they deal with their issues, crises, and stresses – and to seek help if necessary. Actually I encourage you to share your stories and talk to your health care providers. Together we just might be what’s been needed for a long time, the voice to make a difference and change the system for the future benefit of others. Things need to change! Make some noise! Talk about C-PTSD