Personal Side Note about Complex PTSD

I decided to write about this one specifically because I have it. I have been reading The Complex PTSD Workbook by Arielle Schwartz, PhD over the past few weeks.

I’ve had the book for close to two years and just never felt ready for the heaviness of the subject and memories I would have to face. Facing truths you’ve tried to bury and pretend aren’t real for over 30 years is a challenging thing to bring to the surface.

I had disassociation from memories that I have played off as no big deal my whole life when in fact are a HUGE deal for a child of 5 or 6. Other things that happened I had never spoke a word of until I felt safe enough with my amazing husband to utter the words out loud without feeling judged, like some how my toddler self was at fault for the things that were done to me.

If it wasn’t for the support of my husband and my amazing therapist there’s no way I would know that my anger is actually anxiety or fright, or sometimes sadness that makes me feel I’m weak.

Anger is my Viking ancestors fighting through anything that remotely feels vulnerable even if it kills me. I have a tattoo of a Valkyrie on my back to remind me of the strength I want and pretend to have.

I’m still alive, I’m still working toward happiness. Even in the face of multiple illnesses causing disability I’m still trying to be the best version of my broken self. You should too, it’s hard but it’s worth it.

My MS and Social Consequences

Everyone’s MS shows up differently. For me, either my brain is working ok or my body is working ok but they don’t typically both work at the same time.

Yesterday I had physical therapy but I knew I was going to a co-worker’s going away party last night. I planned for it, did my PT and had about 6 hours to rest before going to this social event.

What I failed to remember was that I’ve been out on disability for nearly 6 months. With the exception to 2 short visits to the office since March I haven’t been around. People noticed, people had questions and wanted to catch up. It was great, thoughtful and made me feel a tad bit better because I just assume no one actually gives a shit if I’m there or not.

I had one drink to take the edge off the pain so I could have a conversation. I had many conversations though, and using my brain to follow so many conversations has a price to pay the next day.

While the night of catching up lasted less than 2 hours I woke up barely able to move. Muscle and joint pain ripped through my body as I tried to put on a bra and top, numbness in the whole of my legs made putting my jeans on a touch harder than just the typical balance issues.

Today, I will pay for all those conversations. Today, I will rest most of the day before my youngest son’s eye appointment. Hopefully tomorrow I’ll be back to my standard baseline or I will rest more.

Mental Health – Complex PTSD

In case you missed the first two, this is the third post about mental health. While not actually necessary to read them in order it may be helpful in the over all context. I am going to give the low down on this before doing the post about my experience.

When discussing PTSD most people immediately think of active or veteran military, combat situations, being shot at, seeing your teammates blown up by bombs like in the movies. Those people would be right, but there are at least two different types of PTSD, the standard PTSD following traumatic events (either in combat or perhaps domestic violence, severe motor vehicle accidents and natural disasters) and Complex PTSD. PTSD occurs after one traumatic event, C-PTSD occurs after numerous events, usually within childhood.

Let me first say that of course not every person who is in combat, a victim of domestic violence or a natural disaster will get PTSD. It’s this tricky thing that happens when your brain doesn’t want to or cannot process the trauma being thrown at you. On the surface you may get agitated more easily, anxious, maybe depressed, not interested in doing things in public or shying away from the things that somehow remind you of the trauma. I am not going to pretend to know what the members of the military who suffer from PTSD shy away from, but I know that people who suffer domestic violence at the hand of their spouse, significant other (once out of that relationship) most likely find it difficult to trust another person in that role. MVAs (motor vehicle accidents) can cause PTSD, this results in said person becoming more tense or anxious when in a car, nervous about driving through certain areas or intersections, perhaps squealing at perceived threats (don’t judge me).

According to the National Center for PTSD’s website “in some cases people experience chronic trauma that continues or repeats for months or years at a time. The current PTSD diagnosis often does not fully capture the severe psychological harm that occurs with prolonged, repeated trauma. People who experience chronic trauma often report additional symptoms alongside formal PTSD symptoms, such as changes in their self-concept and the way they adapt to stressful events.”

So Complex PTSD is not your standard PTSD, it is chronic trauma over the course of months or years, repeated trauma. It does not need to be the same trauma happening either. It can be domestic violence, bullying, childhood neglect, a car accident, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and numerous other variations. It’s complex for a reason. Most frequently, as a result of this chronic trauma, people who suffer from C-PTSD have negative self-conceptions.

PTSD can change the biology of the brain, causing hypersensitivity in the Amygdala which causes a person to see more things as threats. The hippocampus, in charge of converting short term memory to long term can shrink. ¬†Finally, decreasing blood flow to the prefrontal cortex’s left side (memory and language) and increasing on the right side which can cause mood swings.

C-PTSD has all the symptoms of PTSD but also includes more. Dissociation are the traumatic events, impaired ability to form healthy relationships, loss of meaning for life or even religious connections. Somatization, “psychological pain is “converted” into physical pain-digestive issues, migraines, or otherwise unexplained physical symptoms.”

People trying to deal or not deal with the trauma in a healthy way can have addictive behaviors, drinking, drug use, and emotional eating are a few. Self injury or harm is one of the more serious addictive things that can occur with C-PTSD patients. Looking at this from the outside I could see how inflicting pain on yourself to deal with the helplessness of the pain inflicted on a person by others would be a sort of self control for the trauma.

There are many old school and new evolving approaches to treating both types of PTSD. I encourage everyone to see out a mental health expert to work on moving through the trauma. I have worked through my regular PTSD with my therapist and we are starting to work on my Complex PTSD. It’s not going to be an easy task but I firmly believe everyone should have a chance to live their best, happiest life with a positive self conception. It may take me a while but I am working towards that goal.

As always, when discussing medical information the links are at the bottom of the page. I would love to hear from you, comments, questions, suggestions.