Abuse, Anxiety, BPD, Depression, Identity, Mental health, Self-harm, Suicide, The Past - Causes and Effects

Complex PTSD

Now I’ve known for a long time that I have PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but it’s only in the last year that I found out there were two types and that typically, I have the complex version.  Sigh!

PTSD is what most people associate with returning war veterans and others, who are more aware, also link to first responders, i.e. emergency services personnel or others subjected to traumatic events, assaults, deaths, etc. 

According to the TV we have violent flashbacks, hallucinate, ball up on the floor, go off the rails and kill people and in one show, a sufferer conversed with an invisible giant squirrel … um yeah. (Although I think having an imaginary squirrel for company could be quite fun).

As always, nothing is quite that simple.

There are two versions, the first is more well known and is treatable https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd. The second, lesser known version is C-PTSD (Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/complex-ptsd, and it is much harder to treat as it is often the result of long term violence, abuse, etc. often beginning in childhood.

The main symptoms of PTSD are:

1.    re-experiencing the trauma (memories, nightmares or flashbacks)

2.    avoiding reminders of the trauma

3.    negative thoughts and mood (depression, anger, etc.).

4.    increased alertness to the environment and physical response to sudden changes that could be a sign of danger (fight or flight).

So yes to the above, but also yippee to the below symptoms of C-PTSD too:

•    an inability to control the emotions

This is such a crossover area with BPD. Extreme emotional lability for both it’s no wonder the two disorders can sometimes be confused.

•    periods of losing concentration (dissociation)

Yes, I “vague out” and miss the conversation going on around me when under stress. When I come back, I am apt to say random words which don’t make sense. Example: Working in a busy office, receive a phone call for the boss and say “I’m sorry, I’m afraid he’s on the toilet. He is likely to be a long time.” TOTALLY inappropriate but yes, I did that oops!

I do not commit murders or do weird things when I’m “off with the fairies” – I am not psychotic.

Dissociation for me is a bit like going for a drive and arriving at the destination with no memory of how I got there. That is all. Harmless.

•    blanking out or losing memories

Unknown. I have “doors” in my mind as it were that hide stuff – presumably traumatic childhood events and half-memories that suddenly “lockdown and freeze” due to intense terror.

•    difficulties with a sense of identity or body image

Hugely. I have no stable sense of identity to the degree that I have trouble recognising my reflection in shop windows. Due to enormous pressure and expectations to be skinny, pretty and ladylike, I tend to be really down on myself about how I look and dress down as much as possible to hide from the ugliness that I feel is me.  I don’t want to stand out or be noticed.

Thanks to childhood trauma, no identity was created so I am fluid and my identity changes depending on where I am or who I am talking to. It fluctuates as I attempt to understand the communication going on around me and the basic human need for acceptance. Believing in everything and disbelieving it at the same time as conversations ping-pong around is deeply confusing. This makes me extremely vulnerable to bullying and predatory behaviour.

•    physical symptoms that can’t be explained medically, such as headaches, stomach aches, dizziness and chest pains

Yes to headaches, dizziness and chest pains. Stress causes me to compress my arteries or something somehow, and I have ended up in hospital. I can lose consciousness.

•    disturbed relationships and cutting oneself off from other people

This is the worst one for me. As I have never learned how to have friendships or relationships, I attract bullies and deviants, so things can get really freaky. I fall in love at the drop of a hat but expect to be hurt so if people get close, I freak out and push them away.

Rejection induces deeper than average depression and suicidality.

If you have always known pain, it is all you expect. Life becomes exceptionally lonely under the circumstances.

If we do develop trust in a person and grow a friendship, it is crucial we are allowed to have this.

Losing a friendship/relationship for healthy people is sad – for us, it can be a matter of life and death – so please, if you see us taking steps to build a relationship, don’t interfere. Chances are that relationship to us is more precious than our own lives.

•    an inability to trust others

Yep. Most victims of torture, abuse, domestic violence, bullying, neglect, etc. have this problem.

PTSD and C-PTSD sufferers (never victims, always sufferers) have learned that humans are not to be trusted. Each time they are let down, this distrust increases. We develop survival mechanisms and black and white thinking. To us, everything and everyone is hostile or friendly – there is no in between. You are good, or you are bad. You are kind, or you are cruel. You are trustworthy, or you are not.

Unfortunately, your words, moods and actions will dictate how we see you and how forgiving we are or are not about your behaviour.

•    being vulnerable to abuse or exploitation

We quite often end up in a conga line of dysfunctional or abusive relationships and are not able to recognise, let alone embrace a healthy one.

•    Self-harm, suicide attempts and substance abuse

Self-harm to release endorphins as being alive can be physically excruciating. Suicide attempts are not a cry for help, nor selfish it is just that we need the pain of existence and being us to stop.

I’m functionally suicidal. Some people fantasise about sex, I fantasise about death on a daily basis. Death fantasies keep me alive.

You may dream of a handsome prince whisking you away, I imagine of a blessed release into the peaceful embrace of darkness.

How stuffed up is that?

•    feeling ashamed or guilty

I feel shame or guilt about a lot of things that I supposedly shouldn’t. The easiest way to get me to conform has been to make me feel guilty or ashamed. Then I feel so unutterably miserable because I am generally doing the opposite of what I want to do/need to do for me that I plunge into depression or behave in a self-destructive manner.

So if you look at the combined symptoms of BPD and C-PTSD stop for a moment and try to imagine how hard it is for us to interact and form relationships, let alone maintain them.

These are both disorders caused by ill-treatment at the hands of others. It is no wonder we struggle. It is no wonder we hurt. And because of that distrust and repeated hurt we can react adversely to “normal” situations and behaviours causing us to “act up”, “behave badly”, etc. so end up alone, misunderstood, and shunned by the community.

These are just two apparently “severe mental health disorders” that simply should not exist.

Unkindness puts us here; unkindness keeps us here.

All we want is kindness.

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