My middle name is Maeve. That fact is one of the most important aspects of my recovery. It is also the only official identifier I will share for now. While writing about mental illness anonymously goes against everything I believe about empowering oneself and others, as well as dismantling stereotypes, for me now, right now, it is a necessity precisely because of the stigma shrouding mental illness. I am no longer afraid of the discomfort and rejection that often comes after I reveal to someone what I’ve been through. I know I am a more genuine, open, compassionate, kind, strong, understanding, thoughtful, calm, wise person because of it. If a label scares them off and they’re not willing to get to know me, it doesn’t burn as much as it used to. But I work with girls and their parents in childcare, tutoring, and mentoring. I am good at it because I have a lot of patience, funny stories (often told at my own expense), a good filter for sharing information, an awe-inspiring imagination, and experience with bullying, disappointment, fear, loneliness, stress, difficult relationships, peer pressure, and conflict resolution. I’m good with them because of my experiences, not despite them, and the ones I end up getting to know well begin to understand and appreciate me for it. But that comes from experiencing me, not hearing about trauma and C-PTSD and why I should be trusted despite the stereotypes and stigmas. I realized the only way I can start writing again is to feel free to say anything I need to say, and not worry (yet) what will come up in a google search. For now, I need to live by example first. Someday, when I don’t have to depend on nervous mothers for food money, I will share more. But I will be brutally honest about everything else. The following is just a sketch of what happened when C-PTSD hit. More of my backstory will come out in my blogs.
During my 30s, I was married and owned a beautiful house with a large backyard on a cul de sac within walking distance of waterfalls. I was a reporter, having worked both on staff and freelance, with a major investigative award on my resume. A major literary agency had shown interest in my novel. I then got offered a job working for a federal representative doing rewarding work on behalf of his constituents. For the first time in my life, I had health insurance and a 401K. I also had a healthy social life. But by the time I was 40, I was broke, homeless, and bouncing from hospital to hospital because no one seemed able to help me and I had nowhere else to go. I’d been running from a traumatic childhood for four decades, and eventually my mind, then body, ground to a halt.
Even though I visited hospitals considered among the best in the country, each was worse than the last. It wasn’t until I ended up in residential mental health treatment center for the homeless that I was given enough attention and quality care to be properly diagnosed. Once I was given the Complex PTSD diagnosis, I qualified for treatment at a residential trauma program. It was there I began to learn about PTSD and C-PTSD, that most of its victims are women, survivors of abuse. I spent two weeks with a woman who spent her childhood in a cage being awarded to the highest bidder by her grandfather. I saw women retreat into flashbacks where they were running from their tormentors, who in reality were long gone, but I could see the live terror in their flushed faces. I heard their nightmares through the walls and nurses soothing them back to the present. I developed insomnia. I was afraid to sleep. I was afraid I would die in my own nightmares.
I learned about and to accept my diagnosis, but my recovery wouldn’t begin for a long time. I attended the program’s outpatient program, but disassociated so severely during group, I couldn’t participate. I would just fall asleep. It didn’t matter how much coffee I drank, how awake I was when group began or ended, how many ice packs I held to my face. I had no control over falling into a deep sleep. After I completed the group program, Medicaid provided me access to the busiest, most disgruntled, bored psychiatrists in the industry. The medications they put me on did nothing, except sometimes help me sleep, in which case I would oversleep. Even after I stopped falling asleep in therapy, I had counselors that sat back with a sympathetic look on their faces and said almost nothing while I struggled to figure out what to do. There are a lot of those. I moved closer to my family where my medical care got worse. One therapist, as I was leaving her office, called out: “Enjoy your misery!” She had a theory that women who stay in abusive relationships may do so because they’ve tried psychedelics in the past. I went through many psychiatrists who left the practice, were fired, or didn’t show up for appointments. I called dozens of doctors each week, both on and off my health plan, begging them for help, often crying into voice mail boxes. They weren’t accepting new patients, had months-long waiting lists, or charged hundreds of dollars I couldn’t afford.
I call my C-PTSD bottom ‘the dark ages.’ I went from 122 to 96 pounds within a few months. I experienced fear deep inside my body, as if I were exposed and in danger. When I had to go out, I’d get disoriented, lost and scared in places I’d been many times. I’d sit down on the curb and cry. I isolated. I couldn’t read, write, concentrate, or get much done.
I finally started researching alternative treatments and found one that worked. I will write about that treatment later. But I couldn’t afford to be treated as much as I needed to be. Two separate psychiatrists, both of whom I’d waited months to see, refused to work with me when I told them about it. That’s when I got interested in the pharmaceutical industry’s role in mental health research and treatment. I will write about that, also, in more depth.
I didn’t start to really heal until I realized I couldn’t move on until I submitted myself to my condition and made healing my only priority. Starting over, again, on my own and broke, I spent most of my days addressing my fear-wracked body. I spent hours each day walking to the bathroom and back to bed to belly breathe and talk to myself; reassure myself that I was safe, that all I needed to do was breathe and relax. I read ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ by Bessel Van der Kolk, ‘No Comfort Zone’ by Marla Handy, and ‘From Surviving to Thriving’ by Pete Walker. I continue to read and apply what I learn. Finally, after years of persistence, I found a great therapist and doctor. I take a small amount of medication and am able to continue my treatments because my doctor has made it affordable for me. I’m a member of a 12-step program that encourages me to look closely at my fears, resentments, coping mechanisms, behavior and powerlessness over others. I put my recoveries first because I’ve learned that anything I put in front of it I will surely lose.
The last time I considered suicide, I was five and a half years sober. I pictured myself drifting away on a mountaintop in Ireland or finding a secluded cabin and drinking myself to death. But I didn’t. Three of my closest friends have committed suicide. All had trauma in their histories. They were all just a little older than I am now when they took their lives. Each death, all within five years, broke my soul a little more. I have a younger sister, a 3-year-old nephew, a best friend, and girls and women who rely on me. I don’t want to damage them the way I was damaged. The one thing that keeps me alive is the desire to be a good sister, daughter, aunt and friend. And most days, writer. Someday I also hope to make someone a good partner, but I don’t work at that. I work on myself. Without that, I have nothing.