Draft Under Construction …

While Post Traumatic Stress Disorder can develop after an isolated traumatic event, Complex PTSD grows out of prolonged or chronic trauma. It is complex because of the unique way it shapes and changes our brain chemistries over time. It can make us vulnerable to repeat traumas. Most often it begins in childhood, out of physical, sexual and/or emotional abuse, social persecution, as well as neglect, while the brain is still developing. The fear, helplessness, mistrust, shame and self-blame we experience as children shapes our coping skills and interactions with the world. Some of us push through. We become tough and fearless. Many of us push so hard we become the best at what we do. Our lives are chaotic, but full of promise. We’re the strongest people we know. C-PTSD may lay dormant for years, as we shove down memories and discomfort. There are many coping mechanisms to choose from. We become workoholics, alcoholics, addicts, obese, anorexic, promiscuous, chaste, rageful, choose abusive partners, or put on a brave face and put others first when inside we feel empty or full of sadness, anger, self-loathing and/or fear. But the body remembers. At some point, either our bodies grind to a halt or we get triggered – whether by a familiar smell, a dream, or experiencing a new traumatic event – and start experiencing Complex PTSD symptoms.

Symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Suicide Ideation
  • Anxiety
  • Flashbacks/Intense memories
  • Blackouts
  • Memory loss/Confusion
  • Nightmares
  • Rages
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue/Excessive sleep
  • Isolation
  • Hyper-awareness/arousal

Our bodies live in fear, ready to defend themselves, even when we are technically safe. Our reactions may depend on which one, or combination, of the four Fs we are: fight, flight, freeze, fawn. More on the four Fs later.

The distinction of C-PTSD was introduced by  Judith Herman in her 1992 book Trauma & Recovery. Her research at Harvard demonstrated how stress from chronic trauma, including sexual and domestic abuse; neglect; persecution based on race, religion, sexual identity, etc.; and former hostages, was different from the accepted PTSD diagnosis. C-PTSD forms over time, as a part of a person’s daily experience. The psychiatric community is still resistant to her ideas. Despite herculean efforts by clinicians like Herman, Bessel Van der Kolk and Pete Walker, C-PTSD was not included in the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published in 2013. (PTSD made the book in 1980.) Without diagnostic criteria nor adequate attention to this unique disorder, therapists and psychiatrists continue to misdiagnose classic C-PTSD symptoms as bipolar, borderline personality disorder, and many other disorders, even autism.

Both men and women experience C-PTSD, but the suicide rate among women has risen by almost 50% since 1999; the rate for men was up 16%, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Our society’s overwhelming tendency to question girls’ and women’s claims of abuse and rape, and the way we treat them and their perpetrators in courts and in the media, changes how they perceive and move through the world. I hope to bring awareness to how our culture, our attitudes toward women and the issues of both physical and sexual abuse, is literally killing them. C-PTSD and the effects of childhood trauma need awareness, acceptance, funding, research, and treatment. I plan to continue to do research while blogging about my recovery in hopes of helping others suffering from fear, isolation, depression, anxiety, anger, loneliness, shame, and suicide ideation. I’m also working on a book.