LIVING with CHRONIC COMPLEX PTSD
Are you living with chronic complex PTSD? Do you feel ashamed because you or others think you should be better by now? Are your expectations of healing realistic for you? Do you think that after x-amount of months or years of therapy, group therapy, self-help books, etc. that your healing should be finished or at least you should feel more healed?! Are you feeling pressured from others to get better or be better or act better? What is in your control? What expectations are realistic for you?
It is difficult to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or any illness or disorder. An illness or disorder that is not visible may provide different challenges. People tend to have more compassion for a person who has visible wounds, a cast, a wheelchair, etc. or who is recovering from a heart attack or stroke or cancer.
When I lived in Germany, I was given the opportunity to perform an act of kindness. Someone asked me to give a ride to an elderly couple that I had never met. This small deed led to a friendship of special proportions. Denise and her husband lived in another part of Germany. They frequently came to our area for medical care. Denise was in a wheelchair due to severe arthritis. Megan, my daughter, and I often attended daily Mass. Denise and her husband did also. We started to have lunch with them after Mass. Denise was a lovely woman. She became a dear friend to me and was like a grandmother to my daughter. I know Megan brought her joy.
One time I asked Denise how she dealt with the pain. Denise told me she would stay in her room on extremely bad days. She relied on her faith every day. Denise did not sugarcoat the suffering. I appreciated her honesty. Our friendship blossomed in a short time. She lifted Megan and I up during a time of turmoil and transition.
Denise was hospitalized for a short time. Visiting Denise in the hospital was a gift. She was welcoming even in her pain. I knew my presence comforted her. She was grateful and loving. Denise and her husband returned to their home.
Then one day, Megan and I heard that Denise died. She passed away in her sleep lying next to her husband of many years. Sadness and grief hit Megan and I deeply. I think of Denise often. It is my belief that she is somehow helping both Megan and I on a spiritual level.
I never heard anyone ask Denise if her treatment was working. No one I knew asked her if she was getting good medical care from her providers. I doubt people judged her. It doesn’t seem likely that people asked her to seek a new provider or asked her why she wasn’t better. Denise managed her condition. I assume her medical providers did their best over the years. Denise was a grown woman. I assume she found doctors she could trust.
Why do some people feel freer to ask people who suffer from psychological conditions questions such as: Is therapy working for you? Are you on medication? Why aren’t you feeling better yet? Or you seem better, why do you still need therapy sessions?
Maybe you appear okay during the day or during the few hours someone sees you. Do your “demons” get stronger in the evenings or at night? Do you not sleep well due to PTSD, anxiety, or panic? Are you lying awake in the wee hours worrying about legitimate concerns regarding your health, a loved one’s life, your financial insecurity, etc. as well as dealing with PTSD symptoms? Lack of sleep may affect the severity and frequency of one’s PTSD symptoms as well as other aspects of anyone’s life.
Have you found that people feel free to ask you when you will return to work or if you have found a new job yet (even though you are presently on a medical leave of absence for psychological reasons)?
Is it easier for a person to ask those questions instead of asking, how are you? Is it harder for a person to listen to someone speak of emotional or psychological pain? It can be easier to relate to someone’s wounds when you see a cast or envision a heart attack or recovery from surgery.
How many of us, especially those suffering from invisible mental health issues, voluntarily show our pain and symptoms to friends and family, let alone acquaintances and the general public? Do you hide the pain and PTSD symptoms (such as depression, panic, anxiety, etc.)? Are you wanting to show your strength?
Unless a person self-harms in a visible way, emotional and psychological conditions are often invisible. No one can truly know how much pain someone is feeling whether it is from a physical or psychological cause.
Some people ask questions out of loving concern. There are others who carry judgment in the questions they choose to ask and how they ask them. At times, a person just does not understand.
I appreciate an individual’s questions when the person is sincere. I’m open to answering inquiries. If I can help someone understand or give resources, frequently both of us benefit. A sample of questions people have asked are:
What are flashbacks?
How do you experience flashbacks?
What are body memories?
How did your ex-husband use suicidal brainwashing?
Why and how did you end up in a relationship and marriage with a perpetrator of domestic violence, abuse, and torture?
The last question used to be the hardest for me to answer. I remember an occasion in 2010 when that question was asked by an older couple. They wanted to understand. I could not answer in a way that was helpful to them. It was a painful situation. Now, I can answer that question with calmness, less defensiveness, and with clarity. That improvement shows me that I have moved forward on my healing continuum.
Healing May Take a Lifetime
Society in general wants (preferably quick and easy) cures, total healing. That is normal. Yet, there are illnesses and disorders which may never be cured or healed fully. Many people have to make room for the unwanted guest – the illness or disorder. Life holds challenges for all of us sooner or later. My friend, Denise, lived with arthritis. I live with chronic complex PTSD.
There was a time when I hoped to be cured or healed further than I was. If this past decade of my life would have been different, easier, and with less stress, maybe I would be further along on my healing path. That wasn’t the case.
I doubt I will ever be cured or healed fully. It is chronic in my case. Realistically, after suffering abuse and non-state torture for almost 47 years of my life, healing may take my lifetime. I manage the chronic complex PTSD symptoms – the depression, panic, anxiety, flashbacks, etc. Experience has taught me what works best most of the time. Therapy, with a good provider, helps.
What works for me may not work for you. Each survivor has an inner sense of what helps and what harms. It has taken me years to recognize and to trust more fully the inner, intuitive part of myself.
Prayer, meditation, contemplation – just sitting in quiet and stillness without expectations of magical or mystical – just being with my Higher Power, Divine Love, God – helps.
Nature, being in nature, has a healing quality to it. My neighborhood teems with animals and life. Sometimes I turn my leisurely stroll into a walking meditation. I will repeat an affirmation that I formulated and I believe. Often I only believe it on an intellectual level. I desire to internalize the belief.
Survivors of abuse and trauma may experience flashbacks, somatic reactions and dissociation. It is important to learn how to cope with these and other manifestations.
Cover myself in love …
I have a willingness to return to my past in therapy and by myself if revisiting the past will help me relate better to myself and my life as it is today or if it would help someone else. Returning to the past and realizing once again that it was none of my fault helps me to live in self-love and self-compassion.
Sometimes people, including providers, can urge you to move forward and to let go of the past. That can be the best possible option at certain points in time. Often though, returning to a part of the awful past in a safe manner can uncover wounds you were not able or willing to face at a previous time or to process your past on a deeper level. For me, I recently needed to return to my childhood and the first twenty-five years of my life.
My family of origin and my ex-husband (and others) abused and tortured me on physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual levels. I felt early on that I had a “blanket of hate” covering me. This “blanket of hate” led me to self-hatred. I needed to face the hate, to take off each layer of the “blanket of hate” – to be cold, raw, wounded – and then cover myself in love – Divine Love, self-love, and the true love of others.
Small Gems of Wisdom
Many people with chronic illnesses, whether psychological or physical or both, carry a wealth of wisdom. These survivors know what works best for them. Often what helps them will help others. It is my hope that sharing my little bits of wisdom, my little gems of relief, might help someone. As a community of survivors who share our pain and our methods (big and small) for healing and comfort, we are able to walk with each other on this road to freedom and peace.
It takes courage to acknowledge and accept that life may always contain symptoms of PTSD or depression or panic/anxiety or whatever condition in your life that may be chronic. Accepting this does not mean giving up or giving in to desolation.
A friend of mine and I agreed one day that neither one of us had to fake being in a decent mood. What a relief! I have discovered that when I am with people who accept me as I am that I tend to end up being a better person. My mood tends to lighten (even though it may not show immediately). The weight of my life lessens a bit. Slight relief can make a difference when a person is suffering from any type of pain. Oh, the pain does not disappear. Maybe non-judgment and the back-and-forth of a true friendship ease our hardships or distress just enough for now. What a blessing!
I do believe that the resiliency to deal with chronic problems may lessen with age. See my post: https://roadtofreedomandpeace.com/ptsd-aging-road-continues/. “PTSD and Aging: The Road Continues” contains coping methods or solutions. I will not repeat them in this post; but, I do recommend reading them.
The lessening of resiliency as one ages concerns me on a personal level. The stress of possible future age-related medical issues as well as current financial insecurity (which could lead to homelessness) increase my vulnerability to more intense PTSD symptoms and major depression.
What can you do when these fears and problems appear? How does a person live life on life’s terms?
Each of us has our coping mechanisms. Supporting others on the road to freedom and peace can be healing for both the giver and the receiver. Sometimes when I am in my world of suffering or financial constraints, I can feel like “The Little Drummer Boy”. I think I have nothing to give. Yet, I remind myself that kind words, a gentle touch on the shoulder, an offering of a hug, or a smile may be a gift!
A short list of what helps me to continue on this path is below. What’s on your list?
Live one day at a time ….
Be in the present moment ….
Support others ….
Be a good listener …. Hold space for people’s pain ….
Rejoice in a person’s joy ….
Keep connected with friends ….
Smile at strangers ….
Seek nature ….
Spend quiet time alone ….
Open myself to my Higher Power, Divine Love, God ….