Many of us have heard of PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), but less of us have heard of C-PTSD (Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
So what’s the difference?
Juliette Virzi sums it up well in her 2019 article for The Mighty, stating:
- PTSD is a mental health issue that can occur in people who have lived through a specific traumatic event or series of events that have a definitive time limit, or in many cases, only happen once.
- C-PTSD is the result of prolonged exposure to trauma over long periods of time, often during childhood.
Today’s guest post comes from Caitlin, who takes on the task of illustrating how C-PTSD affects her day-to-day life.
Trigger warning: Please note that this article contains detailed depictions of the realities of C-PTSD, along with mentions of rape and other traumas. If you feel that you will be triggered or upset by these topics, please do not read any further.
I’m afraid of elevators. The confined space doesn’t bother me so much, it’s to do with being trapped in a private area with a stranger. I’m afraid they’ll hurt me. Rape me. That’s what trauma does to a person. It tears apart every part of you that is trusting and replaces it with suspicion and doubt. And when you experience more than one or prolonged trauma, you get C-PTSD. Compounded traumas. They become intertwined and nearly impossible to tease apart.
C-PTSD means that you develop layers of trauma. There are the lighter traumas, the ones that are easier to recall and talk about. Then there are the darker ones that never see the light of day. C-PTSD means headaches from keeping all those memories repressed. It means vaginismus – an involuntary contraction of muscles around the opening of the vagina – that occurs for no medical reason but is a result of your trauma. It’s checking obsessively that the doors and windows are locked. It’s social isolation because no one knows what you’re going through because these things can’t be talked about.
I’m afraid of men in general. I find it hard to socialise with them and I find it even harder to have intimate relationships with them. When you have C-PTSD, your relationship with your abuser is not the same as it is for people with PTSD. It is more intimate, there is more emotional violence, but there is also sometimes love or some form of it. That combination of violence and love almost seems normal after a while. You start seeking it out and expecting it in every relationship. You are surprised when others don’t hurt you. You get confused about what the difference between love and hurt is.
Having C-PTSD means being forever hypervigilant. Noticing the slightest sound or change in your surroundings and reacting wildly to them. Sitting with your back to the wall so you can survey your environment at all times is necessary for every social situation. Knowing where points of entry and exit are a top priority.
I’m afraid of loud noises. The sound of a car backfiring has made me scream with terror. I am always the jumpiest, the most on edge. I am always fearful about the future; about what the next day will bring. When I was a child I used to rock back and forth to soothe myself, and sometimes I still do. It’s a habit I never quite grew out of.
I’m unable to regulate my emotions; suicidal at one moment and euphoric at the next. The highs and lows come crashing down on me like waves and I’m drowning in emotion. I rely heavily on my anti-anxiety medication to prevent panic attacks and to keep my moods from swinging wildly.
I’m afraid of the gap of light that comes through a door in a dark room because it means someone is coming in without your permission. I’m afraid of the sound of footsteps outside my apartment at night. I’m afraid to sleep at night because of the nightmares I endure. I’m afraid of so many things.
Above all, at the end of the day, living with C-PTSD is exhausting. It’s exhausting expending all your energy on fears that would not even occur to other people to have. It’s exhausting spending every waking moment on guard, expecting the worst to happen. The panic attacks are exhausting, the flashbacks are exhausting, the headaches are exhausting. Keeping everyone at arm’s length for what feels like not only your own but their own protection, is exhausting. It leaves you irritable and on edge, constantly drained of energy.
Today I am seeking help for my C-PTSD. It involves a lot of the clichés talking about how I feel in therapy, but it is nice to have space where I am allowed to say what it is that I feel and that it is valued. I spend a lot of time in the past; thinking about the past, reliving it through my mind and my body. Some people say that it is best to box up your trauma and never look back on it but I personally don’t think that is the path for me. I think I have to dive in and confront it head-on, to recover repressed memories and to learn to live with them. I think that with a lot of therapy I can break down the patterns of my past and learn to trust again.
Despite all that I have been through, despite all that I have endured, I do have hope for the future.
A huge thank you to Caitlin for sharing her story. You can find Caitlin on her own blog, My Lust for Life.
If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, you can seek support from your GP and/or your local mental health team, or you can visit any of the websites below.
Do you have any personal experience with C-PTSD? How does living with C-PTSD affect your day-to-day life? Do you have any useful tips for others living with C-PTSD? Let me know in the comments.