Complex PTSD; Anatomy of a Trigger

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I have wanted to talk about triggers, the anatomy of a panic attack, and what that looks like for me as a person living with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, for some time.

Having been feeling very optimistic and experiencing a beautiful reprieve that drastically improved my attitude and strength was so blissful that I began to feel I had truly turned a corner in my healing journey, and though I knew it was still an important thing to share, I was not ready to revisit my suffering just yet. I wanted to give myself time to swim and splash in the healing waters. Sometimes the universe, (God) has different plans.

It is hard not to get angry. I have held onto my faith, even if by a thread at times, and I will continue to do so. Belief takes action. Anger is a default. I am willing to do whatever is necessary to change that. I start by not feeling guilty that I don’t want to communicate with my dysfunctional family who have no understanding of how this illness affects me, by not making excuses for declining social invitations, or answering phone calls. I am putting myself first.

During these past few months I have watched potentially triggering things on TV and been able to point them out, stay in the moment, and watch them pass. I have successfully dealt with a panic attack on the trail while riding by talking about my trigger with someone who would listen and allow that wounded child’s voice to be heard. But sometimes the painful memories, or the feelings of sadness and helplessness that they trigger, rise up from deep in the body in a manner in which they cannot be contained. My adult self disappears, as if suddenly held captive by this trapped energy that only allows me to see, hear, and feel as the child who survived this trauma.  I am blindsided. 

Dealing with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a challenge made bigger by the lack of information and support available. The difference with the Complex label has to do with the age and duration that the abuse took place.

The first thing I want to do when processing my painful, debilitating, triggered episodes, is to find comfort in knowing my symptoms are shared by others. This is so important to me because I feel like a freak in that fugue state following the trigger. Coming up empty in my search, I decided it was critical to explain what I experience, not just for other survivors, but for the people who may witness me in the midst of one of these episodes, as well as loved ones who struggle to understand.

There are two distinct responses to my triggers. One involves cumulative, excessive stress that I strive to overcome. I am determined to power through it, no matter how much it depletes my stores until something, either a situation, or words that hit the “no going back” trigger, causes my body to completely shut itself down. If I am standing, I will immediately slump to the ground and “freeze”. This is called the faint and freeze response which is the opposite of the fight or flight response. This happens in the wild when an animal fears inescapable death. They freeze, or play dead. In this state respiration slows, eyes become fixed, I am unresponsive, having retreated deep within myself where the harrowing enormity of what caused this can cause me no further harm. This usually lands me a visit from paramedics and a trip to the ER where Dr’s  and staff crowd around me, poking and pinching, using painful attempts to get me to “come to” . With each failure to get me to show signs of life, the methods increase in force, as they all stand by, utterly perplexed. One important thing to note is that I can see and hear everything going on around me. I cannot speak, I cannot move or even blink. I am paralyzed, trapped somewhere safely, deep inside, where I can wait until the threat has passed. I can feel the pain, it’s just a matter of enduring it so as not to be forced from that safe place. 

It takes a decent span of torture time before I make my way back  at the sharp prodding of a toe so excruciatingly painful that I bolt upright gasping for air and hyperventilating, as if  rising from the dead. It’s as if they have never witnessed any such thing. I must be the only person who has ever displayed such symptoms. I question my own sanity. 

One time a Dr kept applying very painful pressure to my sternum in an attempt to make me tell him my name, telling me they would not help me if I did not comply. Even with tears streaming out the sides of my eyes, there was no empathy for me. At that point they could have cut off a finger and I still wouldn’t have made a peep. 

There was one very kind older Dr during one of these trips. He seemed to understand what was going on. He spoke gently as he held my hand, and reassured me in a most loving way, that everything was going to be alright. I fell into a deep sleep after that, not from any medication being administered, but from the soothing nature of his words, which had been directed at the trapped, wounded child in me.

Western Medicine, particularly as it relates to ER protocol and training, is USELESS in helping people suffering from all forms of PTSD, and mental lillness in general. No wonder the suicide rates are so high. The pain generated from the flashbacks and memories of suffering trapped inside the body feel like unbearable torture. To know that there is absolutely no-one coming to rescue you from that battlefield is like fearing imminent death. In my usual state, I know that this threat holds no power over me.

That brings me to my second trauma stimuli response. They are always brought on by a trigger. These triggers can take the form of sights, sounds, smells, or actions that seem to trip a switch in my mind. It feels like instantly being in a different reality. I am looking out through my adult eyes, but I am seeing a memory from the past through my child eyes that witnessed it, complete with the feelings of terror and desperate need for rescue. Sometimes I am triggered and experiencing a trauma from my adult life, but the child shows up because I have been piggy back triggered; a double whammy that starts off as a traumatic memory from adulthood that then triggers intense fear and sadness from a childhood experience.

One minute I am my happy, witty self, engaged in whatever it is I am doing, the next I am overwhelmed by deep sadness, fear, and helplessness. I cannot shake it off. It comes on like a tsunami and I begin crying uncontrollably, gasping for air, covering my face,  as if doing so makes me disappear. Other times I hide in my closet where I can make myself as small and undetectable as possible, or if in public, I sit and hold myself, rocking back and forth, inconsolable. It is extremely humiliating. I am unable to communicate as my adult self. I am held captive, as an observer, powerless until those emotions subside. It doesn’t end there.  Something happens in my brain, leaving me despondent. It feels as if a wire has been cut. I am deeply depressed and cannot hold back tears. Physically, I am exhausted, as if I had just run a marathon and been tripped at the finish line. This phase of paralyzation varies in length from one day to several weeks.

The longer it takes me to recover, the deeper into Depression I go. I cannot simply “snap out of it” . I am not wallowing. I think it is like being struck by lightening. There has been an electrical surge that has altered my chemistry. I struggle not to loathe my setback, regretting having felt so triumphant and shouting it from the rooftops. I feel raw, skinless, unprotected and vulnerable. And my body feels heavy like lead.

I know that this negative, trapped energy needs to be released. Unfortunately I cannot afford weekly massages, which I believe would be a tremendous help. This is where horses have had the biggest impact on getting me out from underneath all the weight. Whenever I feel my mental illness robbing me of all control, I know that it gets restored whenever I am able to ride. The harder, the better. When I can do something that brings me joy, that I am good at, it gives me hope. 

“At times, it seems as though the depth of suffering and blackness, the downgoing, penetrates the psyche and breaks the barrier between the human and the divine so that the grace of the divine may respond.”

From PREGNANT DARKNESS; ALCHEMY AND THE REBIRTH OF CONSCIOUSNESS by Monika Wikman

The Breakdown

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Breath; it is the essence of life, yet such an easy thing to take for granted. I have experienced emotional suffering so intense that it left me gasping for air. 

The deepest breaths I ever took were in pushing new life into this world, and it is that child who knocks the wind right out of me sometimes, as only a teenage daughter can.

I’ve tried my best to be the mother who protected her daughter at all costs guiding her in a way that my mother was not able to do for me. It has proven to be a task that has been sabotaged every step of the way, despite my will. Not only did I survive my abusive childhood and first marriage, but I survived a revictimization by the father of this child that grinded my heart, soul, and spirit to near dust. Allowing other people’s cruelty, ignorance, and lack of boundaries to shape my opinion of my success as a mother is exactly how I had grown up feeling about myself. It was the result of the behavior that had been modeled to me.

It is no small feat, coming back to life, learning how to move beyond desecration to a place of balance and forgiveness. If you imagine a ruler, with rage being at one end and forgiveness at the other, there are a whole lot of millimeters in between to get from one end to the other. Each one consists of all the stages of grief, and varying degrees of the “one step forward, three (or 5, or 42) steps back” thing. It’s the healing process, and it is just as painful and life-altering as the abuse was.

I am not sharing this story out of shaming or vengeance. I have forgiven every one of the people who have hurt me. In the process I have tried to hold them accountable, but how or whether or not they take responsibility for it is out of my control. Sometimes that forgiveness is an ongoing process. The only thing I realize that I can control is how I respond, including being triggered, which is the ultimate lack of control. Having CPTSD may be part of my reality, but I can choose to find the best way of dealing with it that facilitates growth instead of keeping me stuck, and remaining at the mercy of it. 

Everyone has their own story. Not everyone is able to talk about theirs. Many have repressed the memories of their trauma or are actively numbing them through addiction. My healing has come from releasing these negative emotions that were woven into my core as a result of my experiences, as if my life were nothing but a bad tattoo.  I thought it was just an ugly stain that I had no choice but to live with. I never imagined that I could use what was there to transform it into something spectacularly beautiful, something that not only I would be proud to display, but that others would be inspired by instead of recoiling at.

I used to be so devastated by grief over my perceived failure as a mom that it led to a complete mental breakdown resulting in a week long stay at an in-patient crisis stabilization center. More than that, I had allowed years of brutish, insensitive, controlling behavior strip me of believing I could ever escape this cycle of abuse, and I couldn’t bear the thought of my own precious child growing up to find herself in the same situation. The pressure had reached its boiling point until one day it exploded. FB_IMG_1554078181185

The week leading up to it, I felt my stress level reaching its peak. I could no longer order my thoughts without a sense of impending doom so heavy that every minute I was awake felt like I was fighting a fire-breathing dragon, moving at a snail’s pace to escape and narrowly escaping it’s flames. If I was not sleeping, I was shaking in terror and wailing in fear. I pleaded for help. I let everyone know that I was not okay. I was supposed to work the day it all came to a head, but I had worked the day before and knew that I was incapable of  maintaining composure so I found someone to replace me and apologized to my client for having a family emergency.

My heart broke that I was incapable of keeping my child from witnessing me literally losing my mind, which served to intensify my suffering to the point that I said I was afraid I might hurt myself if I was not taken to the ER immediately. My plea went ignored and I don’t know how I survived the night without jumping out of my window. I don’t remember where my daughter was. Her Dad and I were separated and involved with other people, but still sharing the house, and I know that he did not want his plans ruined by my mental health crisis and likely took our child to stay the night at his girlfriend’s where she had a playmate.

I woke up the next morning, crazed and lashing out at the people who loved me and were trying to help. I felt as if they had abandoned me in my darkest hour, and at this point their assistance seemed too little, too late. In my recollection of what followed it’s as if some wiser, stronger part of myself or some angelic force took control. I packed a bag with clothes, pajamas, and essentials, including a blank journal, and walked, about 3 miles, to the hospital. I had not eaten or had any water in days. I was crying,  my face contorted with grief. I felt extremely weak and vulnerable. A large portion of my journey stretched through a part of town I should never have walked through, even in a healthy state, but even though there was a man attempting to get me in his car, I kept my eyes down and marched on with a supernatural strength and determination. That bag on my back was not light. I don’t remember how I crossed busy roads or avoided drawing any further attention to myself in this bedraggled state except to say that somewhere, deep inside, I knew it was all happening for a reason. I felt dead, but I somehow managed to get myself where I needed to be without the help of anyone else. I collapsed in a heap the moment I stepped through the hospital doors.

I found myself in the clean, empty space I so desperately longed for, that I needed in order to heal. A room with 4 white walls and two beds. I was lucky to have the room to myself for 2 of the 6 days I was there. I wrote in my journal feverishly, every available moment I had, but for taking the time to read an empowering memoir. It was during that time that I knew my own memoir was presenting itself to me. It took a breakdown for me to have a writing breakthrough.  20190331_193749

I always have at least 3 or 4 blank journals at any given time, but I believe the one I had chosen was pre-destined by a random sense of urgency that took place one evening while out taking a friend to run errands with my boyfriend. I was suddenly overcome by a need to run into TJMaxx to get something I said that I needed. Knowing that there is no such thing as a quick trip to my favorite store, there was hesitation as to the validity of this supposed necessity. After all, when asked what it was that I was in such desperate need of (with ten minutes until closing time), my response was  “I don’t know yet”. I ran in, went straight to the journals, and picked up one that said, Wherever YOU go, Go with ALL your HEART, written on the cover. That was the thing I needed. I didn’t know why, at the time, I just trusted my gut. 20190331_192440

Whenever I know, without questioning something, because it is a feeling that resonates deeply within me, that is my gift of intuition. I have had it as far back as I can remember. It began with the awareness at a very young age, of seeing the pain I was experiencing in childhood multiply and hold me back until mid-life, at which time I would learn to utilize my many talents.

I am, as I’ve said before, a late bloomer. To go along with that analogy I speak metaphorically. In order for a plant to bloom and thrive, there are conditions that have to be met. The soil must be rich in nutrients, and it needs sunshine and rain. Ground that is not fertile soil will not yield any gain. People are very similar. Repeating the same pattern of dysfunction that continues to  oppress them, because that is the behavior that was modeled to them since early childhood, strangles the ability for them to grow. It has taken me half a century to understand that I am worthy of success, joy, peace, and love. It has taken me all that time to truly grasp what love is supposed to feel like. I am with someone who found an old seed and saw the potential in nurturing it. I would never have been reunited with him if I hadn’t first been able to see that in myself. 

I have fought very hard to be where I am, against great odds. I have had my mental health struggles exploited and thrown in my face as a means of holding me down. I have never been able to understand why people do such hurtful things, but innately I know that those people are damaged or hurting themselves. I am looking back at all of my experiences and I finally see what an incredibly strong, BADASS woman I am because of them!  I never lost hope in love. I never gave up wanting to overcome my fear that bad people and negative circumstances would always find me easy prey.  It is with that same fierce determination that I will continue  moving forward, knowing that the road will rise to meet my every step. I will continue to draw amazing, uplifting, and healing people, especially men of integrity, into my life.   

I can breathe more deeply than I feel like I ever have before. Asthma, smathsma. And I have the app evidence to prove it. ( My oxygen is at 100%! Never seen that!) Screenshot_20190331-191955_Samsung Health

Sometimes we need to be reminded of the things we take for granted. Just BREATHE.

“No Thanks”Giving

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Happy Horn o’ plenty to ya. Thanksgiving they call it, alleged to be a day of gratitude for life’s abundance. Family comes together and blessings are spoken over tables filled with food that will have you over-stuffed or near comatose within the hour.

Wanna know how I feel about this day? I HATE IT. I hate the obligation to cook, the lack of any involvement from my snarky, selfish, and oppositional child, the guilt trip over not inviting her father, the pressure to bake. I could go on.

Currently my rageful teen, who just threw a bunch of newspapers at me before telling me to “f” off, is upset because I don’t have money to give her to buy gifts for her friends, and somehow it is my fault that she lost her job. (As you can well imagine, EVERYTHING is my fault!) She is mouthing off to my 87 yr old mother who is trying to gently calm her by sweetly reminding her how very much she is loved, in spite of her behavior.

The kid proclaims ” I HATE HOLIDAYS” ! and storms off while I continue to baste, whisk, mix, re-heat, and cook. I got to thinking and realized that I was the one responsible for setting the tone of this day.

It began with a trigger that happened on Monday and snowballed into Wednesday evening, culminating in an almost child-like meltdown complete with running to my room, shouting and crying about how “over it” (parenting a child who triggers me the same way her Dad does) I am, and dramatically throwing myself on the bed, pounding my fists in complete frustration. It was my first Anxiety attack in a month or so, and it blew in like a summer storm.

Fortunately my boyfriend (a term I hate using for my partner of eight yrs; my soulmate, my lover, my best-friend, my handler etc. ) is at the ready, and follows me to lay beside me and in his sweet, soothing voice, whisper reassuring and comforting words of love, while rubbing my back and shoulders. I was a snotty mess, so he left to bring me a tissue. I wiped my nose, put my head back in the pillows and my devoted cat took her place on me, like I am her egg to hatch. I love them both so much for this.

I wake up a bit dazed, not knowing what day or time it is, as if I’d been Rip Van Winkle-ing for days. I had drifted off to a much needed recovery nap as if tended to by angels (and unicorns!) and woke up feeling a renewed sense of patience and determination.

Then it was over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house I went, successfully compartmentalizing my anger with my ex, who had stoked the fires with his suggestion that “Maybe I could get a holiday job”. A sore subject as, A) after giving birth and embarking upon full time motherhood as we had agreed, I was constantly bombarded with the suggestion that I get off my ass and contribute, and B) I was doing the same thing then as now, working as a freelance Makeup Artist, a known feast or famine pursuit, but one that enables me to take care of my child’s needs as well as my own mental health. So…

In giving my teen wolf some space and keeping it together, I was rewarded with a hand-written note from her, declaring that she was sorry and she did not want to fight, but enjoy a happy day as a family, which we did. Glad we pulled it off. Glad that day was last week.

The end.

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(I’m hoping the duck lips and bird flips will mortify her as an adult.)

The Solace of Sleep

When the bed covers feel like lead covers
and the solace of sleep soothes enough
to quiet the relentless courtship of fear (and death)
and unquenchable sorrow
until the cycle starts again
tomorrow-
This is my “in-between”
And it is a lonely place
Though my isolation is self-imposed
A rose doesn’t need other roses to grow, but it can’t survive without the nourishment of water and light.

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Choosing Your Door

I remember sitting in the Baptist church that I occasionally attended in my early 20’s and the intense feelings that would come over me during the altar call. It was like my body heated up and there were bees buzzing through my veins. Not an uncomfortable sensation, it was an urgency within my spirit, a magnetic pull toward something that I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt, I was destined to accept.  It held no judgement or condemnation, in that I knew I would not be punished by God if I rejected the call as I had done so many times before. I simply knew that this was a door behind which stood a lightness of being, a loving hand of guidance toward fulfilling my mission in life, and though I could choose to ignore it, I knew that to do so would make my journey all the more arduous.

This became the foundation of my spiritual journey. I let Jesus into my heart, a decision that was not made hastily. Later I would realize that He had never not been there, but I needed to be reminded of who and what I was, and God in His/Her infinite wisdom knew exactly when and where to meet me. I am now blessed with knowing where and through whom the light of Christ shines, and more importantly taking that light and shining it where there is the greatest need. I believe that we are all equal, sovereign beings, and that love is the greatest universal source for change in this broken world. I have immeasurable love for those outside the realm of religious acceptance. I think that religions have their own bad apples, that many have unwittingly given themselves over to the “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, which is why I trust only the discernment of my heart. When the heart is rooted in unconditional love, you will Commune with God in many different languages, and also with others who may do so in a way that you have falsely been led to believe is wrong.

I am reminded of 1 John; 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

And prior to this verse it is written, GOD IS LOVE. Humans have been making it complicated in a manner that sets nation against nation, breeding hatred and contempt since the beginning of time. They have also been using the Bible as a weapon to defend these acts, while blind to their own abomination and deceit. Man has perverted the Truth of God to maintain false patriarchal governorship.

Today is 11:11. There is much information to be found by searching the significance of repeated number sequences. It is said that men have been getting more in touch with their feminine side and that the power of Love is balancing out the feminine and the masculine, restoring peace and allowing a collective rebirth of our world as we know it. If more of us unite in love, we will destroy the secret cabul, the darkness that drives our bitter divide and seeks to gain power and wealth while annihilating anyone who does not step in line with their agenda. 11:11 is like a door behind which the lightness of being, and loving hand of guidance not only restores unity amongst mankind, but lifts the veil of deceit that has bound us to the slavery we have unwittingly been shackled to.

Just as with the unfolding of a spiritual path seeking Truth and Divine guidance, we know when we are being called to awaken. Many are caught in the web of fear that has been carefully woven for the very purpose of distraction and mind control. All you need to do to break this bondage is focus on LOVE. Love your neighbor, forgive those who are blind, go out of your way to show love to a stranger every day, even if it is only with a smile. Love is the only weapon that will ever conquer. If we are practicing it, God is with us; the Universal Source of all energy and existence. You don’t have to believe in God to love, but you will be guided toward blessings and answers to questions you didn’t even know you had if you do. It really is that simple. Screenshot_20181111-125227_Facebook

Not So Swell at The Bottom of The Well

e6d38ec8-28da-43ed-87ad-f6da7dbd2149_20180711141941691_20180711143823503_20180711145135428Depression is often like shadow boxing; it creeps up on me, and lingers just out of site, but I know there is a menacing presence from which I must defend myself. This is a shadow that can manifest on the cloudiest of days while disappearing altogether when it’s sunny. It plays tricks like that, making me question my sanity. I go about my day with the usual gratitude and acknowledgement of the many blessings in my life, wracking my brain to find the root of this discomfort, yet my search is fruitless and I find myself paralyzed. I am in a “which came first?” scenario of whether or not my *CPTSD has triggered my Depression and Anxiety, or my Depression and Anxiety has triggered my CPTSD. I hate it all. It is overwhelmingly invasive and it greatly interferes with my usually sunny disposition. There is nothing I love more than loving life and knowing that my presence makes this world a better place in some small way. I would never choose to battle this disease the way it has unfortunately chosen me, but I have to because the alternative is unthinkable. I am a stronger, wiser, more articulate and creative person because I have to find ways to out- wit my opponent, and my opponent’s ally- stigma. Some people deal with their mental illness by undermining those around them to make themselves feel better or more in-control, wearing a facade of self assurance that covers up an insecurity so deep that they would sabotage any person they perceive as a threat to this illusion they have created. I choose to walk in truth and integrity, which makes me a mirror with legs. I am sincere because it is the only way I know to be true to my heart, and because anything other than that just feeds the destructive nature of my disease. Sadness is not weakness, but strength laid bare.

 

*CPTSD