Living with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD)

Everyone has heard of PTSD but what about C-PTSD? More and more people are becoming aware of this diagnosis and it affects more people than you would think. I have C-PTSD and in this blog post I will talk a bit about experiences with Cptsd. 

Post-traumatic stress disorder is something that can affect people after they have been through a traumatic event. People with PTSD often have difficulties sleeping, feel on edge, are easily startled, are irritable, have trouble concentrating and remembering details, and are always on the lookout for danger.

C-PTSD is very similar but rather than being caused by one main event or incident, it is a result of on-going prolonged and chronic trauma making the PTSD complex.

The C in C-PTSD stands for Complex but you will also see people talking about Chronic PTSD or Chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. 

A lot of the time, when people think about PTSD the first thing that comes to mind is war veterans. There is definitely some cross over between these groups but the way C-PTSD and PTSD affect people can be slightly different. 

You find this diagnosis a lot in people with an abusive childhood, or you can also develop this as an adult from situations like abusive relationships, or having witnessed repeated acts of violence. There are many risk factors for CPTSD but the list is not exhaustive as everyone is different, and traumatic events affect people differently. One person could go through a situation and come out with PTSD whereas someone else may not be as affected, it’s hard to predict. 

It’s important to remember that if you have C-PTSD or PTSD there is nothing “wrong” with you, it’s just that you have experienced trauma – bad things have happened to you and you need help with how to process that and how to cope with the traumas that you have been through. 

More and more people are opening up and talking about the effects of trauma nowadays. Oprah Winfrey has a new book out called What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing – the premise of this book is that rather than asking “what is wrong with you?” we need to start asking “what happened to you?” and this opens up the path to processing and healing trauma. 

Left un-dealt with, C-PTSD can contribute to issues with self esteem, trust issues, and difficulty with relationships as well as the typical symptoms that you would think of with PTSD like trauma flashbacks or getting triggered. 

Read more about the differences between PTSD and C-PTSD on WebMD

We all go through difficult times in life but sometimes when you experience an extreme trauma or on-going trauma, it actually re-wires your brain, imprinting itself onto your body.

If you are struggling with the effects of your past trauma, one of the books I would strongly recommend is The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk. It is not easy reading but it is so enlightening and helpful. I would definitely recommend to get it and then just read it bit by bit at a pace you can handle. 

The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma

 

Trauma, by definition, is unbearable and intolerable. Most rape victims, combat soldiers, and children who have been molested become so upset when they think about what they experienced that they try to push it out of their minds, trying to act as if nothing happened, and move on. It takes tremendous energy to keep functioning while carrying the memory of terror, and the shame of utter weakness and vulnerability.

While we all want to move beyond trauma, the part of our brain that is devoted to ensuring our survival (deep below our rational brain) is not very good at denial. Long after a traumatic experience is over, it may be reactivated at the slightest hint of danger and mobilize disturbed brain circuits and secrete massive amounts of stress hormones. This precipitates unpleasant emotions intense physical sensations, and impulsive and aggressive actions. These posttraumatic reactions feel incomprehensible and overwhelming. Feeling out of control, survivors of trauma often begin to fear that they are damaged to the core and beyond redemption.

Quote from The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma

How to Cope with C-PTSD

One of the best ways we can improve C-PTSD symptoms is with healthy and safe connections. The moment that you start to open up to someone, trust someone and allow them in, you are in a place where now you can start healing. 

Based on experience I would say, you can not expect to handle this by yourself. It really helps to tell someone what happened, and to slowly start taking down all of the walls that we might have put up around ourselves in order to protect ourselves. 

The first step is to allow yourself to face your own traumas. Many of us have things that we don’t like to talk about or think about, and we can go years blocking these out and keeping them down but even though we try to ignore them the effects of these things are causing us issues on a daily basis. So, we have to let them out and deal with them.

I found journalling a very useful tool for this. When I was first diagnosed with CPTSD, and in the run up to that, I used to journal every single day whereas now that I am mostly doing a lot better, I just use it when I particularly need to. 

What are the Treatments for Chronic Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?

One of the main PTSD treatment methods is therapy. There are a few types of therapy which work best as PTSD treatments compared to just talk therapy or counselling, such as EMDR. It’s best if you find a specialist Trauma therapist who has experience in those fields, because they will be better equipped to help you. 

If you go via the NHS route, you may be offered CBT as an alternative to EMDR and for some people medicating is another option. Here’s some info on the NHS treatments for PTSD

If you don’t want to stay on a waiting list, you can take a look at private therapy or Private Psychiatry – One of the pros of private therapy is that you will have more control over exactly what type of therapy you do, as well as the time frame and you will have more choice over exactly which therapist you work with. 

This blog post is written in collaboration with Psymplicity Healthcare, who offer many kinds of therapy and treatment to help with a variety of adult and childhood conditions including PTSD, Anxiety disorders, ADHD and lots more. 

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