C-PTSD: It Can Get Better

6950774_xxl-[converted]I’ve been reading drafts of old blog posts. Things I started, and never finished over the past couple of years while I was dealing with some fairly intensive trauma. It’s good to see those snippets into the past, because I realize that–even though I still have bad days–it can get better.

Here’s something I wrote about two years ago:

“Some days, my heart is full of sorrow; other days, just heavy and numb. Today, like many days, I wake up and have trouble getting out of bed. It’s not the joint aches, it’s the fear of all the things yet to be done and the terror that my motivation has disappeared again. It’s wondering why I fight so hard. Some days, I have trouble finding any motivation at all, like it disappeared down a bottomless sacred well, always just beyond my reach. I want love to matter. I want love to be the force that changes us, the force that can change the world for the better. But, love isn’t always enough.

Two years later, I still sometimes struggle to get out of bed. But there are less days like that, and my heart is much less full of sorrow. I even have days where I’m just genuinely happy, which is something I was afraid I would never feel again.

In 2017, I had to struggle to get resources and help while living in a really awful abusive living situation. I didn’t have the income to move out, I didn’t have health insurance, I desperately needed therapy just to cope. To get help, I was having to blow spoons (Google “spoon theory” if you’re unfamiliar with the term) and I was constantly exhausted.

I asked for help; often, that help came in the form of, “Shouldn’t there be affordable housing?” or “You should be able to get free counseling.” Which isn’t really helpful to someone in a crisis, though I appreciate that folks were trying. One of the most helpful things was the person who actually found me a local clinic in my county that would see me several times before I had to prove my income.

Those clinic visits allowed me to get my medication for hypothyroid refilled and get a referral for therapy. And that helped me get stabilized enough to have the focus to do my taxes, which allowed me to prove my income and get on Medicaid and Food Stamps, and that led directly to my being able to get out of the abusive living situation.

Somewhere in all of that I discovered that my anxiety and depression was actually part of a package of C-PTSD (there are plenty of great resources if you Google this to understand the differences between PTSD and Complex PTSD). And that was a terrifying realization, but two years out from that and learning about C-PTSD and gaining more healthy coping techniques has helped me greatly improve my life.

It takes time. Just getting out of a traumatizing situation allows the brain to begin to heal. When you’re constantly worried about your emotional and/or physical safety, there’s no relaxing, there’s no rest. Two years ago I was constantly worried about losing my place to live or being harmed; the anxiety attacks just kept getting worse. Loud noises would trigger them (and, sometimes those loud noises were intentional on the part of my abuser). Remember, the brain is plastic; it’s flexible. The brain actively works to heal, and there are things we can do to build new pathways. The coping techniques take effort, but it’s worth it.

What has been crucial to my improved mental health is that I currently have a partner that understands anxiety. Instead of antagonizing me when I’m having a panic attack, he and I talk together about anxiety and how we can best help one another when we’re dealing with anxiety or depression.

Two years ago, my partner–instead of acknowledging my abusive metamour–ignored all the stuff we had talked about as far as helping me when I’m having anxiety, and instead he lashed out at me. I took over his role in the household as the scapegoat.

“The piece that is particularly angering for me right now is that it seems that, despite my having spent hours engaging in the emotional labor of talking through PTSD and anxiety–sometimes while I’m in a low-level anxiety attack–hours finding resources to share with him, and processing through our arguments and discussions to talk about what triggered me and why, and how it works, particularly the noise/anxiety/sleep combo…it’s not like he doesn’t know this stuff. This is a man that doesn’t like to do anything without a plan and without thinking about a half dozen contingency plans for the plan.

So, either all the work I’ve done talking about PTSD is for nothing because he wasn’t listening, or, he listened to what I said and doesn’t actually care enough to remember and think about the impact on me.”

It is like living in an entirely different world now that I’m almost two years clear of that situation. It’s like being on land and able to breathe clearly, when before I was stuck under the water, struggling to get to the surface. Everything took more effort because I wasn’t just swimming, I was swimming through mud.

I reread my past experiences and realize how much less I’m struggling with. Anxiety and depression lie to us; they tell us the worst things about ourselves and it can be hard to get out of the spiral once it starts. My anxiety likes to take pot shots at me for not being as productive these past years. For not writing as much, for not traveling and teaching.

And then I remember how much I struggled just to sleep. How much emotional effort it took to have any conversation with my (now ex) partner as he moved from being a victim of my metamour to being a perpetrator of abuse himself.

Most folks have a natural instinct to want to believe what people are telling you. What people who haven’t been abuse victims often don’t understand is that this is the instinct that gets us into the situations where we’re being emotionally manipulated in the first place.

Once I figured out I was being manipulated, once I figured out that my partner was not telling me the truth, I had to question everything.

“This is what it comes to in an abusive household. You fought for your relationship, you fell for the manipulations…you trusted and believed and held on because you believed love would win out. But at a certain point, you realize that you have to mistrust everything you hear. At a certain point, every single thing has to be examined. Am I being gaslighted? Am I being lied to? Am I being manipulated?

It’s exhausting. Thoroughly exhausting. And it’s necessary as long as you are interacting with your abuser(s).”

Being able to exist without having to question everything all the time has freed up my energy for a lot of other stuff. I’m starting to plan more traveling and teaching, vending my artwork at bigger events, and networking in the Madison, WI area. I moved here back in May and I’m finally starting to make some community connections that are leading to the potential creative collaborations.

I’m starting to organize workshops and events that will hopefully lead to more singing/chanting/trancing ritual magic in my local community. And maybe collaborating with other events and organizers in the fandom/geeky/gothy community. Maybe I’ll get to decorate a masquerade ball or build another life size Jabba the Hutt. You know–things that are actually fun. Things that make life worth living.

I’m also working to focus more on writing, and on painting stuff that sparks me, not just the stuff that will sell at festivals.

The trauma’s not gone. C-PTSD and anxiety and depression, and the resulting strain on my physical health, is not going away. But it’s manageable. It’s gotten better, and it’s going to continue to get better.

Don’t lose hope.

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