In a previous article, I shared a story about how I came to realize my general anxiety disorder (read it here). A physician diagnosed me with the condition after seeking help in my late 20s, but it was later on in my early 30s that I realized it was an incomplete diagnosis.
As it turns out, it wasn’t merely a severe case of chronic anxiety that I had been suffering from all my life — it was Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, something far more insidious and crippling.
Determining the difference between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can be a challenge, and that’s largely because the two often co-occur. To further complicate things, there is another form of PTSD called complex PTSD, and it’s very clear to me this is precisely what I have been suffering from.
What Is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
GAD is characterized by excessive worry and anxiety. While most people experience some worry or anxiety at some point in their lie, those suffering from GAD feel worry and anxiety regularly, often experiencing restlessness and edginess, irritability, tiredness, sleep pattern disruptions, trouble concentrating, and even muscle tension.
According to the Nation Institute Of Mental Health (NIMH), PTSD is a more severe anxiety disorder that often occurs after an individual is exposed to one or more traumatic events. People generally associate it with soldiers who can’t cope with the brutality of war, but it’s a condition that can afflict anyone, with the traumatic events including such things as traffic accidents, sexual or physical abuse, and bullying.
In fact, a person does not even have to experience the traumatic event themselves in order to develop PTSD — just simply witnessing it can be enough of a trigger. And not everyone develops PTSD from the same experiences, with some people being more predisposed to the condition than others.
Symptoms of PTSD include nightmares and / or flashbacks of the event, avoidance or numbing of memories of the event, severe anxiety, hyper-arousal and sleeping problems.
What Is Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?
As PTSD is to GAD, complex PTSD is a severer form of PTSD and is often used as a diagnosis for those who have experienced social and/or interpersonal trauma for a long time. Generally cited examples include sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, domestic violence or torture. It’s reasonable to imagine concentration camps, being held hostage, and child sex abuse when thinking about complex PTSD, but you wouldn’t be wrong to throw narcissistic abuse, which can encapsulate all the aforementioned experiences, into the mix. Even a long history of being bullied can result in the condition.
With complex PTSD, the sufferer feels that they can’t escape the situation and likely experience more than one trauma as a result. That’s to say, while you can get PTSD from one traumatic event like an accident, you only get complex PTSD after you’ve been in a traumatizing situation for a long time — weeks, months or years — in which you had the feeling you could not escape, with such experiences changing your personality.
Chapter 18 of the Handbook of Clinical Neurology states that people with complex PTSD can have outbursts of anger, feel always sad, and have suicidal thoughts. They often feel guilty, shameful, helpless and worthless, sometimes finding it hard to trust others again, having difficulties with intimacy, and developing preference for social and emotional isolation.
Coming To Terms With Complex PTSD
From the breakdown of GAD, PTSD and complex PTSD and the symptoms described by the research paper ‘Complex Trauma in Children and Adolescents‘, it is complex PTSD that has defined my life, and being able to finally realize this truth has been a revelation. The crippling, inexplainable anxiety; strong aversion to conflict and always wanting to flee; lack of assertiveness as a result of a sense of helplessness, shock, numbness, and apathy and getting treated like a doormat all fit the bill.
The chronic insomnia and inexplicable physical ailments; hypersensitivity to criticism and insults, perceived or otherwise; difficulty organizing and processing information and, thus, communicating; lack of concentration and focus; difficulty with judgement and initiation; disturbed body image, low self-esteem, excessive shame, and negative internal working models of self — it all finally made sense!
Growing up with complex PSTD have been stifling personally and professionally. With this new-found knowledge, I was able to undergo the long overdue extensive rumination, reflection, and analysis to finally understand how all of this came to be.
Origins Of My Complex PTSD
I was born into abuse and din’t know anything other than abuse. More specifically, I was born into the arms of a warped, sadistic sociopathic mother who had no moral scruples neglecting and emotionally abusing me; grew up with malignant narcissistic brother who I am certain entertained the idea of seeing me dead; and had a manipulative, vindictive and narcissistic farther who abandoned his children and saw me as nothing more than a tool to get revenge on my mother, someone he believes ruined his life.
I knew nothing but evil as a child, and unsurprisingly, grew up surrounded by evil, attracting toxic people into my life like famished vampires to a deep pool of blood. And I was none the wiser.
In fact, I was easy pray, and took every type of abuse — emotionally, physically, sexually and spiritually — thrown my way like a retarded champ… for not weeks, not months, and not even years — for decades! The feeling of shame for letting it all happen and guilt for the few times I fought back were truly telling.
I felt trapped in every place I lived (I refuse to call them “home”), every places I frequented, and in every single one of my relationships, always wondering why all this was happening to me but never why I was letting it happen. I just didn’t know better; I had no point of reference for what a healthy relationship looked like. Everyone I trusted or confided in eventually betrayed me.
What little sense of worth I had came from making other people feel good about themselves, sacrificing my health and well-being in doing so. In other words, I felt completely and utterly worthless, a fact I denied all my life, though my subconscious wasn’t fooled.
Surviving Complex PTSD
I was angry at life for not being the way I idealized it; angry at people for being incomprehensibly selfish, abrasive and abusive; and, of course, angry at myself for being passive and timid… for being weak. I was emotionally immature and stunted. I didn’t know how to communicate and express my emotions, desires, anger and frustrations, so I kept them all bottled up. Was I often sad? You bet, and I looked it. Did I feel hopeless? Yes, and wore it on my sleeves. Fortunately, I never had suicidal thoughts or any thoughts of hurting anyone for that matter. I was strong that way.
And it’s that strength that has brought me this far, the confidence in knowing that I could be better and possess what it takes to achieve great things. This strength helped me graduate with honors from university and obtain an MBA shortly after. This strength helped me start a business that I am confident will be a success. This strength has allowed me to remain kind, compassionate and generous in-light of the evil and predation that surrounds me. And, most importantly, this strength and determination showed me the way to self-love and self-care, forcing me to face the brutal fact that I had to look out for myself first and foremost because there is no family home team that will rally behind me when I fall. Heck, all they have done is kick me when I’m down.
Healing From Complex PTSD
I would be lying if I said undergoing all the abuse and living with complex PTSD for over 30 years was easy breezy, but it is an experience I probably needed to better understand and realize my true self and let go of my stubborn and even egotistical ways. Considering I grew up in a family of malignant narcissists and associated myself with equally toxic people that I considered friends, I was left unscathed. Either I had narcissistic tendencies myself or some of their behaviors rubbed off on me.
Needless to say, I treat people a lot better today than I did under those circumstances, but with strong and healthy boundaries this time around, making sure my emotional and spiritual needs are met first. I have never had so much clarity, confidence and peach-of-mind.
Through pain and the strength to withstand lifelong abuse, I have been provided with a red carpet to emotional and spiritual growth, and I couldn’t be more grateful. I love the new me, and I am excited for what the future holds. My life is just beginning.
Know What You’re Dealing With
If you are or were in the same situation as I was, you can begin your journey to recovery as well; however, you need to make certain of your underlying condition. What you might think to be Generalized Anxiety Disorder or any other ailment might actually be something more serious like complex PTSD.
After being diagnosed with GAD, I set about treating it the best way I could without any medication (like I said, I am strong). I made progress, but not as much as I expected, and that’s because my misdiagnosis meant I wasn’t addressing the underlying problem. I was fixing a major symptom, but not the problem, and that’s something you don’t want to waste your time doing.
If you’re confused about your life circumstances — your family dynamics, your relationships, your habits, your health, etc. — know that it might not be you or your genetics but rather your environment. Whether you believe it or not, evil does exist in the form cluster B personality disorders and you might be swimming in it. Mother, father, brother, sisters and friends — each and every single one of them could be a predator / demon, the source of your confusion, struggles and suffering.
The sooner you come to terms with this, the sooner you can begin healing, piecing together your life, and going after your dreams with the uttermost confidence, determination and optimism. Your life is too valuable to be tied-up and suffocated by anyone.