I have Complex PTSD. I have only been recently diagnosed. Did the lifestyle bring it on, or was it simply that I had finally allowed myself to be vulnerable enough that the triggers could penetrate my defenses? I will probably never know. I’ve been in therapy for 3 years now and I still have so much to learn. I hope that I can help others by sharing a few things I have discovered:
- PTSD is not only associated with veterans. It also isn’t associated with all trauma victims. It’s NOT something that I can control. It is something that I can learn to live with. It’s not something to be ashamed of. It doesn’t mean I am crazy. Sharing with other sufferers helps validate my feelings. Complex PTSD can cause you to believe:
- Horrible things happen all the time.
- There’s no way to prevent those horrible things from happening.
- At any moment, we may be annihilated by one of those horrible things.
- If we survive, it will only be to wait for the next horrible thing which will inevitably occur.
I don’t walk around consciously thinking those particular things. But those beliefs color my perceptions of the world, other people, myself, everything.
- I have triggers. I can be triggered by anything that I associate from a past trauma. I don’t even know what these may be. No one can know what these may be. It’s a mind field for the people that love me and it can be a warning to people that don’t. My triggers are always mine. No one is responsible for them but me. Triggers are from MY past, things MY brain has flagged and marked. If something someone does causes a trigger for me, that’s something that I deal with. I hold no one responsible for my reactions.
- When I get triggered, I become severely dissociated. Sometimes I become catatonic…or sometimes I become unmanageable and irrational. For people that love me, it’s extremely difficult to not take my dissociation personal and it’s very easy to misunderstand. Sometimes I can’t communicate. I have become lost in an emotional trip that my brain has used to protect me from a traumatic episode that I never dealt with. Sometimes I communicate in scattered thoughts and urges to flee. My anxiety level increases and rational thought becomes impossible. While this is happening, I am not my present self…I am the emotional equivalent of the child that was traumatized. Those that love me, have learned that I need to be grounded. I need them to be my anchor. I need them to push aside their feelings of self-blame and focus on helping me. Those that don’t know me, I would hope that you would empathize and not personalize my strange behavior. We are adults and that means we can choose how we react to others. We can choose to not internalize other people’s problems. It isn’t always about you.
In psychology, dissociation is any of a wide array of experiences from mild detachment from immediate surroundings to more severe detachment from physical and emotional experience. The major characteristic of all dissociative phenomena involves a detachment from reality, rather than a loss of reality as in psychosis.
Dissociation is commonly displayed on a continuum. In mild cases, dissociation can be regarded as a coping mechanism or defense mechanisms in seeking to master, minimize or tolerate stress – including boredom or conflict. At the nonpathological end of the continuum, dissociation describes common events such as daydreaming while driving a vehicle. Further along the continuum are non-pathological altered states of consciousness.
More pathological dissociation involves dissociative disorders, including dissociative fugue and depersonalization disorder with or without alterations in personal identity or sense of self. These alterations can include: a sense that self or the world is unreal (depersonalization and derealization); a loss of memory (amnesia); forgetting identity or assuming a new self (fugue); and fragmentation of identity or self into separate streams of consciousness (dissociative identity disorder, formerly termed multiple personality disorder) and complex post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dissociative disorders are sometimes triggered by trauma, but may be preceded only by stress, psychoactive substances, or no identifiable trigger at all. The ICD-10 classifies conversion disorder as a dissociative disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders groups all dissociative disorders into a single category.
Although some dissociative disruptions involve amnesia, other dissociative events do not. Dissociative disorders are typically experienced as startling, autonomous intrusions into the person’s usual ways of responding or functioning. Due to their unexpected and largely inexplicable nature, they tend to be quite unsettling.
- My dissociation is NOT about the present, it’s NOT about YOU…it’s all me. This is MY problem and MY triggers. I cannot control when I trigger, or how bad I will dissociate. Loving me means understanding that and focusing on trying to ground me. It’s difficult, when you love someone, to not believe that you are somehow at fault for their pain. It is difficult to understand that you cannot avoid the triggers. All you can do is recognize dissociate behavior, don’t take it personally and help me get back to the present.
Source for grounding techniques:
- Even if you know what is a trigger for me, I don’t expect you to change who you are to avoid that trigger. I am still responsible for my reactions. I still want to live a normal life. I strive to live a normal life.