What is complex-PTSD?

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Having the words to express how you are feeling is priceless. When I speak about complex post-traumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD), I get excited. The reason is, for most of my life, I felt like a misfit misunderstood. I had an unshakable feeling that something was profoundly wrong with me. As a teenager, I went to see the school counsellor about my mental health concerns. She told me not to worry about it. She said my negative emotions were only part of my hormone change during puberty. I didn’t buy that. In my early 20s, while in college, it got worse with disassociation and suicidal thoughts. I sought the help of another mental health specialist since fasting and praying, as my church leaders suggested, failed me. The psychologist diagnosed me with mild depression. I didn’t buy the diagnosis either. I knew there’s was something more.

After giving birth to my firstborn, followed by many miscarriages and stillbirths my symptoms had no bottom. I went on to consult again. The diagnosis; postpartum depression. True enough, my new role as a mother was overwhelming. Nevertheless, deep down, postpartum wasn’t the only thing that kept me awake at night. I gave up and accepted my broken, unfixable self. Until one night, in my passion for mental health research, I stumbled upon an article on Complex Post-traumatic stress disorder (complex PTSD). I start to see the light at the end of my sorrow and reconsider consulting again.

What’s the difference between typical PTSD & complex PTSD?

As its name implied, complex post-traumatic stress disorder has the same symptoms as a regular PTSD diagnostic. However, it is more complicated. The cause of PTSD is one single traumatic event. On the other hand, complex PTSD will occur after prolonged or repetitive exposure to a traumatic situation. Initially, the use of the term was to describe the result of childhood trauma. Thankfully, now it evolved to include other kinds of chronics traumas.

What could lead to Complex PTSD?

People who have been through one or more of these situations below are most likely to suffer from Complex-PTSD. The list isn’t complete. However, it does include the most common ones.

  • experienced childhood abuse, neglect and or abandonment
  • witnessed ongoing domestic violence or abuse
  • forced or manipulated into prostitution /sex trafficking
  • being tortured, kidnapped 
  • experienced trauma at an early age that lasted for a long time where escape or rescue was unlikely or impossible 
  • experienced multiple traumas caused by a loved and trusted person

What are the symptoms of Complex PTSD?

The symptoms associated with complex post-traumatic stress disorder are broad. Like PTSD, doctors and mental health specialists aren’t sure why someone will develop specific symptoms and others won’t under similar circumstances.

“developing PTSD after experiencing domestic violence was not something I was prepared for. Physically I left my old home. Mentally I am still there. The prison is no longer the house. The prison is my mind, though, and memories.” -Anonymous-.

Here is what most people with complex PTSD have to deal with daily.

  • Problem with self-esteem. You feel consistent, not enough, worthless, and you blame yourself for your traumas. You may believe that bad things happen to you because of something off about you.
  • emotional dysfonction.You heard more than once that you are too sensitive. You feel your emotions more intense than ordinary people. Sometimes your feelings are not appropriate for the situation you are in. You have a wave of lingering anger and sadness. Feeling genuinely happy in the present moment can be challenging.
  • You are feeling detached from the trauma you experienced. It will manifest as depersonalization from who you are. Also, you may feel a sense of derealisation from the world around you, as if you are living in a dream or an illusion. 
  • Avoidance of any places, people and situations that may be triggering.
  • use of a substance such as drugs, alcohol or other things to numb the overwhelming feelings
  • You have lost core values and beliefs, such as religion, faith in the world or people
  • Relationship issues. You have difficulty trusting other people, and you may be in an abusive relationship because it feels familiar to you. 
  • You may be obsessed with revenge.

All these symptoms can be life-altering and cause significant impairment in all areas of your life.

What to do if you think you may have Complex PTSD?

Even though the condition isn’t new, the term with the definition it has today is relatively new. Unfortunately, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Health Disorders 5th edition (DSM-5) and the Canadian mental health association haven’t officially recognized c-PTSD as a distinctive disorder. Therefore, doctors could make a diagnosis of PTSD instead of C-PTSD. Also, at this moment, practitioners, doctors and mental health specialists don’t agree on a specific test to differentiate both conditions.

Persossannally, I am proactive when it comes to my mental health. It took years and persistence for me to get a proper diagnosis. Let’s hope it won’t be the same for you. Therefore I would suggest keeping track of all your symptoms and triggers in a journal. Write the dates, situations, who was there and what you felt. Add any important details you think are relevant. It is a tedious task, but it will make a massive difference in your healing journey. Have your facts when you go see your doctor or mental health specialist. This will make a difference between spending years feeling hopeless and taking charge of your life.

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