I think I (32F) might have Complex PTSD - what do I do now?
April 29, 2021 2:52 AM   Subscribe

Ever since I was 17, I've struggled with depression, low self esteem and social anxiety. These were all quite debilitating, in that I was performing well academically until this age and then everything just fell off a cliff. I had a weird and abusive upbringing which I will detail a little below to give you context. I was on meds for almost a decade which helped me function but came off them a year ago. My head is a lot clearer and I feel more motivated, I also am experiencing the return of obsessive rumination and a feeling of grief at time lost. I've recently realised I might have something called Complex PTSD and was wondering if anyone could provide me with ideas around how to deal with it effectively?

My parents come from a poor immigrant background. My father, I realise in hindsight, has significant mental health issues. He gets aggressive and violent quite quickly, he would hit my Mum quite regularly. He also for some reason bullied and physically would hurt my two older brothers - he mostly left me and my sisters alone although we were terrified of him.

Once, my brother wouldn't help me with my homework - he was 15 and I was 13. We had a little argument and my Dad silently came out of the bedroom next door and went to the kitchen and came back up with a knife and walked into my brother's bedroom. I ran down to get my Mum and she ran upstairs. I still to this day don't know what happened beyond the fact, my brother was not physically hurt. The next memory I remember is that he made us all sit down on the sofa and said "what shall we do with them, shall we kill them?" in reference to my brothers. He also once called the social services on them and told their high school that he wants to put them up for adoption. My brother was extremely bright academically but currently experiences severe depression and debilitating social anxiety. He is unable to hold down a job or function properly and is dependent on my parents.

I think the thing I would stress is that I don't think my Dad would ever have actually seriously harmed any of us. But he was terrifying in his threats to do so. The incidences of violence/aggression were not frequent but it was enough to keep us very scared and anxious.

He also socially isolated us from everyone and would not let us out of the house. He had some kind of OCD about pollution, petrol fumes etc and would not let us even walk down the street or take the bus to school. He would not let us socialise outside with friends and we never invited anyone round because we were deeply ashamed of him and of our living circumstances (5 people in one bedroom etc). He also had some kind of issue about air flow, so he would fling every single window open at night, even in the depth of winter. He wouldn't let my Mum hoover, because he hated the idea of dust being kicked up. Until we were 10/11, he would sometimes take our underwear off when we were sleeping because of "air circulation". I don't think it was sexual, but it certainly was quite disturbing - in hindsight.

Anyway, long and short of it is that I think I might have Complex PTSD from all this. I feel totally worthless. I can't concentrate or focus and I keep crying all the time, thinking about the past. At work, I struggle with authority figures, often crying after a one to one with my manager who is a bit overbearing. When I feel even a tiny bit threatened by someone, I feel like I'm going to die. It's so ridiculous and out of proportion. I thought I was a smart girl who would achieve great things when I was younger, but it's all gone to shit. I'm working in a low paying admin job that an 18 year old would be able to do - there was once a time I thought I would be a doctor. I can't fathom what has happened to my life and I am buried under the weight of grief.

I moved out of the family home at 28 and am managing to support myself financially just about. I am in group therapy, which I think is helping me feel more "human". If I do have Complex PTSD, how do I move forward now and improve things in my life?
posted by Sunflower88 to Human Relations (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You need to do whatever it takes to get mental health professionals with specific trauma expertise into your care team.
posted by flabdablet at 3:01 AM on April 29 [24 favorites]

Is individual therapy a possibility for you, financially? I hope others here can suggest what kind of therapy you should pursue, and (if needed) how to access it financially.
posted by Zumbador at 3:04 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]

(also, please accept a gentle digital hug from this internet stranger, as well as my admiration for your courage to have lived through such a terrible situation, and found the strength to ask for help)
posted by Zumbador at 3:05 AM on April 29 [16 favorites]

What flabdablet said. But meanwhile, be kind to yourself, take baby steps, be the inner parent you wish you'd had, give yourself credit for making it this far, do some art- draw/paint/journal or something to give your feelings an outlet, try to get a routine going, look at the CPTSD subreddit perhaps? There are people online... you are not alone.

My brother and I sometimes look at each other and say.. hey you know what? It's a wonder either of us can wipe our own arses... *hugs*
posted by Coaticass at 3:09 AM on April 29 [3 favorites]

I made a lot of progress with Cognitive Processing Therapy. It’s a fair amount of work, and can be intense, but I definitely function better after having done the program. That particular therapist has relocated and so now I am seeing a different therapist who specializes in trauma. We’re working on some physical stuff I can do, but also still digging around to determine what my next steps will be. Definitely find a mental health professional who works with trauma patients; they will be able to guide you safely. Medication has also helped me, but more with my depression than my anxiety. Good luck; I know it’s a struggle and it’s not easy.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 3:36 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]

Seconding flabdablet — your best bet here is to get a clinician with a trauma specialization, if you can. I have CPTSD and didn’t realize it until fairly recently. I’d been in “standard” psychodynamic talk therapy for years and derived some benefits from it, but never found a satisfying explanation for (or relief from) the increasing bevy of somatic symptoms that I’d been acquiring over the course of my life. I ended up switching a couple months ago to a trauma specialist more focused in body-based therapies and it’s been helping a lot with coming to grips with what happened and how it’s affected my body.

The CPTSD subreddit is good but can be overwhelming due to the volume of posts. There’s another more tailored one called CPTSDNextSteps — it’s generally aimed at people who already identify as being in recovery, but they’re building out a series of FAQ posts and other resources you might find helpful. I’d recommend looking at both.

Pete Walker’s book Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving also gets recommended in those groups a lot… you may also want to check that out.
posted by Kosh at 3:55 AM on April 29 [6 favorites]

If you are still in contact with your family, know it is totally ok to NOT be.

If you are not in individual therapy with a therapist, especially one who absolutely will not push you to reconcile or forgive or return for more abuse, then seek it.

If ANYONE in your life is pushing you to keep in contact with that mess - or implying that you are wrong for not doing so, because they are "family", then seriously reconsider your contact with that person.

Be careful with identifying where you are currently, and where you need to be. If you are keeping yourself financially afloat, and don't have anyone to back you up, trauma therapy can derail you if not handled very, very carefully. Sometimes it can be helpful to address individual pieces and stabilize before addressing the trauma. If you're already in a place where the day-to-day has fallen apart, then addressing the trauma first may well be best.
posted by stormyteal at 4:45 AM on April 29 [5 favorites]

>I thought I was a smart girl who would achieve great things when I was younger, but it's all gone to shit. I'm working in a low paying admin job that an 18 year old would be able to do - there was once a time I thought I would be a doctor. I can't fathom what has happened to my life and I am buried under the weight of grief.

You did not fail. You have been subjected to a great trauma. That is not a failure, and it is not your fault. The fact that you survived is your TRIUMPH.

Please repeat this to yourself until it begins to sound like something plausible. Until you feel like you might be able to forgive yourself for not preventing something you could not, by definition, have prevented.

posted by WaywardPlane at 5:15 AM on April 29 [15 favorites]

I had c-PTSD from an abusive household. You are doing amazing. You survived. You are so strong. That voice in your head telling you you are a failure is not yours--it's one you inherited. I'm so sorry.

For me, recovery meant talk therapy, going no-contact with an abusive parent (things had to get very, very bad for me to make this decision, but it was the best one I ever made), and then doing EMDR. I feel like a wholly different person now. I didn't go no contact until I was 33, and I'm 37 now. It's not always easy, but know that you are still alive, your life hasn't been wasted--you have a long one ahead of you, with so much joy and success.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:28 AM on April 29 [4 favorites]

Also from what I know, EMDR and exposure therapy are the only therapies proven to help resolve PTSD long term. I always thought I would be beholden to my triggers and that avoidance was the only option; I'm not anymore. With trauma as severe as yours, an experienced EMDR practitioner can really, really help. The process can be intense but the impacts are long term and remarkable.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:31 AM on April 29 [3 favorites]

I have CPTSD from a traumatic childhood (abuse, neglect, etc). I didn't figure it out till I was 34. I started seeing a therapist who specialized in trauma. We did EMDR (complicated to explain but Googling will do a better job than I will) and it helped a lot.

You are not worthless. You survived. You will survive. Please be compassionate towards yourself. No one should have gone through what you went through and just because you were never physically harmed doesn't mean it wasn't abuse.
posted by nayantara at 8:32 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]

I just came to also recommend the book Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving and encouragement to find a therapist qualified for EMDR (you may not get to the EMDR part right away, but work with someone who is serious enough about trauma work to have gotten the qualification).

And you won't believe me, but 32 is so young, you have plenty of time left. Most of your generation is going to change careers 2-3-4+ times over the course of a long, long life, so if you have things you decide you want to do, you still have ample time to pursue them (and to do so as an experienced adult with office and general work skills, I promise they will serve you well).
posted by Lyn Never at 8:56 AM on April 29 [4 favorites]

When you first start looking into EMDR you could easily mistake it for complete fucking woo. It isn't. It's solidly evidence-based and it works.
posted by flabdablet at 10:35 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]

A third recommendation for Walker's Complex PTSD book, and you may find The Body Knows the Score to be of particular use, too. Because you sound like you had high expectations when young, either self-imposed or from outside, you may find The Drama of the Gifted Child useful too.

Whether or not you can seek individual therapy (I'm assuming from spelling that you may be going through the NHS), you may also find group therapy of use, as long as it is done with sensitivity and is focused on people of a traumatic background. It can be good to both help, be helped, and recognize that people around you experience and feel the very same things you do.

I am not anyone professional, but if it helps, think of these thoughts as a record or CD that is stuck on a scratch. Your mind (the needle or laser) is trying to process the material on the scratch (the traumatic memories), but can't properly dismiss them, and so it keeps replaying and reprocessing.

If it helps, here is a grounding exercise I find useful when I'm feeling trauma: sit for a second, and then name five things there around you you can see. Then four things you can touch. Then three things you can hear. Then two things you can smell. Then one thing you can taste. The idea is to get your mind and sensory system to recognize that you are there in the present, instead of in the memory that is playing somewhere in your head.

I hope the above is helpful. I too have CPTSD. MeMail me if you have any questions I can answer.
posted by metabaroque at 1:04 PM on April 29 [5 favorites]

All the books I came in here to recommend have already been covered upthread, so I'll recommend something that helps me throughout the day when I find myself stuck in Rumination Corner: trauma instagram. Nedra Tawwab, Yolanda Renteria, @survivingchildhoodtrauma and Aparna Sagaram's accounts I find contain a lot of balancing, centering, deeply validating content that has helped me. Aparna Sagaram in particular posts a lot of stuff from a South Asian child-of-immigrants angle that seems like it would resonate with your experiences.
posted by All hands bury the dead at 4:25 PM on April 29

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