A little victory over CPTSD

selective focus photography of assorted color stars

I didn’t have a migraine last night.
Read that sentence again because I’m going to explain WHY? that is a big deal. Ready?

One of the symptoms of my Complex PTSD, since I was 12 perhaps, has been debilitating blinding headaches. I could expect expect 3-4 nights out of the year that I would spend sleeping on the bathroom floor. The tile floor was cool and I could close the door and be alone with my pain. Pain that was so bad I saw auras, I suffered muscle contractions that twisted me involuntarily, I would bang my head on the walls to find some focus away from the lancing pain through my skull. The pain was so severe there was the added insult of nausea and puking.

When my parents finally witnessed one these headaches, (huh, I can’t remember how that happened), they took me to the doctor. A neurologist. There was a long day of many tests. At the end of the appointment, the doctor sent my parents home with the knowledge that there was nothing physically wrong with me.

In retrospect, I think I really hate that he did that. Because, of course, for my parents if there was nothing physically wrong then there was nothing to treat. End of story.

Only it wasn’t. I have spent another forty years living in fear of one of these ‘headaches’. For a long time, I had no idea of where these came from and what triggered them. In my 20s when I was in grad-school the general practitioner I was seeing prescribed massage for me as a way to lower my anxiety. Best three months I had experienced in a long time. And that lead me to one of the ways to alleviate these events, touch. A person who would hold me as I writhed, or better before it got that bad. could usually halt or at least soften the episode.

I knew nothing of the sympathetic nervous system or the role it plays in cptsd. This was, like so many of the coping mechanisms we find hard won out of brutal experience. After nearly a decade in and out of therapy I put another pair of pieces together. I found I could predict when I might experience a headache. That knowledge allowed me to attempt to stop it.

Not all of those attempts were wisely chosen. Most of the time I cut to let my demons out. Only once or twice did I turn to alcohol. I still can’t stand the smell of most alcohol. Never chose drugs because my central need is to be able to control myself. With alcohol and drugs I might have been able to stop the pain or blunt it, but I would lose control and that wasn’t acceptable. So I chose to bleed instead. Most of the time it worked. But, not always.

The trigger I found that most commonly lead to this reaction was a case where I felt I had failed or where I had been rejected. If you have cptsd you’ll understand how fundamental those triggers are and how far ripples can travel even decades later.

Over time I discovered the most effective method for me to handle an event that might trigger one of these episodes was to talk to myself. Yeup, I still think it sounds corny – and I know it works. As I started to learn about cptsd, the sympathetic nervous system, triggers, dissociation, integrated family systems I was learning how to better manage those events in my life that at one time would have produced a migraine. (Technically I don’t know if it was migraine, but you get the idea, right?)

I am making progress. Huzzah!

Yesterday one of those events of life happened that would have had me out of commission on the bathroom floor last night. But, it didn’t. I processed that F*er. Ok, probably still processing it, but the major danger of having a reaction headache as some type of punishment that my psyche thinks I believe is low. Perhaps, I would even go so far as to say – very low.

And that feels like a miracle. Feels like. I know it isn’t. The ability to deal with yesterday’s ‘thunk’ was decades of practice and finally understanding my brain.

So here is to recovery and the many little victories it brings.
May you have many, many little victories.

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