Poetry Battle: Transcend

This week’s Poetry Battle Friday was a challenge. I passed on my usual haiku format for something a bit more – toothy. The prompt was Transcend.

Poetry Battle : Prompt was Transcend
I am one
Split into parts
The task
To blend
To transcend
The divide,
Creating a symphony
Of kazoos and violins.
An impossible song
Drawn from the chaos
To celebrate
Being one.

Return to Poetry

100-word Essay: Off The Rails

If you want to know more about this cycle within Complex-PTSD take a gander at this post.

Scattered

As children we were blown apart. Now we seek to draw those parts together.
As children, we were blown apart. Now we seek to draw those parts together.

Just a quick dive by to say – “No, I haven’t shuffled off this mortal coil.” Nor have I shuffled off to Buffalo.
My brain is so scattered today. I opened the computer to post this – and ended up ordering 400 page dividers.

If you can figure that out… tell me. Please.
That was just a weird one.

So – here I am being random girl — when I have things to do.
Real things.

I’m agent hunting. This time I think I’m doing it in a better and more structured manner than last time. So – hey, I can be taught. Every day I’m attempting to put two well-crafted queries out into the void. Just two. And yes, even that is a stretch on some days when my brain is playing zippy-the-squirrel.

And if you’re interested – I’m thinking of doing something a little weird. Like that’s a surprise? But – it’ll be an experiment. Look for it to hit the ether – either today or tomorrow.

Ok. There seems to be a bit more focus in the tank now.
Onwards.

What is Complex-PTSD (CPTSD)

Definition of CPTSD


Complex post traumatic stress disorder
is a psychological disorder that can develop in response to prolonged, repeated experience of trauma in a context where the individual has little or no chance of escape.

Honestly, I can’t remember if these are my words or not. Please tell me if they are yours.

That is the clinical definition of Complex-PTSD (CPTSD). Other resources will explain CPTSD as a form of PTSD that has other overlying factors. The two can be easily confused if you don’t start with the definition. The definition above holds some key phrases.

The first is “prolonged, repeated experience of trauma.” Most instances of PTSD are traced back to a single horrific event. Not so with CPTSD. Someone who has this form of mental wound has experienced not one instance of trauma, but multiple instances, even possibly their entire life.

The second phrase to take note of is “little or no chance to escape”. I would add the words ‘over time’ to that phrase, because that is a key part of CPTSD. Anyone who has suffered trauma was not in a situation to escape – but where PTSD is an instance, CPTSD plays out over a long period of time. The person who is being traumatized has no means to escape their situation.

Persistent feelings of worthlessness or emptiness are a sign of CPTSD.
constant feelings of emptiness or hopelessness

There is another central issue when differentiating PTSD from CPTSD and that is the mind that experiences the trauma. The initial group of the population where PTSD was observed was military veterans. In this group, the men and women were all over 18 years of age when they experienced trauma. This is important because most of their cerebral development was done. They knew who they were, and they knew who they wanted to return to being after the trauma.

When we talk about CPTSD the trauma can start as early as infancy. That is perhaps the most important difference. In PTSD the individual, usually an adult, has a point before the trauma to return to. People with CPTSD have no previous to return to in many cases because they were shaped from their earliest moments by their traumatic environment.

Symptoms of PTSD and CPTSD

Complex PTSD builds on the already accepted symptoms associated with PTSD. So, while someone with PTSD will experience symptoms from the list on the left, someone with CPTSD will experience symptoms from both lists.

PTSD

  • Memories of the trauma.
  • Flashbacks – Reliving the trauma.
  • Dreams or nightmares
  • Emotional or physical reactions to reminders
  • Trying to avoid thinking or talking about the event
  • Avoiding anything that reminds you of the event.
    Negative thoughts about damn near everything.
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Memory problems
  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships
  • Feeling detached from family and friends
  • Depression
  • Feeling emotionally numb
    Being easily startled or frightened
  • Always being on alert
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Irritability, angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
  • Overwhelming guilt or shame

CPTSD

  • difficulty controlling your emotions
  • feeling very angry or distrustful towards the world
  • constant feelings of emptiness or hopelessness
  • feeling as if you are permanently damaged or worthless
  • feeling as if you are completely different to other people
  • feeling like nobody can understand what happened
  • avoiding friendships and relationships, or finding them very difficult

dissociative symptoms 
depersonalisation or derealisation

physical symptoms: headaches, dizziness, chest pains and stomach aches

regular suicidal feelings.

This list is from mind.org.uk

Emotional Flashbacks vs. Flashbacks

You would think that there wouldn’t be a dividing line between these two terms. After all, both are moments when the brain is hijacked by the past and trauma is reexperienced. The difference lies in the brain. A flashback is a full sensory being there re-experiencing of the trauma. The person can see, feel, even smell and taste all the details of the event. Those details are stored in their memory. They reexperience every part of that trauma.

The concept of the emotional flashback extends this to include periods of early childhood where the ability of the brain to form, store and retrieve memories is still developing. Particularly in the area of the visual cortex. What that means is that the memories of the event are stored complete with all the associated emotions, but there is no visual context. So when you encounter something that triggers a memory of that trauma – you are instantly swept back to the emotions of that time. And, you have nothing to correlate it with.

This being flung into emotions that are overpowering, without knowing why, or being able to point to any specific memory is one of the most disorienting, and in my opinion frightening aspects of CPTSD.

Core Beliefs of CPTSD

If you would like to see more memes to help share information on CPTSD please visit the Meme collections.

The manner in which the other major symptoms of CPTSD can manifest are as varied as the people who suffer with this condition. One core belief that many people with CPTSD have is that they are essentially fatally flawed. And because of their own brokenness, they are undeserving – of anything.

This is the core belief that tells us we are not worth ‘the bother’. This is the core belief that makes us accept the least. This is the core belief that makes it difficult, at the least, to face conflict. The script in our head says we are not worthy of our parents love, therefore we are not worthy. It is the core belief that we are worthless, completely without value.

CPTSD: Survival before growth

Most of the people with CPTSD have created defenses to keep them safe from their early environments. Most of the people who live with CPTSD are fiercely independent. We are also likely to be stoic. But many of these traits come from the need as a young child to be ‘easy’. Many people report a similar scenario of not asking for anything, because asking was dangerous. Others report that they abandoned things they enjoyed for the sake of peace. Many of the strategies we developed as children were not to explore our world, but instead to survive our world.

Where are we now

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is more widely known in the public. Efforts to educate about this mental wound, typically found in soldiers but also victims of violence, have been ongoing since the 1980s. In contrast the study of CPTSD is relatively new. So new, that it is not yet included in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)

But, European sources are starting to recognize that CPTSD is a disorder that should be recognized as a unique set of symptoms, behaviors and challenges. Hopefully, one day the DSM will follow.

There is a great deal more to convey but, for now, to sum it all up, Complex-PTSD is a bitch. Really.

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.

Very Short Story : Dangerous

I will never be alone. I forever
carry my mother’s voice with me.
In my head the word ‘danger’
echoes, inescapable.
Stairs, danger. Eating, danger.
Ice, danger. People, danger.
That word, her fear is
her legacy to me.

Feb. 2, 2021

Note: The VSS series is an outgrowth of writing prompts for Twitter. The goal is to produce a Tweet that fits within the 280 character format, and uses the given idea or word.

Very Short Story : Organ

What a fascinating organ, the
human heart. It can be warm and
tender, a wellspring of passion,
a font of grace. That same lump
of tissue, mistreated and abused,
can still survive by becoming
hard, cold and impenetrable.

Oct. 27, 2020

Note: The VSS series is an outgrowth of writing prompts for Twitter. The goal is to produce a Tweet that fits within the 280 character format, and uses the given idea or word.

For my brother

Duane Robert Stewart
October 16, 1964 – January 18, 2021

My brother died today and I wept for him, for us.
For all the warm words we never exchanged,
For all the jealousy we held for each other,
For all the times pain was our only contact,
For the words of hurt,
For the thefts,
For the bruises,
For the silence,
And for the little boy
At the bottom of the stairs
Who screamed in panic
As I fled upward
And father raged below.
You deserved better,
And so did I.

Coming Alive Amidst a Pandemic.

Gabby Petito

Oh, the irony.
Thirty plus years of
Being various degrees of suicidal
And now we have a pandemic
Upending the world
I want to live.

Strangely, that’s about average for me.
Let me take a moment to unpack this one.

My depression started somewhere in seventh or eighth grade.
It’s possible it started earlier, but
I have no memories earlier
Except for a very few, so let’s say – around 12.

At age 12 I started to self-harm.
‘Escape’ was the word always in my thoughts.
I didn’t know much as a pre-teen
but, trust me, I knew I wanted out.

At this tender age
Out was still a fantasy
Of rescue or of running away.

Other people, with other issues,
Might have managed to escape on their own.
I couldn’t.

Where would I escape to?
Was escape even possible?
Did I even deserve better?
Who did I think I was?
This was where God put me.
This was my lot.
Suck it up.
Manage.

As a teenager, my resources changed.
I had access to a car and endless mountain roads.
I was always safe in my car.
I felt ‘in control’ of something.
That was where I started to think
Maybe, at least, I could control my death.

My fantasies of escape became fantasies of dying.
I wore black constantly.
I was erasing myself from my life.
(Not that there was much to erase.)
Vanishing before my own eyes.
I was content with that.

I was content with
The process of unbecoming
Because I had a way out.
Sitting in the driveway was
A 1980s bright orange mustang.
Ugly as sin, but the straight six was a beast.

Having that door made staying easier.
Because I knew I didn’t have to stay.
I had a choice.
Of all the things in my life that were broken,
Out of my control,
Dangerous, or terrifying.
I had control over one thing.
One choice.

How does all of this relate to today?
For better than 30 years
I managed to face tomorrow
Because I knew that if I didn’t want to,
If it was too hard, I didn’t have to.
I could stop.

In my 20s,
I saw all my friends growing and flying,
Becoming these spectacular people.
While I was sheathed in lead.
The learned helplessness,
The ‘shoulds’ of my family
Ruled every aspect of my life.

I slept a lot.
hoping I wouldn’t wake.
And when I was awake
I prayed to die.

Dear God,
Fix me.
Or finish me.

I actively debated suicide.
And came close to death a couple of times.

I was so depressed
I had my first hallucination.
Thankfully, it was also my last.

My 30s were calmer,
At least, on the surface.
I finally found help for the depression,
But not for the problem at the root of all of it.
Ideation moved back and forth
Between passive and active.

As my 30s wore on
I found the pendulum
Spent more time towards the passive side.
That was good.
I was able to function.

Although I went through the motions
I did not understand
This ‘joi de vivre’ that others expected

I’m not saying I was never happy.
I am saying every day was a trudge.
An exercise in existing.

So, where I slept through most of my 20s,
My 40s were marked by
A type of emotional numbness.
On occasion, the ice beneath my feet would break.
Plunging me into terror.

Two years ago,
Perhaps three
I finally made the connection with cptsd
I found a good therapist to work through it.
I’m still working on it.
Likely, I will for the rest of my life.

Now, I’m over 50 and discovering how to live.
I grieve so much of the life I missed.

So here’s the irony:
I’m writing. I adore my husband.
Finally, I am discovering who I am.
I have put most of my desire for death aside.
I want to live. I have something to live for.

Here, at a very scary moment,
In a world that I have always shunned
Because of my twisted roots,
At the moment when
Life seems most precarious,
My life is most precious.
Now – I want to live.

Midnight Writing Jan 9, 2016

Some people travel through the Shadowlands and after trial and tribulation they emerge. They shake off the dark soot of so many sorrows and return to the sun.

I did not travel through. I lived in the Shadowlands. I ate of the fruit and drank from bitter streams. Years have passed here and the Shadowlands have swallowed decades. Now even though I, at times, emerge into the whiteness of the midday sun, I know that the Shadow is with me, hidden beneath my heel.  For I have learned, after long and ardent denial, that the Shadows live within me.