Gabby Petito – Another Lost

Gabby Petito

The video of the stop in Moab Utah.
Fair warning – It is hard to watch.

I heard the news this morning about Gabby Petito as I checked my feeds. The confirmation of my worst fears was there, displayed on the screen.

I heard there was a video of the interaction with law enforcement in Utah. I had avoided it until now. But now I needed to see it. I thought it was necessary – though, at the time, I couldn’t put ‘why’ into words.

Watching it reminded me so much of my own past with domestic and relational violence. The images hit close to home – the reverberation shaking loose forgotten things. In those forgotten images I pieced together the ‘why’.

#metoo

I suddenly appreciated anew that I survived. That I escaped. I saw again how close I had skirted danger. I celebrated the ones I helped get out and I cried for the ones that died. And I was reminded of one gold brick put in a friend’s wall with his name on it. A figurative gold brick, but nonetheless one where we all paid a very high price.

I remembered something I had believed long ago, and I remembered how my experience changed me. So I’m going to say something no one is going to like to hear, and then I’ll tell my story.

I believe everyone needs to experience that powerlessness of being the victim of domestic violence.

I’ll soften that statement and say – ok, maybe not everyone. Maybe there are people out there who can understand that position without having lived it, but most people can’t.

I didn’t. I didn’t understand at all.

I grew up in a house that was poisoned. I won’t go into the particulars of that today, but I will describe what those years made me.

I was strong. I was stoic. I needed no one. I didn’t feel pain, not physical, not emotional, not mental. I never needed help. I was independent. I was hyperaware of everything. I knew my exits. And I knew to never admit fear or weakness because that was blood in the water.

This was me at 14, 16, 18 and on. So in those years when I heard of domestic abuse I was incredulous, even indignant. The lack of agency on the part of these women, the stuff they endured. How could they?

I didn’t understand. I couldn’t understand.

I thought ‘I would have left.’ I would have got up and walked out. I would have, I would have…

Later, as I emerged into the world from the claustrophobic circles of high school I was convinced that every person was like my family, or like the evil portrayed on television, or found in the newspapers that I made myself a promise. If anyone ever struck me out of anger I would leave. There would be no second chance. There would be no reconciliation. It would be over and I would be gone.

So, why didn’t these women leave? I would.
I still didn’t understand.
And when I made this declaration on the first date – as was my practice – I saw very few second dates. As a matter of fact – the only second dates I had were with the men who would turn into my abusers.

Funny that.

What I didn’t know at the time – although I lived it every minute of my life – was that I wanted a rescuer. I wanted someone to come in and sweep me up in a romantic embrace, promise to never abandon me, and save me from my past. I wanted to be rescued from my life so badly that to someone abusive I must have looked like a neon sign.

And when my rescuers came I couldn’t see anything other than the ‘good’ that they presented at first. I ignored warnings from friends. My father knew – but he didn’t say anything – that’s a different story. These men became my rescuers – my romantic partner, my tormentor, my abuser.

I couldn’t reconcile the two realities. I was primed to believe that something was wrong with me. I believed that somehow I earned the disdain, the silence, the taunts, the threats. After all explosive violence was the legacy of my family – so, at least there wasn’t that.

Somewhere along the way that protective cocoon that he formed around me started to smother. I was isolated. Our finances were combined, we lived together. How could I leave? I couldn’t hurt him. He didn’t mean to hurt me.

Somewhere in those years, I began to understand why women (or men) don’t ‘just leave’ an abusive relationship. There are lives – jobs, obligations, a thousand little ties that connect you to where you are physically, mentally, and emotionally.

If you sever one thread there are still the other thousand to draw you back again and again.

And make no mistake those who would abuse another become skilled in playing their victim like an instrument. They are able to draw out any emotion they wish. To them, you are part toy, part safety blanket, part mirror, part captive audience.

My abuser had a distinct pattern that he moved his victims through. I stuck around long enough that not only did I get to see all the roles he shoved his partners into, I played those roles myself. When I saw the entire tableau, I helped the women he was grooming to leave before they were caught in the pernicious cycle. And they, in turn, helped me to leave.

Let me emphasize I was never struck. I don’t know if that is because of my declaration at the beginning or if I just got out in time. I suspect the latter. But, even if I was never physically hurt, that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t wounded by the time I left.

Those years in the crazy-making, gaslighting, emotionally battering world stripped me of so much. When I finally fled I was a fraction of myself. And after you escape there is shame, and anger at yourself and them. There is the world not able to understand how you could leave someone ‘so nice’. There is a whole new landscape to navigate. And you start on your knees. Or, at least, I did.

But, I came away from those years with a new understanding, new compassion for those who live with violence. It is not something you can just drop and walk away from. You fight your way out of it. You fight to reclaim yourself. And I finally understood that leaving wasn’t the end. It was just the beginning.

Nailed in the past… a paradox

This is one of those things that when I think about my Complex-PTSD should have been obvious. How I missed it for so long really confounds me.

I often talk about the paradoxes that arise in C-PTSD. Here I have stumbled into another one. It goes something like this.

Huh. I just realized how weird it is to live with one foot nailed in the past when you can’t remember any of it.

ThinkingTooLoud

Healing the Invisible

There is an event in the writing world called #PitMad. It is a Twitter event with a specialized hashtag, #PitMad in this case, where writers can pitch their novels to agents. It’s a bit like Carnivale crossed with Bedlam.

These events have really taken off in the past couple of years. From initially a few hundred pitches over the day agents and publishers can now be bombarded with thousands of pitches an hour. How they wade through all that, I have no idea.

How you stand out as a writer is even harder.

This is where my Complex PTSD enters the picture.

For someone who has grown up in an environment where they were in essence ‘invisible’ learning how to be seen, and heard, and noticed is an exercise in something not only new, but frightening in cases. If, like me, your home was dysfunctional with explosive anger you might also have learned that being unseen was safer. I learned early that it was better to be the child that didn’t need, or want, or ask.

I learned that lesson so well, so many times that I even made up a little chatechism that I recited every night.

Don’t Ask – You’ll be denied.
Don’t Rely – You’ll be disappointed.
Don’t Trust – You’ll be betrayed.

By the time I was 13 I had carved a reminder of this into my arm so I would never forget it again. I still have those scars fourty years later.

But, I’m trying not to live by those rules any more. Trying. The healing doesn’t always go smoothly, or in a straight line. Think of it more like a mental health cha-cha. Sometimes you go forward, sometimes you go back. You get the idea.

To tie these two things together – PitMad and CPTSD recovery – think of it as peeling off layers and layers of habitual camoflague. Rule one of PitMad is if you want to ‘win’ an agents attention via the event – you have to enter. You must put yourself out there. An agent is not going to come knocking on your door.

Image by 愚木混株 Cdd20 from Pixabay : Words by MStewart

Participation, putting myself ‘out there’, that means making an active attempt to be seen. That idea just registers in my core as pure insanity.

Be Seen. NO! That’s when ‘bad things’ happen. You get ignored or hurt when you are seen.

Don’t touch it! Just, put the idea down, and slowly step away.

One day you finally figure “Meh, I’ll try it.” So, you do. And you hear the worst thing you could. SILENCE.

Why is silence the worst? When in a situation like PitMad it could mean –

  • The agent just isn’t looking for a fantasy book about a mentally challenged heroine.
  • The agent blinked when your pitch scrolled by.
  • They stepped away for a minute (they’re human, too)
  • Their dog farted and they had to clear the room.
  • They already have a book that is a fantasy about a mentally challenged heroine.

Who knows? There are literally millions of reasons that no one put a little red heart next to your entry. And the competition is stiff. Thousands of entries for all kinds of books scroll by during the day. There is not enough time to respond to them all.

But, though my rational brain knows this, my emotions tie themselves into knots and I’m that small, inconsequential, invisible girl again. Being back in that place makes me wonder if I ever left it at all. Maybe that invisibility is permanent? Perhaps there is nothing I can do to be seen or heard. I will forever be shouting into the void. And, even there, drowned out by millions of others. Never to be more than a dull anonymous speck among stars.

Ouch.

After a few tries you wonder if the voices of the CPTSD are right. You fear you never will be ‘visible’.Part of you contracts with the pain of the idea. But, there is a tiny voice within undulled by all the abuses and fear that whispers – “Try.”

That seed, our original and true self is the one we must nourish.

So, rest when you must. When you can, move on; sure in the knowledge that the Universe sees you.

Falling off the edge

I don’t know if this post will go up. Really. 
Most of my posts are crafted in a place of cerebral analytic detachment. This post originates in intense visceral pain. 
Still sounds like it is running through the brain, doesn’t it? Well, I have to do that, or I wouldn’t be able to spell viscera. 
Focus. 

Pain. Terror. The only way I could sum this up to myself or to anyone else is simply, I hurt. 
It doesn’t help that I’m quartering my meds. The Dr., the Pharmacy, the Insurance company are all looking at one another and telling me that I am not their problem. 

Meanwhile – I’m running out of my medication. 

I spoke to the state oversight board of insurers. Well, sure I can file a complaint – and then wait 30 days. 

30 days. 
Right. 
Did I mention one of the risks of rapid ungoverned withdrawal is psychosis? 

I’ve already been fighting for nearly 30 days, to get my medication. To keep some semblance of control over my emotions and my mind. 

I’m quartering my dose just to try to keep total implosion from happening. 

I feel like I’m losing. 
I feel like I’m being torn apart. 
I feel frightened. 
I feel – too much. 

100-word Essay: Off The Rails

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

A new post up at the CPTSD Foundation

Unpacking: COVID and ‘brain disease’

light blue one use medical protective masks

The headlines are terrifying.

The study behind the headlines was published in the Lancet on April 6, 2021 (yesterday, as of writing this)

I recommend you go read the study, but for a short recap I’m going to break it down here. The main take away point from the study is this:

The largest group of outcomes involving the brain from having COVID-19 are mental health issues.

And really, who could be surprised by that?

I’m in no way attempting to minimize the role of mental health. (Seriously, have you looked at the rest of this blog?) But, I did want to show the data behind those horrid headlines in the media.

Mental health is a serious matter, and the recent study demonstrates that the next wave to follow COVID-19 might be a series of mental health crises. I’m not the first person who has espoused this possibility. Nor, do I think I will be the last.

IF anything, this study has demonstrated that mental health is interwoven with physical health. The first order is to preserve life, but we must not abandon the fundamental human need to live.

The data below is taken from Table 2, of the study.
The table below shows the rates of each outcome for COVID-19 patients at the four levels of severity –
non-hospitalization, hospitalization, ICU admission, and delirium.
Additionally, the data is organized from most common to least common Based on the “No hospital” column.

Outcomeno
Hospital
hospitalICUDelerium
Mood, anxiety, or psychotic disorder (any) 23·59% 24·50% 27·78% 36·25%
Anxiety disorder (any) 17·51% 16·40%19·15%22·43%
Mood disorder (any)13·10% 14·69% 15·43% 22·52%
Mood, anxiety, or psychotic disorder (first)8·15%8·85% 12·68% 12·96%
Anxiety disorder (first)6·81% 6·91% 9·79%9·24%
Substance use disorder (any)5·87%8·56% 10·14% 11·85%
Insomnia (any) 5·16% 5·95% 7·50% 9·82%
Mood disorder (first)3·86% 4·49% 5·82% 8·07%
Nerve, nerve root, or plexus disorders2·69% 3·35% 4·24%4·69%
Insomnia (first)2·23%3·14% 4·24% 5·05%
Substance use disorder (first)1·74% 2·09% 3·15% 2·58%
Ischaemic stroke (any)1·33% 4·38% 6·92% 9·35%
Psychotic disorder (any)0·93%2·89% 2·77%7·00%
Dementia0·35%1·46%1·74%4·72%
Psychotic disorder (first)0·25%0·89%0·70%2·12%
Data are percentage at 6 months (95% CI)

All the other outcomes, which were all physiological, were under 0.50% Those include: Intracranial hemorrhage, Ischaemic stroke, Parkinsonism, Guillain-Barré syndrome, Myoneural junction or muscle disease, and Encephalitis.

If you go read the study, which I recommend you will see that it was well constructed and thorough. I have a small niggle with the combination of outcomes they chose to examine – but in the end the brain is all about chemistry, so I can’t really complain.

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.

Question of interest for book on CPTSD

Thinking Too Loud - writing to recovery from Complex PTSD ( cptsd )

Hi folks.

I have a question for my readers – Would you be interested in a book about the journey of recovery from Complex-PTSD?

What I have in mind is an exploration of the healing process from three distinct perspectives. The view of the person trying to overcome CPTSD would be one. I have a therapist who is willing to work with my to provide the therapeutic aspects that are encountered and how to work through them. And I have a person who is willing to author at least a part of the ‘how to support someone’ in recovery.

If you have some interest or ideas, please share them in the comments.

Thanks.

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.