An endless succession of death and rebirth.
It was March deep in the suburban heat island of Lismore, among wattle flowers and wooden floorboards. The space between myself and everything else was growing larger, only kept together by the automatic lull of placing one foot in front of the other. He told me I had Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I asked him if the appointment was over yet.
Not unlike most things filed into the I-wish-I-didn’t-know-that category, I made a bed of roses to lay this diagnosis upon and I bid it farewell, encrusting my heart with diamantes. It looked beautiful and initially, it was an unshakeable salve for all the pouring wounds. To quote Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. (or Lil Wayne for the uninitiated):
“Most people are nobody until somebody kill ’em.”
This is kind of what my journey with C-PTSD has been. It is an endless succession of death and rebirth, each time unearthing more of you and the entire amalgamation of everything that has happened to you in more intricate ways each time.
To avoid romanticisation, something I strongly oppose, I will note that C-PTSD is a psychological injury to the brain – a pill I found incredibly hard to swallow. It cannot be left to its own devices and it shouldn’t be. C-PTSD, as well as all forms of trauma, demands healing on the deepest of levels. Your chosen treatment and integration is entirely yours to own. Part of what I found incredibly confronting about my diagnosis was what I have since coined the ‘doom and gloom wheel’ of information. I am not promoting naivety, C-PTSD is very symptomatic, and she will rear her head if left to fester BUT with healing, it also becomes your superpower.
I wish I’d known this to start with.
Additionally, when talking about trauma, there can be a tendency to commodify the pain and misfortune; this post-modern phenomenon has been dubbed ‘trauma porn’. Steering fervently away from this paradigm, I want to instead strongly embody that trauma can be a catalyst for deep healing and integration, a beacon of hope. Because, at its ugly core, trauma is deeply rooted hopelessness that wedges itself within many facets of your being. When you begin to become so acutely aware of your kryptonite, you also begin to see the divinity between the entire range of human emotion and the tricyclic relationship between creation, maintenance and destruction. This is the birthplace of self-empowerment.
I’ll relay a story, one imparted on me by my therapist:
“A little boy falls through a window and it shatters, splinters of glass penetrating deep into his knee. It is incredibly painful and requires special care and attention but, eventually, it heals. A few weeks later his knee begins to throb again, for reasons he is not just yet aware of, and it is revealed that tiny slivers of glass have been left behind in the initial healing process. Again, with great care and attention the remaining slivers of glass are removed, his wounds are reopened, and he begins healing again, except this time with more understanding and more confidence.”
It is true that healing trauma comes in waves. In the instance of C-PTSD, it is an onion that at times seems like it has endless layers, with no end-point in sight. Currently, I’m finishing this piece from hospital – a place I thought I was far from returning to. It is a process of learning and unlearning because we are all deeply conditioned. The challenge is to not only transcend this conditioning, both internally and externally imposed, but to also come back to you at your core. As a humanist, I believe in the deep dignity shared by our humanness, one that does not waver despite our experiences or lack thereof. In analysing, observing and having retrospect over my own healing, I’ve developed my own process, of course with the support of others. I realise, only now as I am writing this piece, that this is the information I wish was available to me. Perhaps you wish that for yourself too.
I fight better with my back on the ropes. I will caveat this by saying, holding trauma alone without support, is like fighting with your hands behind said back. I learnt that the hard way. You must self-prepare for trauma healing. Do your research, build your team, call in your spirit guides, message your friends, hug your chihuahua a little tighter; this network will be one of your greatest assets, please do not underestimate this – even Muhammad Ali had a coach. How you build your team is your prerogative, there is power in the process. Here, with intention, you are in control of your healing.
In the name of healing, you will do things you never imagined yourself doing. Some mornings, when things feel very foggy, I am left with little option than to put reggae-dancehall on and throw it back in my tiny 2×4 meter room. Am I cringing as I write this? Yes. Does it dredge up somewhere deep inside of me the belief that I can make it through another day? Yes. Finding sources and spells to generate your self-belief and courage will lead to two things: enlightenment to your true worth and a profound intensification of your concepts of gratitude, self-compassion and self-empowerment. A layer deeper, you begin to develop an unshakeable voice and inner advocacy, whilst also recognising we are all part of a greater whole. A dear friend of mine would call this “finding GOD”.
Following on, when said dear friend speaks of GOD she speaks of the interconnectedness between us all. I like to imagine it as the thin place between our reality and our ability to be transcendental within it. By no means do I entertain the idea of a spiritual bypass, but no road is travelled without a toolkit. Some of us swear by sertraline, others by acupuncture or a combination of both. Palo santo and sage, crystals and candles – in my experience, the more woo-woo the better. Always incorporating the merging of East and West. Developing a routine that grounds and re-aligns you spiritually, emotionally and physically is needed, especially on the days that feel deeply misaligning. (C)PTSD doesn’t discriminate – it is a human condition. (C)PTSD doesn’t care if you are an Atheist or a Buddhist. It can be hard to tread water without a life raft; your practice is your life raft.
It would be a beautifully rounded piece if I told you, ‘AHA! You finish this process once and TADA!’ – which very well may be true for some. In my experience of healing, you will always be in a Venn-diagram of preparation, belief and practice regardless of whether you are in the shallow or deep end of the pool (both an incredible thing, I’m so proud of you!). Each process re-aligning you with your progress. At times, there are shadow-filled side steps, flatlines, deep scary voids and heavenly feelings; all that you never saw coming. Welcome the destruction, embrace maintenance, and thrive in the new spaces you create for yourself.
Conclusively, it’d be naive not to mention that we all know (excuse my French) how fucking hard it can be when you feel alone. Loneliness and mental illness are co-conspirators that sometimes wreak havoc. At times, I mentally shake myself to emphasise the importance of my living, breathing being despite the darkness. I implore you to reach out for help, connect openly with people and connect vulnerably with yourself. Healing is the greatest form of taking power back.
There is one thing I can promise you: there would be a furious gaping gash in the interwoven universe if we weren’t here. The butterfly effect would be irrevocable beyond measure. We are allowed to thrive, we owe it to ourselves.