I have never been a fan of labels, although I've been given plenty of them over the years: bitch, crazy, dramatic - those were the most common during my teens and early twenties. And I'd be lying if I didn't also say that bipolar was thrown in the mix quite a bit.
Although never diagnosed, I assumed it must be true, because I knew there was something happening with my mother. My sister was diagnosed as bipolar, so I assumed that I must also have it, even though It wasn't something I wanted. It felt like a diagnosis would only confirm that there was indeed something wrong with me. (Side note, I now KNOW whether you have a disorder or not, doesn't mean something is wrong with you - but at the time that was the perspective that I held.)
This was the early 2000s when everyone, including me, was still blinded to the fact that mental health even existed, let alone mental illness, which was completely covered in stigma, more than it is today. This was during a time when, if you were seeing a therapist, you were considered "crazy."
The sad part was, that whether you saw one or not, if you acted outside of what 'society' deemed appropriate, you were still labeled as such. I guess it's not that much different than where we are today, but mental health and getting help are far more normalized now than twenty years ago. And honestly, understanding or talking about trauma was absolutely nonexistent then too.
I was 21 when my sister gave me a book called "I hate you, Please don't leave me" by Jerold J. Kreisman, which introduced me to a new label that I hadn't been aware of before.
She told me this will help you understand Mom. My sister was at school for psychology, clearly attempting to put together the pieces of the chaos and make sense of the only world we ever knew. As I read the book, it did help me make sense of my mom, but that wasn't the biggest impact, who it really helped me understand was me.
This book was about borderline personality disorder. and it found me in one of my darkest places. It allowed me to have compassion for my mom, and feel more connected with her than ever. Which might not have been the best thing at the time. Was I just a mini version of her, was she what my future looked like? Did I even stand a chance at freeing myself from the chaos?
This would be the first time that I officially self diagnosed myself. Because it made sense at the time. I gave myself a little leniency with my adderral addiction and decided knowing what I knew now, going to a psychiatrist to help with my addiction and new diagnosis, would be the step in the right direction.
It was only my first session before I already hated the doctor. I told him I had BPD and he asked if I was 'actually diagnosed', and I admitted that it was a self diagnosis. He Didn't ask any other questions, other than if anyone else in my family had it, and I said "yes, my mother and that my sister was bipolar".......
There weren't any other discussions--- instead he would have me fill out a test, which I took, and personally, I felt like I aced that thing. I handed it back proud, ready to be given the confirmation that I was my mother's daughter. But instead, he burst my bubble and belittled me, "You clearly lied on this" as he handed it back to me.
"No, I didn't," as I scanned over the test again and handed it back.
"Yes you did, there's no way you answered all these correctly and that you have BPD." He put the test to the side and instead just brought out his prescription pad to begin the drugging process.
I sat there flabbergasted that this old white man who had literally never met me before and knew nothing about me could so automatically dismiss my voice and my truth. But this wasn't the first time my voice or my truth was dismissed, and it wouldn't be the last.
I realized that the mental health world was not a "safe place" as they make it out to be. After an on and off again stunt with a therapist, and a few months with the massive amounts of pills this doctor was prescribing to me, I decided that I would not let all this shit stop me. I would overcome it all and make sure I was successful by society's standards. Cue the Trauma blocking workaholic stages of my life. If I was successful externally, I assumed my internal world would follow.
It didn't though. And I was so turned off by the mental health world that I didn't want their help anymore, and I was so dismissed by the doctor that I felt like I was an imposter for even thinking that I could suffer from BPD, so I pushed it all away, I assumed I was making it all up in my head, and that it must not be that bad, I scratched away the label, even though I still knew deep down, something was wrong with me.
It would be almost another 10 years before I was seeing a new trauma-informed therapist and actually dedicated myself to a real healing journey. I had already been seeing my therapist for a few years, before I asked her, what do I suffer from?
That quite literally would be decades of suffering on my own before I was diagnosed with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). For those of you who don't know what that is, I suggest reading about the difference between PTSD and CPTSD here. This also goes over the symptoms so you have a better understanding of what this disorder is all about.
For me, It was like a light bulb finally freaking turned on. Learning about C-PTSD was one of the most essential parts of my healing journey; understanding that there was a name associated with my suffering allowed me to admit that what I was feeling was real and valid. The symptoms I lived with for so long came from the trauma I endured, not because there was something wrong with me. Understanding the symptoms allowed me to, for the first time, start to manage them. It gave me the confirmation that I needed to stop minimizing my abuse and my pain. It gave me the understanding that my body was surviving the best way it knew how. It validated the notion that what I went through was traumatic. The diagnosis finally helped me make sense of what was happening within me. And with just that diagnosis, I could release just a little bit of shame.
I'm not even going to pretend that every person who is diagnosed with C-PTSD has the same enlightening experience that I did. Complex Trauma and healing from it are not one size fits all, and our experiences are all going to be different, and that's okay. If you didn't feel like I felt when I was diagnosed-- that's normal, and I encourage you to honor what you feel and don't try to resist it.
I get a lot of messages about NEEDING to be diagnosed. "How do I get diagnosed?.... I need to have this diagnosis..... I have been diagnosed with X, they won't diagnose me with C-PTSD."
And I get it, you want proof of it so that it's not something you are just "making up in your head" not just for yourself but for the judgment of others as well. It's like a stamp of proof that as survivors we feel like we need in order to confirm what we already know.
Here is what I want to say about that. First off, getting a diagnosis is not something that you go to a doctor once and get. As I said, I was seeing my therapist for years before she would even consider diagnosing me with anything. So if you are here trying to just get a sheet of paper that says you are diagnosed without actually spending years in therapy, I'd say that's probably not the norm. Which is the perfect place for me to pivot and speak about self diagnosis.
I know, No one wants to talk about of "self diagnosis" because society has painted it as not factual, valid, or real. Well if you are here, as part of this community, I don't care if you have a diagnosis or not. I am not looking for some sort of proof of what you have gone through or the pain that you are still living in. You being here is all the proof I need.
Because here's the thing with our healing journey, we need to start trusting ourselves, and our own voice, and not caring about what others have to say about it. External validation is great, yes of course, but if I based my understanding of myself, on what others had to say about me, I would never know who I really am, and I would still be stuck in the quicksand of the past. I know, because I lived this way for many many years.
And the reality is, being able to see a therapist and get a diagnosis is a privilege that not everyone has. Until mental health is a basic human right, not a privilege then self diagnosis is fine in my book. And I won't even go down the rabbit hole about how complex trauma is not something that is taught to mental health professionals or how easily those with trauma are dismissed and belittled when they have an experience with them as I (and many others!) have. There's a lot wrong with the systems in place, but that's a blog for another day.
I'm not here trying to 'shit' on the mental health world. Therapy with the right professional is helpful. There is no denying that. But finding the 'right professional' is difficult, and not available to everyone. If something is a privilege, not available to everyone, then we need to stop acting like, THAT is the only path that everyone must go on in order to heal.
Let's circle back to the topic of labels. Labels can be helpful for some people, like myself, in certain circumstances, like this one. However, for others, labels can be harmful, and that's perfectly okay to not want them. If labels don't resonate with you, there's no need to adopt them. Many individuals dislike labels because they can feel limiting. It's as if they place you in a box and dictate what you can or cannot handle, as if it's set in stone and unchangeable. I understand how this can happen because I've personally experienced the limitations that come with blindly accepting a label.
Labels can be tricky and have the potential to diminish your sense of power. However, one thing I firmly believe in is that you are constantly evolving and healing, particularly if you're dealing with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). I want you all to know that just because you have C-PTSD, it doesn't mean you're broken or destined to suffer as intensely as you are right now.
While I acknowledge that labels have the potential to narrow your perspective, they can also broaden it. As long as you're aware of this, you won't allow the label to confine you within a closed box. Instead, I prefer to view it as an open box that I can move out of based on my perspective and readiness in my healing journey.
Here are some ways it may expand your perspective:
Sense of Belonging: Labels can provide a sense of belonging and connection with others who share similar experiences or identities. When you identify with a label, you may find communities, support groups, or resources that can offer understanding, validation, and shared knowledge.
Language for Understanding: Labels can provide a common language to describe and understand certain experiences or conditions. They offer a framework for discussing and exploring specific challenges, symptoms, or emotions. It can also help you find relevant information, research, or therapeutic approaches related to that label.
Validation and Self-Acceptance: For some, labels can provide validation and a sense of self-acceptance. It can be comforting and empowering to put a name to what you're experiencing, knowing that others have gone through similar struggles. It validates your experiences as real and valid, reducing self-blame or doubt.
Advocacy and Awareness: Labels can serve as a platform for advocacy and raising awareness about specific issues or conditions. By embracing a label, you can become part of a larger movement or community that works towards understanding, support, and change.
Remember, the way you engage with labels is entirely personal. Some people find empowerment and growth within labels, while others prefer a more fluid approach to their identity or experiences. It's important to honor your own journey and choose what resonates best with you.
I've never been a fan of labels, yet when I received the diagnosis of c-ptsd it changed my life. And to think, if I hadn't asked my therapist for a diagnosis, she wouldn't have given me one. And if she didn't give me one, this community would have never been created and I would still be struggling in the darkness wondering what the hell is wrong with me.
Once I had a name for what I was experiencing, it gave me the power to take back control which started with learning more. C-PTSD is not widely recognized and there are not many resources available on the topic. Everything I read about C-PTSD, and complex trauma, felt like a message spoken directly to my soul. So, I wanted to create a safe place for myself as I continued on this healing journey. A place that spoke the truth of the chaos in my reality; a place that allowed me to feel a little less alone. I wanted to express myself, even if it was just by sharing a post on a social media app.
I had no idea that so many of you would relate, understand, and feel seen. I had no idea it would happen so quickly and continue to grow far beyond anything I could ever imagine.
But you have all shown me so loudly that I'm not alone, that there is nothing wrong with me, and that there are people out there who know exactly what I mean and how I feel. It is a true gift that I never could have imagined, let alone even think I deserve. A gift that I knew, deep in my heart, wasn't just for me. It was a gift for all complex trauma survivors, and I had to share it.
That is how The Healing & C-PTSD Community was born.
And here is what you should know about me: I’m not a mental health professional, simply a complex trauma survivor like you. I spent the first 25 years of my life in trauma and I’m about 10 years into my healing journey. I don’t have all the answers, nor could I ever. I will most definitely make mistakes, as I run this community and become more vocal with my story, but I will always try to learn from them. I have bad days and good days, and I’m really honest about that (which helps to relieve some of the guilt and shame I feel on bad days) I understand now that it wasn’t my fault that the abuse happened AND I have the power to take back control by moving towards healing.
I am a work in progress and always will be. Everyone is a work in progress, which isn't a bad thing. I can’t compare my trauma or progress to another because our journeys are different. And you shouldn’t compare yours either. I want you to know, your trauma is valid AND you deserve healing.
Healing is a deeply personal and unique journey for each person, no matter the similarity in trauma. But one thing I know for sure is that my story isn't rare. In hearing your stories, I have come to the realization that complex trauma is happening way too freaking often. It's something we aren't supposed to talk about. But if we keep ignoring what is happening inside of our homes, inside of our families, inside of us—if we keep sweeping trauma under the rug, then healing can't ever happen. We are only digging ourselves and future generations into a deeper grave of suffering.
When I think about how C-PTSD is not recognized, I am truly not that surprised, if this country and the structures in place were to recognize C-PTSD as being real, they would have to shine a light on complex trauma, which includes their role in causing complex trauma for generations. (want to help the fight, sign our petition here).
It is time for us to stop ignoring trauma. It doesn’t matter if those causing it won't admit it. This isn't something you should only learn about after decades of suffering from it, as I did. It is something that we can deal with at the root. It's scary to think about putting myself out there. In fact, it's scary to think about anyone even reading this right now, because well, let's face it, I have never been truly seen, heard, or understood. But each day that I spend running The Healing & C-PTSD community, I gain the strength and courage to keep speaking. I have all of you to thank for that. I only hope I can give as much strength and support back to you through this community.
Thank you for helping me find my voice and I hope this space will help you find yours.
You are not alone.
I believe in the power of bringing awareness to complex trauma and c-ptsd. I hope that as we open up the dialogue, others can draw comfort from the knowledge that they are not alone. If you feel comfortable sharing your experience in discovering c-ptsd, or are called to share something else---Feel free to open a dialogue in the comments section below, collectively, we can learn and grow from each other's experiences.
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