You remember it wrong.

An old family friend commented on one of my blogs about a week ago. He said that while he respected my memories of growing up, he didn’t recall the emotional abuse and neglect that I spoke of in my recent blog post. The only memories he could recall were of my being loved and respected by my family. Nor did he believe that my parents were anything but caring and nurturing. Besides being a covert challenge to my authenticity and the credibility of my memories, his comments did get me a little panicked about whether my abuse was “objectively true”. I questioned whether I could really trust my experiences of growing up in my family. The voice that whispers, “You’re fucking insane, man, and everyone else thinks this too” crept in. Could I be wrong? Could all those visits to psychiatric wards (both voluntary and involuntary), the suicide attempts, the confusion, the panic and shame attacks, the alienation and chronic fear of intimacy – could all that have been the result of some chemical imbalance, something unfixable, or inherently arbitrary? Could my parents have been as loving and nurturing as this friend of the family seems to recall?

I decided to delve deeper in to my memories. Perhaps my experiences of my dad insistently berating my mum for every damn thing she did wrong, insulting her intelligence and her dignity were not real memories, or at the very least were not real instances of domestic violence. Perhaps the memory of having to cover my ears to muffle the overwhelming booming sound of my father’s voice as he hurled insults at her and at us in the car trips to Sydney at the age of twelve didn’t really feel as though my fragile boundaries were being shattered. That even though I felt like a trapped rat in a cage with a cat, I couldn’t escape my family? That this feeling felt threatening to my very survival?

If the authenticity of all these experiences were subject to questioning, then maybe other memories were too. Shit, maybe I didn’t really have those thoughts of wanting to kill my dad when I heard him hit my mum in the other room, and maybe I didn’t really feel all that powerless when he would storm in to my room and proceed to hit me and my siblings too. Perhaps being whipped with a belt at the age of five was common practice, along with threats to “Shut up, or I’ll do it again!” Perhaps I developed an identical inner dialogue whenever I feel a similar feeling of distress out of nowhere, and perhaps I am intrinsically hostile towards myself for no apparent reason. 

Still, I played devil’s advocate in my head, wanting to be sure that I’d covered all bases; there was still a chance that my family friend was not ignorant, and rather that he knew what he was talking about. Years of psychotherapy had imbued in me the sense that other people were the experts on my life, and that I couldn’t trust my own crazy mind. Doctor knows best. Such a dangerous mentality to foster. Nevertheless I thought to myself, ‘Even if such memories were that bad, maybe my parents were still nurturing, loving, and caring. After all, they’d provided a roof over my head and kept food in my belly. What was I complaining about? My basic needs were being met, and I wasn’t homeless. My basic needs were met…And besides, I turned out alright, right?

…Well, no, not exactly. I’m not saying that I’m a hopeless case – far from it. The best years are still to come I’m sure. But taking an honest inventory of one’s self means just that. In the last fifteen years I’ve: been hospitalised voluntarily and involuntarily; been called a liar and told to get over it by my father, stepmother, and extended family members; been victimized by the mental health system, by clinicians who told me to swallow pills that made me put on 15-20kgs, and that numbed my feelings of rage and grief – feelings that needed to be out rather than in – and when the pills didn’t work I was told that I was “treatment-resistant.” I’ve been chronically bullied in school systems by teachers and peers, chronically unemployed at times and underemployed all of the time, and I’ve been told that it’s “just depression and anxiety: the common cold of psychology.” Truth is, at face value I look like the guy with it all, though I’ve suffered chronic low self-esteem. Something’s amiss, surely.

Which begs the question again: Am I wrong to call a spade a spade just because someone calls it something else? Were my experiences not as bad as all that? And if they were that bad, perhaps there really is something inherently backward about me to not have “gotten over it” by now? Perhaps I really am treatment resistant? Hmm? Well?

…Well, the answer is Nah. As in Nah, fuck that. I am unequivocally right. I know what I experienced, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to entertain someone else’s denial or ignorance. Been there, done that, and got the t-shirt that says “It Doesn’t Work To Do It That Way.” Part of my recovery is to set internal boundaries, to stop listening to the people who try to instill in me, for their own personal or professional reasons, why I shouldn’t feel a certain way or question whether a certain thing really happened in my past. I see those people now as dead weight on the recovery journey. Because really, what do they know? Were they there? Can they really be so arrogant as to tell me what my reality was? What it is? Do they realise how ridiculous it sounds to tell someone that what they experienced didn’t happen the way that they remember?

I’m not sure. I’m powerless over others, but not over myself. Now, I start to recognise when someone is trying to deny my reality. I put my breaks on it as best I can. Though it’s rarely expressed as such, I am mindful of words people use like “ought to” and “should” to describe my recovery journey. When I share my reality, and when the response is a vague or sharply defined sense of ‘No’, I give myself permission to mobilise, to set standards for who’s worthy of my time and my reflection, and to walk the other way. That’s my right in recovery, because recovery is and always should be self-defined. Case closed.

 

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Unemployment, The Universe, and Feelin’ the Feelings

So, I’m unemployed now. Prior to becoming unemployed, I’d experienced in my body panic at the prospect of not having an income. “What will I do?!” I thought to myself obsessively in the wee hours of the mornings leading up to my termination. It felt as though I would die. My heart would pound and my back would ache in silent protest; I couldn’t sleep and I was agitated at the people around me more than usual. “Fucking people,” I thought. People weren’t the problem, though.

Funny then when the date came and passed and I did not, in fact, die. What a relief. Life goes on after one job finishes, soon to be replaced by another. Probably the biggest difference between this latest transition in to unemployment (unemployment is a common aspect of recovery when you have PTSD) and other previous events is my steadfast commitment to staying present to my internal self. My Body.

Some of you will dismiss the feeling of feelings as some new age wank-off crap. That’s OK. Others of you who are familiar with the numbing effect that trauma has on feelings and connection to one’s own body will appreciate just how big it is to have stuck with experiencing my emotions in a time of considerable stress. It’s a win, and I’ll take it. I didn’t act out with most of the socially acceptable drugs – caffeine, booze, begging my parents for financial or emotional support. No. I recognise now that all these forms of ‘acting out’ don’t help me. All they do is numb what needs to be felt: Panic, anger, rage, resentment, sorrow, and grief. I didn’t hide from these feelings, and as a result, a gift of self-realisation has been forwarded on to me; more insights as to where I’ve come from, what I’ve endured and triumphed over, where I’m heading and what my preferences are for living a full and abundant life. The pain from my past and the hope for my future are both being fused in to a comprehensible and consistent story of whom I am. This is good news for me. Prior, I had little notion of who I was due to the stop-start effect of dissociation.

By staying present to myself and by allowing myself to feel what needs to be felt, certain inescapable truths have slowly risen to the surface of my conscious mind. Namely, I like to write. I’m good at it, and using this skill for paid employment would give me great satisfaction. I’m working on that. In the past I dismissed my talent. My sister is the writer and the reader. ‘We can’t both be writers,’ I used to think. But who made that rule? It’s a belief, I’ve learned, that is a result of the neglect and emotional abuse I endured in my childhood. It’s one I’m thankfully letting go of. Also, the subject of psychology interests me. I have a Psychology degree that I’m not doing justice to by answering calls in call centers. This will change eventually.

Maybe I need to return to study to realise these inclinations more fully. This might mean share housing again, or moving further out in to ‘the sticks’ if I wish to continue to live on my own whilst I study. But living on my own has transformed my recovery from PTSD. It’s provided a safety that I hadn’t previously known while share housing. And it’s so much easier living on my own. You know all the usual annoyances. Big black hairs clogging the bathroom sink, loud and offensive music playing at 9 a.m. on a saturday morning, and taking a bite out of the block of cheese and putting it back in the fridge – and those are just my quirks.

I have to find a way to make it work. Unemployment, flashbacks, returning to study, stress. These are all factors that I have to learn to mitigate in the recovery process. I complained to my friend, Sam, the other day about how slow the recovery process seems to be of late (not true, but you know when it feels like progress is slow?). He said, “You know, you sound exactly like someone who is on the verge of change. Maybe you’re exactly where you need to be right now.” Thank God for friends who say these things during times like this. One day at a time. Just for today. These are the maxims I stick to in my recovery. I stick to routine and hand it over to the universe. After all, if it’s meant to be, surely the universe will intervene and offer encouragement?

universe

Childhood Trauma and the 6 Ways We Cope

It should go without saying that children are people too. Of course they are. So when a person is violated by means of power, coercion, or while under duress, they experience rage like any other because their rights and their boundaries have been infringed upon. This fact continues to be overlooked (or ignored) by those who insist on sparing the rod and spoiling the child. Nevertheless, children lack the aforementioned verbal skills required to articulate such violation. And practically speaking, a child is small, weak, and quite literally dependent on his abusive caregiver’s resources (e.g., love, attention, food, shelter) for survival. It thus makes sense for him to mute the objections he is capable of uttering when his rights are violated (e.g., crying, raging, outbursts of physical violence) to ensure his ongoing needs are met. This leads to a tragic and insane learned helplessness, and rather than rage fruitlessly, the child learns to adapt to his abusive family system.

Children are extremely resourceful, and so adaption takes many unique forms. But research (and theory, to pay Freud his dues) has for some time pointed to clusters of adaptive processes that children engage in when their caregivers are neglectful, abusive, or both.

Fight, Flight, Freeze, Fawn, Fuck, Feed: The six childhood responses to developmental trauma
For children to survive the trauma of being emotionally, psychologically, sexually or spiritually abused by their caregivers, they develop specific coping mechanisms Here’s my take on what these mechanisms are. It’s worth mentioning here that I have a BA in psychology. Funnily enough, though, I learned most of what I am about to discuss in this article not through studying undergrad textbooks, but through my own personal experience of and consequent research on childhood trauma.

The Fight Type. Fight types don’t hold back their rage, but nor do they learn to control it in adulthood. Prone to outbursts and tantrums, people with this coping style learned early that, in order to have their needs met they had to become hostile, or go without. Rage is learned through modeling, and can lead to aggressive and anti-social tendencies without appropriate figures to re-model such behaviour. Domestic violence, physical, verbal and sexual assault, as well as more extreme acts of violence like murder are common means of acting out that Fight types engage in. But often the fight type find socially acceptable ways to use and abuse power, and may work they way to positions of authority in Government or in corporate life (e.g., the ‘charming psychopath’) These forms of acting out are used as a means of controlling their circumstances and other people to establish an internal sense of equilibrium, usually when they experience threat.

The Flight Type. Though it could be said that all adults who develop one or more of the six coping styles as a means of escaping the pain of trauma, Flight types are the escapists who’ve honed the skill of numbing out to a T. They run from life’s problems and from the feelings that accompany them. They numb pain through alcohol or drugs, or develop soloist hobbies that allow them to isolate from people and community – the perceived sources of threat – often in socially or culturally acceptable ways (e.g. online gaming, various IT professions). One way that Fight types escape is through fantasy. This can take the form of dissociation (i.e., numbing, zoning or checking out behaviours) to more severe severances from reality (e.g., through the experience of visual and auditory hallucinations, obscure beliefs about self and others, and paranoia). To the very sick Flight type, such breaks from reality act as very powerful distraction from the experience of emotions in the present moment. Arguably, many people diagnosed with schizophrenia or various other psychiatric illnesses have developed exceptional flight behaviours to avoid life’s inevitable stressors. When I think of Flight types, I think of Blanche Dubois from A Streetcar Named Desire.

The Freeze Type. Freeze types do exactly that: they freeze in the presence of perceived threat, and suffer the consequences dearly. Those in this category seem to typify the premise of researchers like Alice Miller and Bessel Van der Kolk aptly. That is, that trauma remains frozen in the body until it is released through a safe and therapeutic re-experiencing of it. Freeze types especially are prone to re-enact the abuse they originally suffered in childhood by choosing partners or lovers similar to their abusive caregivers. This is known as repetition compulsion, which is the repeated attempt a trauma victim makes to ‘finish the feeling’, that is, to finally find the caregiver who will show them the love and protection they craved in childhood. Repetition compulsion explains why many women abused in childhood women continually “end up with” abusive partners in adulthood.

The Fawn Type. Fawn types develop codependent tendencies. They’re apt to unconsciously cultivate a ‘helper’ mentality in the hope that their caregiver will meet their needs, or at the very least disengage from abusive or neglectful behaviour. Unfortunately, many codependents end up being complicit in their own abuse or trauma, much like freeze types. Fawn types can be perpetrators too, by acting highly agreeable, sacrificing their own values or beliefs, and being manipulative or dishonest – all dishonest forms communication – as a way to get heir needs met or to avoid the experience of their own or another’s negative feelings. Because Fawn Types did not have their needs met in childhood, they learn to manipulate outcomes through more ‘passive’ means, such as through blackmail, ‘guilting’ or playing the ‘martyr’, rather than through honest and direct communication which, in reality, they were never taught or modeled in their formative years.

The Fuck Type. ‘Fuck’ is something of a misnomer, though it’s appropriate all the same. Children who discover sex, inappropriate touching, or masturbation as a means of dealing with their neglectful, abusive or otherwise emotionally unbearable circumstances discover the pleasure their bodies can provide during high stress situations. Having not been taught the value of experiencing and trusting their emotional experiences, adult Fuck types may develop sex, love or porn pornography addictions to soothe intense emotions. Such addictive patterns include engaging in sexually risky or perverse behaviour (like exhibitionism and voyeurism), to more extreme perpetration involving rape or child sexual abuse. Arguably, Western Culture has a collective preference for the Fuck type’s adaptiveness. This is when we give pause to the highly profitable porn industry (supply and demand, right?), the escalating sexualisation of women – and increasingly men – in popular culture and in commerce (“Sex Sells”), and the quiet yet alarming sexualisation of children. Indeed, one needn’t look far to see the droves of sports stars and religious leaders whose fall from grace has involved inappropriate sexual escapades.

The Feed Type. Feed types learn early in childhood that food is their most important need, and so seek to idolize it. Emotional neglect and abuse leaves a child feeling overwhelmed in the face of their own volatile feelings. Feed types also understandably believe that caregivers ultimately disappoint, but food won’t. Obesity, as well as other eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, is common in the Feed Type, as are many of the symptoms of body dysmorphia – self-loathing, shame, disgust, and a distorted view of oneself.

As you can see, people who suffer emotional, sexual, psychological, or spiritual abuse at the hands of their caregivers are prone to develop self-destructive -albeit universal -coping mechanisms in order to deal with the trauma of consistently having their needs unmet in their formative years. In a later post I will discuss what current research is demonstrating are our best hopes for breaking free from the shackles of childhood trauma. 

Thinkin’ Thoughts rather than Feelin’ Feelings

When I get agitated, I get stuck in my head. Oh, you do too? Not like me, I bet. I ruminate. In fact, so good am I at not feeling my feelings, and so competent am I at launching in to my head to avoid said feelings, I’ve literally been diagnosed with OCD by a psychiatrist in the past. Not recently, but, you know, in the past. (So I win.)

Crazy, huh? I coined a phrase that aptly describes this inner phenomenon: I’d rather think my thoughts than feel my feelings. Pretty good, ay? Catchy. I mean I’m pretty sure it’s my phrase. I haven’t heard anybody else use it before. Can I get that copyrighted? Thanks. It’s officially mine.

“I’d rather think my thoughts than feelings my feelings”
– Daniel, from Me, you and the critics in my head

james dean crying
What might happen if I feel my feelings, dramatised by notorious weeper, James Dean.

Naturally, I like this saying because it rings very true; it’s very me. Quintessentially Daniel. I get so caught up in how I am going to manage my circumstances, whatever they happen to be at the time, that I forget (or make an unconscious decision) not to feel my feelings. It doesn’t work very well for me, truth be told.

As you might have guessed, my knowledgeable, omnipotent, and few-and-far-between Readers, herein lays the unmanageability. I don’t like my unpleasant feelings. Fear. Resentment towards self. Resentment towards others. Uncertainty – which, by the way, manifests at times as liquefied shit, a feeling of nausea in my stomach, or just plain old irritability and agitation, felt everywhere from my neck to my face to my back to groin. It’s enough to make you crazy. These sensations are my feelings, and goddammit they don’t feel good. And I want to feel good all the time. I want certainty and clarity and I want prosperity without any of the hard work those idiot successful people talk about. I want a no-risk, win-win situation. Is that too much to ask?

All delusions aside, I do find myself coming back to some pertinent and seemingly urgent questions. When the fuck’s it going to be my turn to get ahead in this shitty life? When’s it my turn to be prosperous? Such are the anxious and frustrated ramblings of my at-times incoherent head. Such are the thoughts, too, that cleverly mask the funky feelings in my body. They’re not pleasant feelings, so why feel them? To my unwell-at-times mind, it makes perfect sense not to go near my feelings. It’s airtight logic – how could it be wrong? Don’t like it? Don’t touch it! Easy.

The only problem with this logic is that it’s the same goddamn logic that’s kept me very, very unwell these last 29-odd years. If I don’t feel my feelings, then I don’t have an accurate gauge of who I am. Without feelings, I have no compass to navigate my internal world – or my external world. Without my feelings, I’m lost. And without my feelings, I’m only a few clicks away from turning in to Dexter Morgan, ridiculously fit, good-looking in an understated, nerdy-kind-of-way serial killer. Except he seems more well-adjusted than me…
dextermorgan2
OK, not really. Although sometimes I just don’t know. What’s wrong with not feeling your feelings?! Says my Sicker Self. Well, a lot, Mr. Daniel, if I may. It’s important for me to know what I’m feeling. They keep me safe from danger and they let me know when shit ain’t right. My feelings, when expressed appropriately and in a healthy way to my loved-and-liked ones, help me stay connected to other people. And staying connected is crucial to my recovery. I would say it’s one of my values. Yeah, it’s one of my values. Let’s go with that.

Enter, though, my fear of intimacy with others. That flaming queen, Oscar Wilde, once said that he could resist anything but temptation. Likewise, I have a tendency to proclaim that I value intimacy and connectedness to others – but just so long as you don’t take another fucking step closer to me. That’s my version of intimacy, I say proudly and while smiling.

oSCAR wILDE
“I can resist anything but temptation” – Oscar Wilde, Irish dramatist, poet, and flaming queen.

But it doesn’t really work well, this approach, when it comes to friends and relationships. Demanding intimacy while at the same time dialing triple zero as others approach me makes for a very awkward, confusing dance. I’m sure it’s comical to watch…. But, no. It is a great thing, then, that I’ve developed some good friendships with people who can relate to this predicament. Or as Oprah might call it, fear of intimacy. In 12 step programs it’s called emotional anorexia. I can identify with that.

Anyway, what were we discussing? Pizza? No – wait. Emotions? Ergh. Emotions. OK. I’ve been doing it tough with emotions lately. On the one hand my recovery hinges on my practicing feeling my emotions. On the other hand my recovery also hinges on recognizing when my emotions are becoming overpowering, and when it’s appropriate for me to self-soothe appropriately. You know, make phone calls, meditate, pray, do tapping, do havening, do body scans, etc. (Not booze or sex it up, or ruminate or numb out with pizza or any other mood-altering drugs, like ice-cream or binge-watching Game of Thrones, which is a very effective way to numb out, I’ve discovered).

Feelings. Let’s talk about them, then. With my contract ending in February, I’m feeling threatened. I feel like my recovery is being threatened. And my sanity. And it feels as though where I live is also under attack, too, because how in hell will I afford this lovely apartment without a job? Am I well enough to apply for and work a job that is more mentally challenging without the fear of another terrifying flashback?

I don’t know. I’m sick and tired of not knowing. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired. It’s draining, and it’s not fair. But what can I do but keep working at it? Language is important here, too. The words I use to evaluate my circumstances are important. So I’m writing this post today not to preach about recovery, although that can be very fun. I’m reminding myself to take little steps. Teeny, weeny, itty bitty baby steps.

And I’m reminding myself to have faith. And courage. And to stay connected to myself and to others through writing about it, and talking about it, and complaining (in moderation) to others about how unfair it all is. These are the pillars of my recovery, the tools for success, that will see me through to the other side of this unpleasant shit-storm.

Constipated Hanks and the Mini-Breakthrough

I’ve had a mild breakthrough in the last few days. Or maybe it’s a big breakthrough? I’ve been feeling the lows, don’t get me wrong. And the anxiety-induced highs that come with the acceptance of an uncertain future, too. But something in me has changed. I felt it shortly after an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) session with my psychologist. At the time I was watching Spielberg’s delightfully intriguing and naturally well-done Bridge of Spies – you know, the one where Tom Hanks looks constipated about 86% of the time? (I love you, Tom Hanks. Sorry for the dig).

tomhanks1

I came in to the movie late because I insisted on purchasing lunch beforehand. And so immediately prior to my mild awakening I sat in a darkened theatre room, munching on dim sims and a sausage roll simultaneously – much to the dismay of my fellow moviegoers. If they could have seen the apologetic look on my soy-and-tomato-sauce stained face, I’m sure they’d have been forgiving. Or disdainful. But alas, I digress.
tomhanks5
Something in me changed. I felt it. I couldn’t be sure what it was, but it was something. Something clicked over. Quick and subtle and barely perceivable, but it happened. Am I cured of my complex PTSD? Ha! The thought of a rookie in recovery. No, not cured. I know I’m not, because I continue to be triggered in to flashbacks, experiencing the same thoughts as before this mild awakening.
tomhanks3
But the feelings that accompany the distressing thoughts…they’ve changed. Or maybe it’s my evaluation of them. The feelings are still felt as an intense energy, a force. But they’re not life-threatening. “But they never were! Feelings can’t kill you! I hear you say with mild amusement. Well, no, feelings can’t kill you. But the traumatic circumstances that led to the intense feelings for the C-PTSD sufferer could have, perhaps. So the feelings were a memory of a more life-threatning chapter in a very old book.

But now, something has changed. I find myself waking up in the morning, my Fear Brain kicking wildly at the ghosts of trauma past. Though now, my rational, heaven-sent higher consciousness takes over shortly after, scanning the room calmly to remind me that I’m safe. “It’s Here and Now, and you’re free from the past,” it whispers to me as I fall back down to earth from the dizzying heights of anxiety.

tomhanks2
One of the many gifts of hard work in recovery, I suppose. My advice if you’re still struggling with mental illness? Keep going. Perhaps there’s no foreseeable cure, but it is a universal law that if you work hard, you’ll reap the rewards. Maybe not right away, but you will. Winston Churchill was right when he said, “If you’re going though hell, keep going.”

Onwards and upwards!

 

Hope is a four-letter word.

Hope, they say, is a four-letter word. Or maybe they don’t say that, I’m not sure. It is a fact, though. H-O-P-E . 1, 2, 3… Yep. I spoke to a mate yesterday and he applauded me for the hard work I have been pouring in to my own recovery over the last year.

“I hope it pays off,” I said with some trepidation. Visits with a trauma specialist (that ain’t cheap), daily yoga in the morning along with a quick read from my meditation book, catching up with and calling friends regularly to check in with my emotions, running my own mental health support group, exercise, maintaining a part-time job.

This stuff isn’t easy for people who live with complex PTSD. And it requires a great deal of faith, too. Faith that you’re putting in enough time and hard work to see results that you want to see. But there’s a fine line between faith and expectation. I gotta keep a close eye on my expectations; they’re not always rooted in reality.

Doing something just because I want a result, you know? Not an uncommon phenomenon. The abovementioned routines I engage in are worthwhile simply because they’re good for me in the moment. Regardless of circumstance, I need to keep doing them. My old life can be characterised by inaction and self-destructive habits. But not my new life of recovery.

It may take time to reap the long-term benefits of these routines – such as maintaining a sense of calm when starting a new job rather than being flooded by flashbacks that result in my compulsion to quit. Or pursuing a job that genuinely taps in to my passion and feeds my curiosity and creativity – and that pays butt-loads.

But I know that I need to love myself, with all my faults and all my ailments, now. Not some magical time in the future when things are all better – that’s my fantasy rearing its head – but now. So my hope for today is that I can be gentle with myself in spite of the approaching uncertainty in my life (because life will be always be uncertain).

Here’s to hope and positive action in recovery!

Relapse Exhaustion and the Waiting Game

I hadn’t felt like doing too much last weekend. I had an interview – my third with the same company – last Friday. It was a practical interview, focusing on my ability to write within a timeframe. To be honest, I felt very triggered doing it. Something about deadlines gets my heart racing.

Some bad memories associated with it, I suppose. There’s nothing like a good trigger to make you question how far in your recovery you’ve actually come. Being severely triggered is like a huge fucking hangover after a drinking session, but without the drinking.

Honestly. The weekend that followed, I woke up and I just wanted to go back to bed. But I couldn’t. My fear brain was switched to ‘on’ on Friday at the interview, and I’ve been working to switch it off ever since. Remember my first post about complex PTSD? About seeing a lion in the bathroom? That’s what I’m working with at the moment.

So when I rolled around in bed on Saturday in a state of inebriated anxiety, all I could feel was my heart pumping, pumping, pumping blood in to my stomach and surrounds. And all I could think about was the future. But not some idealized location or place of heightened achievement or success.

Just doom. It wasn’t pleasant. So how did I get through it, I hear you ask? Well, I just sat with it. Or, if you want to get all literal on my ass, I just lay with it. I just lay there in bed and let it wash over me. All that horrible anxiety and fear and impending doom, I just let it be there.

When I found myself going in to fantasy – thinking about the past, or the future – or worrying about my apartment lease or my job or the prospect of actually getting this writing job (which terrifies the shit out of me), I just came back to my body.

I felt it a lot in my stomach. In my throat, and in my chest and lower back, too. And it’s important that I know where I feel it, because that’s where my trauma hides. The feelings are associated with things not getting better. They have a timeless quality to them, something that feels as though I will be stuck in it, and with it, forever. Like a nightmare, you know? This is complex PTSD.

Like a nightmare. But, like most nightmares that occur in bed, this one passed too. Which I’m really grateful for. One day at a time. One step at a time. Things do get better. But slowly. For me, recovery really is about learning to associate negative feelings and overwhelming thoughts with a pervasive sense that things will be OK. Maybe not right away, but eventually.

It can be a slow, slow process. But such a worthwhile one. Stick in there if you suffer from C-PTSD!