Tag Archives: Accepting new diagnosis

On support and asking for help

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Content note: reference to suicide prevention, low self-worth, and gratitude

I really lucked out because I have had so many people saying and doing the right things to support me when I needed it.  I was terrified to ‘lift the veil.’  I don’t know where people learned to be so accepting and non-judgmental, but I am here because of it.  Here is my inventory of my support:

One of my cohort-mates knows everything that is going on for me and has shared her experiences with depression.  She gives me the space to just be with my feelings and affirms that I am competent.  This is priceless.  I would not be where I am otherwise.

My office mate also knows everything and has likewise just given me space.  Honestly she’s had to do a bit of crisis intervention with me but hasn’t made me feel put down or anything for it.  With her I was first able to say exactly how low I had gotten and describe how I rapidly ‘switched’ from that to ‘everything is OK’.  (This ‘switch’ experience eventually led to my diagnoses).

My poor roommate has patiently listened to me rant about how ‘I don’t have PTSD’ for 20 minutes each night over the course of two weeks.  She hasn’t bought it and has made it clear to me with her sarcastic “OKs”.  Enough said.

My adviser is amazing and is constantly looking out for my best interests.  She proactively suggested trying to go for a leave of absence next semester.  When I think I don’t belong in the program or am a drain on the department she has countered it.  I did not expect to open up to her so much because I did not feel it was appropriate.  Her open ended questioning and my feeling like I owed some explanation brought me there though.  Her response has been utterly non-judgmental and she has let it be known that it was OK to share.  I don’t know if faculty have been trained on how to recognize or respond to mental health issues in students, or if she inferred exactly how low I had gotten, but her response has been amazing.  Her acceptance and non-judgmentality allowed me to share more over time and honestly she’s also been doing a bit of crisis intervention with me.  She has witnessed some of my depression thinking and PTSD dissociation and I know she’s been advocating within the department for me to do a leave of absence next semester.  She’s also an amazing academic mentor and wants to keep me on as a research assistant while I take my time off.  When I contrast my experiences with her with other PhD students’ adviser experiences I can honestly say that I might not be alive right now if I had a different adviser.

My other academic mentor knows everything, tells me I’m competent, and has truly gone above and beyond to keep me connected and show her support.  It goes without saying that she has also done crisis intervention with me and that her support is helping me stay my course.  When I started going into my depression in the fall of 2014 she noticed and reached out.  At the time I felt guilty that I prompted an email inquiring about my well-being.  I did not know then that I was spiraling downward.  The email let me know though that was OK to let her see my facebook posts about my diagnoses this spring.  Her like on one of my posts let me know it was OK to reach out to her for some perspective and advice.  What I got was far more than I expected or thought I deserved.  She didn’t just give me perspective, she told me I can be a successful academic despite my diagnoses, helped me strategize, and told me that she is 100% behind me.  She even told me that she would notice if I disappeared, talked with me about building a support team, and gave me her number to call when I needed.  I still haven’t processed this.  It was hard for me to reach out because I didn’t want to be a burden on her time.  It was a combination of having to make some decisions that might affect others and her reaching out that let me message her.  I know I have to prepare a support plan and people for when I start addressing trauma memories but I am not able to do it yet.  I don’t yet know that I’m able to call her when I feel desperate or at my lowest either but I’m working to get there.

I have support from two friends who I feel like are “cut from the same cloth” as me so to speak.  Demographically we’re quite different other than being trans,* but I feel like we tend to see things the same way and have what I’ll call this resonance.  I felt the resonance was there inexplicable and strongly with one of them the day we met.  Now that I know what I know I think I understand why.  Our childhood abuse is really similar.  With my other friend I felt resonance as I got to know him.  His abuse experiences are different than mine, but we learned about our shared diagnoses at the same time.  We’re all in this trauma club together.  Being able to relate to others who share this and who are exposed to trauma because of identity is a whole other level of relatedness.

Finally I have support from therapists who ‘get it.’  I am lucky.  Everyone should have access to mental health care that is appropriate and affirms who they are.  I may not be alive right now if I didn’t have this.

Something I Realized This Week….

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I don’t have Complex PTSD because I am weak or deficient.  I have Complex PTSD because I care about justice and treating other people right, and because I give a fuck about things beyond myself.

When I was first diagnosed I heard the voice of my parents saying that they were good parents and didn’t abuse me.  Internalizing my parents’ belief led me to believe that what I experienced was not significant trauma, and that developing Complex PTSD means I’m weak (and to blame for this).  It didn’t help that my dad specifically abused us to not have or acknowledge emotions, which he saw as weakness.

While my parents had abusive childhoods themselves we differ in that they responded to their abuse by externalizing and abusing others.  When they abused me they were trying to make me do the same.  It is not in my nature to be mean and abusive to others though, so I internalized their mistreatment of me.  I get this now.

I have Complex PTSD not because I am weak, but because I refused to compromise my basic nature.

Accepting and grounding

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Accepting and grounding

Content note:  Contains mention of fictitious substance use, self-harm, and suicidality.

So I got my dissociative/complex PTSD diagnosis this week.  To say it was a surprise is a HUGE understatement.  I always associated PTSD with startle reactions, not dissociation, so I never thought I fit the profile.  People perceive me as calm… often even when I’m upset about things.  The problem is that sometimes I even perceive myself as calm when I’m upset about things.  Our society has some very flawed notions about emotions that encourage unhealthy dissociation, and I know now that my perceived calmness is often unhealthy dissociation.  I thought my emotional responses were typical.

Dissociative/complex PTSD is actually distinct from ‘regular’ PTSD.  Unlike ‘regular’ PTSD, complex PTSD is more likely to be chronic.  It’s also considered a more severe diagnosis, although people may not consistently experience symptoms.  Complex PTSD results from early and ongoing childhood trauma.  The theory is that this trauma creates a self that is somewhat less integrated.

This whole thing feels surreal to me.  I know I wasn’t happy as a child, but I thought I had transcended my past.  I do not actually think that I experienced significant trauma in childhood, but others tell me that my childhood experiences were traumatic.  I’m told that my experiences count as all four types of abuse (neglect, physical, emotional, and sexual), all before I left preschool.  To hear that I have trauma, that it still affects me, and that it is in fact deeply ingrained in me, is upsetting.  I don’t always accept that it’s true.

My goal might not be ‘overcoming’ this as much as it is about managing it.  From reading other people’s experiences with trauma, I expect that managing complex PTSD will be lifelong.  I’m worried that I might think I’m ‘over’ it some day in the future, only to discover that it has still been controlling me all along.  I already thought I had transcended my past once before and I don’t want to make that same mistake again!

I might always have dissociative tendencies, but if I can learn to recognize my triggers and develop coping skills I might be OK.  I’m told that in the interim I will have to work on this concretely for three to five years.  ‘Working on’ means that I have to address my childhood.  Admittedly, crawling into a dumpster and overdosing on heroin sounds more appealing.  Some of the memories and images I have in my mind would make most empathetic people want to do this.  The trick will be to go slowly so that I don’t get overwhelmed and dissociate or crave ‘escape’.

Moving slowly means that before addressing my childhood, I have to learn more about complex PTSD, how it’s shaped me, and how I move forward.  It also means that I have to ground in the present and in my body.  I know I have those skills because I worked on them concretely when I lived in the Bay Area after I left my parents’ home.  I just need to reconnect with those skills, and be reminded to do so.

What I am doing so far:

My first steps towards grounding in my body had me speed-walking up Stone Mountain and then down.  Speed-walking helped quiet the mental narrative in my mind and brought me more into my body.  As I came down Stone Mountain I started running along some trails.  It felt like another form of dissociation to me, because I was disconnecting from my thoughts, but it felt good and was calming.  Exercise is supposed to be good for grounding no matter how it’s done by people of varying physical abilities anyway.

My second step towards grounding in my body is represented in the photo to this blog post.  I’m supposed to engage my senses, so I took a steaming hot bath by candle light while listening to music.  I added some Bay Laurel, which reminds me of home (and smells good).  When the heat got too much I added cold water, and the alternating temperatures also helped ground me.  I guess that’s something to continue exploring.

Moving forward:

I’m honestly not sure what’s on the other side of this process.  Often I don’t think I have PTSD or trauma (so I don’t need to work on this).  Yet I am moving forward slowly.  I will continue to post updates largely so I can witness myself.  I’m not sure if anyone else will be reading this.  If other people are reading this, I hope some of my posts may be informative.