How I finally realized I had Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD)

I first depersonalized in 2014 … or maybe 2015 …  It was the scariest thing ever, even including riding the Great Bear at Hershey Park, which I still believe almost killed me.

I had been off benzos for about 6 months, and I assumed that depersonalization was a withdrawal symptom, but it scared me so much that I immediately went to a therapist, got a diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and started Prozac.

At least it stopped the depersonalization.

But according to my therapist, my withdrawal shouldn’t be that severe. According to her, the depersonalization was either a symptom of my GAD — or something else altogether.

Then that therapist left and another took her place. This one kept suggesting I had Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), so I did what I always do and researched it. A few of the symptoms sounded familiar, but there were just too many discrepancies for me to be convinced.

Had I done such a bad job of describing my symptoms that my therapist had misdiagnosed me?

At this point I had stopped depersonalizing (Thank God), but the panic attacks were even worse. My heart was pounding so hard it felt like it would break through my ribcage — all the time.

But every EKG came back fine.

I assumed that the Prozac was controlling the depersonalization, but nothing —NOTHING— was helping the pounding heartbeat. I was convinced that one day my heart would just stop. I would run and run and run like a thoroughbred horse, then suddenly drop dead. (Does that even actually happen?)

Still I kept researching.

One day I found a website called Out of the Storm. They said that people were often misdiagnosed with BPD when they actually had other conditions, one of which was something called Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. (CPTSD)

And there, in black and white, was the sentence that changed my life:

According to Cloiter et al (2014) “BPD is characterized by fear of abandonment, shifting self-image or self-concept, shifting idealization and devaluation in relationships, and frequent impulsive and suicidal behaviors” whereas in Complex PTSD “the fear of abandonment is not a requirement of the disorder, self-identity is consistently negative rather than shifting, and relational disturbances highlight chronic avoidance of relationships rather than sustained chaotic engagement” (p, 3).

My therapist had suspected BPD, but I had said “No. I have no fear of abandonment. In fact, I wish people would leave me alone. No, my self-image doesn’t shift; it’s constantly in the toilet. No, my relationships are very stable. Too stable, maybe. No. I don’t have angry outbursts; I can’t express anger at all.”

Everything I found out about CPTSD resonated with what was going on inside my body. I kept researching and I found Pete Walker’s wonderful book “Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.” In only the first few pages, he described my exact cocktail of peculiarities as the five symptoms of CPTSD: emotional flashbacks, toxic shame, self-abandonment, a vicious inner critic, and social anxiety. (Even my recent practice of running out of crowded rooms now had an explanation.)

So I had found my diagnosis. And I hate to admit it now, but I didn’t even have to wonder what had caused it. According to Out of the Storm:

Complex PTSD is a psychological stress injury which may develop in childhood or adulthood.  It results from ongoing or repeated interpersonal trauma (e.g., emotional/sexual/physical abuse; neglect/abandonment; domestic violence), over which the child or adult has little or no control, and from which there is no real or perceived hope of escape.

I had lived with someone who I suspected had Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder for decades, and I had given up the possibility of leaving years ago.

But could just living with someone like that be enough to cause trauma? Or was I just being oversensitive? Was it, like everything else, my own fault?

Well, according to Sandra L. Brown, counselor and author of “Women Who Love Psychopaths.”

Exposure to other people’s pathology … can and often does give other people stress disorders, including PTSD. Our psychological and emotional systems are simply not wired for long-term exposure to someone else’s abnormal psychology.

All the pieces fit. The puzzle was complete. CPTSD explained all my symptoms. I still struggled with depression and anxiety, but they were more or less separate from the trauma. Depression and anxiety were illnesses, the CPTSD was an injury.

I wish I could say I was cured overnight, but it doesn’t work like that.

What I am is grateful. Grateful that I found out what was going on before it was too late.

Now I talk about CPTSD all the time. Because if it took me this long to find out what was wrong, there are probably thousands more out there like me.

3 thoughts to “How I finally realized I had Complex Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD)”

  1. Our experiences are very similar. I stumbled across your blog very much like you stumbled across Pete Walkers website (which I found last week). This is bittersweet for me and I’m suddenly overwhelmed and scared to death. Yet, I believe I should be jumping for joy but I’m not (no offense).

    You are very right in thinking you’re not alone because there are a lot of us out here. Lost, confused with literally no direction. This C-PTSD is a silent killer and almost impossible to get help. My goal is to become an advocate for public awareness but need to find help for myself first. Some days I can barely put a sentence together….. and to think, I used to manage law firms.

    I have so much to share, so much to say but for some reason I can’t get the words out and I’m scared to death! Im feeling like a broken little girl with little girl vocabulary and it’s uncomfortable. I usually feel “little girlish” right before i dissociate so I’m gonna go now.

    Hope you are still here when I feel better and I hope you are ok with hearing my story. I just need someone to listen, thats all.

    Thank you

    1. Deejay, it means so much that you would share your feelings. I believe the more we share and discover we’re not alone, the braver we can be. Never give up, even if it seems like it’s impossible to get help. Getting help is hard (and I wish more people talked about that), but just having a place to talk makes all the difference. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I also have just come to realize that I suffer from ptsd and possibly cptsd. I suffered sexual abuse, first as a young girl (age )12. Then it just seemed to repeat itself over the years. A couple of times while I was in college and then again while I was in my twenties. The twenties were much more violent. For some reason I felt I deserved the abuse/torture. It wasn’t for a few more years that I realized that this was not normal and began to seek counseling. My first counselor inflicted more pain/torture than was nessesary. Even through all my abuse, this was the most painful. Wasn’t I supposed to find some kind of comfort from my therapist. Well, she just made things worse and more confusing. It was very painful, i felt very exposed. This made the beginning of my marriage quite difficult. I had a very hard time with trust. We have three Children. Over our thirty years together, I have run away from him and my children at least three times. I have been hospitalized at somewhere in the neighborhood of 7 times. All of these have been psychiatric hospitalization. Most for attempts to end my life. Finally I have emerged out of the darkness. With the realization that I do in fact suffer from some sort of mental illness.. I guess It is more than one person should have to endure. It has cost me my marriage as well as my time with my children. I also face some criminal charges from my last brush with death (involving 6 town cops and 4 state troopers)in a 30 – 60 minute chase, ending with me going back into the hospital for a week followed by psychiatric in patient care. Hopefully this will be the last, because I am not up for more of this. I still face some criminal charges which I still have to appear in court for. That is all for now,

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