Highs and Lows; Navigating Life with CPTSD

Highs and Lows; Navigating Life with CPTSD


Listen to Executive Director Gabriel Nathan read this post aloud:

Sitting in my psychiatrist’s office in mid-2020, I got the news that I was living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); which would later be confirmed to be complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). The difference between the diagnoses is that PTSD occurs after a single traumatic event while C-PTSD occurs after multiple, prolonged traumatic events. These are the kind of diagnoses I would previously have expected to impact only military personnel or prisoners of war. I never thought I would experience them myself; so you can imagine how shocked I was upon receiving this diagnosis.

My story didn’t start in 2020. It began in March 2000 when I landed in this world, born of two parents who hadn’t yet dealt with their own dysfunctionality. So often we see that parents who haven’t dealt with their own issues project them onto their children. Consequently, I grew up in an environment replete with rejection, degradation, manipulation, gaslighting, sexual and physical abuse. My body and my mind couldn’t handle this, so I became ill.

By the time I was hitting my preteens I couldn’t cope with the excruciating pain I was experiencing. I overdosed, a habit I maintained for one year after starting therapy. I would take enough sleeping pills to help me black out, resulting in me having worse memory gaps than the ones I was already dealing with that were caused by trauma. I had an urge to cut myself, but the fear of punishment from my parents prevented me from going that route. But my maladaptive coping strategies could only serve me for so long and, at the end of the day, I reached my breaking point.

It’s July 2020. I had been having this overwhelming feeling of restlessness for a few weeks but I believed I could control it. But on this particular day, I felt like I was losing it. I remember lying on the floor of my apartment just to feel its cold so that I could assure myself that I hadn’t fallen out of touch with reality. I knew it was possible to lose my mind because, as a child, I had witnessed my mother go literally crazy for a few hours, after which her normal would resume. This was caused by domestic violence of course. So I was scared that the same could happen to me. Therefore, I picked up my phone, Googled a few counseling centres near me and called the first one I found. They booked me a session a few days later. I felt hopeful that for once I would live a normal life, a life without flashbacks, nightmares, migraines, uncontrollable emotions, dissociating, and so many other negative emotions.

On the beautiful morning I got into this mental health facility and did a short assessment—which sort of looks like a questionnaire—to see how depressed I was. It showed severe depression, so I was assigned a counselor. I couldn’t have been more hopeful. For the next five weeks as I attended my therapy sessions my hope started to dim. I became worse. At some point I had to sleep in my neighbors’ house and later had to move in with a family member just for my safety. I had to sign an agreement that I wouldn’t cause harm to myself because I was extremely suicidal but that didn’t do much anyway.

I didn’t seem to click with this therapist. She seemed as frustrated with me as I was with her and myself. I realized that not many people, including some mental health professionals, understand how deep-rooted childhood trauma can be. This is because they do not understand its impact and the amount of work required to cope. In the fifth week, I did my second assessment which now showed I had extreme depression which is more serious than severe depression. I had to be referred to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with PTSD. Thank God my psychiatrist understood how difficult things were. He not only gave me medication but also referred me to a different therapist who specializes in trauma therapy.


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As the weeks progressed with this new therapist, things started to get better. I could finally move back to my apartment, I could sleep for a few hours, and the symptoms started to be less tense. This is where I found out that I actually suffered from complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). This doesn’t mean things were easy, but there was hope. I discovered that part of the reason why I felt worse during the beginning stages of therapy was because I was being re-traumatized. I had buried these things somewhere within me as a way of dealing with the chaos. But when it came time to open up, I started to feel the same way I felt when each trauma was happening. This is because it was as if it were taking place twenty years later in my therapist’s office. This made me somewhat reluctant to speak up until my therapist told me that I could develop bipolar disorder from long untreated trauma. I at times thought I had bipolar especially when I was restless or deeply depressed. But it was later ruled out, which is why you shouldn’t self-diagnose.

It’s been a process full of highs and lows.

I was often stigmatized. A relative once shamed me for being suicidal after forcing their way into one of my therapy sessions. The good thing is stigma doesn’t affect me as much because I have realized people speak out of ignorance and misinformation. Something else that really put me down was the discovery that both my parents were narcissists and I had been the scapegoat all through my childhood. I no longer consider myself as such. I have learned to keep a distance from them for the sake of my own wellbeing. They have made it clear that they are not willing to change, so it’s best that I have minimal contact to avoid a repeat of my childhood traumas. It’s unfortunate that a parent would pick up on one of their own kids and cause them pain. The last time I went to confront my parents about how they treated me, I even mentioned that I had attempted suicide. And they blamed me for it! I was the reason why I had a mental illness, I was the reason why I was abused! I was so angry. It took me some time to get rid of the false shame and guilt and to undo the damage caused by all the extreme abuse.

Some of my highlights include: seeing how far I have come, I can sleep well, my health is getting better; I have learned to love and care for myself, I have been very vocal about mental wellness. I am off psychiatric medication, I have my own blog now, just so many blessings coming my way.

I would like to share a few lessons that I have learned along the way. One, it’s not your fault that you were diagnosed with a mental illness. Get rid of the shame and the guilt. Two, you are not weak, you are so strong that you have battled this on a daily basis and you are still here alive and kicking. Three, your identity is not based on your mental struggles. Instead, you are so much more than that. You are strong, beautiful, unique, special, a warrior, you are loved, you are more than even words can describe. Four, don’t give up if you don’t find a good therapist. It’s sad that I have to say this, but not many are called to be a therapist, not many have the patience, the gentleness, the best interest of their patients at heart but still there are those who genuinely want you to get better and you will find one. Even when your current treatment is not working, keep trying until your psychologist or psychiatrist finds a suitable combination for you.

As I conclude, there are certain things I do to ensure I am able to heal. One is identifying my triggers; writing them down, and seeking help on overcoming them. Two, I have joined support groups

This has shown me that I am not alone. I am in a community of people who understand how difficult this journey can be, and we are willing to support one another. There I affirm myself. I am spiritual, so I keep reminding myself that my identity is in Christ. Rather than being what I went through, I am who He says I am. This has helped me get rid of self-pity. My goal is to be a better person and to stop the abusive cycle. Finally, I write a lot, which makes me feel relieved. Remember therapy is not a sign of weakness rather it shows that you are strong enough to reach out and seek help for your own good.

If you or someone you know may be in crisis or considering suicide, please call, text, or chat the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988.

EDITOR IN CHIEF / EDITOR: Gabriel Nathan | DESIGN: Leah Alexandra Goldstein | PUBLISHER: Bud Clayman

Martha Githui is a blogger, project manager and counsellor. She is also a passionate mental health advocate. You can find her articles on financial literacy, emotional wellness, self-improvement and mental wellness on her blog, or on Medium. You may also follow her on Instagram at @wamburagithui.