What Complex PTSD feels like

It is like being out in the ocean, far from the shore. Massive waves are coming, I feel intimidated and scared. My first instinct is to fight and swim as hard as I can and get back to shore. However, the waves are powerful and I try so hard to get to shore so I can feel safe but it is exhausting and I am at risk of drowning. A friend who was a lifeguard told me once, that if you get exhausted out in the ocean then you are at greater risk of drowning. He told me that the best thing to do is to allow your body to relax to conserve energy, floating instead of fighting. It allows a person to have a better chance of surviving and getting through the ordeal. By calming yourself, you can think clearly about what to do to in order to survive.

PTSD has caused me to feel panicked and exhausted, just like if I was out in the ocean and about to drown. My therapist told me it is best not to fight this panic, the awful memories, flashbacks and intense emotions. Just like being in the ocean, it is best not to fight these emotions and memories and to try to ride the wave of these symptoms. It is natural not to want to feel pain and avoid it, but fighting these symptoms, using substances etc. to numb the pain will only make it worse. It is best to experience and observe them without feeding into them and making them worse.

When we try to make our symptoms better by fighting or avoiding, we are often fighting a losing battle. The body and brain are amazing. They know what they need to do to work through trauma, and we often get in the way of that process because it is uncomfortable and sometimes downright painful. Healing often involves pain. Think about a time you had an injury of some sort (a broken bone, a sunburn, a cut, or any other physical ailment). Think about the healing process, how it was not always comfortable. Often there are uncomfortable or painful sensations that come because of the body trying to heal itself. The same is true when we have experienced a traumatic event. Our brains need the chance to process what has happened. Fighting or avoiding the discomfort, can contribute to the symptoms lasting longer and becoming more intense. Then we become frustrated because we cannot get rid of them as soon as we want them to.

My therapist taught me that by allowing myself to experience these symptoms and observing them that it can decrease the intensity of the symptoms and duration of emotions, flashbacks and panic. In fact, the symptoms have far less power over me and I am able to increase my ability to function in life. Therefore, as like the ocean, it is best to ride waves in order to reduce the distress in a way that is helpful to healing.

My journey with DBT was at times scary, but the professional support and monitoring vital for me to learn coping skills and develop the necessary techniques in order for me to heal and ride the waves of my CPTSD symptoms. I love the ocean, watching the waves roll in is very therapeutic for me. I relate to the ocean and I am learning to love myself and ride those waves. Our society today, relies heavily on prescribing medications to alleviate our ailments, and it can be easy to forget that sometimes the best treatment comes from mother nature.

Anonymous – 2018

Leave a Reply