*Trigger Warning: mentions of suicidal thoughts, trauma, death, and abuse.
As an adult healing from complex trauma, it’s often difficult to discover the source of your pain. And I’m not talking about the pain of feeling the emotions… I’m talking about the challenge of figuring out how events and circumstances affected you. There’s not necessarily a checklist per se. While the ACE quiz can be incredibly helpful, it’s not all-inclusive.
For years I told everyone, “I’m fine!” Even after a decade of talk therapy, and still deeply depressed, anxious, and feeling like an alien.
I didn’t know any different. Deep suffering was my norm.
My Breaking Point
My breaking point happened when I had to move home (to Ohio) from Hawaii. I had followed my dream to live in Maui, Hawaii, and that dream came crashing down. I did NOT want to return to my hometown’s chaos and pain.
This is where I lost my fiancé and watched him take his last breaths…
This is where I lost my best friend when she tragically passed in a car accident…
This is where I felt like an outcast my entire life…
This is where I was bullied by my family…
This is where I have always felt unworthy of even taking up space…
This is where I’m constantly reminded of the pain of my life….
I wasn’t initially able to put all of this into words; it was just a lot of very heavy emotions. As much as I tried to be “just fine,” I wasn’t.
I wasn’t fine at all.
It kept getting worse, way worse
Shortly after returning from Hawaii, I began experiencing disturbing physical symptoms. Including numbness in my feet, legs, and hands, which eventually progressed to tremors, stuttering, aphasia, and non-epileptic seizures. These issues were on top of the chronic pain I had already been coping with, including Endometriosis, Hashimotos Thyroiditis, Fibromyalgia, IBS, sleep apnea, and herniated discs in my neck and lower back.
My body literally felt like it was quitting on me. At the age of 38, I felt 90.
This is what complex trauma does to your body, and I didn’t yet understand.
Emotions live in your body, so no matter how much I wanted to say, “I was fine.” My body knew the truth and was storing all those suppressed emotions. After a year of chasing for an answer, I finally reached the Cleveland Clinic, where I received a diagnosis.
Doctor after doctor brushed me off, telling me it was just anxiety.
I have spent years working on my anxiety and knew this was different. Unfortunately, if you’ve ever been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, doctors tend to make it the default for any diagnosis outside their expertise.
**Side note: Never let a doctor gaslight you into believing your condition doesn’t deserve an answer or further investigation. Trust your gut and pursue the health care you deserve. Doctors ARE NOT all-knowing. They make mistakes and are human. Just because a doctor thinks, “It’s in your head,” doesn’t make it true.
Losing my independence and my ability to walk
I was losing my independence because I was losing my ability to walk. My life was slipping away, and I felt helpless to do anything. I became more suicidal than I ever had before.
When I met Dr. Yu at the Cleveland Clinic, she embraced me with empathy and compassion unlike anything I’ve ever experienced… maybe ever from another human being. She asked if I had experienced any recent trauma in life. I said, “Of course not.” We had just returned from Hawaii, but everything else was “just fine besides my physical deterioration.”
She explained that my condition was known as Functional Neurological Disorder. Functional neurological disorder (FND) is when you have a problem with how the brain receives and sends information to the rest of the body. Think of your brain as a computer, and in someone with FND, there’s no damage to the hardware but a glitch in the software.
What is FND?
Doctors are still learning about FND, but at the core, we know that FND happens when there’s a problem with how the brain sends and receives messages to itself and other parts of the body. And we know this because scientists can see that certain circuits in the brain are not working properly in people with FND.
Doctors don’t have a clear answer for what causes FND. Yet they do see a few commonalities in patients. Here are several reasons why doctors theorize the brain stops working properly in people with FND, including:
- the brain trying to get rid of a painful sensation (chronic pain)
- a migraine or other neurological symptom
- the brain shutting down a part or all of the body in response to a situation it thinks is threatening
- stressful events in the past or present (not always though)
What does FND have to do with childhood trauma?
It took over a decade of a healing journey to finally have a single doctor bring up how emotions affect your brain and body. This still absolutely blows my mind. Ten years and no one else said a word about how years of psychological distress impacted me physically.
When Dr. Yu first asked about my experience with trauma, I assured her I was one of the people with this diagnosis that didn’t experience any (which can happen).
Yet, I knew it was best to keep exploring healing modalities to get better. That meant exploring trauma healing and seeing if I might have some unresolved trauma that could be impacting my daily life.
Since being treated at the Cleveland Clinic, I’ve delved further into how my childhood has impacted every single aspect of my life. And I mean this in the most literal sense. No part of my life has gone unscathed: relationships, sex, career, money, mental, emotional, and physical health. When I started to find trauma-informed medical treatment, I began to peel back to complex layers of pain.
That’s when it hit me like a hammer to the head. My childhood trauma was physically, mentally, and emotionally killing me.
I was in severe denial.
Others had it worse than me.
I don’t have anything to be sad about…
Denying it was leading me down this path of early death. As long as I denied how my childhood affected me, I wasn’t healing. The emotional pain was taking a toll, and my physical body was slowly deteriorating because of it. I could no longer ignore the signs. I couldn’t fucking walk (and sometimes talk) anymore!
Traumatic stress (like that from childhood trauma and childhood neglect) can lead to changes in your brain and body. It can lead to a whole slew of chronic conditions and autoimmune diseases…….. like all the ones I’ve been coping with.
Since coming to terms with the pain of my childhood, I’ve had to cut off contact with family. Ultimately, I felt like I couldn’t heal in their presence. Which brings another element of grieving and pain to the mix.
At first, I felt immense guilt for this because “it’s family.” But I’ve learned to embrace my own worth and realize if someone treats you like shit… it doesn’t matter who it is… they don’t deserve to be in your life.
I was tired of feeling afraid, scared, judged, constantly walking on eggshells with my family, and always waiting for the next outburst to hear what I did wrong. I was tired of feeling responsible for everyone else’s feelings.
I have finally got to the point in my life where I realize I do matter. My feelings matter, and my pain matters.
A few key lessons I’ve learned about coping with abusers as a cycle breaker:
• If they feel so ashamed because you are talking about your life, then they need to evaluate why they feel bad… perhaps it’s time they look at their own behavior.
• The victim talks about the abuse. The abuser talks about the victim.
• You are responsible for YOURSELF and responsible TO others. (Read that again. You are NOT responsible FOR others.) We each are accountable for our own actions.
• Setting boundaries is a good thing. If they can’t accept your boundaries, you won’t be able to heal with them in your life.
• You can’t heal in an environment where the pain is actively happening.
Can you heal from CPTSD?
Complex trauma (CPTSD) can be very challenging to heal from and even more difficult to find the right help. That’s why I started to share my story. I hope others see this and find hope. Hope that you can recover from your pain, and know that you do actually deserve better.
While it has been nearly 15 years since I started on my personal growth journey, I know I still have a lot of work to do. One thing I know for sure, is that can’t even recognize the person I was years ago. I am proud of my strength, resistance and tenacity.
Want to learn more about healing from childhood trauma? Download your free ebook, Breaking Free from the Past.