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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

C-PTSD, A friends journey

I have put things on hold for a few days to deal with an issue that has caused misunderstandings, discord, conflict, hurt in a friendship........ and ultimately called for me to find reason, peace and finally, necessary closure.

I have been on a roller-coaster ride with a very precious human being, a dear friend who has been battling with Chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder for years, unbeknown to her , her family or her friends.
She was diagnosed around two months ago....finally...after years of seeing psychologists, psychiatrists, alternative healers, who were obviously all delighted to take her money, seemingly not caring enough to investigate the true cause of her prolonged and worsening emotional state.

When she told me in an email that she had C-PTSD, with the limited time I had, I did a quick Google search to see what it was all about. Old 'Murphy' was active that day and it took me into a site (which I've just found again, "The invention of Post-Traumatic stress disorder and the social usefulness of a psychiatric category" article which basically suggests that PTSD is a sociopolitical disorder with open-ended and unspecific symptoms, its"imprecise in distinguishing between normal distress and the physiology of pathological distress...basically it was an objective diagnosis given to American Vietnam vets.

None of this then made any sense to me and I couldn't equate any of this 'gobbeldygook' to my friend....not the person who I had seen curled up in anguish and sob uncontrollably'. Experts vs experience....what was I to think? What was I to believe now? All I was experiencing was a precious friend who I loved dearly, becoming more and more irrational, emotional, reclusive and draining me of all my resources and energy as a friend, pushing me away then reeling me in, desperately wanting my friendship and support but then cutting me off and out. Nothing was making any sense. Her relationships with all those around her, seemed to be deteriorating rapidly, friends and family alike.

The hurt I felt, became unbearable, my tolerance slowly diminished.

After hours of research, I've come to realize that Caryl has been hurting in a way that cannot be understood by people who have never experienced this disorder......and, unhappily, I am/was one.

Caryl came into my life four years ago, just after she'd published a book on her life as a victim of domestic violence. I was distraught when I read her book! I'd met her once before, while she was still married to her abuser...a horrific relationship which not many people were aware of, least of all me.

I remember thinking at that time, that she had the most beautiful eyes, but they were the saddest that I had ever seen. She was quiet, withdrawn and obviously not too excited at having visitors. Her then husband, was one of those 0ver-the-top attention seeker, a loud, boozy, up-your-nose character that had little respect for people around him..and even less tor the personal space of anything with two 'X' chromosomes! I disliked him from the start.

Our friendship got off to an uncertain start. We first met at a little restaurant at a nearby shopping center and everything about her body language was screaming "I don't trust you, I don't want you near me". I saw a poised but deeply vulnerable, hurting, angry woman that was searching for a way out. I have only just discovered from what!

As her condition worsened, more and more things just seemed to get too much for her...the simple things that you and I take for granted.

Ok, let me do this another journey through her symptoms:

RECURRENT NIGHTMARES: (dissociative reliving of the trauma)
Caryl hasn't had a full nights sleep for as long as I have known her. She had told me about the nightmares, often involving her X, an abusive, narcissistic thug, and that she would often wake up screaming or crying and then continue to do so while awake. This broke my heart as the average person has someone to console them and talk them through it. She never did. I bought her a course of Seratonin, thinking that it would help, and it did...but it didn't either.... it didn't allow her to wake from her nightmares. I remember her often being exhausted and very tense. I remember once we went to stay with an aunt of mine, a beautiful, quiet location, and she decided to have a nap. Her 'nap' turned out to be a 3 hour dead-to-the-world sleep. I remember thinking to myself, this woman is exhausted but somehow, she was in an environment which allowed her to sleep soundly with the door wide open....a strange thing for someone to do who has seen the trauma that she has.


Since I have known Caryl, she has avoided certain places. Shopping centers were simply a no-go area. Movies were out of the question, lunches were often, out in open, separate venues. Often, our outing would be cancelled because she just wasn't in the right space on the day. She tried so hard to do things as a friend...she wanted to, she had always enjoyed it in the past...but now, simply couldn't. I understand that now, but at the time, I would get annoyed that there would be a sudden change of mind or plan, that the entire day would be cancelled, seemingly, without any thought or consideration.
Once, in CT, I had to drop off something at a particular shopping center and she became so distressed that I was concerned that she would have a complete break-down. Her way of trying to manage that intense panic, was to run into a tattoo parlor on the way home, and plan her next tattoo.
I remember once feeling entirely helpless at her distress while we walked through a shopping center for a meeting and she started to shake and cry. There was no way which I could console her and my heart broke.
Music, in a shopping center, car or at home, would cause her to become so distressed and she would begin to cry, not only because of the crippling panic but because she hated feeling so completely controlled by it. She just wanted to do things as a 'normal' person.

Caryl has got the most amazing sense of humor, her laughter resonates everywhere, she loves to laugh, she loves to make people laugh and it has always fascinated me, how people seem to be drawn to her. She's a wonderful artist who teaches art, she so enjoys company...she regularly used to have lunch with a group of ladies and often told me stories of the fun they had. She's a gifted public speaker. She's a solid Christian who practices her beliefs, .......Caryl is a true 'people person' in every way, with so much to share.

Slowly, since meeting her, she has retracted more and more into her own space, where all the things she used to do and enjoy, were stopped. She became reclusive, got utterly distressed at the thought of crowds and people, stopped attending church,...even attending a function with her oldest and dearest friend, became too much for her and she left in tears.
There were many times when I felt that she didn't hear what I was saying to her, my emails were often filled with messages of support and love but often, I felt as if she didn't really care what I was saying or writing or thinking or feeling. And I think, she sometimes really didn't. She couldn't.

In the four years of our friendship, she never remembered my birthday ( I wasn't the only one) , and never joined me in celebrating it when invited to. I would tell her things about my life and family, sometimes personal things which I would never normally share, but found that I often had to repeat my story. I had to be deeply sensitive to her, minute by minute, often preferring to listen than to talk, should I say something to upset her...things which she found funny on one day, offended her on another. She would tell me that she dislikes hugs intensely and then after a few days or weeks, she would tell me how much she did like hugging, and demonstrate that very clearly. Once, visiting her, she remained seated behind her desk for the duration of my visit. Her psychological barrier became physical and I knew then, that I was dealing with something that I didn't understand.

On some days I felt closer to her than a sister and we would end up sharing deeply emotional experiences with each other, we'd cry together and then laugh till we cried.... but on other days, I felt like a burdensome outsider....her walls were up and nothing I did or said seemed to reach her. There were days when I knew that she just couldn't cope with me sharing anything personal with her that could be remotely upsetting. I understood then, that she was just so overloaded with her own hurts.

The biggest challenge for me was trying to determine where she was at, on a day-to-day basis and then respect that space, although throughout, never understanding what, if anything, I was doing to create those swings. I would sms her before calling her just in case she wasn't wanting to take any calls.....I truly mourned the spontaneity of friendship. I missed her.
At the time, it was soul destroying and emotionally exhausting. How is it possible to read a book if one can't even open the cover?.....and her lack of trust ensured that the book stayed shut.

All the while, the wonderful, positive, endearing things about her, nullified the confusion and hurt...I believe the negative things that she was doing were not really part of who she is, but merely a consequence of her past. I couldn't walk away as that would mean I'd become just as much of the 'victim' of her past as she was, that I'd given up on her and the essence of who she really is. The problem was, that human nature is such that, its not possible to constantly hide the hurt, not to become reactive and sucked into fighting back, no matter how much you love the person. My choice to endure eventually became destructive for both her and I. The 'good' choice one makes, is not always the right one.

There were so many things that I just didn't understand. Why, for example, she felt so overwhelmed by a simple basket of food that I had brought her when she moved into her new house...enough for her to tell me to take it away,.... take it back. Simple little things would make her feel so controlled.
Things one does as a friend,..... that I saw my own mother do for hers.....would spiral her into a dark space where she became almost angry and want to shut the doors.. bolt them....then weld the hinges!
The hurt of having love and concern thrown back at me, was terrible. I would often leave in tears not knowing what I had done to receive that reaction....and yet, I would not give up. I loved her. I simply continued to 'be a friend' to her regardless. Wrong move!......but God help me in this, I would do it all again for the very same reasons.


This is how I have always know Caryl. Drawing close then pushing me away. I write a daily journal, and whenever Caryl was in that space, telling me that she's shutting off for a while, that she wants to be alone, I would pen in irritation....'Caryl is in one of her "Za-Za Gabor moods".
Who knows, maybe, unbeknown to the world, Za-Za Gabor also had PTSD....and like the world at large, who speculated and made their own judgments as to the reasons, I believe, so did I about Caryl. I had nothing to go on except that she was simply just having a very bad day....understandably, given her history.

I didn't understand the triggers, if, in fact there was anything I was or wasn't doing to get her into that space. I erroneously took responsibility for something I had no understanding of. I personalized her decisions and behavior.
It wasn't only me that she was cutting herself off from, it seemed to be the world at large! The only people that she wanted to have any contact with, were her family and students.
I couldn't understand why she was so friendly and happily connecting with all her friends on FB when her closest friends were being cut off. I now understand, that it was because the physical distance represented 'safety' for her. They couldn't come in and if they did, it was only through a temporary invite....always at a distance.


The one thing that really used to upset me was when Caryl spoke about not living long...I have always felt that one speaks negativity (or positivity) into ones life.....pre-empting the desired outcome. She used to say that she would not live very long but I loved her and wanted her to want to 'live'.
She often used to say to me that she is taking one day at a time.....but often, those days, were filled with self-destructive behavior, doing her art till all hours of the morning...because she couldn't bear the thought of going to sleep and having nightmares
...working till her neck went into spasm. Not eating properly, not going to the Dr until she was ready to be hospitalized, smoking....just being on her own till her thought and pain of her past envelop her. And all the while, there was nothing that I could do.... the last thing that she wanted, was for me to concern myself. This was her journey, a lonely journey, she was making her choices. She just wanted to be left alone.


Reading through the numerous websites, getting information on this devastating condition has brought me to tears. I have made so many mistakes in my friendship with this dear person. I have inadvertently spiraled her into darker spaces, reacting to these symptoms as an uninformed 'normal' friend, personalizing the hurtful things that I was experiencing through behavior that she honestly had no control of.

The symptoms of C-PTSD are an unearthly hell for the sufferer, in their relationships, their families, their finances, and even for society.

Caryl's past abuse at the hands of step-fathers, friends, family and husbands, can only be described as vile, sickening, and absolutely gut-wrenching. I have failed her as a friend, but only inasmuch that I haven't understood the constant, daily hell that she has had to endure as a consequence of her awful past. I have never failed her because I continue to believe and have faith, that she will recover from this. A chap by the name of Ralph Marston wrote:

"Love challenges you to be who you most authentically are. Love enables you and compells you to find and give the very best that you have. Love is exceedingly difficult and unspeakably beautiful all at once. Live in love and you truly live".

For anyone out there who has a friend with this condition, maybe, hopefully, it will help you not to make the same mistakes I made: i.e. blaming oneself, taking the hurtful responses personalty....and more important....not giving them time and space to heal.

Read Caryl's story. Go and buy her book.

To Caryl........ I love and respect her enough to say:
" I'm so sorry for not understanding. I hear you with my heart. I love you but I need to step back till you are healed and whole and happy. Get better my friend"

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