BY STEPHANIE FOO: For Complete Post, Click Here…
Learning about C-PTSD is not easy because it doesn’t officially exist. The name “complex PTSD” is somewhat new, coined in the ’90s by psychiatrist Judith Herman. And it doesn’t exist because it isn’t officially in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is essentially the bible of mental health: If it’s not in there, it ain’t real. There was an effort by a group of mental health experts to include it in the DSM-5, which was published in 2013, but the faceless arbiters of mental health behind the DSM—a group of psychiatrists I envision as a society of hooded figures chanting around a sacrificial child star—decided that it was too similar to PTSD. There was no reason to add a “C,” no need for a distinction between the two. It’s worth mentioning, however, that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the United Kingdom National Health Service both recognize C-PTSD as a legitimate diagnosis.
Because it isn’t in the DSM, there isn’t much literature on C-PTSD. What does exist is often dry, dull, and written with all the kindness and emotional intelligence of a tech bro. But still, I was desperate to learn, so I bought a small stack of books, each with a vague impressionist painting on the cover coupled with uninviting font. And I made my way through them, one painful page at a time.
The books taught me that when we live through traumatic experiences, our brains take in the things around us that are causing the greatest threat, and they encode these things deep into our subconscious as sources of danger.
Let’s say, for example, that you are hit by a car. Your brain registers the noise of the car screeching to a halt, the grille speeding toward you. It shoots out an onslaught of stress chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol that elevate your heart rate and blood pressure, narrowing your focus to the thump of the impact and the pain and the sound of an ambulance. But at the same time, your brain is subconsciously taking in thousands of other pieces of stimuli: the foggy weather, the Krispy Kreme at the intersection, the color and make and model of the car, the Midwestern accent of the guy who hit you, his blue Wolverines T-shirt. And your brain imprints deep inside itself the powerful connections between these stimuli and this pain.
These associations are stored in your brain along with the corresponding emotions from that day. And they often do not come with full stories. Therefore, your brain might not encode the logical connection between the Krispy Kreme and the car crash. It might simply encode: KRISPY KREME. DANGER.