I like to use a tall ship or starship/Star Trek analogy to describe the experience of life with Complex PTSD. Imagine you’re aboard the USS ENTERPRISE, and she’s under attack. The red alert alarm constantly sounds, reminding you that you are in great danger. All you can think about is how to survive.
But you’re not actually under attack. The attack ended a long time ago. Only the ship’s systems didn’t update to that change in status. The red alert alarm keeps sounding. Shields up! Weapons ready! Always! Day and night. Exhaustingly.
You might recognize the system is janked but you can’t tell for sure and you don’t dare turn off the alarm in case the danger is real. But when you are under danger you don’t know because the alarm keeps going all the time.
In the chaos of the red alert you try to make good decisions, think things through, connect with people for help and camaraderie. But that damn red alert keeps sounding and you can’t think, connect, or make good decisions.
On top of that, the other systems are wonky, too. You don’t just hear that annoying red alert alarm all the time, you also hear every other alarm. They sound constantly and you think they’ll drive you crazy. You don’t know how to take care of this and it is overwhelming.
Now imagine you’ve been aboard this janked-up ship, trying to survive, think, connect, your whole life. You don’t know any other way. You don’t know the absence of red alert. You don’t know what it’s like to be able to think without that damn siren going 24/7. You don’t know how it feels to hear another person talk without that screeching in your ear.
Now, imagine it’s your job to rewire that entire spaceship yourself with no manual. Any tools you need, you have to find and make yourself. In addition, a lot of those tools are illegal. They exist, they work really well, but you’re not allowed to have them because corporations haven’t figured out how to monetize them.
Then you ask for help from somebody who says they know how. You trust their word but instead of helping, they jank up everything worse and create such havoc that sorting out the mess sets you back by two years. They tell you it didn’t happen, and if it did, it’s not that bad, and if it is bad, it’s your fault because you’re not thinking clearly, you made bad choices, aren’t motivated, don’t really want it fixed, or you didn’t forgive the right person or pray to the right God on the right day with the right words in the right way. Whatever the problem it’s your fault, because you are inherently and unacceptably flawed.
You keep trying to find a good electrician, mechanic, systems analyst, or even a freaking schematic, but you feel like a pinball. You ping from one underqualified and maybe even ignorant or possibly malicious supposed helper to another, and your beautiful ship is degraded further each time.
Meanwhile, when you try to talk about it on the intergalactic radio almost nobody wants to know about this disaster. Most don’t want to believe it happened, don’t understand the ramifications, and cannot comprehend or respond to your vital need for help with repair.
That’s pretty much life with Complex PTSD.
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