I also have severe, chronic, complex, delayed onset ptsd. It makes my life challenging, but now that I know what it is, I at least have a handle on what was and is happening to me. PTSD is of course, post-traumatic stress disorder. Let me go through the other parts.
Severe? The last major run-in with it put me out of work for over a year. I had about 120 flashbacks over the course of about seven weeks, what get called pseudo-seizures -- they look like regular seizures but I remained somewhat conscious and aware of my surroundings, though sometimes delusional about that. When I came out of them I wouldn't know what day it was or be able to remember how long ago they happened. Maybe I'll go into more detail about them sometime, but they totally freaked us (my wife and me) out. We had no idea what these were or what to do about them at first.
There was more: intense crying jags, incredible bodily pain (I had an operation for hemorrhoids, which is supposed to be about the most painful recovery you can imagine, and ptsd was worse -- though I wouldn't want to repeat either), and something called intrusive thinking...memories of traumatic events triggered by anything, everything, and nothing; lost forty pounds, couldn't sleep, sex life totally fucked up (part of my trauma is sexual abuse, something I'm still trying to deal with), couldn't focus enough to read, self harm (ripping chunks of flesh out for example), and there was probably more I cannot remember. Ummm, no fun.
We (actually, mostly my partner) did a lot of research when the flashbacks started and I ended up in a treatment center for ptsd (Here's another good one, and a comprehensive list for the US). It didn't cure me, but it gave me some tools to help manage things. Slowly, with lots of medication (which I struggled against), therapy, and lifestyle changes, some of the harsher symptoms have gotten better over the past few years.
Chronic? I have come to realize that I have had some version of ptsd for most of my life, but it has been treated and mistreated and outright abused under a bunch of different names.
Complex? Well, let's see...It starts with childhood sexual abuse (which I still struggle with identifying because as a kid I normalized it and my family of origin is in complete denial -- so much so that I am no longer in touch with them -- too crazy-making), neglect, emotional and verbal abuse, depression, and substance abuse. I left home at a young age and added physical abuse and more sexual abuse onto that from street life. I developed a nasty drug and alcohol addiction, something pretty common for ptsd sufferers (I've been clean now for more than twenty years, but other addictive behaviors have haunted me) and became occasionally homeless. The depression continued, I was suicidal. Substance addictions, sexual acting out (nothing violent, but stuff that I'm ashamed of) combined with intense isolation and loneliness contributed to having a really miserable existence.
After getting clean in 12 step programs, my attraction to sick, twisted people (also part of my ptsd) caused more trauma, some of it worse than the substance abuse addiction. Cult abuse, some serious, life changing betrayals by people I trusted and opened up to, suicide attempts, two three-week stays in the loony bin: I wasn't getting the "happy, joyous, and free" promised by 12 step programs. For their part, 12-steppers (and I guess my own internalized twelve step training) often blamed me when things didn't work, saying I was just not doing things right somehow rather than seeing something was wrong that the program couldn't -- and wasn't designed to -- fix.
Severe spiritual and therapist abuse compounded the traumas rather than treating them. This has been a major challenge in my recovery from ptsd. Trust is a problem. A lot of times I don't even trust that the world is not going to disappear beneath my feet. On bad days, every step is an adventure, like walking on a rotted out rooftop or thin ice.
So yeah, its complex.
Delayed onset? The flashbacks started nine years after the events that caused them, long after I was supposedly "over it." In hindsight, I was displaying symptoms of ptsd the whole time, but no one recognized them as such. I got diagnosed with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and a few other things and got put on whatever drugs the pharmaceutical companies were plugging that week with awful results.
I thought I was a sex addict and went to those meetings for a while, but they all had sex with other people. My problem was with porn and compulsive masturbation. I used this as a painkiller because nothing else worked and I was not about to give up sobriety -- too scared of people to act out any other way. Sometimes internet porn would eat up whole days every day. It is something I still struggle with and will write about more, but I didn't feel safe or supported in the twelve step rooms for sex addicts. My sponsor there was hitting on me under the guise of male intimacy and spirituality and others were perpetrators of stuff that I had been a victim of and were having a hard time seeing it as a problem. Not a safe place for me.
I'm actually pretty fed up with twelve step programs even though at the time I got sober they no doubt saved my life. Here's what one study (.pdf file) has to say about it:
Messages in substance abuse treatment such as Dont work on the PTSD until youve been clean for a year or Substance abuse is the only problem you need to focus on, while well-intentioned, can be perceived as invalidating of clients trauma history. . . clients and clinicians report that when a client has PTSD, getting clean and sober is a bigger hurdle and such traditional methods may not work as well. For example, the tendency for PTSD memories and feelings to worsen as clients get clean is a common phenomenon. . . . Sadly, clients with the dual diagnosis of PTSD and substance abuse have worse outcomes than those with either disorder alone, and may internalize a sense of failure when they do not succeed in standard treatment programs that work for others. Feeling crazy, lazy, or bad is common-- a sense of demoralization, self-blame, and a feeling of something being terribly wrong with them. . . . initial evidence suggests that working on PTSD and substance abuse in an integrated fashion results in positive outcomes in both of these disorders, as well as related areas. Contrary to older views, treating both PTSD and substance abuse at the same time appears to help clients with their substance abuse recovery, rather than derailing them from attaining abstinence.
I got sober under the "older" model. Against the odds, I didn't pick up. When people at the treatment center heard my story, they were amazed that I stayed sober through it. But drugs and alcohol were a hell I didn't want to go back to.
Anyway, that's a little of my "war story." One last thing for now: I have talked to people who have combat ptsd, and the symptoms don't seem a whole lot different, even if the causes seem different. My ptsd is pretty un-macho, though, so if that offends or you can't deal or you think I just need to get over it, maybe you need to look elsewhere or start your own blog. I have no desire to play the ptsd version of what Elizabeth Martinez calls the "oppression olympics."I guess the next thing I'll do is post some links. Leave a comment if you read this, let me know someone is there.