Facebook pixel code:

Two Questions That Changed My Life: “Do I have C-PTSD?” and “How do I heal it?”

A few years ago, I was listening to a podcast, and someone mentioned they had C-PTSD. I’d never heard of this before (PTSD, yes. But C-PTSD? Nope.) 

I looked it up, and when I saw the definition and symptoms, I immediately realized, “Oh FFS — that’s me. I have this.” 

C-PTSD stands for Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and although it shares similar characteristics with PTSD, there are some marked differences. While PTSD happens as a result of a one-time or shorter duration traumatic event, like serving on active duty in a war zone or  surviving a physical attack, C-PTSD occurs when people experience trauma from on-going experiences such as childhood neglect or abuse, domestic abuse, human trafficking, or living in a war-torn or extremely impoverished region for more than a year.

Some of the symptoms experienced by people with C-PTSD include: 

  • Avoiding situations that remind them of the trauma
  • Dizziness or nausea when remembering the trauma
  • A negative self-view: Complex PTSD can cause a person to view themselves negatively and feel helpless, guilty, or ashamed. They often consider themselves to be different from other people and don’t know where they fit in.
  • Changes in beliefs and worldview: People with C-PTSD may hold a negative view of the world and the people in it, feel a loss of trust in themselves or others, or feel that the world is a dangerous place. 
  • Emotional regulation difficulties: These conditions can cause people to have extreme emotional reactions to some situations. They may experience intense anger, fear or sadness that seems highly disproportionate for the given situation. 
  • Hyperarousal or hypervigilance: they are in a continuous state of high alert or feel like they are constantly “walking on eggshells” or “waiting for the other shoe to drop” much of the time.
  •  Relationship issues. Relationships may suffer due to difficulties with trusting and interacting, and because of a negative self-view. A person may develop unhealthy relationships because they don’t know or never had models for a healthy relationship.
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating. Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep or being able to nap. Difficulty concentrating or increased procrastination. In some cases, ADHD can in fact be caused by C-PTSD. 
  • Detachment from the trauma: A person may dissociate, which means feeling detached from emotions or physical sensations. Some people completely forget the trauma.
  • Preoccupation with an abuser: It is not uncommon to fixate on the abuser, the relationship with the abuser, or getting revenge for the abuse. 
  • Reliving the trauma through flashbacks and nightmares.

 

As I looked over this list of symptoms, I realized that I have (or had) all of these. I grew up in a home with some pretty gnarly emotional, medical, and physical abuse– and it had left its mark. 

When we spend a long time in traumatic situations, especially as we’re growing and developing, our very smart body-minds adapt for survival. Entire systems change and adapt in order to be able to survive and keep us safe: our nervous system, vagal system, immune system, digestive system and the microbiome, emotional regulation and response, cognitive processing–as well as all of our energetic systems like meridians, the heart torus field, chakras and more–shift and adapt to what “normal” is in this traumatic world. When we are finally free of the traumatic situation, we now have a whole body-mind that needs to be retuned to be able to thrive in a non-traumatic world. 

So, how do we heal this? 

While there’s no “one-size-fits-all” fix for embodied trauma and C-PTSD, I can tell you what’s worked best for me. 

  • Therapy. Find yourself a good trauma-informed therapist and talk this shit out. I’ve been in therapy off and on for most of my adult life because the sneaky nature of trauma is that it can rear its ugly head in new situations all the time. 
  • Meditation. I first learned to meditate through a study at UCSF on “Cultivating Emotional Balance.” It took YEARS AND YEARS of practice before mediation became something that was easy for me but, damn, it was worth it. I can switch my mood from anxious to joyous in 20 minutes and can stay present and grounded in even the most triggering of situations now. One of the benefits that isn’t talked about enough is the changes that happen when we’re *not* meditating. Somehow that daily practice of 20 minutes of meditation has ripple effects outside of that time, too. I can now get into that meditative headspace immediately at almost any time of the day and feel the same effects of calm, peaceful joy that come from being in the present moment (aka mindfulness.)
  • Books. I read self-help books all the time. I’ve found that there are two types that help me the most. There are books that give advice and teach you tools for a certain issue, like hypervigilance or perfectionism. These are helpful for when my symptoms arise and I need a tool or strategy to deal with them in the moment.  And then there are autobiographical books that are written by people who went through something similar to me.  These are sooooo validating and helpful and make me realize that what I went through was wrong and horrible (I tend to normalize things and underreact to trauma). They remind me that I am not as much of a freak or weirdo as I may imagine, and that other people have gone through the same thing and have had similar feelings and responses. (I mean, I am a freak and a weirdo, but in a totally awesome way, not in a social pariah kind of way.) 
  • Energy healing. Oh boy. This was so profound for me that I totally switched my life path and career so I could dive head first into learning all about this. Energy healing is so magical because unlike therapy or medication, it helps the body heal on the physical, mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual levels all at once and in parallel. I originally started going to an energy healer to mitigate and heal side effects from chemo. One day about 3 months in, my practitioner said “Oh, you’re ready to transcend anxiety.” I looked at her and laughed right in her face. I’d been anxious since I was 3-years-old, and that’s probably just because I couldn’t remember back any earlier than that. But she did her thing and you know what? I left that office PROFOUNDLY less anxious. It felt like I’d had a 50-ton boulder lifted off me. My hypervigilance decreased markedly, my mood was more joyous and I had far fewer anxious, looping thoughts on a day-to-day basis. It was like 10 years of therapy in 3 months. So, I decided to figure out how that all worked. I’ve have spent the last 15 years studying different modalities and learning all that I can about the beautiful intersection of body, mind and spirit so that I can help others with their healing process, as well. 

If you see some of yourself in what I wrote here, please know that you are not alone, that there are people and groups and tools to help you heal. And please know that I see you, I know it’s been so hard, and I think you are an amazing triumph of nature to have survived and thrived the way you have. It’s no small feat, my friend, and I am so very unabashedly proud of you, wherever you are in your healing process. 

Xo

Megan

 

The secret to being a better person and improving your relationships

I’m going to let you in on a secret for how to be a better person. It’s easy, fast and has been scientifically proven to improve your relationship with yourself and others.

It’s called Mettā meditation.

I first came across Mettā, or Loving Kindness, meditation years ago when I was first studying Buddhist meditation. The first time I practiced it, I was blown away by the effect it had on me. My whole physiology changed. It’s a simple meditation where you send heart energy outwards, but sometimes the simplest things are the best. It has greatly changed how I view myself, my friends and family ones, and even strangers. Simply put, it has made me a happier, better person.

Mettā meditation is a simple, guided meditation that has profound effects when done on a regular basis. According to an ancient Buddhist texts, the Pali Canon, if you do Mettā meditation regularly, it has some pretty awesome side effects:

One sleeps easily, wakes easily, dreams no evil dreams. One is dear to human beings, dear to non-human beings. The devas protect one. Neither fire, poison, nor weapons can touch one. One’s mind gains concentration quickly. One’s complexion is bright. One dies unconfused and – if penetrating no higher – is headed for the Brahma worlds.

Now, I can’t really attest to the fact that “neither fire, poison, or weapons” can touch me after practicing this type of meditation, but I can tell you that my capacity for being open hearted and loving with myself and others has increased more than I could have imagined.

It’s really not hard to do. Here are instructions for a simple Mettā meditation practice. (I’ve recorded a more in depth version of this meditation that you can access for free ***here***, if you’d prefer to listen along as I guide you.)

  • Sit or lie down somewhere where you wont be disturbed for about 15 minutes.
  • Close your eyes and feel your heart filling with love and compassion.
  • Imagine this love and compassion as a light building in your heart. Give the light a color.
  • Imagine someone you love dearly standing in front of you. Send them the light from your heart while you send them the prayer:

May you find happiness and the causes of happiness

May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering

  • Now imagine someone who is an acquaintance. You know there name and a little bit about them, but you don’t know much about the details of their life. Imagine them standing in front of you and send them the prayer:

May you find happiness and the causes of happiness

May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering

  • Next, imagine a stranger. It could be someone in your town or halfway around the world. Bring a detailed image of them to your mind and say:

May you find happiness and the causes of happiness

May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering

  • Finally, imagine someone who has hurt you or wronged you. That person also has had good days and bad, experienced love and loss, just like you. See if you can open your heart and tell them:

May you find happiness and the causes of happiness

May you be free from suffering and the causes of suffering

  • Now see your heart fill to capacity and beyond with love and the wish for all beings to be happy. Send this love from your heart to the world, see all the people on this planet striving to find happiness and avoid suffering. Send them your love.
  • Slowly open your eyes and notice how your heart is still filled with love and compassion.

This is a great meditation to do in the morning as it starts you out with such a good vibe for the day. There’s nothing better than going through your day shining your light on everyone you encounter and giving them the gift of love and compassion.

Xoxo

Megan

My secret weapon for staying balanced

Over the past 10 years I have been practicing mindfulness.  It has made a world of difference in how I interact with others and how I process all the ups and downs of life. It has helped me to remain balanced and have a perspective that I never knew I could have. Mindfulness has given me a space where I can observe myself, the situation, and my reaction and actually choose how I want to proceed before I get caught up in the whirlwind of  automatically reacting with anger, anxiety or fear.

Mindfulness is basically about keeping your thoughts and awareness on what’s going on right now. By right now, I mean at this exact moment. No, wait! That one just passed. Okay, this exact moment. D’oh! That one passed too. Okay, this exact moment.

You get the picture. Mindfulness is about only paying attention and letting your thoughts be about this exact second. Any moment that has passed or any moment in the future should not be occupying your thoughts or feelings. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction said that mindfulness is, “bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis.”

This is harder than it would first appear because we are trying to go against what our mind has been trained to do. Our minds fill our day with all sorts of thoughts. What should I eat for lunch? Did I remember to pay my cell phone bill? I wonder if my friend is annoyed at me? I flaked on her and now I haven’t heard from her in a few days. That guy is cute, I wonder if he’s single?

Mindfulness is about having those thoughts, feelings, stressors come up… and then letting them go as the moment passes. Mindfulness isn’t about not having thoughts. Asking your mind to stop having thoughts would be like asking your heart to stop beating. That’s its job! Your mind will have thoughts, but if you let them go, if you don’t allow them to carry you on a tangent of worry or stress or guilt, then you won’t feel the emotional and physical ramifications of that tangent. You will simply have the thought, and let it go. The thoughts won’t be able to suck you down the rabbit hole of stress, fear and worry.

Mindfulness has been shown to have a number of beneficial physical effects when practiced on a regular basis. It can decrease anxiety and stress, increase focus and memory, increase creativity, and increase both self-compassion and compassion for others. That’s a lot of good stuff, isn’t it?

There are a lot of good resources on the web for starting a mindfulness practice. I want to stress here that the key word is practice. When you first start out, your mind will wander like crazy. Don’t stress out or get annoyed with yourself. Just say, “thank you, mind, for doing such a good job of thinking. However, right now, I’m trying my best to not get caught up in thoughts.” And then, gently and lovingly, bring yourself back to your mindfulness practice.

Here is a simple mindfulness practice you can do while eating. I’ve used raisins here, but you could use the same idea with any food.

Mindfulness Raisin Exercise

People often don’t notice what they are eating or whether they are still hungry. While they are eating, they may be talking on the phone or doing work or playing around on the computer. What if you just ate and did nothing else for a change? Mindful eating involves noticing how and what you eat, from one bite to an entire meal. By taking the time to eat your food, you can begin to learn what foods actually taste like and which ones you like and dislike.

To try eating mindfully, take three raisins. Look at these raisins as something you have never seen before. Set two of the raisins aside and take the third in your hand. Look at what you are about to eat. Think about how it got to you. Think about the seed that was planted to grown the plant. Imagine the roots sprouting from the seed and the leaves pushing up through the soil and to the sun. Think of the sun’s warmth and energy, feeding the grapevine as it grows. Think of the farmers who tended to this plant, watering it, feeding it and pruning it. Think of a grape, growing on this vine, becoming plump and sweet, full of juice. Think of the person who picked this grape and placed it in a basket. Think of the people who laid the grapes out in the sun for days, allowing them to become raisins. Think of the person who drove these raisins to the market, the person who stocked them on the shelves.

Give thanks for what you are about to eat. How do you feel about putting these raisins in your body? How does your body feel, knowing that you are going to eat?

Use your senses to experience this raisin. Notice what it looks like. Roll it around in your hand; what does it feel like? Hold it to your nose; what does it smell like? Place it near your ear; can you hear anything? If you move it between your fingers, can you hear something now?

Place the raisin against your lips, then lick your lips and notice the taste it has left. Put the raisin into your mouth without chewing it. Close your eyes, if you like, and let it roll around on your tongue. Put it between your teeth and feel it there, without biting into it yet. Notice any saliva that is present. Pay attention to the change in the raisin’s texture after it has been in your mouth for a bit.

Bite into the raisin, noticing any tastes you experience. Slowly chew it for as long as you can. Right before you swallow, notice what it feels like to want to swallow this raisin. When you are ready, swallow the raisin. Notice that it is now in your body.

If you notice yourself getting distracted by your thoughts, take a moment and refocus on the raisin. Repeat this process with the remaining two raisins.

You can follow these steps with any food of your choosing, from one bite to an entire meal.

What are some tools that you use to stay balanced? Share your ideas in the comments below so we can all try them out!