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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

Three ways to turn off your inner critic

My inner critic likes to try to bring me down.

“What if you really suck at that? You should just give up now.”

“Do they really want to hang out with me? Maybe they’re just being nice.”

“I can’t even compete. Look at how amazing everyone else is. I’ll never succeed.”

Etcetera, Etcetera, Etcetera.

Sigh. Why does she talk to me like that?

We all have inner critics saying variations of the same things. So, what can we do? Here are three ways I’ve found to shut that voice down and feel better about myself.

1. Realize that EVERYONE has an inner critic.

Oprah? Has an inner critic. Tim Ferris? I’ve seen him talk about his inner critic! Jennifer Lawrence? Inner critic, I guarantee you. That person you feel you can’t compete with because they are so awesome? Super crazy inner critic.

Just like everybody poops, everybody has an inner critic. So, when you feel intimidated by someone or like you can’t compete, try to remember that they are struggling with the same thing you are. You are completely, wonderfully, perfectly normal for feeling like this. It’s part of the whole human experience shtick. You are an amazing, deserving, loving person just like everyone else, despite what your critic says.

2. That’s the hurt part of you talking. Ask why he or she is saying those things.

Sometimes I get into a loving dialogue with my inner critic. I know that that voice comes from a place that feels hurt, sad or less than. When I’ve asked my inner critic why she says these things, I’ve heard some interesting answers.

“I’m just trying to keep you from making a mistake and feeling disappointed.”

“If you truly believe that he loves you, you’ll have to give up the self concept that you’re unlovable.”

“If you don’t rock the boat, you’ll be less likely to alienate people.”

3. Understand that what the inner critic is saying is likely from an old tape loop that’s playing over and over, but isn’t relevant to who you are now.

You’ll notice that there are themes to what our inner critic says and the particular times he or she pops up to whisper nasties in our ears. If you look at that what and when you hear your inner critic, you’ll see some patterns.

Is it around work? When? Is it talking to bosses? Or when you want to share an idea? Is it around friends? Or in your romantic relationships? Look to see if you can spot the patterns.

Then ask yourself, “Is that true about me? Was it ever true about me?” Sometimes you’ll find that your inner critic has latched on to an old narrative. For example maybe you didn’t have many friends in high school. But now you do, so why is the critic still making you feel insecure around your friends? Or maybe you had a terrible relationship with your father and felt like you disappointed him, and now you feel that way about any boss or person in charge.

If you do find these patterns, here’s an exercise to help let them go.

Sit quietly and close your eyes. Imagine your inner critic sitting across from you. They may look like you or they may look entirely different. Ask them for a peace treaty. Tell them you want to come to an agreement about your highest good. Tell them that you want to find happiness and the causes of happiness and they are running a script of an old unhappiness that isn’t true anymore. (Note: at this point, they may rant and rave about how you don’t deserve happiness. That’s fine, that’s just what they do. If this happens, send them pure love and ask them once again to listen.) Show them what you know in your heart – that you are a kind, amazing, passionate person who is looking for success, happiness and human connection. Ask for their help in achieving this. Tell them it’s only sapping the energy you could be putting toward finding these things when you have to rehash old patterns or old hurts through their criticisms. Ask them if you can leave the past in the past, and live in the now. See them nod in agreement. It’s time to move on. Take a deep breath again, and open your eyes.

Zen and the Art of Gridlocked Traffic

I’m driving and I see people flipping out around me all the time. Knuckles white, yelling at someone who can’t hear them, and banging on the wheel. I don’t get it. There’s nothing we can do, and this is beyond our control.

Yes, this traffic sucks. Yes, I’ve been going less than 10 miles per hour for over 10 miles. Yes, I’m going to be late. But somehow, it doesn’t bother me. I turn up my audiobook and delight that I have some extra time to listen to it today.

There are other times when I’m flipping out over something that’s beyond my control. Long lines at the market, for example, make me do a weird conga checkout dance from line to line, searching for the one with the fewest people, while I inwardly curse whomever scheduled so few checkers for this time of day.

The difference is that I learned to drive in LA where gridlocked traffic is as plentiful as sunshine. Miles of barely moving traffic were a daily occurrence, and I’d never known any other way.

When I got my first car at 16, it meant freedom. I could go anywhere, with anyone, anytime. I could get myself to and from school, the mall, and my boyfriend’s house. One of my favorite things to do was get in my car alone, put KROQ on the radio, and drive for hours up the winding, coastal Southern California highway. It cleared my mind, gave me perspective on whatever was whirling in my life, and allowed me to be free from all responsibilities. My time in the car was exactly that, my time. I could listen to whatever I wanted, go wherever I wanted, and I was free.

With this attitude, any time in my car felt like a break from life. Even when I was stuck in traffic, I had the freedom of heading in the direction that I wanted to go, listening to my music, and being free from all the drama waiting for me back home.

I could be present.

Looking back now, this was one of the first consistent mindfulness practices I had. Of course, at the time, I didn’t know what mindfulness was, but on some level I knew that I needed it. So, I found a space to be mindful. And that space just happened to be on the freeways of LA, in mind-boggling gridlocked traffic.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to translate the Zen of Gridlock into other areas of my life. When I find myself in a similar situation, in the checkout line at the market, for example, I remind myself that this is just like LA traffic. It doesn’t matter which lane I’m in, I can’t make this go faster. So, here I am. I give up the idea that I can control this or do anything to make it go faster. Instead, I watch the mother and her son, playing peek-a-boo in the cart ahead of me. Or I watch the elderly couple, holding each other up for support, as they place their groceries on the conveyer belt. Sometimes, I plug in my headphones and listen to music, or grab a magazine and read an article. If it’s a good article and I haven’t finished by the time I get to the front of the line, I find myself wishing the line had been longer. Then I laugh at myself because 10 minutes earlier that long line had been the last thing I’d wanted to see.