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May 08 2020

Living on the Edge – Snapshots of PTSD: Suicidality from PTSD vs. CPTSD

Summary: I tell a short story about becoming more and more suicidal when I had acute and untreated PTSD. Then I list 13 reasons I was suicidal when I had PTSD. I list 13 reasons I’m now suicidal, which all relate to CPTSD. This is a personal account but points to some key differences in how PTSD and CPTSD create suicidality.

I wrote this Snapshot when I had severe PTSD and still had not found a therapist that I could work with. It was only 2 years after the accidents (accidents were 2007 and 2008 and I wrote this in 2010).

In the Discussion, I discuss 13 Reasons I was Suicidal due to PTSD in 2010, 13 Reasons I’m Suicidal due to CPTSD Now in 2020 and Additional Commentary – Tragedies and Hiding One’s Truth.

In the last Snapshot, Between Death and Life, I wrote about how I felt like I was in a limbo land between the world of the dead and the world of the living.

In this Snapshot, I was beginning to understand just how healing it was for my nervous system to get out of my triggering environment and be surrounded by different sights, smells, people, etc. After spending a couple days at Mike‘s house – giving my nervous system a reprieve from all the triggers at my place – we spent this evening at my place and I wrote this there. Even though the two days of relief were nice, I was having very serious problems whenever I was in the place I lived (which is where a lot of the trauma happened), and my suicidal thoughts, urges and feelings were getting worse. (Mike was my boyfriend at the time.)

Living on the Edge – Snapshots of PTSD: “Suicidality from PTSD vs. CPTSD

Thursday October 21, 2010

During the time I spent at Mike’s, I felt somewhat more alive, but still straddling two worlds. I feel resentful of the living, for all they have. But at Mike’s, I can relax for a little.

Here, again, at my place, I hear someone talk upstairs and all the tension washes back upon me from foot to head, as if retracing the pathway it left. When it reaches my head it just sits there and squeezes, and my mind begins to wheel about and speed up and dizzify. And I feel a slight bit ill, like the floor is moving and my stomach goes out of sorts. And then the sorrow spills up in me and I pat it back down. And I think, “I hate it here.”

And I don’t know where I am anymore but I am definitely not at the rocky ledge watching peacefully into the Land of the Living, like I was after doing the Felt Sense Exercise, or at Mike’s. Watching from the still silent space as the Living go about their evenings and prepare themselves for bed, the soft glow of lights winking out, moths and june bugs slumbering on stucco walls alongside smooth door frames after the stars come out.

In a space of one minute I have slid from my precarious perch. I wouldn’t really say I’ve slid into the land of the dead though. If I were to answer a questionnaire and it asked “Do you feel DEAD?” I may say “Well, no, not exactly.” After all, I notice myself eating and breathing, and falling asleep and waking up. But if it said, “Do you feel less alive since the accidents?” Or “Do you feel like you don’t belong with the living since the accidents?” Or “Do you feel you are not really alive anymore, in the way you used to be, since the accidents?” I would answer definitively yes.

I feel less alive because part of me was taken – part of my body, part of my mind, part of my dreams, and most of my identity, my ego, the “who” of who I am. I don’t belong with the Living because they can’t understand, could never understand, will never understand (and they suck because of that). And, I am not really alive anymore because I am a ghost, a faceless, weightless, memory-less shadow of what I was. Day is night and night is day, and I have become unhinged from time or custom or routine.

I suppose that, if the question was phrased, “Do you feel more comfortable with the Dead or with the Living?” I may have to consider for a moment (well, I like Mike, and I gather he’s alive, but this is more general. How can I tell? Oh who cares I’ll go by how I feel) and then I would answer “the Dead,” because of the deep sense of comfort that notion brings.

One thing I know – if I was Dead I could escape this Place, with all the sounds and smells and things that make the hackles rise along my back, that within the space of 1 minute remind me of the tragedy that I am trying to pick up all the Humpty Dumpty pieces from – the Place full of all the stimuli that make me feel ill, and dizzy, and drowning.

I can imagine if I was Dead I would be able to soar above the housetops and bridges and out to the sea, and dive down into the water and dive even further down, until I could reach the very core of the earth, and I would frolic in the white molten lava until my soul was purified of all the sins of others and of myself once again. And I wouldn’t have to pretend to be alive, pretend to be part of all this overwhelming endlessness of things I can’t process anymore.

While I can feel the lightness and freedom, the safety, the returning “home,” in this night flight of being Dead, I can also sense the tragedy it points to because before the accidents, before the sexual trauma, sometime before the most recent traumatic series of events, sometime back so long ago I can barely remember, I felt differently about life itself. I felt much differently.

Day is night and night is day, and I have become unhinged from time or custom or routine.

Discussion

13 Reasons I was Suicidal due to PTSD in 2010

There are numerous influences that can cause people with PTSD to have suicidal feelings, thoughts, and urges. It’s extremely complex. I was suicidal daily for many years after I got PTSD; in fact I am still very frequently suicidal now in 2020. I was never suicidal before I got PTSD (when I had CPTSD only), so it probably was caused by the PTSD combined with CPTSD as well as the context – various life circumstances. At the time of this Snapshot, these are some of the reasons I was getting more suicidal:

  1. Unrelenting Invisible Grief for Losses in Life. All the profound losses, not the losses that accompany trauma per se but other losses that accompany life, remained unrecognized but still felt on some level. In my experience, I couldn’t begin the grieving process of any of the numerous losses until the PTSD was somewhat resolved. It took about 7 years of recovery from PTSD before I could address – feel, process – grief. Having un-grieved and unseen grief is a huge burden.
  2. Unable to See or Grieve All The Losses Accompanying Trauma. I felt like I lost many aspects of my self and again, I didn’t know how or have the inner resources to grieve any of them. Some losses that can accompany trauma are the following that I mentioned:
    • body
    • mind
    • identity
    • dreams and potentials
    • memories
  3. Desire to Escape the Physical Pain. Being constantly in physical pain and sick, in many different ways, always changing and always very scary. I wanted the pain to end.
  4. Close Relationship with Death / Feeling Dead Already. As in the previous Snapshot, I experienced a sense of being dead. Feeling dead has many potential origins. Three of them are:
    • Impact. The impact itself of the events on my psyche – my mind interpreted it that I had really died, due to how much I felt my life was threatened and for how long. The sense of being dead already due to having come so close to dying.
    • Amnesia. Lacking memories prior to the events made it so that it felt as if the person I was before had “died.” The memory loss erased the previous life – in effect making it “dead.”.
    • Triggers. Being around so many constant overwhelming triggers all reminding me of death – all the triggers brought up, in the nervous system, the fear of death and the feeling of being close to death, all the time.
    • Most of my “self” was already dead, so there was very little of me left here in Life. The loss of identity and memories of who I am. All these things create a close relationship with death. The idea of killing myself when I believed I was already dead – it didn’t feel like a very big transition because of feeling like I already had made the transition.
  5. No Relationship with Life. I was fully in a relationship with Death but had no relationship with Life anymore. I express a sense of disconnection from life, time, custom, routine – as if not living inside anything like family or society or work or friends or anything anymore but being totally outside – so I was dead to everything in life already and had nothing to live for except for my creativity. It’s easy to forget about things like the importance of your creativity when feeling suicidal though.
  6. Feelings of Preferring Death over Life. Not only did I feel dead, but I preferred death to life at the time because of feeling already dead and also wanting to escape so many triggers and other aspects of life that were overwhelming.
  7. Feeling Disconnected from Time and Custom / Routine. I mention feeling disconnected from:
    • Time. I did not have the sense of having a location in the flow of linear time anymore. I could not feel the passage of time. I felt (and still feel) dislodged or dislocated from time. For example, things that people think happened a long time ago feel like they just recently happened sometimes because my relationship to time has changed so dramatically. This could be because for the body, it is as if time stops at the moments of the most extreme traumas. Because so much of my body was injured in 07 and 08, there are huge areas of my body stuck in time. Also, there were psychological injuries throughout my childhood, which means there are many parts of my body stuck in even earlier time periods. It could be that having so much of me dislocated in time has disrupted my entire relationship to time.
    • Custom, routine. Typical human life, typical ways of being in family, society. These did not exist anymore.
  8. Life is Too Overwhelming in General. The desire to escape life and the world because of it being too overwhelming – sensory overloads, triggers, also in terms of going back into life in some capacity.
  9. Must Escape Triggers – Must Find a Way! There Were 75 Triggers in my Home Desire to escape all the triggers keeping me always in extreme stress and often going into spikes of terror and distress I didn’t know it at the time, but a little later I counted and there were 75 triggers where I lived that I was trying to cope with, many of them happening simultaneously.
  10. The Influence of Unseen, Unknown Traumas and Invisible Triggers. Prior to the accidents, I went through sexual trauma. And before that, childhood traumas. I think that when there are years and years of many kinds of trauma, from birth until adulthood, it becomes terribly confusing. There were triggers coming from many directions at once. I kind of understood the triggers directly related to nearly dying because they were obvious. But there were a lot of triggers around sexuality, and then there were triggers from childhood trauma as well – and all of those I didn’t see at all or have any understanding that they were happening. But they had a huge impact on me, because they were layering on top of TONS of triggers just about nearly dying. When triggers and traumas are not identified it creates a lot of problems – there is SOMETHING that you need to escape from that is overwhelming and terrifying but you have no idea what it is. This is crazy-making.
  11. Feeling Different Than Everyone Else – Feeling Foreign and Like I Don’t Belong. I express a feeling of a distinct separation between myself and “The Living” or “The Normals.” This is not new; I felt this growing up as well due to childhood trauma and having CPTSD. This feeling was accentuated a lot with PTSD. This actually makes sense because there are many real differences between a person with PTSD or CPTSD and people with nervous systems operating normally and who went through the stages of human development relatively successfully.
  12. Anger at “Normal” People. I express a very mild form of anger – really just a feeling of sad, forlorn frustration – at others for not understanding me, for not understanding trauma and PTSD. For not being trauma-informed. For having so much more than I did.
  13. Desire to Escape Other People. The desire to escape other people because of how clueless they are leads to wanting to escape people. This is especially true if someone close to the trauma survivor doesn’t believe what happened to them, which constitutes another trauma on top of the original traumas.

I think that feeling suicidal is a logical result of PTSD. It makes sense that with all this going on, all the above reasons I listed and many more, a person would feel powerful urges and have thoughts about committing suicide. There is no mystery to this. It follows logic. Being suicidal makes sense as a symptom of PTSD.

The real kicker is when you add external stressors to the mix I describe above. If you add a bunch of problems suddenly – car breaking down, no money, lose job, family tragedy, significant loss, breakup, family drama, crises of various kinds – if you take this vulnerable moment when the PTSD is making suicidal feelings worse and worse over time and then throw on some external stressors I think that can definitely be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

It’s good I found Somatic Experiencing at that time because SE became a little oasis that gave me some relief for a few hours a week (during and right after the session).

The day I got the closest to committing suicide was in 2010 a little after the time I wrote this. But then it continued to be pretty bad; 2011 and 2012 were very bad, then again later in 2015-20 almost daily I had suicidal urges due to numerous additional traumatic experiences. It’s been pretty bad ever since I got PTSD I guess. Now in 2020, after 13 years of struggling with PTSD, I have endured two major new traumas in the last few months and suicidal ideation again is pretty common probably 5x per week on average, which is actually not too bad. I went through many times where I was white-knuckling it every day.

Actually I don’t think this timeline is typical. I think suicidality should end a few years after the events. If I had ever managed to just get to a living environment that was not full of new traumas and triggers, I would have stopped feeling suicidal but the entire time since I got PTSD I have lived in traumatizing and triggering living situations. This begs the question – why do trauma survivors end up repeating the traumas over and over again? It’s so never ending and infuriating! I’ll write about that topic sometime soon.

Now in 2020:

Note that the reasons I am suicidal these days are all about anger. It’s interesting that two years after the events, I experienced virtually no anger; it was still 100% buried. Now this has completely changed. I experience rage coming up all the time as a lifetime of rage is surfacing right now.

Also, the reasons I feel suicidal now are all related to childhood trauma – CPTSD. In 2010 they were all related to the PTSD from the life-threatening accidents in 2007 and 2008.

The reasons now are also all related to relational trauma that happened in my family and with ex-partners rather than nearly dying and being badly injured.

When I say I have “suicidal ideation” due to CPTSD now in 2020, what I am talking about exactly is this: At the mildest level it’s just a momentary image of suicide. I will be thinking about my life and I’ll be feeling trapped and frustrated with no way to escape danger in my living environment and I’ll just have an image flash into my mind of stabbing myself and it will then vanish and I will be back to normal. At the more severe end of the spectrum, if I am very triggered and have gone into shock due to a threat in my environment, I can feel a visceral urge in my body to harm myself. In that case, I will do the push hands on the wall exercise and other exercises until I can move that energy out of my system.

In 2010, I was much more disorganized and much more of me was “gone.” When I was suicidal then, with PTSD, it was more serious because I was already so “dead” that it really made no difference to me whether I was dead or alive. I wasn’t “home” so to speak. When suicidal, I would feel much more in an altered state of consciousness than I ever do now. In other words, I would feel “not myself” which makes sense since I never felt myself then to begin with. I had more of a tendency to try to think of actual plans, although I never got very far with that because soon I would end up breaking free of that altered state of consciousness. Being suicidal with PTSD was like being on an another planet. Being suicidal now from CPTSD is just a result of the flash rage coming out and wanting to express it’s destructive nature in some way, which habitually goes towards my self. And it’s a way to get back at people. I do lose myself somewhat but I definitely don’t lose myself to the same degree as I did with PTSD. Because more of “me” is here and I am now fully alive, it’s a lot less likely I would ever act on any of the suicidal ideation now than when I had PTSD.

13 Reasons I’m Suicidal due to CPTSD Now in 2020:

  1. I’m experiencing body level rage coming up and I automatically direct it against myself – by now this involuntary urge to self-harm has somehow become a habitual response to overwhelming rage coming up from where it’s been stored for so many years within my body
  2. I need reassurance that I matter. In childhood, there were times I felt neglected. When I feel reminded of that, all the anger comes up that I had to stuff down in myself all those years.
  3. I feel threatened. When I perceive that my home is threatened and my relationship is threatened, I feel like my survival is threatened, but the threat is too powerful so I direct my fight response back against myself not against the threat.
  4. I have anger coming up from such an early age that it is nonverbal. I don’t remember the events but I feel all the emotions. It feels overwhelming and sometimes I don’t know how to handle it.
  5. I want to show someone how badly they hurt me – visibly through a demonstration of my pain.
  6. I want someone else to hurt as badly as I do now by finding me dead.
  7. I feel like I want to escape from this life, did I deserve this?
  8. I feel like I was let down and betrayed but have no idea where to go with the emotions. I can’t go to the people who let me down and so I’m not sure what to do.
  9. I was never taught how to handle rage and anger in an empowered way. I feel helpless, essentially.
  10. If I don’t matter then it doesn’t matter if I’m here or not.
  11. Violence was directed at me but I don’t remember that. I just feel violent against myself now. I don’t understand that the violence originally was not from me and it doesn’t actually belong to me.
  12. I’m having trouble organizing my fight response into something that is pro-active. Because it’s so repressed and so much was repressed, when it comes out it’s chaotic and out of control.
  13. If only I could destroy what is unfair. If I can’t do that, I can perhaps remove myself from experiencing the effects of it, by removing myself entirely from life.

The Main Similarity – Too Traumatized and Triggered:

In both lists, feeling threatened by traumas and triggers in my living environment is one of the main reasons I feel suicidal. There is an unrelenting, constant attack on my nervous system because the people around me are doing things to trigger my PTSD as well as to create additional traumas. This breaks me down and also there is a strong desire to escape the danger, and suicide can be seen as the only escape. Writing about this definitely highlights how important it is for trauma survivors to get out of living environments that are dangerous, traumatizing and triggering. Every time I’ve tried to leave a bad environment I’ve ended up in another bad environment. For almost my entire life I’ve lived with trauma coming from my home environment. I honestly have no idea how this happens because when I move somewhere it’s with the intention of it being safe and healthy and then it suddenly will switch after a few months into another hell. Trauma repeats until the key is found to switch life onto a different track I guess. After writing this, I feel motivated to try, yet again, to find the key that will somehow lead me to a safe place to live.

The Main Difference – Death vs. Rage:

The feeling, with PTSD, was of being dead and being very close to Death. The feeling, with CPTSD, is being enraged and feeling like there is just so much anger and not knowing what to do with it except direct it back at myself. I did not feel anger back then. I do not feel dead right now.

Additional Commentary – Tragedies and Hiding One’s Truth

In every story of PTSD and CPTSD there is some kind of tragedy, or a long series of tragedies. Perhaps they go unrecognized for years, but they are there.

Unearth Tragedies Before Forgiving. One of the reasons I would never recommend forgiveness for trauma survivors (unless they are asking for it and ready for it) is I don’t like the idea of deflecting attention away from the process of uprooting the underlying tragedies and all the corresponding emotions. Sometimes these tragedies are very buried.

I Could Write Truth, Not Speak It. In this Snapshot, I was stating what was true for me – at least, in my journal writing. I felt bad and I felt dead and I was not pretending I was feeling good or alive. I also had no capacity for positive thinking so it made no difference if I wanted to think positive or not, I couldn’t.

Too Dead to Feel Anger Yet. I was feeling dead, but I was not yet feeling or allowing any anger. I was too flattened to feel any anger for a very long time – actually all the anger and rage is just starting to come up now (2019, 2020). I was in a place of being completely flatlined, helpless and powerless. Paralyzed. There was the feeling of having been erased.

I Always Put on a Good Face and Hid My Pain. Even when I was sick, and writing my truth in my journal about how horrible my condition was, I did do things to put on face, follow customs, make everybody else feel OK, and make sure others would not feel disturbed or upset. I remember trying to go to work when I could barely stand up, as if I was fully recovered, and still doing family things as if I was normal. Even when I felt like I couldn’t barely function I was trying to pretend I could, coming from past programming to hide my pain, play small and not make any waves. My truth telling was urgent in my writing but it was not empowering me at that time in my communication in my relationships with others at all. I had no capacity or energy to stand up for myself. Stating my truth in my journal helped in my relationship with myself, though.

Sometimes, even now, I need to take care of myself and don’t know it, don’t know what I need to do or how, so I do act as if things are OK when they really aren’t OK.

I think that there is a process of truth telling that begins with the self and gradually works its way out to speaking truth to others one on one, then in close circles, and then gradually reaches out to other people further away like authority figures.

Writing Practice Helps Telling Truths. I think that this is where having a regular writing practice can be important. Having a writing practice probably could help me to take on this strong stance of raw truth telling in my healing again. If I find a way to do this truth telling again, regularly, maybe I will eventually begin to find underlying tragedies and I will then begin to confront all the things that happened, to little by little dig them up and hold them up to the light of day. Eventually, I will be able to speak my truth to others as well, which will channel the anger into empowerment, assertiveness, and pro-active life-affirming decisions, and I assume that eventually, the suicidal feelings will diminish and go away entirely.

For me, this process of unearthing tragedies and telling truths might take the rest of my life. I probably won’t be genuinely, authentically ready to forgive, then, for a really long time. And that is OK. I am happy to become a master of the shadows. I am happy to be on a path of emotional de-repression and resurrection for a long time. (For some, forgiveness is truly very important. I know this but I am not ready yet personally.)


Heidi Hanson is an artist and writer located in San Francisco, California. She is currently working on an illustrated book chronicling her journey healing from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

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