Today I have the privilege of sharing Hannah’s personal experience with complex posttraumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).
Most of us are familiar with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition that develops in response to a traumatic event. What is less familiar is the closely related condition, complex posttraumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).
The difference between the two is that posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops in response to one event, and complex posttraumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) develops in response to prolonged trauma. And while adults can develop the condition, it most often occurs in children.
Let’s take a moment to look at the world of complex posttraumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) through Hannah’s eyes as she shares the story of her childhood trauma, diagnosis and life today.
My name is Hannah Siller, and basically, I’m a nerd with a heart of gold. My passion is helping people, whether it is being a mental health advocate or giving someone directions around the zoo when I overhear them mention they are lost.
I am happily married to my high school sweetheart and fellow Ravenclaw, and we have two kitty cats of our very own. My husband is a nerd like me, and we spend most of our time playing Dungeons and Dragons with friends or going to Disneyland. When I’m not spending time with him or working on homework, as I study for my doctorate in psychology, you can find me reading or listening to music.
My future goals include writing a book about my trauma and mental health journey, becoming a college professor, and contributing to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) research and treatment.
Until then, I have found a place for myself as a life coach, public speaker, and blogger through my business, Serene Life Consulting. If there is only one thing I accomplish in life, I hope it is bringing just a little inspiration into the world.
I am a survivor of childhood abuse. My parents, both addicts, were not a love story for the ages, and yet somehow, they still ended up with shared custody. My mother was the primary caregiver, and it was by her hand that I experienced my trauma.
The abuse started off small, just a slap or an aggressive push into something. But as I became older, her perceived need for restraint became lax, and the strength of her need for illicit substances grew.
By the time I was halfway through high school, my injuries were bordering on deadly force, and cocaine had become her drug of choice. It made her behavior less predictable. The breaking point came at the end of my junior year when I finally ended up in the hospital and action was needed.
People often ask why I didn’t just get out sooner, why I “let” it happen to me. The truth is that many people in my life knew. Some didn’t care, and others didn’t want to get involved.
Most, however, believed my mom when she blamed me, calling me violent and claiming it was self-defense. After a while, even I believed her. I felt I deserved it, and I lost hope of ever having a better life.
After finally being removed from my trauma, I thought I would find peace and happiness right away. Instead, I found it almost impossible to get out of the mindset of an abuse victim. I still found myself fearful, timid, and insecure about everything.
Growing up, I had faced all the trauma without an ounce of weakness or emotion. I felt strong because of this, yet, here I was out of that life, and all I felt was weak. It felt like a tidal wave the way the reality of my past caught up to me.
I started having panic attacks over little things, like deciding what we should have for dinner or over a sudden change in plans. When I was on the bathroom floor, heart racing and struggling to breathe, I knew I needed help.
Seeking Professional Help
The therapist I found was an older gentleman with grey hair pulled into a ponytail. Within 15 minutes, he had already diagnosed me with complex posttraumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).
The best part about him was his willingness to explain and educate me on my diagnosis. It all fit and, and everything finally made sense.
The symptoms I was having and the emotions I was feeling were all right there, in black and white, in my therapist’s little diagnostic book. It felt like they wrote the book just for me.
Having a name for I was experiencing was like finally confronting a bully. I was scared, but I finally felt in control.
Hannah’s Treatment Protocol
My therapist started using cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and suggested an selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressant to help manage my anxiety. My dose was low, but it was still enough to take the edge off when particularly difficult topics or situations came up.
My treatment lasted about a year, and although it would not be the only time I sought therapy or went on anxiety medication, it was the most important step I took in my trauma recovery.
Hannah’s Life Today
Even with all the healing I’ve done, trauma is never something you get over or forget. It becomes a part of who you are and is attached to every memory. Instead, complex posttraumatic stress disorder (CPTSD) is more about management than full recovery.
Through telling my story, I have found acceptance of this and an understanding of myself, my needs, and my mental health. I’m not perfect. My anxiety still gets the best of me sometimes. I still startle easy, and I have nightmares and flashbacks every now and then.
But I survived, and I will not waste my time focusing on the ways I am still broken. Instead, I will live my life, despite my trauma, and find a way to make it worth more.
Hannah rose above her harrowing childhood and refused to let the horror of the abuse she endured become the last chapter of her story. Instead of using her traumatic childhood as an excuse to flounder in life, Hannah used her experience as a stepping stone to learn more about psychology and the way the brain works. She has made it her mission to make life better for other trauma survivors.
As in so many stories I have shared, Hannah has made her test her testimony, and we should all follow her lead. We should all use our greatest struggles to help empower others and spread encouragement and hope.
For more information on posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), check out the National Institute of Mental Health’s (NIMH) informative article.
To better understand the differences between posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and complex posttraumatic stress disorder (CPTSD), visit the CPTSD Foundation’s website.
To check out more of Hannah’s work, including life coaching services and her current blogging project “Diary of a Trauma Survivor,” visit Serene Life Consulting’s website. You can also follow Hannah on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.