I can feel it in my entire body. Sometimes it happens at work. A wave of panic and I’m overwhelmed by emotion. My stomach is in knots, and I can feel the tears in my eyes starting to form. In that moment, I’m no longer the adult typing away at my computer. I’m thrown back into a place of helplessness, a deep feeling of abandonment. The feeling is painfully familiar.
It wasn’t until starting therapy that I had the language for what I was experiencing.
Basically, this is how it feels to have an emotional flashback. An emotional flashback is the “experience of regressing to the former feeling states of having been an abandoned, neglected or abused child. A flashback is usually triggered by something in your present environment that takes you back into the overwhelming feeling states of your past.” For me, sometimes there is a clear trigger in the moment and sometimes it is a delayed reaction from something that happened the day or night before.
I still feel ashamed when this happens at work because of the stigma around Black women and being “strong.” To the outside world, I’m a fiercely independent lawyer that comes to work every day to put my best foot forward. However, I also live with a mental condition and attachment disorder that makes my inner, emotional life extremely tumultuous.
As an individual who suffered abuse during childhood, I have to constantly remind myself that what I went through was not my fault. From church ideology, the hot and cold behavior of my parents, and experiences of being bullied — the messages that I received during my childhood was that “who I was, was not good enough”. The shame and guilt that has carried over into my adulthood are among the symptoms of a condition that I didn’t know had a name.
true that it made me cry immediately. Most people are familiar with PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, and how it occurs as the result of one traumatic, specific incidence. Complex PTSD, however, comes from repeated exposure to traumatizing, abusive conditions; feelings of helplessness; and the belief that there is no end to the abuse.
As National Minority Mental Health Month 2018 comes to a close, I can reflect on how grateful I am to be getting the treatment I need. My therapist is a wonderful queer, Black woman who handles me with great care and realism. She reminds me that it is safe and ok to feel and grieve the healthy childhood I so deeply desired. Her guidance is leading me to the destination of understanding “my truths” and I am shedding the burdens of shame and guilt along the way. Although there is no cure for CPTSD, this life-long condition can be managed through treatment. My experience is a big motivation factor in my work and efforts to ensure other Black women do not carry around toxic shame about the life experiences that impact their mental health.
With the abundance of help that is available and our increased understanding of the impact of trauma and abuse on mental health, we no longer have to suffer in silence. If you’re reading this blog and have experienced any of the symptoms that I shared or have received a diagnosis of CPTSD, please continue to read on!
Know that you are not alone. You are not “crazy,” “oversensitive,” “damaged goods” or any of the other things people tell us or we tell ourselves. There is truly nothing “wrong” with you! Like me, you are a survivor and are brave for facing what is impacting your life. You are moving toward your truth. So let yourself grieve if you need to. Lean on your support systems. Learn your triggers and try to cut out any avoidable people, places, or things that trigger your stress. Triggers can’t always be avoided, so also, remember to take better care of yourself with compassion.
You deserve and are worthy of your own love. No mental health condition can take that away.
The Black Women’s Health Imperative really wants to know how Black women are understanding, talking about and, dealing with their mental health. Please take a quick moment to answer some questions about your awareness of your mental health. Questions Here.
If you, a family member or friend is experiencing symptoms of PTSD or CPTSD, there is help. The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a great resource. Find education programs and support groups at your local NAMI. Contact the NAMI HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about PTSD or want help finding support and resources.
If you are starting your search for a culturally competent therapist, https://www.therapyforblackgirls.com/ is also a great resource. If affordability is an issue, consider https://openpathcollective.org/ for a directory of therapists with discounted rates.
Rebecca Berry, Esq. is the Legal and Policy Fellow at the Black Women’s Health Imperative.