About two times a week I’m asked about my PTSD, what happened, or what my symptoms feel like. It was once a bit troubling, because if I didn’t reply, I felt like the perception was that I wasn’t interested in sharing, or worse that I was being elusive and secretive about my life experience. What people didn’t often realize was that retelling my story or preparing myself to share some piece of it triggered me terribly. Other times I could completely detach from my emotional state and just puke some elements of my story out without any sense of emotional connection to the story at all. The worst, and most offensive queries were from unskilled medical and practitioners. When I was first seeking out treatment, I was repeatedly asked to share “what happened” and the details of the traumatic events. If I didn’t reply with the type of details they requested I felt like I wasn’t sharing the depths of the symptoms I experienced, if it did fully reply I could watch these folks crush under the weight of the horrors that I shared. I was lucky to find myself under the care of one phenomenal psychiatrist who truly understood what I was going through. She helped me get treatment and continues to support me in my after care.
Here is a visual representation of how I experience the symptoms of my complex-PTSD. My flashbacks, nightmares, anxieties and terrors attach to all my senses. I taste them. I smell them. My body reacts before I feel emotions or experience thoughts. I see them in during the day and in my sleep. I can be thrown into terror by just the sound of a passing vehicle. Sometimes a familiar taste can send me to into the bathroom to purge violently. I’m not limited to the five senses. The trauma affects my sense of intuition and how I translate my understanding of what I see and feel. Sometimes the intensity of an emotion will hit me with the intensity of a fist. Sometimes I’ll fixate on a colour in my room and my mind will scramble to make sense of my fear – other times I’ll find myself soothing in behind the power of a warm shade.
I meditated on the topic of what it feels like to have complex PTSD. Using Photoshop I created this visual collage to capture the answer to what I feel, what I’ve lived and what my healing journal involves.
Learn more about this diagram and about PTSD and art visit my art site at:
Malchiodi, C. A. (2003). Handbook of art therapy. New York: Guilford Press.
Sheppard, R. (2011). Photoshop elements 9. Indianapolis, IN: Wiley.