COVID-19 Has Been a Lifesaving Panacea for My Complex PTSD
It took a pandemic for me to slow down and reevaluate my mental and physical health, and it’s all been for the better.
I spent the first decade or so of my life fighting for my life. It’s shaped me in ways I am only now beginning to understand, and, oddly enough, I have COVID-19 to thank for this recent clarity.
Enduring almost daily sessions of “percussive counseling” on the fists of my alcoholic father left a legacy that lingered long after the bruises faded. Friends and family members at the time noticed things were wrong early on, well before I had a clue that things weren’t right. What they didn’t realize in describing my behavior was that I was exhibiting traits not dissimilar to those of POWs after they returned from war. While other teens laughed and joked and rushed around me squealing with joy, I became shy and reclusive, apathetic on my good days, near numb or counterintuitively irritable and anxious on the not-so-good days.
I was clearly exhibiting symptoms of what we now know to be complex PTSD.
Severe Childhood Trauma Has Shaped My Adult Behavior
Decades later, this unacknowledged and unresolved malady had deviously taken the driver’s seat in my life, and almost every aspect of my world suffered for it. Personal relationships never ran too deep, romantic relationships were doomed from the moment things became too personal and my personal relationship with truth and reality became tenuous at best.
Why? Because when children experience severe trauma at the hands of their family, it creates confidence and trust issues that far too commonly last a lifetime. The reason for these issues is now well researched and understood; how can you ever trust another human being when the very people who brought you into the world didn’t love and protect you from themselves? Worse, you can’t help but ask yourself a soul-destroying question: What kind of piece of shit am I if the people who are supposed to love me unconditionally treat me like garbage?
Learning to trust and be confident in one’s own inherent value are essential elements in early childhood, teenage and adult psychosocial development. If we can’t learn to trust people around us, or if we have zero confidence in our own personal value, and accordingly cannot trust our own capacity to build and live a meaningful life, then we are doomed—at least in part.
For too many years, facing these questions head-on wasn’t an option, so I did what many of us do at times of existential angst: I buried my head in the sand. Over the years, I tried almost every known means of quieting the spiteful internal voices and ignoring the dull ache that comes with knowing you’re betraying yourself by hiding. When alcohol didn’t cut it, I turned to pills and powders. When those failed, I turned to my GP and began relying on pills that alternately had me experiencing vertigo or suicidal ideation, sometimes both.
The cost of this period of my life—where I was, for all intents and purposes, a duck, calm on the surface but churning madly underwater—was tremendous. Outside of learning to rely on three to four hours of sleep and experiencing epic mood swings, it cost me a couple of high-paying jobs, some amazing friendships, a marriage and almost my life after a failed suicide attempt.
Clearly, things had to change. In my case, it took a global pandemic to force my hand.
The Pandemic Offered a Shared Human Experience
When COVID-19 struck, I was working in Eastern Europe, thousands of miles away from home, from family and friends, basically as isolated as you could be. To say I hit rock bottom would be an understatement; I spiraled like Charlie Sheen in Vegas. So I booked a flight home.
What I discovered upon returning home a handful of months into the pandemic was that people I had previously seen as standoffish or elitist were clamoring for human connection. Everywhere I looked, I could see clear signs of anxiety, uncertainty and social isolation. What I was witnessing was my own reality played out on a global scale; I realized that my harsh daily reality in which I felt anxious and isolated due to C-PTSD was now a common malady. Strangely, this made me feel the most human I had felt in years; I wasn’t so different after all.
This recognition of a shared (albeit anxious) human experience started making me question how much of an actual victim I was allowing myself to be as a result of my childhood trauma and how much personal responsibility I was taking to change my own human experience. A chance encounter with a genuine asshole forced me to ponder—if my indignant next-door neighbor could so swiftly become affable (if not entirely likable) in such a short period of time due to his social isolation and a deep-seated need for human connection, what possibilities were open to me for taking responsibility for shifting my narrative from victim to victor?
What I’ve come to understand through forced lockdowns, remote working and a liberal amount of “me time” is that there is potentially a very real upside to COVID-19. The global pandemic presents us with a deeply personal moment in time to reflect, reassess and start to take responsibility for “the me I want to be” on the other side of this mess.
I Began to Look at My Health From a Holistic Perspective
The first penny that dropped for me when forced to reevaluate my life (which included realizing that I was, in part, my own worst enemy) was that I wasn’t a happy or healthy person when I entered the COVID-19 pandemic. I dearly wanted to change this before I came out the other side. Central to this clarity was recognizing that I had never taken the responsibility to think about what a healthy life could look like because I was in victim mode.
As a lifelong runner, I have always somewhat shortsightedly viewed my health through the lens of “physical” health, yet this “hurry up and stop” moment in history that we find ourselves in has forced me to take a wider, more holistic view of health to encompass other aligned aspects such as my emotional, social, spiritual and intellectual health and wellness.
This shift in focus—this widening of my worldview as it pertains to health —has resulted in an astonishingly rapid shift in my priorities and day-to-day realities. Emotionally speaking, I’m more stable than I’ve ever been because I have accepted that only I can take responsibility for this next chapter of my life, and as such, I need to do more of what really matters to me.
From a social health perspective, I’ve become conscious of the five people I spend most of my time with, even in lockdown. This has included me moving back into university studies to fulfill a lifelong dream of completing a doctorate degree in a field that will have a genuine social impact.
From a purely physical health standpoint, I’ve started being more responsible for what I eat, for what media I consume and for how much time I spend outdoors exercising. All of this has led to a drop of 15 pounds, a gradual increase in the duration and quality of my sleep and a greater connection with my partner now that I’m calmer, living more purposefully and more present.
COVID-19 Has Given Me a Chance at Salvation
I will be brutally honest—deep introspection hasn’t been easy. It’s been far more confronting and oftentimes more unnerving than I ever could have imagined. But it’s made easier by understanding that I’m not so very different from other people. We are all anxious, alone and uncertain at times, which has in an odd way given me the confidence to keep peeking behind the curtain and continue to pick at scabs that I had previously done my utmost to ignore.
The pandemic has reshaped the world in many ways that we would prefer not to have happened, but for me, it’s also provided a rare opportunity to slow down and take a good hard look at my life, my health and wellness and to start making changes. And as I continue to see the fruits of my labor, to experience the results of taking responsibility and positive forward action, my self-confidence is improving, which helps me build trust in myself and the world around me.
COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon; neither is my C-PTSD. But amid all the uncertainty that surrounds us, I have more confidence that COVID is my moment of salvation rather than a harbinger of doom after seeing the results of the responsible changes I have made.