America Gave Me PTSD

I learned, three days before writing this, that PTSD is not merely what it *seems like* I have. Despite growing up with a reasonably full belly, warm bed, and nurtured brain, life wrecked me kinda hard. What happened... is a tale for another day. Here are some initial thoughts. after getting the diagnosis.

I turned 41 this year.

A handful of years ago, scientists at a psychiatry college in Munich put forth research indicating that a bad childhood can not only give you PTSD, it can give it to you so bad it imprints your genetic code.

By the time I was 11 years old, I'd experienced one divorce, and a few years watching mom chew-up and spit-out a few okay men. Before the divorce, life between mom and dad was a war zone. When I was around 11, it was becoming one again, but this time focused on me. She'd married again, and my first stepdad was a proper psycho.

It was around the time my first stepdad threw Bruce, the dog I'd had since I was negative-6-months old, out the door by the chain wrapped around his aging neck -- I realized, I wasn't coping with life very well. In my 11-year-old mind, I asked myself, "is this what it feels like to be crazy?"

Today's Friday. On Tuesday, I had a psych eval to determine whether I'm going back out on the street or not. At the end of the eval, the psychologist told me he agreed with an earlier assessment, that I have PTSD.

I had been blown off for a diagnosis a very long time. Throughout life, I have rarely had both the access and the proper mindset to use mental health care. Partly because of that, and partly because of some mysterious reluctance on the part of the psychiatrists and psychologists I had seen over the years, I had never been given a diagnosis before. After the last p-doc turned out not even to be a doctor, and the attached medical facility did me wrong with a medication bait-and-switch, I had basically given up on mental health "professionals" for the immediate term.

I asked, "Did you just give me a diagnosis of PTSD?"

He said yes.

I also asked, rudely or not, whether being only a psychologist, and not a psychiatrist, affects his ability to give a diagnosis at all.

He said no, he's able to diagnose, and it would be pretty hard to miss.

I've rarely been one to procrastinate crying. I got the first of it out, in fits, over the next 20 minutes. 


If I hadn't developed and maintained an interest in mental health research, I wouldn't have known "my childhood gave me PTSD" was something a mental health team would take seriously. I had joked about it, rarely and quietly, for a long time. I didn't want to disrespect veterans, which is what I felt I was doing, by self-diagnosing the same outcome people get from war. 

For years, I thought I was some weird new form of bipolar; and bipolar researchers are indeed, implicitly, carving a new category of bipolar that might loosely fit me. And I may be "bipolar 3" or whatever it will someday be called. But it's unusual for bipolar people to have severe mood swings more than a few times a year at the most frequent; and mine can be multiple times daily, for weeks at a time.

I think my attempts to design coping mechanisms around the self-diagnosed myth of some off-spectrum bipolar disorder made things a lot worse. I was focusing on cycles that weren't the focal problem; the focal problem has always been triggers, more than cycles.

The concept of emotional flashbacks arising from a personality wrapped in learned adaptations -- I grew up in a bad place, and so my whole reality picture revolves around the presence of harm coming at me from all directions -- defines almost everything about my ongoing challenges. 


I am being a little presumptuous when I label myself specifically with the nonexistent diagnosis of Complex PTSD. I'm not sure it's on the books yet -- I don't think so. If it's declared real by the gatekeepers of the DSM, then I suppose PTSD would be demoted to "mere" shell shock, since Complex PTSD denotes prolonged, rather than momentary, trauma. I expect many folks with PTSD would be reclassified to C-PTSD in that case.

I really wish someone had given me this diagnosis 20 or 25 years ago. It would have changed my life a lot sooner.

So far, it just feels like there are a lot of huge, complex, wasteful, self-harming, CPU-heavy parts of my brain calmly self-uninstalling. 

PS: The "homeless" tag is there because I am still, technically, homeless; hence the housing renewal question.

© 2019 Nathan Hawks