cPTSD And Me: Looking For An Escape Route

An exit sign, lit up against a dark background

Content note: this post discusses cPTSD, what a bitch it is to live with, and acute suicidal ideation. If any of those are hard for you, leave this one out – but keep an eye on my Twitter for other, sometimes sexier posts!


So, I have PTSD.

Actually, technically, I have cPTSD, with the “c” standing for “complex”. All trauma is complex, obviously, but my little “c” denotes that the causes of my PTSD are many, chronic, rather than being one particular incident. I think the “c” fucks you up extra hard, because my understanding of the world is probably radically different to someone who hasn’t experienced years upon years of trauma.

I’ve been thinking about all of this (and a lot more) because of the recent heatwave in the UK. Something about it was making me frustrated, miserable and panicky, and it took me a little while to work out what it was: the feeling of inescapability brought down upon me with the 29 degrees of heat we experienced recently. The heat was uncomfortable, and I couldn’t get away. It put me close to fight-or-flight for days on end.

The inability to cope with situations that seem inescapable is a theme within my life. When I bleach my hair, the twenty minutes I have to cope with an itchy scalp feels like a lifetime. I panic when I’m lifted off my feet (which makes suspension scenes fun, at least). When I had a 24-hour stomach bug at my boyfriend’s place, he found me trouserless on his bathroom floor, crying about a level of pain that, if it had seemed transient, I would’ve coped with easily. But it didn’t seem transient, so I cried until I got stoned and calmed down.

Now, I’m planning on moving in with my Daddy, which is a definite upgrade from the tiny, grubby student flats I’m used to. I’m excited to live with them, obviously, but I’m also scared shitless. This may be in part due to that time I was living with a partner who asked me to leave with 4 days’ notice, for an unknown period of time while he had “space”, with very little money and no means of transporting more of my stuff than I could wrangle onto a train. I felt stuck then, trapped outside of the house I’d left all my belongings in, the inescapability of my newfound semi-homelessness crushing me; but honestly, I’d be scared shitless even if I hadn’t had that experience. My cPTSD means that the world feels fundamentally unsafe and totally beyond my control. Cohabiting with a partner (especially when they own the house and you’ll technically be their tenant) is scary for anyone, but it’s especially scary for someone whose biggest fear in the world is situations they can’t readily escape from.

There are a few ways to mitigate this. I have to strike a balance between finding control where I can, and accepting that some things are beyond my control. For example: I cannot control whether my Daddy and I break up, much as I wish I could, but I can control what the terms of our break-up are. They’ve promised to write me up a proper tenancy agreement that guarantees me 28 days’ notice before I have to leave, which means I’ll be in a position to transport all my things and adjust to the change. Essentially, they’ve promised to give me an exit strategy, and it has soothed my anxious mind a lot.

There are other elements of wanting an escape that bleed into my relationships. My BPD prompts me to attempt to break up with my partners with alarming frequency, even when I don’t really want to end the relationship at all, and I imagine that’s in part because I’m trying to gauge how readily I can escape any given romantic connection when my fight-or-flight response kicks in. This is troublesome, but Lucid Morgan forewarned my partners of it early on in our relationships, so they know how to assauge my fear of being stuck without making me feel like they don’t really want to be in a relationship with me anyway. They say things like, “I really want to be with you. If this is you talking, and not your BPD brain, then obviously you can leave whenever you want, but just know that I don’t want to break up at all.” It helps.

One other thing that helps might be dysfunctional, but in times of crisis, it really helps. I’m suicidal a lot, and sometimes the only thing that can dissuade me from killing myself right now is knowing I can always kill myself later. My distress feels pressing and, yes, inescapable, and that prompts thoughts of killing myself to get away from it – but the option of killing myself later washes away some of the wounded-animal, fight-or-flight desperation without involving, you know, doing it right now. Even when I’m less acutely distressed and more chronically miserable, I find it a comfort to know that I could bow out of life any time – and that frees up more space in my mind for actually enjoying life as I live it. Weird, possibly unhealthy, but a useful interim solution until I can work through my need to always have an exit strategy.

All of this is to say: trauma is a bitch, and this is one of the many effects it can have on your brain and how you navigate the world. It’s okay if you’re always looking for an exit, but it’s a feeling that can suck, and all I want you to take away from this post is that you aren’t alone in it.