• jess

C-PTSD and physical symptoms

Updated: Aug 18

Photocredit @ Tia


Trauma is a funny thing, huh? You’re keeping pace, holding a job, forging your way through a “normal” life, maybe even leading an “impressive” one… and then, things start going haywire.


Maybe it starts with some increased anxiety… depressive spells that feel deeper and more stubborn than before… intrusive thoughts, bad dreams, or a sudden onset of brain fog. Things start feeling more difficult and your life is necessarily changing as you try to quell the disruptive emotions. Your relationships may fall off, you might start missing days of work, your interest in the usual aspects of life fades.


Then, just when you believe your brain can’t get any messier… when your life is starting to feel akin to a flaming shitbag… your body suddenly starts failing in all sorts of new and mysterious ways! Why not. Throw some more stress on the fiery crapsack.


What goes wrong when your body is on high alert all the time? All sorts of things! It’s a systemic response to external stimuli, internalized and rooted deep inside your body. Who knows where things are going to show up, when, or in response to what.


Luckily, there are Fuckers who’ve come before you who have plenty of experience dealing with unforeseen physical problems. The full list of potential ailments is unknown… but here are some common complaints that can’t be disputed as physical effects of unmanaged trauma.




Triggers


So, you’re plugging along through life minding your own business... and suddenly you’re seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling something completely different.


Your body is on fire with stimulation and action potential. You shake, your heart pounds, you hyperventilate, your muscles tense up, and you itch to flee the area. You’re flooded with very physical emotions; terror, anger, and confusion. The person in front of you is transformed into a different human being before your eyes. You’re experiencing a new time and place - but… wait, it’s an old time and place.


You’ve been triggered.


What is this, exactly? Your brain is running an old, unprocessed program in response to something happening in your environment.


When you experience a trauma, your brain can’t integrate the event at the moment when it happened. It’s too far outside of your normal perception of the world. So, in an attempt to protect you and continue on its merry way, your thinker box will shuttle that file off to a different location instead of patching it into the current system. You might never access that file… until the day that you do.


When you experience a trauma, your brain can’t integrate the event at the moment when it happened. It’s too far outside of your normal perception of the world. So, in an attempt to protect you and continue on its merry way, your thinker box will shuttle that file off to a different location instead of patching it into the current system. You might never access that file… until the day that you do.

When the unresolved memory is drudged up? You relive it. Because this hasn’t been processed as an event in your past, your brain puts you back in the shoes you were wearing at the time of the recording. This means, you’re going to re-experience the emotions, external stimuli, and internal landscape of that point in time.


Your brain was just trying to protect you when it made this faulty saving error… but once you discover the file, it doesn’t fit so nicely back into the folder from where it came. You might begin to experience nightmares and repeat triggerings until you can process and integrate the memory with the help of a professional.


This might be your first experience with what we easily recognize as “trauma.” And, undoubtedly, it’s going to shake you.


What’s the answer to being triggered? Other than learning to ground yourself and calm your physiology? As far as I know, there isn’t one. Sorry fucker.


This is going to need some professional help from a trauma informed therapist. Maybe one with EMDR certification, which often helps to turbo-boost people’s retriggering recovery. It’s a learning experience; figuring out what triggers you, why, and what to do about it in the aftermath. You can try to change your life to avoid triggers - but it’s not always possible to eliminate them all. Coping skills are going to be your best friend.





Panic attacks


What is this? I can’t breathe, I’m shaking, my arms are numb, my heart is pounding, my vision is closing in, I’m sweating profusely, and I feel like this might be the end…


Hey, it’s your first panic attack. Hope you weren’t planning on leaving the house right now, because you’re about to be bowled over. If you already left the house… well shit, that distance from safety is probably going to drive you into another panic attack.


Sorry for the bad news, but welcome to the trauma club?


What’s the next step up from overwhelming anxiety… it’s a full-blown panic attack. Nervous system overdrive. Fear response to the extreme.


Basically, your brain is telling everyone that the house is burning to the ground and your body is trying to respond to the perceived life-threatening stimuli. You're being flooded with those adrenal hormones and your physiology is following the chain of command, like it should. But, the signal is faulty. Trigger happy - figuratively and literally, when we’re talking trauma.


Basically, your brain is telling everyone that the house is burning to the ground and your body is trying to respond to the perceived life-threatening stimuli. You're being flooded with those adrenal hormones and your physiology is following the chain of command, like it should. But, the signal is faulty. Trigger happy - figuratively and literally, when we’re talking trauma.

What do you do now? Make sure you can get somewhere safe. Tell your friends and family that you’re now experiencing this occasional system overload. Learn how to ground yourself with breathing and visualization exercises, ASAP. Panic attacks don’t have to become regular, but it seems like people experience a few if they have one.


Some folks benefit from going on a medication for acute panic and anxiety attacks. If your world is feeling unpredictable or your life is being negatively impacted by unexpected breakdowns, it’s not a bad idea to ask a medical professional for a temporary medical intervention solution.




Exhaustion


Who’s chronically tired to the point of nearly fainting? Can’t stand up? Can’t get out of bed? Can’t raise their hands over their head? Can’t even see straight half the time?


It’s me, a few years ago.


Let’s go ahead and assume that you’re not sleeping well, if at all. There’s your first answer.


Secondly, are you eating right? Or have you been filling your face with comforting foods and substances? Not helping either.


Lastly, when you’re running on cortisol and adrenaline day after day, it does more than drive your body to create a beer belly. You exhaust your system and move into the realm of adrenal fatigue. What starts as an effort to keep you primed for action and ready to flee… eventually wears out after years of the same factory pumping out steroids at full blast.


Lastly, when you’re running on cortisol and adrenaline day after day, it does more than drive your body to create a beer belly. You exhaust your system and move into the realm of adrenal fatigue. What starts as an effort to keep you primed for action and ready to flee… eventually wears out after years of the same factory pumping out steroids at full blast.

You literally exhaust your adrenal cortex and enter the medically-disputed territory of adrenal fatigue. What happens then? Well, your hormonal control center is broken, bitch. Get ready for everything to be dysregulated in your body, including your appetite, sleep pattern, immune function, and blood pressure. Because your bodily messengers aren’t being appropriately regulated, your normal physiological functions aren’t going to be either.


Your electrolyte balance going wonky, in particular, is going to contribute to the sense of continual physical exhaustion. You know sodium and potassium, the ions that make your cells send electrical signals to each other? Well, they’re the basis of your system functioning as a cohesive unit. How do you tell your body to get a move on? Motherfucker, you can’t when you don’t have any action potential in your cells because your K and Na are all screwed.


Those days that you can’t lift your arms over your head? You might consider having adrenal fatigue. The fix? Outside of physical relaxation techniques and therapy… There are some holistic supplements you might check out. For starters, I took Ashwagandha and B-vitamin complexes for many years. Did they help? Eh, maybe. Not as much as fixing my head and diet over the course of years did…


Now, what if you’re feeling mentally exhausted? Consider the fact that your brain is effectively living two different lives. The one you’re experiencing now and the unprocessed one from your childhood. Emotions are tiring. Trying to process and integrate experiences while dealing with the subsequent triggers is like a mental obstacle course.


Now, what if you’re feeling mentally exhausted? Consider the fact that your brain is effectively living two different lives. The one you’re experiencing now and the unprocessed one from your childhood. Emotions are tiring. Trying to process and integrate experiences while dealing with the subsequent triggers is like a mental obstacle course.

Is it hard to imagine that you’re wearing your brain function down, between all of the mental illness management efforts you’re making and trying to process deeply repressed memories? Plus, again, the lack of sleep and proper nutrition? Nah, sounds right.


Take care of yourself. Reduce the symptoms you CAN manage separate from your trauma responses, like eating right, exercising, practicing good sleeping hygiene, and cutting out addictive substances.





Random illnesses and pains


Have you always been sickly, or is that shit just popping up out of the blue these days? When talking about Complex Trauma, it’s hard not to talk about the onset of immune disorders and assorted physical ailments. Your system is out of whack, and there are consequences.


Do you suddenly find yourself getting paranoid and obsessive about your health? Feel like something is always going wrong, in some mysterious new way each day? Up all night reading WebMD and fearing certain demise?


Yep. Welcome to the health anxiety that comes with random biology failures.


When your system is going haywire thanks to dysregulated hormones as already described, illnesses are bound to happen. Your immune system is being put through its paces; ramped up and depressed, depending on the ruling hormone of the day.


When your system is going haywire thanks to dysregulated hormones as already described, illnesses are bound to happen. Your immune system is being put through its paces; ramped up and depressed, depending on the ruling hormone of the day.

If your immune system isn’t being directly suppressed to redirect energy towards your fight/flight organs, it’s being dialed up by inflammatory responses. Over time, this increased immune response? It’s going to wear you out or slip you right into autoimmune disease overdrive.


Plus, any time you mess with your sleep schedule? You immediately lower your immune system function.


Now, throw in the digestive upset you’re experiencing at the same time. Too much shitty snacking or having too few foods, in general, are going to mean you aren’t getting the right calories or nutrients from your food. Add the comforts of sugars and weird, indigestible goodies found in the most delicious noms, and your body is facing a biochemical nightmare.


It’s stress from all ends on your well-meaning internal defense system.


Never had a sinus infection before? Get ready. Always been gifted to eat whatever you fancied? Time to get a food journal for your upcoming exclusion diet. Been cocky about your excellent teeth? It’s mouth infection time. Feel bad for folks with chronic migraines? Bad news, welcome to the club.


Let’s hope it ends there. It can get worse.


Over time, traumatized folks commonly develop Multiple Sclerosis, Crohn's Disease, IBS, life-altering allergies, and beyond. I have some personal suspicions about the links to PCOS, diabetes, and Raynaud's Disorder, myself. But the list of associated ailments seems to be endless.


Over time, traumatized folks commonly develop Multiple Sclerosis, Crohn's Disease, IBS, life-altering allergies, and beyond. I have some personal suspicions about the links to PCOS, diabetes, and Raynaud's Disorder, myself. But the list of associated ailments seems to be endless.

What can you do? Well… the same advice as always. Quit fucking around and making it worse. Be accountable for your physical health. Stop cheating on that diet. Stop consuming foods that upset your system. Get outside and move your ass on a regular basis. Don’t try to escape from discomfort with alcohol, cigarettes, or other addictive dullers.


Give it time. Learn how to live a healthier life. There’s nothing flashy to fix the issue… just old fashioned responsibility and commitment to feeling less awful.





Lack of appetite/too much appetite


What’s up with eating, anyways? Sometimes I want to, sometimes I don’t want to, sometimes I do it without realizing there’s material being shovelled into my face.


Feeling super hungry? I’m willing to bet that you’re stressed out, not sleeping at night, and in some level of continual physical discomfort.


If you’re walking around all the time, feeling unsettled and uncomfortable on the inside, you might become an emotional eater. It’s easier to avoid those feelings with distractions than it is to deal… and the funnest distraction of them all is putting snacks in your mouth. With years of anxiety comes years of salty, sugary coping in the refrigerator, the couch, and your bed… and then years of depression for becoming a chubby bunny.


If you’re walking around all the time, feeling unsettled and uncomfortable on the inside, you might become an emotional eater. It’s easier to avoid those feelings with distractions than it is to deal… and the funnest distraction of them all is putting snacks in your mouth. With years of anxiety comes years of salty, sugary coping in the refrigerator, the couch, and your bed… and then years of depression for becoming a chubby bunny.

Plus, it’s a real phenomenon that your appetite ramps up when you aren’t sleeping at night. Hormonal deregulation following a single bad night of sleep pumps up your ghrelin, the chemical that tells your tum it’s hungry. And guess what it wants the most? The most energy-packed foods you can think of! Those times of intense insomnia that were correlated with craving frappuccinos, ice cream, and dry breakfast cereal? That’s a real relationship. No sleep, all eat.


On the other hand, do you ever just… forget to eat? Maybe you’re feeling hungry all day, but when you sit down with food in front of your face, suddenly you feel nauseous rather than enticed? Maybe you notice that your tum wants some attention, but for some reason you relish the feeling instead of putting it to rest? Maybe you don’t feel a single grumble from your belly all day, and you literally just let the hours pass without giving it a second thought?


Yeah… anxiety, anxiety… you’re probably dealing with a lot. When your system is more concerned with survival and emotional wallowing than putting calories in, something is wrong. Namely, those stress hormones are probably pumping again - the adrenaline kind.


Yeah… anxiety, anxiety… you’re probably dealing with a lot. When your system is more concerned with survival and emotional wallowing than putting calories in, something is wrong. Namely, those stress hormones are probably pumping again - the adrenaline kind.

There’s no time for foraging food when you’re under attack. You can’t stop and have a cheeseburger in the middle of a chase. Your appetite suppression is going to be ramped up so you can stay alert and mobile, rather than stuffed and sleepy.


On days you can’t force food down? Don’t quote me on this, but… weed. Smoke some weed. Eat your heart out. If it works, it works. But don’t make it a habit or make yourself paranoid.




Digestive upset


What’s your deal? Do you have emergencies or prolonged bouts of discomfort? AKA - too much poop, too little poop? Where do you fall on the spectrum of bowel hooliganry.


I think a majority of people fall on the emergency end of the spectrum - runny, emergency poops under stress. I think this might be more common, or it’s just more commonly accepted as a real problem, because the side effects can be super shitty (sorry). Running into the bathroom before important meetings? Makes sense. Running into the bathroom 24/7 because your system is lit up like a Christmas tree? Not manageable.


I think a majority of people fall on the emergency end of the spectrum - runny, emergency poops under stress. I think this might be more common, or it’s just more commonly accepted as a real problem, because the side effects can be super shitty (sorry). Running into the bathroom before important meetings? Makes sense. Running into the bathroom 24/7 because your system is lit up like a Christmas tree? Not manageable.

I’ll be open and tell you, I fall on the weirder side of “not enough” when I’m stressed. My body straight up stops digesting foods when it’s ready for us to run away from danger… and it thinks we’re in danger more often than I’d like. For years, I suffered with this to an extreme degree. I’m talking, once a week? And I wasn’t exactly keeping my eating under control at that time, so there was plenty backing up down the line.


Did people accept that this experience was real? Nah. But uhhh… have you ever had drunk the preparatory 64oz of colonoscopy diuretic? I have, and it literally didn’t do anything to me. I'm saying NO THING. I couldn’t have the procedure done because this “industrial strength laxative” didn’t work for me. Meanwhile, I had doctors telling me for years this was “in my head” along with plenty of my other health issues. Ha! Have fun explaining this one, dismissive assholes.


What to do about the digestive speed issues? You know, all you can really do is learn to calm down that body. Again, easier said than done… but it’s going to start with your head. Your thought patterns are probably driving your physiological stress responses. When (if) you ever get a grip on finding some semblance of inner peace (I know, fuck me), you can start to chill out your system.


What to do about the digestive speed issues? You know, all you can really do is learn to calm down that body. Again, easier said than done… but it’s going to start with your head. Your thought patterns are probably driving your physiological stress responses. When (if) you ever get a grip on finding some semblance of inner peace (I know, fuck me), you can start to chill out your system.

Until then? Same things - lead your life with good behaviors.


Make sure you’re doing everything you can to off-set your issues. Eat well, keep a consistent sleep schedule, get your body moving every day. Make it a point to eat fiber and not eat sugar. Get those whole foods into your mouth to reduce the chance of added ingredients irritating your intestinal lining. Plus… stop with the alcohol already, cut your caffeine, and forget about smoking cigarettes.


Does this sound like hell? It did to me, too.


Once you start living without constant discomfort, though, you seriously won’t feel that way. The relief is so worth the effort. Find a diet that doesn’t cause you more distress and you’ll thank yourself later… even if it necessitates having intense self-control on Donut Day.

Once you start living without constant discomfort, though, you seriously won’t feel that way. The relief is so worth the effort. Find a diet that doesn’t cause you more distress and you’ll thank yourself later… even if it necessitates having intense self-control on Donut Day.




Acid reflux


Oh lord, the next aspect of digestive hell. Acid reflux seems to be a super popular one.


Why? I have no clue!


The internet says there’s no proven mechanism to turn anxiety to acid reflux, but holy fuck, there is a lot of correlative data, nevertheless. This seems to be a mystery that’s still stumping scientists… but that doesn’t mean it ain’t real.


The internet says there’s no proven mechanism to turn anxiety to acid reflux, but holy fuck, there is a lot of correlative data, nevertheless. This seems to be a mystery that’s still stumping scientists… but that doesn’t mean it ain’t real.

I know for a fact that it is after 5-7 years of burning, churning, misery. Most of my 20’s were plagued with debilitating acid reflux that had no start or end. I woke up in the morning in pain. It got worse throughout the day. And it ended with me writhing around in bed, literally woken up from my troubled sleep by the pain in my stomach.


I tried everything you could imagine, starting with family-sized containers of Tums, working my way through prescription drugs that didn’t help, and eating bunches of bananas that semi-buffered the fire in my gut. At best, there was mild relief. At worst, I couldn’t function because the pain was so significant. It’s hard to concentrate when it feels like your stomach and esophagus are being shredded from the inside.


What to do? Other than avoiding foods that are going to provoke your GERD even more? You have to fix yer head to reduce your anxiety.


Diet-wise, start with cutting out the abrasive, acidic foods that are hard on your stomach and difficult to digest. This means… go whole, man. Stop with the pre-made anything, because you have no idea what’s really in there. The less ingredients you’re dealing with, the better. It’s not worth the convenience when you’re burping up fire and gripping your gut all day. For starters, also cut out the tomatoes, the spicy foods, the alcohol, the cigarettes, the coffee and tea, the fruit juices, and anything that contains sugar.

Diet-wise, start with cutting out the abrasive, acidic foods that are hard on your stomach and difficult to digest. This means… go whole, man. Stop with the pre-made anything, because you have no idea what’s really in there. The less ingredients you’re dealing with, the better. It’s not worth the convenience when you’re burping up fire and gripping your gut all day. For starters, also cut out the tomatoes, the spicy foods, the alcohol, the cigarettes, the coffee and tea, the fruit juices, and anything that contains sugar.


Give it 2-3 weeks. See how you feel. It’s a place to start. Seriously, don’t cheat on the restricted diet - I know it feels impossible, but you’re only cheating yourself.


A word of encouragement, because this really blows; I literally don’t have any acid reflux anymore. It went from a 365 day a year problem to maybe 1 day a year? This is usually when I’ve been knowingly treating myself to too many acidic treats or make the mistake of accepting a bloody mary at brunch, like a self-sabotaging turd.




Pregnant belly, tiny limbs, moon face


So, you’re eating pretty well and getting a good amount of exercise… and you still have a raging FUPA no matter what you do. What the fuck is that?


Oh, honey, that’s cortisol. Lord knows, it’s the bane of my existence.


Want to talk about messed up hormones? This one is the worst. When you’re stressed out, your body releases cortisol to boost your immune system, regulate your metabolism, and mobilize your energy reserves to keep them readily available. It’s for your protection, so you’re always primed for that fight/flight response. BUT, when it’s elevated chronically, what it practically does is build up a tire around your lower gut and run your system into the ground.


Want to talk about messed up hormones? This one is the worst. When you’re stressed out, your body releases cortisol to boost your immune system, regulate your metabolism, and mobilize your energy reserves to keep them readily available. It’s for your protection, so you’re always primed for that fight/flight response. BUT, when it’s elevated chronically, what it practically does is build up a tire around your lower gut and run your system into the ground.

With high cortisol, every calorie you consume will be shuttled straight to your belly as your muscles waste away. Your body wants to have spare glucose floating around in your system, so it’s ready for running at a moments notice. This means, it’s going to break down proteins and create new glucagon (available glucose) reserves to have on the ready. AKA, your bod makes a lot of free-floating glucose which is then stored as a protective layer of fat around your gut when it isn’t used. This is why folks wind up with tiny arms and legs that don’t match their enormous bellies.


Even if you’re thin, you can suffer from the cortisol-induced effect of chronically-pregnant belly. To make this physiological joke even funnier… know that the more you try to diet and exercise, the more you might accidentally send your body “survival” signals, thus increasing your cortisol and adding to the FUPA-ssue.


All you can do? You have to learn how to calm yourself. It’s going to take time and it’s going to feel impossible. When life rears its ugly head, you’re going to be back at square one. It is infuriating and it is frustrating. But that’s part of the trauma life… so I recommend you get to it and start living.

All you can do? You have to learn how to calm yourself. It’s going to take time and it’s going to feel impossible. When life rears its ugly head, you’re going to be back at square one. It is infuriating and it is frustrating. But that’s part of the trauma life… so I recommend you get to it and start living.




Dissociation


One day, you might randomly realize something shockingly new and novel… You’re feeling. Feeling your emotions and bodily sensations, that is. Realizing that your feet are on the ground, your stomach exists, and your chest is aflutter with some kind of energetic signalling.


One day, you might randomly realize something shockingly new and novel… You’re feeling. Feeling your emotions and bodily sensations, that is. Realizing that your feet are on the ground, your stomach exists, and your chest is aflutter with some kind of energetic signalling.

What’s this? Why is this so strange right now?


Probably because you’re actually noticing your body for the first time in a few months or years. Your brain is receiving signals from your meat jacket… and apparently it’s been a while since they’ve been returning each others’ calls? You presumably aren’t parapeligic, so why does it feel that way? What on earth has been going on here?


Oh, Fucker, you’ve been dissociating.


Is this a brain symptom or a body symptom? Kind of both… Your brain is blocking out the messages being sent from your bod, and it seems like your physique hasn’t exactly been persistent. Like it’s been in hibernation, just waiting for the day when it’s going to be heard again.


Why does this happen?


Well, like always, to protect you. I mean, you already heard the LAUNDRY LIST of horrific physical ailments that come with a traumatized life… Is it really any wonder that your brain wants to shut out the screaming that’s been coming from your gut, your muscles, and your incessant back pain? Let alone all the stabbing pains of big emotions that have been twisting your stomach and crushing your chest?


Nah, makes a lot of sense. Let’s just cut that phone line until we stop receiving so many disturbing calls.


In the same way that your brain will protect you with numbing and endorphin release DURING a traumatic event, it’ll fall back on that old survival coping method when you’re now living with the physical symptoms of unmanaged trauma.


In the same way that your brain will protect you with numbing and endorphin release DURING a traumatic event, it’ll fall back on that old survival coping method when you’re now living with the physical symptoms of unmanaged trauma.

It’s just… easier that way… cutting out some of the unwelcome stimulation that’s polluting your overwhelmed brain. Until the day that you actually want to feel something, that is.


Turning off emotions becomes problematic if you can’t turn them back on. Keeping your brain separate from your chronically hungry and exhausted signals is an okay plan, until it decreases your physical wellness and enables bad habits like overeating. Getting back in touch with your body is pretty imperative for the “mindfulness” and anxiety management aspects of recovery.. And it might be an uphill climb to feel safe connecting to your physical reality.


What can you do? You’re going to hate this, but the yoga hipsters are onto something here. Getting “inside your body” can be accomplished with gentle exercises that increase present focus, like yoga and pilates. Any kind of conscientious physical exercise, like going for long walks or swimming, might help to reform that connection.


What can you do? You’re going to hate this, but the yoga hipsters are onto something here. Getting “inside your body” can be accomplished with gentle exercises that increase present focus, like yoga and pilates. Any kind of conscientious physical exercise, like going for long walks or swimming, might help to reform that connection.

Meditation is a useful tool, but I think quietly watching with your thoughts is inaccessible when your brain is always screeching at full volume… Besides, in my recovery, physical movement has been key. I need to break that “freeze” state and get some energy into my stomach and limbs. Sitting around and calling it “meditation?” That’s just going to drive up my anxiety and dissociation while I migrate to the refrigerator to escape the discomfort.





Alright Fuckers, here's a brief but triumphant rundown of body-symptoms to follow your equally shitty brain problems. There's no doubt that I've missed a million physical trauma-ailments and there could be a lot more detail on ALL of them... these are just the ones I hear most often.


For more reading, go check out The Body Keeps The Score and have your mind blown. Git it on audiobook and multitask while your mind explodes with "oh shit" moments. Guaranteed.


Then, write in and let me know what's been overlooked, how it impacts you, and what (if anything) can be done to right the wrong. I'm listening!



Traumatized Motherfxckers

Not doomed. Not damaged.

Not dead yet.

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