• jess

Complex Trauma; The PTSD we still aren’t talking about in a COVID world

Updated: Jun 9

Originally published on Medium. Reposting here for COVID conversations.


There’s something on my mind as more and more articles pour out into mainstream media regarding he need for increased mental health professionals to contend with the global Trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finally, we’re talking Trauma. Unfortunately, we’re still limiting that conversation to the (pardon the unpopular opinion) relative ease of treating “A Trauma” rather than “A Lifetime of Trauma.”

Because, for some folks, this breakdown of the world as we know it is just the latest occurrence in a long stream of unpredictability, fear, and abrupt life change.

As a society, we still haven’t begun to tackle the complicated, messy, ugly world of Complex Trauma. And we’re doing a huge disservice to millions of sufferers who feel alone, inherently wrong, and uniquely destined for a hellish life.



For some of us, Trauma isn’t an acute event to “get over” and move on from. Trauma is a long-lasting, pervasive experience that takes place over months, years, or decades. In the most complicated cases, these brain altering events take place during the formative years of childhood — it’s called Complex PTSD (C-PTSD), and it is a lifelong battle.


Unraveling 20 years of dysfunction, fear, and adaptive habits doesn’t happen overnight; there’s no pharmaceutical treatment to rewire the brain (although psychedelic researchers are bringing that into question).

Recovering from Complex PTSD is a continual practice of noticing and correct in your maladaptive thoughts and physical responses — at this time there isn’t a “cure” outside of oneself, or a way to permanently seal the deal. Staving off flashbacks, anxiety and depression, hopelessness, stress responses, and physical deterioration takes dedicated reason and attention every moment of the day.


Recovering from Complex PTSD is a continual practice of noticing and correct in your maladaptive thoughts and physical responses — at this time there isn’t a “cure” outside of oneself, or a way to permanently seal the deal. Staving off flashbacks, anxiety and depression, hopelessness, stress responses, and physical deterioration takes dedicated reason and attention every moment of the day.

These, ironically are the most quickly declining capabilities in a traumatized state. As fear and stress exponentially rise following a trigger episode, ability to think objectively, redirect attention from threat to logical action, and belief in autonomy inherently decrease at a similar rate. Anxiety and depression skyrocket. Suicidal ideology and life stagnation take over.

There are no epiphanies that lead to permanent change. This is why C-PTSD is so enduring. After a year of “recovered thinking,” Complex Trauma sufferers can return to highly maladaptive practices and uncontrollable physical terror at the drop of a hat.

Retriggerings may be desensitized over time to a great extent, but that’s assuming all triggers are known and independent of one another. the brain is far more complex than that. Memories are linked to stimuli and other memories, memories are often hidden from us, memories are recorded on faulty devices, and memories are written into our physiology.

In the context of C-PTSD, childhood memories are even more difficult to access or understand. Even ten years into trauma recovery, a new smell, tone of voice, or recollection of a childhood toy might incite a full-blown trauma response, including dissociation, panic attacks, or a state of clinical depression.


Complex trauma is a daily burden; management is a moment-by-moment responsibility. One Focus slips, the body returns to its comfortable state of chaos and fear. Coming back out of it can take hours or weeks… Or it may never happen if other life stressors continue to escalate the response.

Complex trauma is a daily burden; management is a moment-by-moment responsibility. One Focus slips, the body returns to its comfortable state of chaos and fear. Coming back out of it can take hours or weeks… Or it may never happen if other life stressors continue to escalate the response.

The folks who work everyday for a living and demanding roles, who live with any variety of abuser, or struggle with financial uncertainty almost don’t stand a chance. They exist in continual trauma states which ultimately culminate in severe health failures and ever-shrinking worldviews.

Without immense time, space, and support, complex trauma sufferers are unlikely to gain even a rudimentary understanding of their diagnosis or the ways to manage it. They will perpetually traverse a hamster wheel of anxiety, depression, obsession, paranoia, agitation, lethargy, impulsiveness, dissociation, physical decline, and hopelessness, as they attempt to navigate life like they’re “supposed” to.

They will constantly wonder why existence is so easy for other people. They will internalize their traumatic experiences and lose all sense of autonomy, therefore losing all hope and all interest in life. They will re-enact their traumas on others. They will allow their health to fail. They will fall into addictive patterns as forms of escapism.


They will retreat from life as they know it; one long, continual battle of them versus the world. They will shut down. They will become “that difficult person.” They will live a life of isolation and pessimism. Their voices will never be heard. Their life lessons never learned, never shared. Their battles, grit, and resilience will never be appreciated.

They will retreat from life as they know it; one long, continual battle of them versus the world. They will shut down. They will become “that difficult person.” They will live a life of isolation and pessimism. Their voices will never be heard. Their life lessons never learned, never shared. Their battles, grit, and resilience will never be appreciated.

Complex Trauma sufferers are likely to become outcasts, unable to contend with the pressures of “normal” living. These are the hoarders, the morbidly obese, the homeless, the “animal ladies,” the alcoholics and addicts, the extremists created by unimaginable childhood circumstances.

These are the C-PTSD sufferers who never get a chance to recover. This is the society that never gives them a chance.


When we talk about trauma, today more than ever, the conversation is rarely representative of the unique lifelong war waged by Complex Trauma. Though progress is occurring, as evidenced by the T-word finally becoming part of our societal vernacular, there is still a great deal of C-PTSD education required for the mainstream conversations taking place.

When we talk about trauma, today more than ever, the conversation is rarely representative of the unique lifelong war waged by Complex Trauma. Though progress is occurring, as evidenced by the T-word finally becoming part of our societal vernacular, there is still a great deal of C-PTSD education required for the mainstream conversations taking place.

For some of us, Trauma doesn’t come from one bad experience, but a lifetime of losing hands. And it will take a lifetime to learn to live despite our diagnosis.

“Normal” folks may never be able to truly understand, but we can all be educated.


Traumatized Motherfxckers

Not doomed. Not damaged.

Not dead yet.

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