When I was 20-years-old, I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. I remember being 16 in my “Intro to Psychology” class and writing down the symptoms of anxiety and depression and thinking, “hmm that sounds like my normal”. It only made sense that these would later become realized by my doctors as what I was struggling with.
I remember sitting in the doctor’s office and uttering a little sigh of relief because there was finally a name for all the things that had been living in my head. But I also felt uneasy because even though I had answers, something still didn’t feel right.
As I started getting various treatments for my mental illnesses, every bit of minor progress always came to an abrupt halt. I’d take 2 steps forward and 5 steps back.
Even as I spoke to my doctors, they couldn’t figure out why my brain was so resistant. It came across like I wasn’t even trying or that I was holding back my truth, but in actuality, the treatments I was doing weren’t right for me because the diagnosis I was given wasn’t correct in the first place.
It was no fault of my doctors. They were trying their best and giving the best advice they could, but it just wasn’t working for me. I knew that their diagnoses didn't quite match my experience, but I couldn’t find another explanation.
I often felt disheartened and discouraged. It felt like I was just never meant to feel any sort of normalcy in this lifetime.
Then one day, I came across an Instagram post that talked about something called cPTSD, also known as Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I’m not one to advocate for finding health information through social media, but in a global economy, you really can discover so many things relevant to you. There’s always a story that just hits close to home.
At its core, cPTSD is a condition that occurs when a person has experienced trauma for a prolonged period of time. The complexity of the disorder means it can be hard to catch as those with cPTSD may struggle with symptoms that mimic anxiety, depression and PTSD, but there is also an underlying issue with regulating emotions and maintaining relationships.
I searched for as many articles as I could find on the topic. As I read on, I learned that cPTSD was common in those who had experienced or witnessed domestic violence or was a survivor of childhood abuse and neglect. I’d been witnessing traumas since I could make memories and although I knew they were the reason that I struggled, it wasn’t until I found out about cPTSD that I felt like there was a way to overcome it.
For the first time, I felt seen. This was what I was experiencing all along.
Life changed immensely after that. Although cPTSD isn’t recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the tool used in Canada for diagnosing mental illness, as of yet, it is well recognized throughout many other parts of the world, especially by the National Health Service in the United Kingdom. I was lucky enough to be able to afford to travel and learn more about practices that supported cPTSD recovery.
More importantly, I became a very vocal advocate for myself with my doctors. I told them about what I felt my true diagnosis was and after they did their research, they all agreed that this made much more sense for my symptoms, and explained why I was so resistant to treatment all these years.
Getting a proper diagnosis changed my life. Healing became something that felt within reach. It didn’t change how I felt overnight, but I was so much better equipped to seek help and to care for myself.
The field of psychology is constantly evolving. We’re learning more and more about the brain and behaviour every single day. The DSM is updated every 5-7 years and diagnoses are constantly changing.
In any type of healthcare, you have to be your own biggest advocate. Yes, doctors are the experts, but if you feel like something is wrong or doesn’t fit, don’t be afraid to ask questions and to revisit things. You are the only true expert of your own body and experiences.
It took me over 5 years to get a diagnosis that truly expressed what I was experiencing, and although it was an arduous process, it was definitely worth it. For those who may have had a similar experience and don’t feel seen within their diagnosis, know that your feelings are valid and mental health is an ever evolving field with many learnings each day.
Keep trying and don’t give up hope.
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