C-PTSD and Complicated Grief - Am I Being Redundant?
June 20, 2021
Today’s episode is about what I call Complicated Grief. Let me say this about complicated grief, it’s complicate and it’s that simple. The past couple of weeks have I have been submerged into a pool of depression with little energy and zero motivation. My mind, of course has been plenty active and I began to think about the depth of the depression I was feeling felt like more than simply depression and I reached the conclusion that I must be experiencing a very complicated grief. There were certainly plenty of losses, both personal and professional, so why not.
I discovered that the DSM 5 has identified what it calls Pervasive Grief Disorder or PGD. In this week’s episode I review the criteria for PGD at it applies to my fucked-up life. I also look to figure out what is keeping me from moving past the pervasive grief and into a healing state. This means I must be stuck somewhere in the 5 Stages of Grief and by the end of today’s episode, I figure it out.
As always, I want to give you more than just my opinion about what is going on and what to do about it. Here are some websites I found to be informative and helpful to making my point about Complicated Grief. It’s a real thing and I believe that people with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress also experience this type of grief. The problem is that we cycle through the grief, over and over and over again until we simply cannot do it any longer. This is where I am at. Thank you for being here.
The Columbia Center for Complicated Grief does a nice job of describing why they exist. It’s a short read, but it could really open your eyes.
I’ve shared other articles posted by verywellmind.com. This article gives you an overview of the grieving process and can help you get started with understanding your own grief history and its impact.
Disturbmenot.co has compiled a list of 33 statistics what will, undoubtedly blow your mind. Check it out.
Since I talk about smelt fishing in this week’s episode, this video is for the uninitiated. It is hugely entertaining. Which is why so many people go smelt dipping. Plus, the little buggers are delicious with some French fries and a nice cold beer.
C-PTSD and Complicated Grief - Am I Being Redundant?
June 20, 2021
Hello and welcome to Out of My Mind in Costa Rica-Living with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress. I’m your host, Ray Erickson. Since I last published Episode 28 on June 3rd, life has been uneventful. That is if you don’t count being depressed an event. If you do, then a lot has been going on. I’m not here to give you a big sob story, but I need to impress upon you listeners that depression is real. I know I am probably speaking to the choir here, and you may know exactly how life can slow down to a crawl and drag on for days and weeks, even months. Depression is the leading cause of mental illness in the world. In 2020, 27.8% of American adults claimed to be struggling with the symptoms of depression during the pandemic. Over 300 million people suffer from depression worldwide. I’ve put a link in the episode description where you can get more information about depression around the world.
Depression makes it real hard to create, and for me, that means writing so it may go without saying, I have not gotten much writing in over the past month or so. I consider myself fortunate that I was able to put together an episode for June 3rd. So, I don’t really know how this is going to turn out this week, but I need to put something together. This is the 3rd time I have begun this episode and each time it has started out completely different even though I knew I would be talking about depression, loneliness, lethargy and sadness, lots and lots of sadness.
I know this may not make a great podcast, but I promised you all that I would talk with you about life with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress and part of living with CPTSD is living with depression. Hopefully, I will not bore you to tears, although if you needed to cry and you do, then that’s all the better for you. As you know, I try to keep things on the upbeat here at Out of My Mind in Costa Rica, but when you are slogging through the swampy mire that is depression, it can get pretty darn dark and mirky in there. Also, since I never really know what I am going to end up with by the end of the episode, I am not sure where this one will go. I am only hopeful that I provide some light for you.
I have all the classic symptoms of depression:
There you have it. There is the synopsis of the last two weeks. As a result, the casita is quite literally a dusty hairy mess. I have neither the desire nor the motivation to do anything about it. I am missing Patricia, the Tica who has been helping me with household chores. She has been recovering from a surgery. I can’t wait for her return, even though she may demand a bonus because of the condition of the casita. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a slob, but I am also not a neatnik either. I fall somewhere between slovenly and decrepit if that helps you get the picture.
The big day for me was driving into Santa Ana with a friend last Friday to do a supply run. Our objectives were Pricesmart, aka Costco and Auto-Mercado, a grocery with a lot of Gringo approved items, like Johnsonville Brats. These supply runs are an all-day affair which includes having lunch somewhere nice. Which I really like but it is pricey as well. That day we stopped at the Taphouse Pub where we each ordered a beer and a hamburger for the bargain price of 20,550 colones or about $34. My beer was almost $6, but it was a nice, local craft beer. It was worth it. The burger also served as my supper, so I think I got the most out of the meal. Do not think it is cheap to live in Costa Rica.
These places are pricey to shop at, but it is worth the trip. Most expats spend a lot of money at these two stores. I know I do. I spend way too much money there. But my reward is, I get all my creature comforts met and I am set for a couple of months. It is all very comforting, but the trip wears me out. By the time I returned home and settled back in, it was nap time and I laid down on the bed. The next thing I knew it was 3 hours later and nearly dark.
I awoke with a start, somewhat dazed and confused, but quickly realized I had slept for 3 hours. My cat, Don Gato was nuzzling my hand, reminding me that it was time for his evening pate. I reluctantly got up and dished out the daily portion of canned cat food while Don Gato anxiously paced between my legs and crying like a starving toddler. I quickly took care of Don Gato and looked around.
The boxes with the day’s booty, lay unemptied on the dusty floor. Several days of dishes circled the sink and the countertop was cluttered and filthy. I could not stand to look at it, so I retreated to my lair, the bedroom, where I had been virtually living for the past week.
My new computer arrived so I had something concrete and mindless that I could do and began setting up my computer and monitor, which for me, is a long, boring process, but a necessary one. My new computer is now up and running and I have, pretty much every document and application I need to move forward with my podcast and my life, even if I spend all day in the corner of my bedroom wasting my days and wasting my nights. I try to be grateful for the little things.
This depression feels like it is more than just depression. It is more like a complicated grief, and I am stuck in neutral. In Episodes 20 and 21 I talk about C-PTSD and Grief. I feel what I am experiencing today is nothing more than a continuation of the unresolved grief I have carried nearly all my life.
In 2020 the American Psychiatric Association approved a new diagnosis of Prolonged Grief Disorder (PGD). The DSM V PGD requires the occurrence of a persistent and pervasive grief response characterized by persistent longing or yearning and/or preoccupation with the deceased accompanied by at least 3 of 8 additional symptoms that include:
2. Intense emotional pain
3. Feelings of identity confusion
4. Avoidance of reminders of the loss
5. Feelings of numbness
6. Intense loneliness
8. Difficulty engaging in ongoing life
The DSM V focuses on the physical loss of a loved one through death, although that is not the only way a Prolonged Grief Disorder can occur. In my case the loss(es) tends to be me. I am the deceased loved one. I know I’m not dead, but in the eyes of my family, I am dead, and I have been dead for over 30 years. I was also declared dead by my lover of 15 years when we broke up. There has been countless other relationship that have declared me dead over my lifetime. Complex Post-Traumatic Stress had everything to do with this avalanche of loss I have experienced. This includes jobs, coworkers, and who knows who else, but the common denominator has always been me. I’ve been the one to be excluded. Rarely did I consciously choose to dispatch someone from my life.
Even as I talk about Prolonged Grief, I feel the picture becoming a teeny-tiny bit clearer. Yes, I have been killed, multiple times in multiple relationship, under a wide range of circumstances and somehow, I am still living to talk about it. Whodda Thunk?
Depression is frequently misdiagnosed when it comes to what I prefer to call, Complicated Grief which is why many people fail to get the help that they need. Complicated grief is complicated. It is that simple. Now how the hell am I going to talk about this stuff without triggering even more grief? That’s a good question, let’s see what happens. I’m going to start by taking each of the symptoms of PGD and give you a brief synopsis of how this symptom and/or condition is experienced by me. Hopefully, it will all make sense at the end.
The loss for me is always the loss of relationship. These losses consist of the people I have loved in the past. The most poignant being my family. There are many kinds of relational losses in my life that are intimately connect to the Complex Post-Traumatic Stress. The most powerful losses in my life are the love relationships I have formed. There are 5 significant love-relationships where C-PTSD played a significant role. The ending of these relationship has impacted me significantly, probably the most impact of any of my life experiences. These were the most bone-crushing of my losses. There is the individual impact as well as the cumulative impact over time because none of these losses were ever adequately grieved. You need at least 3 of the following symptoms.
1. Disbelief – Each loss was unbelievable and came as a complete shock except for my current relationship and marriage. In this case I made the decision to leave. It doesn’t seem to make a difference who pulls the trigger, relationship losses are tragic in my experience.
2. Intense emotional pain – The emotional pain is nearly unbearable and at times I had contemplated suicide in the aftermath of losing the love of someone I loved.
3. Feelings of identity confusion – I questioned my validity, my own worthiness for living. I was lower than a snake’s belt buckle.
4. Avoidance of reminders of the loss – Not so much avoidance as it is a dissent into my hyperactive mind and the replaying of memories and of the trigger events which were the primary cause of the loss.
5. Feelings of numbness – I wish I could feel numb. Numb would be better than this chronic anxiety that runes and pulsed through my mind and my body. It is simply exhausting.
6. Intense loneliness – The loneliness is profound and balance only in my relief to not have to interact with others. So, I isolate, but my mind is on overdrive with obsession after obsession after obsession.
7. Meaninglessness – Life loses meaning. Which is why I began the podcast. I needed to find some meaning for my life and I figured, what the heck, maybe my fucked-up life will do somebody some good. The rest is history.
8. Difficulty engaging in ongoing life – This is the point of inertia where I currently sit. Firmly upon my buttocks and therein lies the key to recovery.
As you can see, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that this depression I feel, is not just depression, it is Complicated Grief. Now what the fuck do I do? I can’t just do simple grief, nooooo….I need to do complicated grief. Jesus Christ when will it end? Seems like everything in my life has been one big slippery slope. Wah, Wah, Wah.
I don’t mean to whine, but you must appreciate the irony here. Maybe this is true for you as well. How often has life seemed to be going uphill and how often does it seem to be going downhill? Seems like mostly uphill to me. Even when I am going downhill, I still feel like I am going uphill. Does this make any sense to you? It is just a general impression I have of life. You strive, you achieve, you slide downhill, and you do it again.
If this crap is going to happen over and over and over again, then I ought to do something about it. And that I intend on doing. The first thing is to figure out where I am stuck in the process. As you know, I have analyzed my situation quite a bit and I keep coming back to Anger. I’m stuck in anger, you know Stage 2, the one right after denial. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been bargaining, I have been. It’s just that all of my efforts to bargain the loss have failed and it ends up me who dies. You know that I have had plenty of depression, especially lately. I’ve been down that road many times. I am not in denial because I see the dynamics clearly. So, that leaves me with anger. I must be stuck in Anger. God Damnit!!! Fucking anger. I hate it.
Anger has been the bane of my existence. It rarely turned out good when I’ve been triggered. I can only think of one instance where getting triggered worked out in my favor. I was a senior at Western Michigan University when my friend and roommate suggest we go Smelt Fishing. We didn’t have any gear, but he confidently told me that is not a problem. We can just go and use some gear that has already been set up and if someone hassles us, we say it was our grandfather’s gear and we have permission. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Smelt dipping as it is commonly referred to occurs at night in the cold Michigan rivers between March 1 and April 30th. It is extremely popular and the tiny little fish, when cooked to perfection are a finger licking good meal. So off we go. Our destination was the Rifle River in Norther Lower Michigan. We were both familiar with the Rifle as I had canoed it and my friend had been there smelt dipping in the past. We were both psyched.
We arrive at the parking lot, which is packed and fortunately we found a place to park. It had been dark for about an hour, and we figured the smelt dipping should be getting good. We worked our way upstream searching for an abandoned set up where we can poach our smelt. We were fortunate in that we found such a set up after a short while and my friend, being the smelt dipping expert set the net into the river and we began our wait. We were both anticipating a monster catch and a week’s worth of deep-fried smelt during exam week. It was a perfect way to reward oneself for studying so diligently.
There were not very many smelt at the time, so he and I relaxed with a joint and a beer, soon followed by a cigarette. It was a particularly good evening so far. Then things changed. A group of young adults, like my friend and I, approached us with menacing looks in their eyes. The “leader” of the group asked us if we knew who’s rig we were using. My friend pipes up with no less than a threatening attitude and says, “Yeah, we know how owns this rig. It my grandfather’s rig and he gave us permission to use it. So, fuck off!”
At that time, the group of 4-5 guys looked at each other and then they looked at us and the steely eyed leader said, “Bullshit, this is MY grandfathers rig and you two had better get the hell out of here before we kick you asses. My friend and I looked at each other and then we looked at the group of 4-5 healthy young me and we took off running as fast as we could back to the parking area. Close on our heals was this group of shouting banshees who were screaming threats to dismember both of us. I could feel them gaining on us and it seemed to me like we were doomed. They were very nearly on top of us when I decided to stop, turn and face the warring hoard and challenged them to kick our ass or fuck off.
This totally stunned the group who screeched to a halt about 10 feet in front of us. My friend and I posed in our most imposing posture possible with fire in our eyes, we stared them down until the leader spoke, “He man, we just want you out of here, we don’t want any trouble.” They all turned away in unison and proceeded to return to their fishing rigs. My friend and I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders and walked casually back to the car.
This is one of the first times I remember being triggered and my anger taking over my mind. I suddenly took on an enormously powerful persona. Confident, determined not to fail and a little dangerous. Not like an alter or anything, but suddenly I became invincible and powerful. I was willing and committed to kicking all these asshole’s asses. I can’t explain it other way than these guys must have thought I had lost my mind, and, in some ways, I did lose my mind as well as all my fears and insecurities. They vanished for the moment. The group of guys certainly did not want to take on a lunatic. Meanwhile, I was Kong. My friend could not believe it. I could not believe it. We actually made it out of there without getting our asses kicked. When we got back to the car, we smoked another joint then drove back to Kalamazoo. We had a rollicking good time all the way home.
This was one of dozens of trigger moment where most to the time the result was a lost job, a lost friend, a lost lover, a lost life. Most of the time anger has not benefitted me in the least. This is what makes this awareness so challenging. Is it possible that by expressing my anger in a therapeutic way I can create an environment where my brain can process those experiences of extreme vulnerability that I experienced as a child? I don’t know. The jury is still out on this, and I will need to have some practice runs to see if I can function without the terror of being triggered threatening to overtake me. I used to have a recurrent dream as a child where I was being chased by a snowball that kept growing and growing and growing until it was the size of a house and just about to run me over…that’s when I would wake up. I like to think about that night on the banks of the Rifle River where I turned away a near death experience using my true strength and power.
Wow! I don’t know what to say after that. Maybe I should just wrap it up and call it done. Thanks so much for listening and please forgive me in my inconsistencies. I’m sure you understand. I want to thank my sponsor, Out of My Mind Art where you can shop until you drop. Stop by www.outofmymindart.com and check out my Etsy Shop. If you are so inclined, please rate, review or comment on those platforms that allow you to do that and please, don’t hesitate to write me an email at [email protected]. I will get back to you right away. If you have not shared this podcast, please help spread the word about Out of My Mind in Costa Rica – Living with Complex Post-Traumatic Stress. Until the next time.
Be Courageous. Be Strong and Be Kind. I’ll catch you later. Bye.