There is no word to describe the feeling. I tried time after time to define this knot of emotions. It is a task that is beyond my ability. I cannot find a singular word that describes the feeling. I keep looking but, for the moment I carry this undefined weight with me. It carries gravitas and urgency that I cannot ignore. So, although I can’t define it – it propels me forward.
Or, at other times, it stops me dead.
I am not the only person to experience this complex tangle of emotions. From speaking with other Complex-PTSD survivors I gather a common thread ties us to this unknottable clewe.
That ever-present thread is time. More precisely, it is the sense of lost time.
Imagine being lost for 40 years wandering your own internal deserts of depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. You manage to function, but you pass through the world like a shadow. You touch nothing and nothing touches you. Knowing all the while something was deeply wrong. Unable to find the cause of your distress you think, “Well, I must be the problem.” The only way you can explain the misery of your existence is that the fault must lie within yourself.
For me, learning the source of my suffering was like walking out of the desert. The wild emotional swings, the numbness, the dissociation, the stoicism, and the inability to maintain a connection with people all snapped into focus and became understandable when I learned of Complex-PTSD.
Learning the name of my condition delivered my first step towards healing. It also brought something I had not anticipated, this intense undeniable knot that refuses to resolve itself.
I can identify parts of the tangle. One of the components is grief. It glues everything together with a dark sticky tar that cannot be washed away. That darkness coats every part of my childhood I remember. At the time the darkness was invisible because I existed within the murk. That was the only place I ever knew until I left home. With adulthood, distance, and a growing understanding of C-PTSD came the ability to see clearly.
I had always thought my childhood was pretty benign, boring, average to a fault. Realizing that my perfectly normal, sitcom fashioned, childhood was far from normal and even farther from perfect was tectonic. I experienced amazement and hollow incredulity as my world shifted. I swear it felt as if I was picked up and moved bodily to a new position. From that angle, I could see the façade clearly. My carefully constructed understanding of the world was not simply flawed, but fundamentally wrong on so many levels.
I discovered that there was no single source of this grief, no pinpoint event that festered and poisoned everything. Instead, layers of dysfunction emerged. Disappointments were wrapped around scars that covered wounds. Suddenly, not remembering most of my childhood made perfect sense.
I find I grieve “what could have been” not what was. I regret the things that never were. What I mourn is as much a fantasy as my childhood. In reality, though, I am no more alone without my family than I was with them. I don’t feel the loss of those connections, because they were never really there.
Strangely, I can accept the loss of my childhood illusion. Where I find myself caught in the dark tar-like substance is now and as I try to move into the future.
Although I still feel my own hollowness, I no longer see it as an inherent flaw. I see it as the product of a childhood spent trying to be invisible to my family. I erased my needs. I stifled my desires. All to be low-maintenance. Invisible. The good kid. I worked so hard at being easy and agreeable.
I grieve for the person I could have become. All the tantalizing’ what ifs’ play on loop. That is a labyrinth best avoided.
There is comfort in knowing I am not ‘wrong’, or ‘broken’.
There is acute distress knowing I am in essence just starting. The sense of having fallen behind my peers and friends is weighty enough. But add to that the knowledge of the years I have lost. At times this has left me feeling hopeless.
Aside from grief, I know one other thread in that knot of emotions, rage. Not just anger, which can transform adversity into art, but rage. A feeling that wants to destroy everything around it. It is a rage that unless tempered will consume me. Unlike the grief which is so amorphous and permeating, I can point to the exact source of my rage.
I discovered my C-PTSD at 50. Imagine how much life I feel robbed of: my childhood spent erasing myself, my 20s spent in a dark depression, my 30s numb to the world around me, and my 40s in a struggle to prove my own validity, to myself. It seems beyond cruelty to wake to reality just to be told there is no time. No time to finish who they are. No time to free ourselves from our past. No time to heal. I feel given just enough time to realize what I have missed, what I surrendered to survive and so little time to live.
Now, I have more life behind me than I have in front of me. At 50 as a person with five (six?) points on the ACE continuum. I am likely to live 15-20 years less than the average for my generation. (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19840693/, Adverse childhood experiences and the risk of premature mortality)
That is where my rage lives: In the feeling of being robbed of who I could have been, the time lost in my past, as well as the time I may lose in the future.
My grief for the lost pieces and futures is valid. My rage is valid, too. I will continue to tease apart the emotions of that knot. I will find and process each and every haunting piece. Because I cannot remain in this state or it too will rob me of my opportunity to live.
Time is a precious commodity.