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.
Currently I’m trying to find a publisher for novel 1. Writing. Writing. Editing. Editing.
And trying to tame the feral kittens that overrun the tiny town I call home.
Same here. Discovered my C-PTSD at 53. The desert you describe is all too familiar. And of course, I have an intense sense of my own mortality, and how little time might be left for me to have a life that is truly mine. I tell myself that my life does not depend on length but on quality. Vincent van Gogh did his life’s work in 13 short years if I remember correctly. I know from personal experience that a lifetime can be experienced in 3 days. So I refuse to give in to the statistics. I will have my life. The outside world and its beliefs dictated my inside long enough. Now it is the other way around. I have nothing to lose. Thank you so much for sharing. Sending lots of positive energy. We’ve got this!
You’re so right about that awareness of our mortality as a spur to motivate us.
My best wishes to you. We’ve got this.
:::Hugs::: respectfully offered.
I was just today trying to explain this feeling to a good friend… I talked about this to my therapist a few weeks ago, and she said it’s normal and I’ll have to mourn my lost life. So unfair… and also, how come I feel guilty about it?
I’ll send my friend your post, thanks for writing it. I wish you the best.
Thank you for your kind words. I hope this helps your friend understand a bit better. Peace.
Yes! I don’t mourn my childhood, I grieve for my 20s and 30s and all that I could’ve done had the emotional weight not robbed me of all my focus and physical energy. I can only hope that I will be able to untangle my own knot and get that precious feeling of joy and peace back that I was able to experience for one glorious week. I hold on to hope that it will be back and when it does, I will be unstoppable and can move fast enough to make up some of that time. I can only hope.
Thank you for these wonderful words – I connect so intensely to all of it.
You will get there. And the road will be smoking behind you. You’ve put your finger on something there. It’s not my childhood I mourn. Been there, done that – don’t want a repeat thank you. But it’s my 20s and 30s, all those years where my peers were exploding with energy.
But, we know now. And I love your choice of word.
We will be unstoppable.
Much love and respect.
I am with you. It’s the freedom and self-discovery of young adult years that I truly mourned for. As well as not being fully present to my children’s early years. I will never get that time back, and while I’ve come to terms with the reality of it, I will never fully accept the unfairness of that. This is why I maintain boundaries with those who participated in the robbing of my life.
:::Hugs::: respectfully offered. Self-discovery – that’s exactly what I’m doing. And while I feel that time pressure there is also this phenomenal sense of well-being when I find another lost piece of myself.
I am 39 and feel this way.
I’m so sorry you feel this way. :::Hugs::: respectfully offered.
I call the feelings ‘lava-mud.’ A slow churning, hot mess. It is felt emotionally & physically.
That is brilliant. Yes.
Having a go ’round with it today as a matter of fact.
That’s the perfect description.
Thank you for the article. It was very moving and resonated with me a lot. I’ve fought the silent enemy for decades without having the memories to help me know what it is I’ve been fighting. The sadness from this loss of so many years can be crushing but your article reminded me that we are not alone.
Dear Tim – I am so sorry I missed this response, and I’m embarassed to see how long it waited unacknowledged. Thank you for reading.
I will go fix my email notifications, because no one should hear crickets.
What a blessing your article is. Thank you! I’m 48 and right there with you.
I’ve been treated for major depression for much of my adult life, but it wasn’t until both of my parents passed that I was able to finally “know” and think critically about how relentlessly toxic my upbringing was. I had always excused everything. From there, things fell into place.
For whatever reasons, I could never find the right vocabulary at the right time with the right therapist to convey my near-constant dissociation. I’ve done it for as long as I can remember.
Over and over and over again, it has been the lost time that I just can’t come to terms with. I hear you. And ditto on missing all the stuff in our twenties and thirties! Socializing and forming connections is even harder when you don’t have those common experiences and can’t easily explain why there are giant gaping holes in your social résumé! Bless us all.
Dear Linda – I am sorry that I did not reply to your comment when you made it. I hope I am not to late to agree wholeheartedly with your sentiment. “Bless us all.” Thank you for reading.
My name is Elizabeth and I’ve just come across this post. Thank you so much for your words on this. I am a CSA survivor and I feel the same. I feel robbed and angry at not having the life I could have had. I often fantasize about having a loving family but instead I am living with deep wounds and scars. Scars from memories that have no business being in my brain and yet they are.
:::Hugs::: respectfully offered. Thank you for sharing. Although we can’t go back, perhaps that is for the best. Not being able to go back means we must focus on our now. We can greive the past, but we mustn’t get stuck there, or else we surrender more time. Look to the future you’re building for yourself. I have a feeling it will be glorious because it will be yours.
Thank you Mari. Just knowing other survivors out there is “comforting” because I know I’m not alone in feeling like your post describes. I do look to the future most of the time and I have been mostly upbeat. I’ve had a bit of a set back this week and it’s hit me hard. I’m hanging in there but I’m feeling lost in the proverbial emotion jungle.
You got this.
Thank you for putting my life experience into words for me!
I was diagnosed at 49 and 2 years later, I still couldn’t put words to that feeling of baking a part of me missing and not even knowing what that part is. Now I realise it’s my childhood that is missing, my knowledge of what unconditional love is and what it is supposed to feel like. I’m still grieving my lost childhood, and the rage, is something else!
It’s not just the lost time I mourn, it’s the loss of me…. My identity…my ‘self’. That leaves me still not knowing what I want to do with these remaining years (I’m 59).
If I instead borrow a goal from someone who appears to ‘have it together’, I still manage to frustrate my progress with ridiculous levels of perfectionism, and the associated anxiety,
Your beautiful writing reminds me of some lyrics from a beautiful song……
“I’ve been less than half myself, for more than half my life”….. And asks “how do I forgive myself for losing so much time” – From ‘Sleeping at Last – Nine’ .. Find on YouTube)
I’ve not resolved the “who am I?” question. I gave up trying to pursue conventional corporate success (which I did well at). It provided a structure / rules and I could play them well. Well enough to leave it behind and to try and find my authentic self, but it hasn’t worked and I’ve found myself in a slow downward spiral. I may have to go back to ‘faking’ / emulating others, to arrest the decline.
Where to start? So many of us struggle with that deep loss of ‘self’. I’m still trying to locate pieces.
I was fortunate. There was one thread that carried me through so many years, my writing. I call it my lifeline.
I did the corporate ‘expectation route’ that my parents set for me. And, yes, our perfectionism, our ability to take the measure of a room or of a person in an instant can be an asset in that arena.
Being able to have the time, the resources to devote to exploring is a gift.
And that’s what it is, exploration.
I applaud you for embarking on this voyage. I know that empty frustrating feeing when it seems all my efforts haven’t worked completely, yet.
Work when you can. Rest when you must. And gather the bits that ring true. We might not be works of art, but each of us is a beautiful mosaic.