Last January 2021, I was diagnosed with CPTSD–a month after I experienced my first CPTSD episode caused by my parents a week before Christmas. Since then, my life has never been the same. It did not occur to me that I had been living with the condition for 29 years running. During this, I unknowingly grew up in a Christian family that harbored narcissistic abuse and never did anything about it to make things right.
When I heard my therapist explain the condition to me during one of our many sessions, I was definitely surprised that I had such a condition. This is so because I have always thought I would be aware of many things stemming from my psychology degree. As the days passed from the time I was diagnosed, the symptoms screamed loudly in my daily life: anger outbursts when a trigger was nearby, memory lapses, disruptive flashbacks of traumatic events, irregular sleep patterns, hair loss, and changes in appetite, chronic fatigue, etc. It was the beginning of a long and tedious journey toward recovery. Because of this, the condition demanded I take a step back and stay home until now after I lost my most recent job during the start of the pandemic.
CPTSD also obviously affected my career journey. When I was still undiagnosed years back, the narcissistic abuse that happened at home also branched out in my work experiences. Like what my therapist would explain to me, the lack of boundaries caused by the narcissistic abuse in my family also resulted in my susceptibility to workplace abuse. As anticipated, I experienced a series of workplace abuses alongside the occurring abusive situation at home. This also resulted in work experiences that could not be explained in a single job interview.
My therapist, grateful as I was to her until now, validated my experiences concerning these and told me that it’s not my fault that these things happened to me. As I wrote these words, I could not help but feel emotional about being validated that way. I have always felt throughout those horrible years that there was something wrong with me, and it’s my fault that harsh people treated me that way.
Disempowered. That was the word my therapist gave me when we talked about what I felt throughout the entire experience. I felt disempowered throughout the years I experienced narcissistic abuse at home and work. And my mental health had to bear the brunt of it. I had no chance but to find my own voice and use it to empower myself. It was only now at the age of 29 that I was able to teach myself what I should have been taught a long time ago–which is to set boundaries and discover my authentic self.
The biggest challenge in channeling my authenticity in my future career is explaining to people (or more specifically, the recruiters) why I had such irregular work experiences. Sometimes, I tend to worry about the possibility of experiencing a CPTSD trigger during an interview every time I tried to explain how a particular employer caused me trauma that led me to my condition. Every time I had to tell other people about my experiences, it always felt like I had to put on a braver brave face than other people who do not have CPTSD. I had to exert more effort in presenting my best self so that I won’t experience an episode during an interview or presentation. Sometimes, I also tend to be too alert about how people would approach and interact with me and double-check if the person’s gestures or words have a manipulative hint in them. As a result, I would stay in bed for days to recover due to chronic fatigue, most especially if the person I was with for the entire day was the very person who caused me the condition.
Another thing that I had to put my braver brave face for is the fact that a life with CPTSD is a lonely journey. Most of the time, the people around you would never understand how it felt like to strive to cope with the normal way of life while having the need to recover from decades of trauma. Here in the Philippines, it is a more challenging experience to live with such as the condition is still almost unheard of by the community. Despite this, I am grateful for the journey and for the lessons I had to learn in protecting and giving myself the chance for change and healing.
These days, I enjoy the solitude brought by the results of setting boundaries and cutting ties with those who caused me pain. I am now in the process of assuring myself that I am on my way up. I have faith that I have a story worth telling because of this, one article at a time.
Sarah Danielle, or Dani by her family and friends, is currently an educational psychology graduate student at the University of the Philippines Diliman. She also majored in psychology back in college and is now on her way toward becoming what she is truly meant to be. Whatever that may be, she hopes it will involve helping other people become the best versions of themselves. She also hopes to become a published author one day and if possible, a licensed psychologist specializing in narcissistic abuse and eudaimonic well-being. Living independently in one of the southern provinces in the Philippines, she finds solitude in taking care of plants and spending time with her two Lhasa Apsos, one Himalayan cat, and three aspin dogs.