My name is Julie, and I am joining the CPTSD Foundation as a blog contributor. Allow me to introduce myself. I am first and foremost a writer. I write under the pen name Just Julie. I am also an entrepreneur, a mental health patient advocate, a human rights activist, and a complex trauma experience expert.
I live in Aruba, a tiny island in the Caribbean, known for its beautiful beaches and friendly people. I have been adopted by 3 cats and 2 dogs. I am training the dogs, Azula and Monroe, as service dogs.
Why do I need service dogs? Because I, like many, am on the road to recovery from complex trauma. I have been high-functioning most of my life. I’ve found ways to manage or cope with stress or trauma, but I’ve never actually dealt with the root causes. And I’m far from alone.
High-functioning mental illness
We’re workaholics; the rocks others build on. We’re responsible, empathetic, and understanding. We’re on personal journeys and have personal missions. We do well in school, at work, or in social situations. We’re critical thinkers that find structural solutions; we’re bridge-builders. Leaders in times of crisis or change. The founders of good initiatives. The shoulders to cry on, the confidants, the advisors.
That’s our strength, as well as our weakness. We’re high-functioning alcoholics. Our amazing work ethic is actually an unhealthy way to avoid dealing with our untreated traumas. We excel in hobbies or physical activities because we’re desperately trying to feel better. Our empathy, understanding, and responsible natures are partially due to coping with stress and trauma.
We fight the good fight because no one fought for us. We are depressed. We are anxious. We are hyper-vigilant. The simplest things take us monstrous effort. We are burned out.
Not getting the help we really need, when we need it
The flip side of being high functioning is that when we reach our breaking point, we often don’t get the help, understanding, or support that we need. Most people can’t accept that we come across as well-adjusted, but we’re just managing our disease or even surviving day-to-day. That we desperately need AND deserve help and support.
Not getting help can lead to self-harm and self-destructive behavior
Self-harm is not uncommon for people who suffer from complex trauma disorders. Self-destructive behavior is definitely not unheard of. Especially in small communities with limited resources.
“Have you heard…?”
“Can you believe…!”
“Well, I never!”
The amount of gossip and surprised reactions when high-functioning people start falling apart is a normal day in the park for us. We’re not surprised. We can most definitely believe it. Most of us are painfully aware that we could be next. Or have already been there? It’s also the reason why a lot of high-functioning people don’t come out openly as having poor mental health or mental illness.
There’s already a taboo when it comes to talking about trauma. There’s a taboo on being adversely affected by trauma. There’s a stigma on seeking professional help for poor mental health or mental illness. But the social consequences when you haven’t dealt with trauma and you ultimately turn to self-harm or self-destructive behavior? Being the object of ridicule and social ostracism because you didn’t get the help you needed when you needed it. There’s nothing quite like it.
The ultimate “remedy”
Suicide is the last stop for people like me. I, and many like me, have lost a lot of people to suicide. While the rest of my environment is shocked, grieving, and taken by surprise, I am shocked, suppressing my grief, and not surprised at all. These people are my people. These people are my tribe.
I tried to hang myself when I was 12. It was pure chance that I failed.
No one knew at the time. And no one suspected or noticed how badly I was doing. My suicide attempt wasn’t a cry for help. It wasn’t a way to get attention. It was the only escape for me from an impossibly bleak situation and immediate future.
Sometimes failure is a good thing
I didn’t tell anyone about my suicide attempt until the following year.
I connected with a cousin who was a lot like me in a lot of ways. He was also well-adjusted, but silently suffering from depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. Like me, his attempts at seeking support or understanding had worked counter-productively.
To me this connection was profound. It had taken me 14 years, but here was one person who got me. If there was one, there might be more. If there were more, there might be others who knew why I was the way I was. And maybe someone, somewhere had figured out how to live with being like me.
It’s a journey, not a destination
And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. What I’ve been working towards. Not always consciously. Sometimes with detrimental results. Riddled with periods of complete and utter dejection; times when I cannot function.
But I also learned a lot. Met people who know a lot. Learned a lot of life lessons. Tried a lot of different things. I’m nowhere near my destination, but I’m on my way.
At various times in my life, I have been trying to self-actualize. And that helps me manage my disease better than anything else I tried in the past 42 years.
What everyone has always asked, and what I’ve always wondered is:
What is wrong with me?-Me, the first 42 years of my life
Current research suggests that when dealing with complex trauma it helps to re-frame the question into:
What happened to me that makes me the way I am?-Me, the past 3 years
Since childhood, I have been wondering what is wrong with me. I have been told over and over that there’s something wrong with me. Have been punished for saying the wrong things or doing the wrong things.
It turns out that what is ‘wrong’ with me is that I have perfectly normal reactions to abnormal, traumatic situations. What’s ‘wrong’ with me is that I have never dealt with my traumatic past, just been trying to fix symptoms. Not finding or treating the root causes.
Road to recovery
That’s what I write about in a nutshell: my road to recovery.
But mostly I write about human nature and human rights. Because at the end of the day, my complex trauma is just a tiny part of who I am.
I am a Renaissance Woman and Modern Entrepreneur. An avid reader, amateur writer, patient advocate, and complex trauma experience expert. A lifelong student of human nature and human rights.
My background may be complex. My disease may be complex. My life may be complex.
But at the end of the day, I’m Just Julie. A human being just like you.
Julie is a renaissance woman. Mental health patient advocate. Certified compliance professional. Avid reader. Amateur writer. Passionate dancer. Animal friend. Life-long student. Free speech proponent. Human rights champion. Devil’s advocate debater. Complex Trauma Experience Expert.