My Chronic Childhood Trauma Resulted in Complex PTSD - by Mandy Emmerling

There is a big difference whether a traumatic event remains the exception, or whether it happens repeatedly, such as sexual abuse or multiple rapes. It's crucial, whether it is a stroke of fate or an injury, the fellow humans inflict on us. This mental injury throws many people off track. Days, weeks, perhaps months or even years later, symptoms may occur. Particularly trauma-endangered are children, because their psyche is not yet stable and mature, as that of an adult.

Childhood trauma can be fatal to further brain development and even reduce the volume of certain brain structures. Possible consequences include behavioural problems, learning difficulties, depression and other mental disorders. That's why it is so important to respond quickly when a mistreatment or abuse of children is suspected because what happens to them not only hurts the body but also the soul quite massively!

No phase of our lives is as intense as our childhood, whether in the positive or negative. Traumatic experiences are already bad for adults - but they are often catastrophic for children. Adults know that, for example, beating, kicking or rape is a bad thing. A child experiences the bad happenings and cannot classify it - and barely even talk about it. Childhood experiences are forever shaping not only a large part of our life but also the idea we have of it. The bond that we build to our protectors, our parents, who guide, care for, and provide for us, paves our development process to become self-assured personalities. But when we experience trauma in childhood, such as violence, abuse, and neglect, it is an incision into childhood; an injury that will remain forever. Unfortunately, that is a fact. And as children, we are little human beings who are not yet able to defend themselves and even less do we understand why the "evil" in life actually exists. We just have to deal with it.

These physical, mental and emotional wounds have a major impact on our development and maturation process. These deep wounds, caused by mental stress and suffering, we carry within us forever. They are deeply rooted in us. And they will always be there because they are part of us.

The most difficult traumas to treat are those that started in very early childhood and were caused by confidants (teachers, parents), especially in the case of family abuse. A child cannot rationally understand what happened. And sexual violence is the most psychologically harmful thing that can be done to a child. I have suffered from PTSD since childhood.

My childhood trauma became too strong at a young age because I was not treated early. During my long-term trauma, I was held in a state of captivity, physically and emotionally. In this situation I was under the control of my parents and unable to get away, because I was too young. I grew up with contempt, rejection, neglect, abandonment, withdrawal of love, maltreatment, violence and sexual abuse. I have experienced hell for almost 13 years. That has shaped me, and it has burned in my soul and my brain. My past burdens and haunts me to this day.

There are things in the subconscious mind that I don't perceive but have a profound impact on my physical health and my daily life. I'm jumpy, suffer from sleep disorders and severe anxiety. I don't trust anyone, I'm sceptical of strangers. I don't like crowds, or if someone comes too close to me. I keep my distance because I'm afraid that someone will hurt me again. My everyday life is limited because I avoid things and places that might remind me of the trauma. My body is under constant stress, on alert and always ready to flee. My body is very sensitive to physical and mental stress because my immune system does not work as well as others. I am more prone to skin disease, and infectious diseases (stomach, intestinal, bladder and kidney infections, colds, flu). I get headaches very quickly, and the longer I am exposed to a stressful situation, the more exhausted and feeble I feel. Sometimes I even feel sick, even though I'm physically completely healthy.

The subconscious mind is a dangerous confidant, it knows all the things that I really don't want to know anymore. The memories break out of me, in unexpected moments, and my body reacts with a panic attack. Sometimes I cannot even say what triggered me. It's just there. For me sometimes the tiniest things are triggering. It can be very trivial things like colours, sounds, smells or even a taste. I even avoid physical exertion or sport because I try not to get out of breath as much as possible because an accelerated heartbeat evokes the experience in me again.

These recurring, sudden memories in the form of nightmares or flashbacks are like a horror movie. But worst of all are the emotional flashbacks, where my feelings overwhelm me. Then suddenly I feel like the frightened, rejected and hated little girl of yore. I feel useless, worthless and unloved. In those moments helplessness makes me cry. And my mind cannot act against such moments. Then I need help from dear people who support me and show me that I am not alone and wait patiently for my inner child to calm down again. But it's mostly the demons, those little evil beasts, who've settled in my mind, telling me over and over again that I should be on my guard. Those who want to warn me of situations, although there is no danger, but cause anxiety in me. They show me these ghastly pictures, to remind me again and again that I am not safe, and something terrible could happen at any time.

I try to avoid situations, of which I know that I get triggered and that they cause a bad panic attack. But sometimes it happens when I don't count on it. And I cannot control it.

An example: I go shopping in a supermarket. I am in good spirits and working my shopping list off. The moment I pick up a bottle of milk, terrible memories of the basement suddenly come rushing in, without warning and, above all, no apparent cause. I see myself lying on the ground, only vaguely recognizable in the darkness above my father.

Since then, about 30 years have passed, and my mind knows that the supermarket is safe and brightly lit. But I panic through memory, from one second to the other: My heart is beating like crazy, my pulse is racing, my palms are getting wet with sweat, my whole body is shaking, my face is pale, and I can barely breathe... One tiny, triggering stimulus is enough, and I relive the terrible events of my childhood again. All the emotions, all the feelings and impressions, the smells, the sounds, even the taste in my mouth are as present as if the terrible experience happened right now!

I try as far as possible to handle my everyday life alone, which is not always easy because I have a few quirks. For example, I always buy too many foods because I'm afraid to go hungry. I wash very often, shower three times a day because I want to feel clean. And I change my clothes several times a day to just feel good. I just want to make sure that I smell good and look good. I felt so terrible when I was a kid when I had to go to school unwashed and dirty with dirty, broken, holey and much too small clothes. That's deep.

My mental health is very important, so I go to my therapies twice a week because they are vital to survival. If necessary, I commit myself when I feel really bad and I can't handle it alone. And for my well-being, I take regular breaks to rest my body. And I make sure that I get enough sleep.

To keep my mind clear, I listen to music or meditate to sounds of nature. And I go for a walk or I go hiking to get my strength directly from the source. Sometimes I just sit outside somewhere in the solitude of nature (especially in summer), enjoy the sun in my face, feel the wind on my skin, and bathe my feet in the water of a stream. I enjoy the silence, listen to the birds or grasshoppers. That's calming and relaxing. I often take my camera with me and focus on the beauty and beautiful uniqueness this world has to offer. I take photos of animals, flowers, blossoms and other things that fascinate me. In this way, I recharge my batteries when a day is very stressful and exhausting. Or when a storm rages in my head, or when my demons try to tear me down. Some days it's a really tough fight...