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Taking Care of My Inner Self & EMDR Therapy Helped Me Battle Childhood Trauma and C-PTSD

“After a very emotionally taxing month for me and my fiance, I had an actual mental breakdown. Unable to stop crying, I voluntarily admitted myself to my local psych ward and stayed for a couple of days, ultimately being released after assessment. I realized that I didn’t want to die, I just didn’t want to feel the way I was feeling.”

Hello! Who are you?

Hello! My Name is Alana, I am 30 years old and I live in the Buffalo Region of New York State (Go Bills!). I have two daughters; one biological, age 9, and one step, age 19. They are absolutely the lights of my life and make me laugh on a daily basis. Along with the girls, I live with my fiance, our two cats, Douglas and Mo, and our old pup, Hank. 

Currently, I do seasonal crew work and bartend at a large outdoor venue where we host everything from graduations and dance recitals to operas and rock concerts. It’s definitely a “come as you are” kind of place which is something I really appreciate since I don’t have to wear that “mask” and I can be my authentic self while I’m there. 

In the off-season, I am a Sociology student, aiming to become proficient in family dynamics and criminology. It’s become a passion of mine, as I was a child in the juvenile justice system due to the struggles stemming from my home life. I hope to one day help children and families in the ways me and mine weren’t. I also make and sell some handmade crafts like jewelry, resin crafts, and other various forms of artwork.

Both school and crafting have become very therapeutic in my healing process as they’ve offered me a ton of validation and hope. Hey, I’m not crazy after all! 

In terms of happiness, I’d consider myself “happy,” absolutely. I have exactly what I’ve always wanted. But I often have to remind myself that I am. I know it sounds a little weird, but I got so used to viewing the world from a negative perspective as a survival mechanism that my inner-critic became the only thing I listened to for a long time. 

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

I was officially diagnosed with ADHD in the summer of 2020 and later diagnosed with C-PTSD in 2023. Learning more about them, they overlap each other tremendously, so oftentimes I’m not sure if it’s ADHD or C-PTSD that’s the culprit whenever I’m experiencing symptoms.

There’s a sneaking suspicion that the C-PTSD is at play most of the time. Some of my symptoms include anxiety, depression, hypervigilance, forgetfulness, restlessness, sleep irregularities, emotional regulation issues, irritability, social difficulties, hyperfocus, and inability to focus. The list goes on… 

Symptoms started as early as I can remember. I had a pretty traumatic childhood; my father was physically abusive to both myself and my mother and it was normalized throughout my father’s family so there was no getting away from it until my mother decided to leave.

It wasn’t a once-in-a-while thing either. Fights were frequent and so was moving; I went to 6 different elementary schools by the time I hit the 2nd grade. Once she did leave when I was 7, she resented my father so much that I became the scapegoat.

Unfortunately, she also came from an emotionally abusive household; my grandmother more than likely has Borderline Personality Disorder and my grandfather enabled the abuse. She wasn’t able to provide the emotional care I needed because my grandparents never modeled it. That’s been a tough thing to come to terms with because it’s still an ongoing struggle. 

I started feeling anxious early on; stomach aches, headaches, an immense fear of the dark, and I was usually punished for all of that instead of tended to, or told to suck it up. As I was so often the new student, I was also an easy target for bullying. I had a love/hate relationship with the school. I loved to learn new things, and still do!

Alana Hernandez-Wulkan
Me as a child! Sometimes it helps to put a child’s face to the child’s issues.

I won awards for my academics, maintained honors, and really took pride in my work. But, I left school every day in tears because I didn’t want to go back, the anxiety was paralyzing. I loved the learning aspect of school and what little validation I got from my teachers, but when it came to my peers, I couldn’t stand being the scapegoat there, too.  

It wasn’t all terrible, but when she flipped, I was punished which consisted of beatings, hours-long beratings, and such frequent groundings that it’s still a sad joke between me and some of my old friends.

I was labeled a “bad kid” by my family because of some of my behaviors like excessive crying, inability to sleep, and constant racing thoughts that I had to get out of my head, which made me an annoying kid, so my mom put me in counseling in an attempt to find out what was wrong with me.

Every child therapist I saw said that I was “an exceptional child” and that I would eventually grow out of whatever was ailing me. But I hid a lot of things for years because I didn’t want to get in trouble or hurt anyone’s feelings–including the self-harm that started at age 11. Eventually, she took me out of therapy and did the best she could. 

Alana Hernandez-Wulkan 3

Over time, the unchecked trauma has manifested itself physically. It’s difficult some days to function. I deal with migraines, chronic pain, and fatigue. I’m actually currently in the process of trying to rule out (or in) Fibromyalgia.

I have pretty frequent brain fog so it’s hard to initiate and stay on task, and I often feel a sense of shame, like I’m a failure or “not enough,” and that leads to a lot of physical sensations; overwhelming dread, heaviness, heart palpitations, etc. I am always trying to stay cognizant of my emotions–always checking in on myself to breadcrumb flashbacks or the physical sensations that come up for seemingly no reason.

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

At my worst moments, I was suicidal. I’ve gone through a few pretty bad bouts of depression where it’s difficult to do everyday things like shower, brush my teeth, or even change my clothes. The few bouts that stand out to me, of what I can remember, I hadn’t yet had a “plan,” but I most definitely wanted to die.

During these bouts, self-harm was at an all-time high. I would either cut myself or not take care of myself purposely because I felt like there was no point. There were a few times in the earlier days when I had partied a little too hard, hoping that I didn’t wake up the next day.

I felt so alone. I didn’t have a lot of friends, and the few I had were dealing with their own struggles so I never felt like I could burden them with mine. Dating was a nightmare; as much as I longed for love and acceptance, I never felt like I truly got it from romantic partners, and many of them were abusive which just perpetuated the cycle of self-loathing.

My mom remarried after some time, and she and my stepdad never really paid close enough attention to my mental health. And anytime I wanted attention or wanted to do something fun for myself and they had other plans for me, I was often called selfish. So for years, I felt like I was.

I never really tried to hide anything other than self-harm. I was terrified of being sent to a facility where I would have no control over the way I wanted to heal. I knew I had to, I just didn’t know where to start. On top of that, I desperately didn’t want anyone to blame themselves for what I felt; I thought this was all on me. For a long time, I felt like I had no reason to feel like this. I had everything I needed, what more could I want?

After the ADHD diagnosis, I was put on stimulants to try and regulate some of the symptoms. They worked very well at first; no more racing thoughts and I felt like a functional human being. But as time went on, I started becoming very rigid in my thinking, paranoid about how others perceived me, and I started projecting that my now fiance was going to leave me.

After a very emotionally taxing month for me and my fiance, I had an actual mental breakdown. Unable to stop crying, I voluntarily admitted myself to my local psych ward and stayed for a couple of days, ultimately being released after assessment. I realized that I didn’t want to die, I just didn’t want to feel the way I was feeling.

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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

Believe it or not, that moment came to me in what they called the “abscond room” at the psych ward. It was a waiting room, where about 30 of us were waiting for beds and only one phone was connected to the wall by a very short cord.

There was a woman around 20 years my senior who came in after me and while she was on the phone, I overheard her saying to her mom, “Mom, why don’t you believe me? I have a plan! I am going to kill myself. Why can’t you just listen to me? My whole life I’ve just wanted you to listen to me.” I related to her so deeply.

Just an hour prior, my own mother told me I admitted myself looking for attention, and because I wanted out, my attention-seeking backfired on me. Witnessing the woman on the phone with her mom was like looking at my own mortality. That’s me! I went through this for roughly 30 years, I was not about to go through it for another 20.

I knew I had to make changes. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I was definitely going to put myself first for once and really seek the help I needed for my inner child, so I could at least help heal the broken bits of me that needed repair.

When I got out of the hospital, at 4 o’clock in the morning, I searched for and emailed countless therapists in my area that specialized in EMDR therapy. The next day one called me and I’ve been seeing him ever since.

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

I’ve since gone low contact with my mom and it’s helped. I still have days where I feel guilty for doing so, but I’m learning through therapy that I was designed to feel that way at a young age. It’s a lot of unlearning and relearning. It’s so uncomfortable, but when those “a-ha!” moments come… It really is such a good feeling to know I put myself on the right path.

My EMDR therapist is also a trauma-based therapist and he has helped tremendously. In my flashback moments, when my heart rate spikes and that feeling of panic and fear start to take over, he instructs me to start tending to “little me” in those moments while staying cognizant of my breathing. So, I speak to “little me” a LOT.

I comfort her, I give her things I wish I would have been given by my caregivers, and sometimes, I just let her cry. All of those emotions “little me” kept bottled up for so long have to be let out. It’s kind of like this little hack since I’m always looking to take care of others, so I offer care to another part of me as if it’s not myself in the here and now.  

One thing he’s said to me that has stuck out is “If you’re able to sit here and monitor your breathing, you are safe.” That’s helped SO much.

With my daughter, I also try very hard to offer her the emotional support I always sought as a child. I’m not quick to yell or punish, especially if she’s just being a kid. And there are times I accidentally reparent myself through parenting her, and I don’t even realize it.

For example, her father and I are no longer together, and while he’s still very much involved in her life and an excellent father, she has all the appropriate feelings behind leaving her dad’s house come Sunday night.

One night, he dropped her off and I could tell that she was upset, so I asked her if she was angry, disappointed, depressed, etc. She told me she was just sad because she didn’t get to spend as much time as she would like with her dad because the weekends are too short.

I reminded her that it was only temporary, and in the summer, she would get to spend much more time with Dad, and that he would love to spend more time with her too, but this is the system that works for us and for her the best.

She felt a lot better after our conversation and went back to being her happy-go-lucky self. After she went inside, I had to take a few minutes and grieve. I had to grieve the lack of that emotional validation surrounding my dad’s absence.

My fiance is so unbelievably supportive, so he sat with me on our porch while I explored that wound where I was never spoken to about it or consoled, spending hours on the couch just staring out of the window anxiously waiting for him to show up, only to wake up in my mom’s house the next morning feeling so… empty.

All of the times he forgot to pick me up from school, once on my 6th birthday. I was so angry at my mom for not doing what I just spent a few minutes doing so my daughter could feel better, and then I was sad, because “little me” went through life so confused and sad.

But, a huge wound was patched up a little that night and it was just so relieving and validating knowing that trauma-based therapy is truly helping.

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

My fiance, stepdaughter, and my older sister are my go-to’s. They have been pivotal in my journey. I have a couple of very close friends that I can be very, painfully real with, and they don’t run away from it. I don’t really share a whole lot with my coworkers, just the surface-level things, but we’re all a bunch of misfits so a lot of it just goes without saying–we kind of just understand each other on a deeper level without having to know all the details.

My mom and stepdad are often the hardest to talk to about it, just because they’re not open to any sort of criticism. I can quickly find myself in a shame spiral when I do try to say how I feel about something since it’s often dismissed.

I try to share my story with whoever is open to it. We are all human and the brain is a powerful thing! We’re all going through something in one way or another and sometimes, in order for others to start their own healing process, it helps to know they’re not alone.

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

What I wish I knew earlier was that I am not fundamentally broken. I’m kind of like the Japanese art of Kintsugi. The pieces of me are still there, and there might be tiny bits that won’t ever look the same, but I can be put back together and what comes out of it is a work of art. 

With that said, healing is not linear and it is not completely mess-free! You’re going to feel like you’re doing it wrong, but keep doing it anyway… and learn from it. Be compassionate with yourself on your bad days and congratulate yourself on your good days. There is no right time to begin healing and you deserve to feel good about yourself. What comes out of it can truly be a masterpiece.

I have gained, and continue to gain, so much wisdom throughout this entire journey, so another strong piece of advice would be to try to educate yourself on everything you can and do so with an open mind.

We all have room for improvement and the ability to grow and change will help us become the most authentic version of ourselves. It will also give us the strength to open ourselves up to the possibility that we’re all going through some complexities… some sort of struggle. Understanding yourself is the first step towards truly understanding others.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

  • Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving by Pete Walker: This book helped me in so many ways that it’s hard to pinpoint particulars. It’s really explained how C-PTSD works, how it manifests within you, and how you can work through flashbacks. It was incredibly validating and helpful. A must-read for anyone who struggles with Complex PTSD.
  • The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk: This book helped me realize that my physiological reactions were a symptom of C-PTSD. It also helped me learn how to “breadcrumb” my feelings back to their origin. Not every negative feeling is tied to a trauma, however, the ones that take me out for a while are. It answered a lot of the How and Why.
  • Patrick Teahan LICSW on YouTube: He really spells a LOT of it out for you. It’s so validating. It’s basically free therapy with explanations behind how things manifest. He’s so kind, and he uses a lot of his own experiences in his childhood as points of reference, so he’s speaking from a true place of understanding.
  • Last Podcast on the Left: This one might sound a little weird. I listen purely for entertainment, but the host, Marcus Parks, struggles with Bi-Polar/Depression and while talking about his struggles on an episode he said something so profound: “It is not your fault, but it is your responsibility.” He went on to explain that the reason we have whatever ails us is not our fault, but since we have it, it is our responsibility to learn how to function with it–whatever that looks like. It’s been something I have taken on as a motto of sorts.

Where can we go to learn more about you?

I don’t really do social media other than Reddit! My Reddit handle is u/gnarlybetty and you can usually find me in communities like r/CPTSD or r/raisedbynarcissists – two communities I’ve found to be very helpful in my healing journey.

Is there anything else you think we should have asked you?

My fiance and I are in an “age-gap” relationship; we’re 20 years apart. I mention this because we often get asked if one of us has something to “fulfill” for dating so far out of our age range. Maybe we do, but we just haven’t discovered it yet.

However, we don’t look at it that way. We got together at a time when we both needed someone to listen and understand us, we were both single at the time, and our values aligned perfectly.

We had known each other for some time through some family ties, so we weren’t strangers to each other at all. Huge plus: my stepdaughter was the one to ultimately hook us up. She was friends with my much younger sister and we always got along great whenever I saw her around, so it became kind of a no-brainer.

Alana Hernandez-Wulkan 2

Generational trauma runs deep in my family, and as the scapegoat, I was left to carry the sins of the family. Being told I was just like my father, or his side of the family, was so deeply troubling that it caused a huge identity crisis. While I still have a good relationship with some of them, there’s a lot I never want to be associated with. 

***Trigger warning for rape/incest and domestic violence: I have a very dysfunctional family–on both sides. My biological father’s generation are all products of rape. My paternal grandfather (21 at the time) raped my grandmother (14 at the time) and because of misogynistic values, my grandmother was forced to marry him.

They later had six kids and my grandfather was physically abusive to her. He would line their children up and make them watch as he beat her, telling them that it was how you handled a disobedient wife. 

My grandfather raped my oldest sister for years and attempted to do the same to a cousin of mine. My cousin confided in my mom, my mom told her parents, and my dad turned to abusing my mom as the answer. 

My maternal grandmother was raised by an alcoholic father and an abused mother and was often sexually assaulted by her father in his drunken stupor. Because of the unchecked trauma, she sought relationships that often resembled the one she was raised in.

She raised her three children in a toxic environment and even struggled with mental health herself. In the 70s, she went through a mental breakdown and was administered Electroconvulsive Therapy at age 40. I have a lot of grace for my mom because of this… she was only given so much in terms of emotional support and I genuinely do not think she has the capacity to retain any more.

So, as an adult, she was an abused woman trying to take care of abused kids, as the cycle tends to repeat itself. But as Marcus Parks has said, it is not your fault, but it is your responsibility. It’s my responsibility to take care of myself now, despite longing for a relationship I would never have with my mother.

My father was extremely abusive to my mother. I vividly remember her wearing makeup to bed, and as a woman who was adamant about washing her face at the end of the night, I found it odd whenever she did. My first memory is of my dad throwing our entire brand-new plate set at my mom, shattering everyone, while I stood there in a pull-up and watched through the doorway.

At one point, when the abuse was escalating and he started abusing her in front of others, he beat my mom in front of me, my cousins, and my aunt and uncle. The cops were called and a female officer came over to me to try and calm me down but I was so upset I could barely get a word out through tears.

I wanted my mom safe but watching my dad being carried out in cuffs was equally as traumatizing. I will never forget that feeling and it’s one I can’t even describe. It’s a lot to reconcile with as an adult, but I’ve tried to deal with each flashback as a fleeting thought…I’m not in danger anymore.

However, once my mom left and she had all of that unchecked trauma, she projected a lot of it onto me because I was my dad’s child. I wrote her a letter once when I was a child and I was so young in fact that it was written in crayon, but it was about feeling like because I was a part of my dad’s family, and I knew she hated them so much, that meant she didn’t love me and that’s why she was treating me so badly. Instead of being hit with any sort of realization, she mocked and punished me for it. 

That’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot more but probably not enough room for each traumatic event or how I got through it/what helps me work through it. But trauma therapy and learning about everything I can when it comes to the how and why has helped me tremendously. I’ve learned that I’m actually the healthiest one in my family! Go figure!! 

Through all of this, my older sister was my keeper. She was not the one abused by my dad’s family–she’s not a product of his. However, from the time she was 9, she was “mom.” She basically raised me until she moved out at age 17. I went everywhere with her–friends, work, wherever she had to go… if there was no parent around, she took me.

She kept me safe whenever she could and was the silver lining in my childhood. Every birthday or big event that I had in my life, she was right by my side–no one else. She had to leave for her own reasons and I hold nothing against her whatsoever. It helped her grow into who she is today and she is the most beautiful person I know inside and out. She is a fantastic role model.

To this day, she is my very best friend and is standing up as my Matron of Honor at my wedding this August. The only regret I have in life is not offering the same for my younger sister, but through therapy, I’ve learned that I was not able to be. I had to survive. Her home life is a lot less dramatic than mine was as she was raised by my mother and stepfather, and things got a lot easier for my mom as time went on.

My stepdad is the one I view as my actual father, and he’s a great one. My mom did do a lot of things right, and I’m so thankful she was given a different life than the one my sister and I had.

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

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