Finally Being Diagnosed with Complex PTSD

When I was a teenager my mother told me I was not her biological daughter. I had been fostered but she refused to tell me who I was and where I came from. Social services knew I had been deceived throughout my childhood but they did not tell me the truth.

I felt sad and lonely as a child, something was missing. I had to wait several months for my adoption order before I found out who my biological parents were and the circumstances surrounding my birth. I did not receive support from any professionals to help me process this discovery.  

Anxiety and depression

As I grew into a young adult I visited the GP because I suffered from severe anxiety and depression but instead of taking my childhood into account, I was given a prescription for antidepressants which only numbed me so I stopped taking them.

I felt a deep sense of loss and shame inside my body. I also felt fear. I was not safe. I couldn’t express it but professional services continued to ignore the traumatic childhood events surrounding my adoption. I struggled to form relationships and I felt immense grief. I had flashbacks, nightmares, stomach pains and migraines.

Normal decisions became difficult and overwhelming, I was constantly hypervigilant. I couldn’t regulate my emotions, I found it impossible to breathe deeply or calm myself. Self-loathing affected every part of my life and relationships. I was flawed, unlovable and unacceptable. I questioned my value and my worth. I was living on autopilot, unable to make rational decisions or enjoy my youth and I would react to everything. 


Life events and experiences triggered these emotions inside my body constantly. During my first pregnancy, I had only recently been reunited with my birth mother when she died. The grief and pain interrupted my bonding with my child. I believed I wasn’t going to be a good enough mother and I shouldn’t be in this world. 

Left untreated I developed severe postnatal depression and was given another prescription for antidepressants but still no recognition of the cause. It took two years and a breakdown for a sympathetic GP to tell me I needed counselling.

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

I was placed on a year-long NHS waiting list and given CBT. I was told it was my thoughts that were detrimental to me not my experiences. So I internalised more shame.

The CBT didn’t work; I knew it was much deeper than changing my thought patterns but CBT and IAPT counselling was all I was offered by the NHS for another twenty years. I couldn’t afford private therapy.  

Finally being heard

As a middle-aged woman, I made a desperate visit to yet another GP. I was feeling hopeless, guilty, and shameful. I had severe uncontrollable mood swings. I isolated myself as a coping mechanism and had dissociative thoughts. I sat in that surgery and I told her all that I had been through in my life as the tears streamed down my face. She finally heard me and I was referred.

Several months later I had a consultation with secondary mental health services. Six months after that I was assessed by two clinical psychologists and asked a series of questions about my life experiences. I was left in the room for the team to discuss my answers.

When they returned they sat down and told me I had Complex PTSD. I didn’t even know what it was! Suddenly my whole life made sense and I cried from the relief in my body as the clinical psychologist apologised on behalf of the NHS for my suffering all these years. 

Still waiting to see a therapist

That diagnosis was in October 2021 and I am still waiting for my trauma therapy because apparently there is a shortage of trained therapists and a long waiting list.

My advice to any adoptee

My advice to any adoptee who is struggling with similar symptoms is to visit your GP and insist on a referral and get a second opinion from another GP if you are dismissed.

The important first step for any adoptee who cannot for financial reasons access private therapy is to get a referral to the right services.

There is post-adoption support through your local authority for adult adoptees as well as six free counselling sessions via PAC if you live in a subscribing borough – but many councils do not offer this. Some charities offer therapy and will assess you for a reduced fee if you are on a low income.

You deserve all the help you can get and you are not alone.