Advice columnist

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I am 33 and have dealt with depression on and off since my adolescence. I grew up in a household with every kind of abuse you can think of, but I didn't start seeking help until my early 20s via talk therapy, and I cut ties entirely with my abusers. A decade, many cities and some seven therapists later, I finally sought out a psychiatrist because the mood swings and depressive episodes were intensifying.

Two days ago the doctor actually diagnosed me with chronic PTSD.

It explains a lot in hindsight, but I'm having trouble accepting and dealing with the diagnosis. I can't blame any of this on a chemical imbalance, and now I know I have a lifelong fight to change the way I think about myself and others, and my very broken brain is the only thing that can fix itself. I have always felt fundamentally flawed, but this feels like confirmation.

I'm so angry at my family for causing this, and I hate myself for not being able to let go and get over it. I feel so lost. Do you have any words of wisdom?

— The Monster Has a Name


(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)

The Monster Has a Name: What I have is the comfort of distance. I can, without emotional engagement, treat your brain just like any other body part.

So, for the sake of argument, let’s say it’s your arm.

Your family’s abuse was so terrible it broke your arm. You’ve known all along your arm hurt, but for whatever reason doctors never X-rayed it.

Now, you have X-ray results. Broken arm. It’s bad, and even worse that your own damn family abused you so badly, but at least now you know exactly why your arm keeps hurting.

Even better, now you and your doctors understand how to treat it.

Best of all, you can officially stop beating yourself up for your pain. Who would expect your arm to “fix itself” properly? It’s an injury that needs treatment — and that has an established, successful treatment protocol.

So now you and your treatment team — as in, not just you by your lonesome — know what your jobs are.

And who on Earth would treat you as “fundamentally flawed” for having a broken arm? Who are these people who think (a) perfection exists, and (b) they’re entitled to nothing less? That’s on them.

Finally, the blame belongs exactly where is has all along, on your abusers. No change there.

Arm, brain, ____ — they’re injured body parts in need of medical intervention. The sooner you start treatment, the more of your life you will enjoy as a healed person. Take care.

To: Name: My situation was just like yours. Give yourself a lot of credit for being strong enough to let go of all the people who hurt you, and for seeking help. Please accept your feelings and condition, instead of being ashamed or resentful. When an event triggers my anxiety or depression, I tell myself, "Okay, you're feeling crappy. This will pass." Remind yourself that you have been able to escape that situation. Lower the demands in your life for a few days, if possible. Be kind to yourself. Also, realize that your experience has made you wiser and more compassionate than most.

— Anonymous

Anonymous: Compassionate indeed. Thank you.

Write to Carolyn Hax at tellme@washpost.com. Get her column delivered to your inbox each morning at wapo.st/haxpost.