Complex PTSD, Radical Authenticity and Transcendence


Leslie Browning, author of "To Lose the Madness: Field Notes on Trauma, Loss and Radical Authenticity"

Over the course of 3 years, my life has undergone the strangest and most beautiful of arcs, and I now find myself at the center of a surreal whirlwind….

A little background on me... my name is Leslie M. Browning. I am an award-winning spiritual author of eleven books and founder of the publishing house, Homebound Publications. In late 2015, I suffered the miscarriage of twins. This was but the latest trauma in a long succession reaching all the way back into my childhood. When the miscarriage happened, all the shock and pain amalgamated into a solid wall of denial. I'd suffered many traumatic events in the years prior to the miscarriage and this was the mental-last straw. I entered a severe depressive episode wherein I was suicidal. Later went on to be diagnosed with C-PTSD, Depression, and Mild Dissociative Disorder. I'd been in therapy only about six weeks when this formal diagnosis came. I was referred to a trauma specialist to start EMDR.

Long story short, the therapy didn't work. Shortly after starting EMDR, I began experiencing episodes of severe emotional flooding. In these episodes, I would go from being depressed to full tilt rage, to fight or flight, to crashing back down in the bleakest despair and exhaustion, and cycle back again. They happened on a biweekly basis for several months.

[Skimming over a very hard time in my life.] In order to transcend the meaningless loss and grieve for the life not lived, I processed the events the best way I could: through my pen.  Eventually, I took all of my journal entries from the time and put everything together into a personal essay and presented it for an advance narrative nonfiction class I was taking in college. At the end of class, something very interesting happened. One by one, my classmates started reaching out privately telling me of their own struggles with depression, grief, mental illness, and near suicides. It was as though my admitting that I wasn't okay gave them permission to admit that they weren't okay. My story seemed to tap into a larger conversation. Eventually, I decided to publish the story in a small book. Two years later, my cathartic writings have become a book entitled, "To Lose the Madness: Field Notes on Trauma, Loss and Radical Authenticity."

Unlike other books in my library, I wrote "To Lose the Madness" with absolutely no intention of sharing it with others; I simply wrote as a way to “process” this period in my life of severe mental strain and make sense out of the senseless.

The book gained momentum and as it did, I found myself flinching at the thought of revealing so much of myself on a public platform. Up until this point, only around 10 people knew of my breakdown and subsequent struggles. Just as I acclimated to the notion of my story being public, I was asked to give a TEDx Talk at Yale University's TEDx Conference on my story. In the talk I explore the philosophy of "radical authenticity" I mention in the book as well as my practice of transcending trauma. In the book, I also raise questions on what it means to heal. (In a society where we are socialized to "let go," what does it mean when we cannot? Does letting go equate healing or is it not more a processing of learning how to carry the load fate has set on our shoulders?)

After the miscarriage, I had dissociated—I couldn’t say the word miscarriage without having a breakdown, and there I was saying it to a room full of strangers, for a camera, for all the world to see. In some ways, giving the TED was freeing—to be “out there,” to be done with the denial, to own my journey (as I termed it in the book). And, in another way, it was terrifying. As a survivor of childhood trauma, trust isn’t my strong suit. I am trained to play things close to the vest—to hide anything that might make me appear weak. The TED Talk was like one public in-take with a psychologist—there was no denying it. I would be lying if I said the TED Talk’s release didn’t cause its fair share of panic attacks and moments of regret. I came face to face with the very philosophy I explore in my book that helped stabilize me: radical authenticity.

The reality of it all is settling within me as I ask myself the following question: Does my speaking publicly of the breakdown, the CPTSD, depression…make me weak or does it show a strength?

I have decided that this book, more than any other I have written, is a conversation starter and it is a needed conversation. So I―a notoriously private person―am going to share the story of my most difficult moments with the world. The prospect of this is both exciting and terrifying. Fear and trembling aside, I am 35-years-old, and I have come to realize that I have no answers―not one. I used to believe in answers but I don’t anymore. Instead, I have only my journey and the time has come to own it.

As those closest to me learned of my intention to release this story they asked me, "Why share all this with the world? Why put this much of myself out there?" The response: Because I’m broken. We’re all broken and right now we’re all isolated within that brokenness. The cure for the loneliness is connection—connection with that broken part of ourselves and with each other—and we can’t achieve that connection while pretending we are okay. We’re not okay. My previously published works were a lotus—an expression of hope—but I knew I had yet to speak of the mud—the darkness which makes these manifestations of hope an achievement of transcendence rather than simply one of literary merit. For me, leaving the story untold wasn’t an option. I knew I would have to tell everything that had happened not only for my own process of catharsis but for what I hoped to do as an author—to help highlight how we are all moving across the same terrain and suffering the same affliction, and in that, none of us are alone.

I don't know if my book will help others suffering from C-PTSD, depression, and Dissociation, but writing it, sharing it...helped me get through and take what was an unbearable journey and make it mean something.

I wanted to share my story with others who suffer from CPTSD because, more than most, I know they will "get" why I wrote the book and how hard it was to get up and own the whole messy ordeal.

Link to Leslie's TED Talk:
Link to her book on Amazon:
Link to her Website:
Link to the Radical Authenticity Community she formed as a blog for storytellers sharing their journeys in an effort to lift the stigma of mental illness: