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‘Survival through imagination’: understanding and healing complex PTSD

An illustration of a South Asian woman with long brown hair and an off-the-shoulder gray-green top. She is looking off into the distance, and behind her is a mosaic patterned background. The shards of mosaic are colored white, green and red, with a red and white cross hatched background in between the shards.
Charnel Hunter

Complex PTSD describes the existence of long-term trauma. An artist, a therapist, and a researcher seek to unravel the nuances of C-PTSD, while still pursuing joy and healing.

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is typically framed as the body’s response to a single, earth-shattering event. Complex PTSD considers trauma that is or was ongoing, lasting months or even years. It's often viewed as trauma by ‘a thousand tiny cuts’ instead of by a single blow.

In her late 20s, artist Fariha Róisín felt ready to confront the abuse she experienced in childhood in all its complexities. While processing the abuse, she found solace in writing and penned her thoughts for the world. Fariha has published five books, all of which contemplate the nature of complex trauma.

Guest host Anisa Khalifa talks with Fariha on how imagination and storytelling became her gateway to resiliency. Dr. Karen Winkler, a psychotherapist and nurse with a doctorate in clinical psychology, joins the conversation to expand upon the mind-body connection of complex PTSD by discussing how persistent trauma can manifest as a chronic illness. Dr. Winkler serves people living with chronic illness and is a public health advocate in New York City.

Anisa also sits down with Dr. Monnica Williams, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Ottawa, where she is the Canada Research Chair in Mental Health Disparities. Dr. Williams discusses how racism can be traumatic and can eventually lead to complex PTSD in people of color.

Additional thanks to Dr. Tanner Wallace, Jess, Johanna Draconis, and members of the Out of the Storm forum for contributing to this episode.

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Paige Miranda is a producer for "Embodied". Previously, she served as WUNC’s 2023 AAAS Mass Media Fellow.
Anisa Khalifa is an award-winning podcast producer and host at WUNC. She grew up in a public radio household, and fell in love with podcasts shortly before her friends convinced her to start one with them about Korean dramas. Since joining WUNC in 2021, Anisa has produced Me and My Muslim Friends, CREEP, Tested and Dating While Gray, and is the host of WUNC's weekly podcast The Broadside.