From Chaos to Healing: Stephanie Foo’s Experience with Complex PTSD - Jen Hatmaker

From Chaos to Healing: Stephanie Foo’s Experience with Complex PTSD

Episode 03

Sometimes, bad things happen (obvi, right?). Many times, we know what’s happening to us in the moment is awful and wrong. We know that it’s painful. But sometimes, we don’t know how bad those things were until that pain shows up again in our lives, maybe years later, in a completely different way. And when these seemingly bad things come up, our lives are thrown into a tailspin—creating chaos and unhappiness and we’re not even even sure why. So how do we begin to identify the source of the darkness? How do we walk toward healing when the muck of our trauma is so deep we feel like we can’t move forward? Our guest this week has navigated through this very thing (and is still navigating it). The chaotic parts, the hard parts, the painful parts. Author and This American Life producer Stephanie Foo had found success in her thirties–working at her dream job and in a loving relationship. But behind her office door she was having panic attacks daily and sobbing at her desk. After years of questioning what was wrong (and blaming herself), she was diagnosed with complex PTSD–a condition that happens when trauma occurs again and again over many years. She was determined to understand this diagnosis, and the result of her findings is a beautiful and powerful memoir called What My Bones Know.  Jen and Stephanie have an illuminating discussion around these topics: 

  • The difference between PTSD and complex PTSD and why that’s an important distinction when it comes to healing
  • How an unresolved mental health issue can impact our physical health, which can manifest (as it did for Stephanie) in panic attacks, joint issues, migraines, and endometriosis. 
  • How our traumas can be handed down through previous generations through our genes, but also through how we were (or weren’t) nurtured. 
  • What it feels like to pull back the curtain on our coping mechanisms to reveal why we react to things the way we do, or why we put up walls in safe places with safe people 

Join us for this very real, raw, but gentle conversation as Stephanie’s story sheds light on how to walk away from chaos into healing. 

Episode Transcript

Hi everybody. Jen Hatmaker here, your host of the For Love podcast. You guys, welcome to the show and welcome to this series. Like every year that I live longer, I realize this is the stuff of real life cuz we are in a series called For the Love of Calming the Chaos. Um, because the truth of life is that bad things happen. They do and they happen to us. And if they haven’t happened wait till you you live longer. And I don’t mean that in a doomsday way, I just mean that’s how life is. And it’s not cuz we’re doing it wrong, it’s cuz that’s how life is.

And so  a lot of times we know what is happening to us in the moment is awful or wrong. We know that it’s painful, but sometimes we’re not exactly sure how dark those things were until that pain shows up again in our lives. Later, sometimes years later, it may be in a completely different way. And when those come up, it can just throw our life into a tailspin and it creates chaos and unhappiness. And sometimes we’re not even sure how to source it. Like what’s the root here? And so how do we begin to walk toward healing when we may be mired in the muck of trauma so deep that we’re not even sure how to move forward? So our guest for this episode has walked through this very thing. I have so much respect for how she has navigated and, and is still navigating this, um, the absolutely chaotic parts, the hard and the painful, the traumatic parts. Frankly, any of us who have experienced trauma in any way will bump up against it at some point again, right? Because as we know, the body does keep the score. 

So lemme tell you about her a little bit. By the time she was 30 on paper, Stephanie Foo was super successful. She had her dream job, as a producer at this American life, whoa, loving boyfriend. But like behind her office door, she was having panic attacks and sobbing at her desk every single morning. And after a few years of just going, “what is wrong with me?” she was finally diagnosed with complex PTSD, which we’re gonna talk about, which is a different iteration of PTSD. I’ll let her explain it cuz she’s going to. So she was determined to not just understand her diagnosis, but recover and the result of all of this, her findings, her process, her healing work she turned into a very beautiful, very powerful memoir called What My Bones Know.

Isn’t that a great title? What My Bones Know? And, let me just say this real quickly as to my beloved listeners. Unfortunately, part of Stephanie’s story is, is that she grew up with the chronic, consistent pain of childhood abuse. And so I just wanna let you know now that if her story isn’t what you need to hear today, maybe just turn it right off and walk right away, of course. But if you’re in a place to hear it, I do encourage you to, because her story is moving and her spirit is powerful, and her recovery is so hopeful because she went to the depths of her darkness. She confronted it and still does confront it actually. And she’s beating it back every single day the best that she can. And I was moved and inspired by every single word she said to me today. And I’m grateful for her vulnerability and proud of her for offering this lantern to people who are walking a similar path. So it’s my honor,  to share this conversation with incredible writer, incredible producer, and really incredible human, Stephanie Foo. 


Mentioned in this Episode: 


Complex PTSD

Malayan Emergency

Elissa Bassist

Road to Resilience Podcast


What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trauma
by Stephanie Foo

What My Bones Know Audiobook


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