Nfld. & Labrador

After a lifetime of trauma, this author hopes her new book about PTSD will create more awareness

Debbie Samson had a difficult childhood that followed her into adult life, but she hopes her new book will provide insight into what it's like living with mental illness. 

'As time went on, I became more well,' says Debbie Samson of her journey to write her story

Author Debbie Samson's new book is her life story about living with complex PTSD. (CBC)

Debbie Samson had a difficult childhood that followed her into adult life, but the author hopes her new book, A Recipe for Complex PTSD and PNES, will provide insight into what it's like living with mental illness and give hope to others with similar conditions. 

Samson lived and worked in Labrador West for 40 years as a mental health counsellor and a member of town council.

She was born in Newfoundland at only four pounds. Her identical twin sister was stillborn. She describes her biological father as being abusive and her mother as being unavailable. 

At age 12, Samson was turned over to the Children's Aid Society in London, Ont., shortly after her family moved from the island to Ontario. She said she became rebellious, started hanging around with the wrong people and her father didn't approve.

"I ran away a lot. I spent a lot of time living on the streets. Childhood, especially at that age, was not very nice," Samson told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning.

"I hung around with motorcycle gangs. There was sexual abuse, there were assaults, there was times I was held against my will. Yeah, it was rough."

In her early 20s, Samson said, she felt a calling to begin helping others.

She moved to Labrador West with her two small children and took some university courses. Becoming a counsellor was the fulfilment of her dream, she said. 

Samson says she hopes her story will remind others who live with mental illness they are not alone. (Debbie Samson/Facebook)

Now 62, Samson said she felt she had PTSD her entire life but wasn't formally diagnosed with complex PTSD until 2012, when changes at work became difficult for her to bear, causing stress and leading her to seek help from psychiatrists. 

But her experiences, she said, allowed her to better help people along the way.

"The horrific things that happened to me led me to a place where I could understand others from my own perspective," she said. 

A life's story

Samson's new book is the story of her life, something she said she has wanted to write for a long time. 

But there were further challenges to overcome first. 

"Because there was so much abuse that happened in my life, and the trauma, every time I started to write it was triggering, it was overwhelming, it was too much," she said. 

"But as time went on, I became more well, and I reached a point where I was able to write it and it was very therapeutic for me to write it."

Though some chapters of her life were difficult to put into words, Samson said she had to write her story knowing there are other people like her who are suffering from complex PTSD. 

She said the difference between PTSD and complex PTSD is that her condition stems from a lifetime of trauma and not a single incident. 

"There's many, many, many of us out there that suffer from this illness," she said. 

"Since writing my book and putting it out there, it's overwhelming the [number of] people who have contacted me and have shared their stories and are anxious to read the book."

Her second condition, also written about in her book, is psychogenic non-epileptic seizures, something Samson said is rarely talked about. She said both conditions are brought on by the trauma she faced as a child.

"I think that we have to protect our children. I think as a child I was not protected," she said.  

A Recipe for Complex PTSD and PNES is in its second round of editing with its publisher, and Samson said she hopes it will be available by summer. 

Upon release, Samson plans to have a small book tour through Labrador West and Newfoundland's east coast.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

With files from Labrador Morning