Alumna Stephanie Foo discusses her newest book

Examining the interconnection between dissecting complex-PTSD with entering a new period of healing

Stephanie Foo (Stevenson ’08, literature)

Stephanie Foo (Stevenson ’08, literature) didn’t spend a great deal of time at UC Santa Cruz as a young English major but her January 2020 return to campus helped her to remember one healing aspect of her life, all this time later.

“UCSC really did instill in me the power of nature, and to use nature as a grounding tool, which has always been healing,”she said.

The longtime journalist and radio producer released her first book, What My Bones Know: A Memoir of Healing from Complex Trauma, in February 2022, exploring her life up to 2018 and discovering more about her healing thereafter. 

The San Jose native had a successful life on paper, with a dream job at the popular public radio program This American Life and a loving boyfriend — but she was also suffering from panic attacks nearly daily. In 2018, she was able to find an answer, and was diagnosed with complex- PTSD (C-PTSD), a condition that occurs when trauma happens continuously over the course of years.

From that point forward, Foo aimed to learn more about how this diagnosis made sense of her past, and how she could heal to move into her future. For this book, she interviewed scientists, psychologists and others, while also trying various therapies; she further returned to the Bay Area, and discovered how her past trauma would continue to be a factor of her life — but there were ways to cope.

“I always knew that I wanted to be a journalist — that was a dream I had had since high school,” Foo shared, noting her written work for major magazines and newspapers and internships at that time. 

While UC Santa Cruz did not have a formal journalism program, Foo majored in English and hustled as a freelance writer outside of class, ultimately graduating in just two-and-a-half years. 

“I lived with a bunch of incredible people who I still talk to on a regular basis today,” she said. “I got a very good basis in the humanities, and learned a lot about broken systems in America…as well as about drinking kombucha.”

She shortly thereafter moved from Santa Cruz up north, settling in both San Francisco and Oakland as she helped to create and became a founding producer for Glynn Washington’s Snap Judgment radio show. Foo was then offered a producer role for This American Life, and made the transition to New York City, where she still lives today.

The transition from the Bay Area to New York was difficult for Foo, who “didn’t know where to ground [herself]” without easy accessibility to redwoods, hills and California’s weather.

Through all of these changes and job updates, Foo learned and retooled her abilities to tell stories, and figure out ways in which to craft her narratives: “Learning how to tell a really compelling story, keep the listener engaged, interview people at their most vulnerable…it was a tremendous learning experience.”

Those skills helped to propel her forward when she received her C-PTSD diagnosis in 2018 and began to figure out those next steps. 

“When I was diagnosed, a lot of my life made sense…it explained my anxiety and depression,” she said. “It really made me reevaluate everything in my life.”

As a trained journalist, Foo wanted to examine her diagnosis from that perspective, reading as many articles and books about C-PTSD  as possible. However, in her research, she found that most of the published works surrounding C-PTSD were pathologizing, and unhelpful, which gave her more space to determine if she could (and should) tell her own story.

“I needed to reevaluate all of what my worth is, if it wasn’t as a journalist — what is my narrative,” she said.

Over the next year and a half, Foo dedicated herself to various therapies, connecting with scientists and researchers, and ultimately discovering others with C-PTSD. She began to feel hopeful, and felt well-enough resourced to start her healing journey as she also wrote her memoir.

Since the book’s release in February 2022 (Ballantine Books), Foo has continued in her healing journey — while also receiving dozens of messages daily from others who felt supported by her work. 

“It makes me feel a lot less lonely and a lot less freakish, which is how I felt originally,” she said. “It allows me to see that so many of us have this pain…it’s really great to have this community. I think that’s definitely one of the achievements of the book I am most proud of.”

She has also since returned to Santa Cruz, both in person and virtually, speaking to students from the Del Mar Theater in January 2020, and then as a commencement speaker for Stevenson College via Zoom. While it’s been a few years since she’s returned, she knows just how lucky she is to have this city, this college, to return to.

“I always have the excuse to go back to being a part of this immense beauty…it was grounding before I knew what being grounded was,” she said.