Yesterday was a tough day. My youngest daughter had Parent Teacher Interviews, or Student Led Conferences as they are now called. Pre Conference the Student goes through their work and picks out some of their best work in each subject, along with ones that need to be improved. Then they present this portfolio to their parents and the parents can also talk with the teacher. It is fairly relaxed. I went to look at my daughters portfolio and there was nothing in it. My heart dropped.
My youngest daughter is almost 11 years old. When she was 5 years old she was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Up until that point we had all been living in an abusive home. My ex was abusive physically, mentally, sexually, financially and emotionally. My daughter grew up knowing fear. Real fear. Like fear that her dad was going to kill her mum one day or maybe herself kind of fear.
When my daughter was diagnosed she had been peeing in garbage cans at home, sucking on her hair, rocking and talking to herself, nightmares, panic attacks and at one point she did go catatonic. Basically her brain was freaked out by what was happening to her and to those she loved. It could not process it. Something inside of her broke.
The diagnosis of PTSD did come with some relief. With that diagnosis she was able to get some medication that helped her sleep and eased some of her anxiety and nightmares. We learned ways to cope with her lack of focus. Often the noise at school heightens her anxiety so she has needs to wear headphones to be able to focus. She has done counselling, art therapy and regularly sees a Child Psychiatrist. My daughter is a great kid, my hero in fact, for all she has had to deal with in her short life. I look at her and think how PTSD can bring a soldier of war to their knees and she is still standing. She is out there being nice to others, playing with her friends and being a member of society. I am very proud of her.
So why was yesterday such a rough day you ask? What was behind her empty portfolio? Well let me explain. My daughter started Grade 6 this year and in my Community that means you also start having school at the Highschool. She started this year with jitters mixed with excitement. She was no longer a “little kid” and this meant new adventures. She would come home from school happy, telling me about her day and how the “big kids” really weren’t that scary. I was relieved to see her settling in so well.
Then one day she woke up crying. Refusing to get out of bed. Refusing to go to school. Morning after morning it was a struggle to get her out the door and some days I just let her stay home realising she was not coping. At first I thought that someone must be bullying her and for a bit my daughter let me believe that, but then the truth came out. One evening while getting her ready for bed she said, “Mum Mrs._____ yells in class. I am scared.” “Does she yell at you?”, I ask. “Sometimes, but mostly at other kids.” Now I sat for a moment and thought about this. Understanding that things are different in the Highschool compared to Elementary, that often teachers are tougher in the Highschool and that of course I did not know the circumstances as to why the teacher had yelled. There could have been a large disruption and she needed to bring things under control. I did not know and did not want to jump to conclusions. I did know though that this was affecting my daughter. Suddenly now the tears made sense. She did not feel safe at school. To her brain yelling means danger, possibly death so of course everything in her would make her not want to be there. Her brain did not understand that just because someone yells it does not mean they are going to hit you or worse.
So I talked to the school counsellor and the School Districts Psychologist. The basic answer back was that my daughter has good coping skills so she should be able to cope with this.
Another week or so passed. Emails were sent to me from her teacher that none of my daughters work was being completed. That if the work did not get done she would get a zero on her report card. The work was brought home and I calmly sat with her, keeping her focused and she was able to get her work done.
I was starting to connect the dots.
For my daughter her PTSD brain saw her teacher as a threat. What do you do when you are threatened? Your natural instinct of Freeze/Fight or Flight kicks in. You can focus on nothing else but being on alert for danger. Your brain struggles to pass short term memory to long term. Your heart races and adrenaline pumps through your body preparing for a fight or to flee.
No wonder she could not get her work done. She also admitted to me that she was nervous to ask for help in completing her work. Her PTSD had flared. Could I blame her? I know what it is like to be scared of someone. You do not want to be noticed, you lay low and just do what you have to, to survive. She was just trying to survive each day at school. Not having her Portfolio done no longer surprised me.
My kid is screaming for help. I do not think for a moment that her teacher meant to scare her, but if you know anything about PTSD the brain does not need to respond to an actual threat for the PTSD to flare. It can react to a perceived threat and it is just like the person is back in the original trauma.
PTSD is debilitating, but I do not let that get me down. I fight the same battle as my daughter. I have learned that it takes calling in resources or support systems to get through the bumps and that is exactly what I plan to do. I have already written to the Vice Principal asking for extra support and I will be talking again with the School Psychologist. Also next week she has another appointment with her Psychiatrist. I will advocate for her and do what I have to, to get her the help she needs.
Wish me luck and don’t let your battle get you down! Just remember, you’ve got to keep putting one foot in front of the other even if it is baby steps.