PTSD came into my life in 2011. My youngest daughter was referred to a child Psychiatrist. She was wetting her bed, peeing in hampers and garbage cans, having panic attacks, sucking on her hair and more and more disappearing into a world I did not understand. She was 5 years old.
As a concerned parent I sat in that Psychiatrists office hoping this Doctor would shed some light on what was happening to my little girl. That she would tell me how I could help her. I nervously told her about what had been happening at home. You see my husband, and my girls father, had been abusing us. Just six months prior we had left him. I thought that maybe her actions were just a reaction to what we had been through and she just needed a child therapist. The doctor told me that I was right, this was a reaction to what my daughter had gone through, that she had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from all of the trauma she had endured.
“What do you mean?” I asked, “Isn’t this something only soldiers get?” “How could my 5 year old daughter have this?”
The Psychiatrist proceeded to explain to me that PTSD is a common diagnosis in abused children. She explained that we naturally have a fight or flight instinct in us when we sense danger. Naturally we will freeze, extra blood and adrenaline will pump to our extremities preparing for us to either fight or flee the situation. This is normal. Sometimes though a person goes through something so traumatic, usually life threatening that causes your brain to be stuck in this mode. This causes symptoms like;
Bedwetting (in children)
High Startle Response
Avoidance (of the place where the trauma happened or similar situations)
I left that doctors office clinging to my little girl. Wanting to protect her from the hell going on in her mind.
Six months later I was diagnosed with the same.
So what is it like to live with PTSD?
Well it is never dull. Our whole being lives on high alert. I am often woken in the night by my mind, wide awake, not able to sleep. I learned that this is because my brain is worried that danger will strike at any moment so I need to be awake and alert. When I do sleep it is a restless sleep due to night terrors. 24/7 my brain is trying to understand what happened to me, it is trying to process the trauma. My dreams are where a lot of that happens. I also have days where I cannot fall asleep. The adrenaline is running through my body preparing me to fight or flee keeping me wide awake. PTSD can be very debilitating.
I am tired.
I have dark circles under my eyes.
I often struggle to focus, as does my daughter, because my brain wants to be prepared for danger. It is not worried about the daily tasks I am trying to achieve or the homework my daughter is trying to finish.
We do have good days. We laugh and life feels safe again, but then someone may say something, or we may smell his cologne on a passer by or be making a meal where we were abused right after and we spiral back. Back to the past where we are getting hurt again. More than once I have suddenly broken into overpowering sobs. Fearing for my life when really there is no one there wanting to hurt me. It’s a sick cycle.
I quickly learned that management of your symptoms is key with PTSD. We both learned relaxation exercises to calm our racing hearts. We learned grounding exercises to stay in the present. We take medication to help us sleep, to ease anxiety, to fight nightmares and help with focusing. We do therapy. Lots of it. We have learned, mostly, what our triggers are and we avoid them. Triggers are things in our day to day that remind us of the trauma. We tell our loved ones what they are so that they can possibly avoid doing them, but it’s not fool proof. There are still outside events, like a movie at school or a van that drives by looking like his, that causes a panic attack. So we balance.
We balance the good days with the bad. We love ourselves extra more. We ask for understanding from others. We seek out support, receive it and in turn support others. PTSD can make you feel so alone, so different from those around you, you think hiding away is the best way to go. Let me tell you that it isn’t. So we go out for that walk, meet that friend for coffee, tell ourselves 50 times a day that we are safe and make our way through another day.
We survived the trauma.
It’s been the hardest fight of my life, but I promise with God’s help we WILL survive the recovery.