Mommy’s Hidden Monster: Parenting with PTSD
(original post found at https://herviewfromhome.com/mommys-hidden-monster-parenting-with-ptsd/)
Something about becoming a parent changes us, doesn’t it? Well, I suppose it would be more accurate to say everything about becoming a parent changes us! I love how becoming a mother to my two boys has forced me to grow in ways I never would have let myself grow. Some changes we are ready for and others we would rather not face because it is scary; and if weren’t for my boys, I would likely run away from the more difficult parts. Ensuring their well-being has given me the desire and motivation to undergo such painful change and finally deal with my past. This is my first-hand description of what it’s like to become a person you never wanted to be.
I’d never given much thought to why I couldn’t recall childhood memories or feel connected to my childhood. I always knew that I’d endured sexual abuse at a very young age by family members and for that reason, I didn’t try to think back to childhood very often in life. Evidently, it’s a common phenomenon to lose several years’ worth of memories as a result of trauma. Even memories that had nothing to do with trauma can be irretrievable if they were around the time of the traumatic event(s).
After experiencing trauma, some people develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Many times it’s because the person didn’t have the chance or the skills to healthfully process their experience. A person who has PTSD/Complex-PTSD essentially has a brain that is chronically wired for stress and operates in constant survival mode. Treatment involves trying to train yourself out of survival mode.
Until I had children, I knew that I was all messed up inside and my young adult life was a roller coaster. A train wreck, if you will. Are there any untreated PTSD sufferers reading that can’t seem to keep a stable job or relationship? I know what you’re going through or went through. I had no idea that I had PTSD or that my past was still effecting my present. I had my first child when I was 27 and I suddenly started doing the dance of “mother” and I was impressed with myself for the duration of my son’s infancy because, to my surprise, I found I was really good at being his mother. Complete love, adoration and natural instinct took over and I felt so comfortable and confident with this new identity. I felt like everything was going to be okay and I’d finally find stability. These were all of the good changes that were taking place in me because God blessed me with my child and made me a mother. This was the beginning of learning how to love a human.
Carefree days do not last forever. Two years later I was still a good mother and I’d even been blessed with another beautiful boy. But I began to deteriorate mentally and I knew the cause of my deterioration was due to a dark place inside me that I’d never dealt with and it was rearing its ugly head. Looking back, I know that being a parent is what brought out in me that which I refused to look at when I was only living for myself. This was the difficult part of change and growth. I had no idea it was coming either and I was ill prepared.
As my son got to the age of 3 (about the time that my abuse began as a child), I started having a lot of anxiety about his well-being, nightmares, anger and hostility and intense depression. His age was a giant trigger for the past that I’d stuffed down. I watched my son with grief for my own childhood. I knew that I’d do anything to protect him and his brother. How could my parents let such abuse happen to me? Deep rooted anger toward my parents began to simmer beneath the surface. I sought help and my doctors incorrectly diagnosed me as having post-partum depression and my PTSD went untreated for several months. Life started crumbling quickly thereafter.
I could not take the heat of being home alone with my children day after day, yet I had to much anxiety to let anyone else care for them. Flashbacks and random mood swings flooded my psyche and I felt out of touch with the present reality. There were times that I had flew into a rage and broken things because I was being pulled in every direction by my toddlers, who needed me to be present, and I didn’t know how to deal with what I was experiencing.
Shrieking or continuous crying or whining from one of my children on a morning where I felt emotionally drained from a night filled with nightmares, would send my body and mind into fight or flight mode. I would yell something mean at my oldest son. It would be like my mouth was moving and I was shouting things but my mind was like, “No! No don’t yell at him, STOP! Look at you, who are you?!”
Knowing that I never ever wanted to hurt my children emotionally or physically, but also knowing that I had intense rage flowing through my body for no reason that I understood, I would run into another room and close the door so that my children couldn’t witness their mother turn into an ugly monster. I would smash glass, break a mirror, throw my cell phone, scream or punch my leg over and over. Then once I’d exhausted all of the panic and anger, I’d just lay on the floor staring off into space for several minutes while my body slowly came back to the present day and then my thoughts would slowly drift back to the present as well. The horrible guilt would suddenly creep in and I would walk back out and find my precious, intelligent, innocent boys and I would fall on my knees and tell them how sorry I was for acting so badly and tell them how it had nothing to do with them. But in my heart I could never un-do my screaming in front of them and I could never repair my loss of temper in front of them. I couldn’t take away the fact that I caused fear, maybe even terror, in their hearts.
I consulted every parenting professional I could find that would help me protect my kids from my own instability. You know what? They weren’t that helpful and I found more peace of mind and better parenting skills from just talking to my son about him and his feelings and my love for him and his brother and what it is to make mistakes and climb back up and do better next time. I found more beneficial wisdom from finding faith in God. I went to counseling as well and I had to learn skills to deal with flashbacks and emotional instability, but even after learning skills I’d still have the same failures occur. I had to practice using the skills and that took time and my entire family suffered while I practiced swimming through this unfamiliar territory. I finally was properly diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, PTSD and ADD. My meds were adjusted and readjusted until I felt like I could manage and enjoy my life.
PTSD is heartbreaking. Being a parent with PTSD is daunting. It’s heartbreaking because your past robs you and your family of the present and the happiness in it. One of the hardest parts of this disorder for me to accept is that you never know what else is going to come up or when. You can’t always be aware of what is going to trip your brain’s panic switch and you always have to be ready for it so that you can be calm and still and rational. This task is the daunting part and you have to be kind and patient with yourself and never stop trying. It’s absolutely necessary that you keep growing until you one day outgrow the effects that your past has had on you. This is especially true if we are raising little ones who will one day be adults who must survive and thrive on their own. It’s our adult responsibility to practice and continually get better at improving ourselves for ourselves and the ones who love us. And if our children see us commit to this, then we have taught them to do the same. To never stop practicing and growing, in whatever they face in life.