Saturday, November 26, 2011

PTSD and Parenting

For 8-1/2 years, I have been battling Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  The thing is, I didn't know I had PTSD until a few months ago.  It has colored everything in my life for nearly a decade, causing me to make some questionable decisions, making me keep the people I love at arm's length, and creating a very high anxiety situation in my life.  I can't sleep without sleeping pills, I have to take two anxiety pills a day, and I suffer from violent night terrors that result in me beating my husband in my sleep (though, in fairness, he probably deserves it. ;) )

C is nearly 4 years.... Which means I had PTSD for years before conceiving her and for the entire time I've been her mom.  On a scale of 1-10, my standard stress level is an 8 or 9.  I am constantly clenching my jaw, my knees, my toes... SOMETHING.  I am incapable of relaxing.  So how did learning my daughter had multiple disabilities and health conditions contribute to this?  Well, it certainly didn't HELP my anxiety, that's for sure!

How do you face the world head-on, advocate for your child, and remain positive and supportive of them when you constantly feel like the world is a terrifying place full of life-threatening dangers?  How do you focus on creating learning opportunities for your child through play when you can't stop thinking that you have no way to protect yourself if and when someone breaks through the front door?

About a month ago, I started seeing a new therapist who specializes in EMDR (look it up; it's interesting and effective for PTSD).  We laid the groundwork for the therapy, creating a prioritized list of memories that are intrusive and cause great emotional disturbances, as well as a mental "safe place" (my childhood bedroom) to which I can retreat if therapy gets too difficult and I need to feel protected.  Then my insurance company sent me a letter saying they were only approving 3 visits (2 of which I had already used) to the new therapist.

I went into a panic.  I cried, I shook, and I curled up in bed for hours, unable to function.  I had finally found someone with a technique that could actually help me and change my life for the better, and now the insurance company is threatening to take that away from me??!?  It was a nightmare, and it sent me into an emotional crisis.  I went into my daughter's bedroom to sit with her for a minute, and I emerged 45 minutes later without having uttered a sound or made a single move.  I can only imagine what her little brain made of that!

Sometimes, it seems nearly impossible to take care of another human life when you feel so out of control over your own life.  When the world is just too big and too scary and too dangerous to function, how do you prepare a child--especially a child with special needs--to enter that world?  Wouldn't it be better just to lock her in her room for her entire life and spare her the pain and anguish that lurks in the world beyond the front door?

Most days, I do just fine.  I wake up, I get her ready for preschool, and I put her on the bus without any major anxiety.  I don't fret while she's at school, and I'm excited when the bus drops her off and I have my baby girl back in my arms.  I remember that play is educational and therapeutic, and I play with her.  I try to teach her new words, new ways to play, and new skills.  I am a good mother.

Then there are those days when the walls come tumbling down around me, and all I can do is sit among the rubble and mourn the evils in the world, the way in which I suffer daily, and a general sense of hopelessness that interferes with my ability to see past my daughter's challenges and makes trying to raise my expectations and overcome the obstacles nearly impossible.  I am a good mother, but I am not a perfect mother.  I am broken, and sometimes I just don't work correctly or as intended.

Parenting with PTSD and mental illness is a constant struggle.  Sure, there are pills and therapists and online support groups to help you through it... But I never feel like I'm good enough for C.  I'm not whole, so how can I be the exceptional mother her disabilities require?  At least I'm healthy enough to know I need help and to seek it out.  I don't give up on my mental health any more than I would give up on C.  On the hard days, I fight and I keep my head above water so I can be and do all the things I need to be and do.  Then there are the easy days, when I can simply enjoy the miracles in my life and the wonder that is my little girl.

I'm looking forward to getting the insurance company on my side so I can get better and have more of those easy days.

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