PTSD: It Happens to ParentsFeb 09, 2024
Originally published by Amanda Diekman on Feb 12, 2023.
MY BREAKING POINT
After exactly 12 months of living with a PDA (Pathologically Demand Avoidant) child in autistic burnout, I was diagnosed with PTSD. My symptoms were elevated to a level that I needed intensive intervention. I strongly considered in-patient facilities. There were days that I spent hours fantasizing about going to the hospital, staring at overhead fluorescent lights, having doctors fuss over me, and simply leaving the agony I was experiencing behind. I did not experience suicidal thoughts. I experienced hospital thoughts.
My hands shook every time my child yelled. I felt like I was hovering over myself, looking down at me. My body felt swollen and foreign, like it did not belong to me. My brain went silent, simply buzzing like bees were trapped inside my mind, blocking out all other thought and sound. Hours slipped by without me realizing it. Other times existing through a single moment felt like it took ages. I sweated at night, soaking my clothes and my sheets. I woke myself up shouting. I drank beers at noon to calm the panic symptoms.
Meltdowns in our home were long, aggressive, and focused on me. At any moment, I had to defend myself against projectiles being thrown, fingernails scratching, sticks wielded like weapons. No space was safe because the aggression happened at home and in public. No moment was safe because meltdowns could erupt at seemingly any moment. My nervous system was elevated at all times, as I held the uncertainty of my parenting experience alongside the ordinary needs of my three children for food, water, and snuggles, for normalcy, play, and coregulation.
I was already in long-term therapy with an incredible psychologist who was watching my emerging symptoms with concern. We had already identified my rising panic and anxiety, and I began working with a psychiatrist on medication and lifestyle changes. Yet when my psychiatrist declared that I was experiencing "PTSD," I was in shock. How could those four letters apply to me? How could this experience be that extreme? And yet, I couldn't imagine a beloved friend living through what I was living through. My experience deserved a name, and that name was PTSD.
TELLING THE RIGHT PEOPLE
A day came when I said out loud, "I cannot do this one more day." Nothing magical happened, except that I said it aloud to people whose eyes widened, who slid forward in their seats, who took me seriously, who said, "What are we going to do next?" As I took steps toward recovery, I learned to claim the difficult reality that this experience was valid and severe, and that I deserved substantial help.
YOU DESERVE CARE
If your distress is clinically significant, you deserve a major level of care. If your distress is distressing to you, you deserve a major level of care. If you would not want anyone else to go through what you are going through, you deserve a major level of care. Supports like EMDR, trauma-informed yoga, therapy, psychiatry, and lifestyle changes changed my life. You deserve care from a team that is focused on your healing. You deserve a major level of care.
Yes, parents can get PTSD from their parenting experiences and from interactions with their children. Yes, some of us face challenges in our parenting life that are clinically severe. Yes, many of us face challenges that are not elevated to this level, and which are still valid, hard, and deserving of support. You do not need to cross some "threshold of hard" before you reach out for more support.
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