When Your Children Grow Up in the Shadow of PTSD


It has been almost five years since my husband was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In a lot of ways, it feels like a lifetime.

For our children, it has literally been their lifetime.

What do they remember?

I knew my husband for nine years before his official diagnosis. However I really only knew my husband for five years before the cracks started to appear.

PTSD in the emergency services is often very insidious. The warning signs of the inevitable eruption are always there, but too often they’re only recognised in hindsight.

The day my husband came home from work a broken man, our daughter was almost 3. She was asleep in bed when he fell to pieces in the kitchen. It wasn’t that I hadn’t seen him cry before, but we could have both drowned in his tears that night. I was so scared. How could I even begin to pick up all these pieces? I had no idea how to put him back together.

We carried on, somehow, but our daughter knew. I could see it in her eyes. She kept looking for the daddy she had known, but all she found was an empty stare and a frozen hug. And although I tried my best, I couldn’t protect her from every rage that ripped through our house. Sometimes the pain would burst out of my husband so suddenly and so ferociously, that it was all I could do to huddle my daughter away until the storm passed.

“Mommy, what’s happening? Daddy is really scaring me…”

Our son was not yet 1 when I had to accept the reality that my children were not safe alone with their father. I had been torn away from work by a desperate phone call, and rushed home to a find a shattered man, only barely holding on.

Do our children remember that day? Do they remember the raw anguish coursing wildly out of their father, who scarcely had enough strength left to direct it away from us? Do they remember all my tears? The tears that flowed for days?

I do.

Again, we carried on, somehow. We found new ways to manage, and I helped my husband begin to earn back the trust of his children.

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He found help for his PTSD, but more than that, he was ready to accept it.

I was carrying our third child when my husband was admitted for treatment at a specialty PTSD hospital unit. The stress I was already dealing with was only compounded as I imagined how my constant anxiety was damaging my unborn son. The PTSD was hurting him before he even had a name.

Thankfully, he was born on a good day. My husband and I cherished our time that day with our precious new baby. But the bad days returned all too swiftly. My newborn slept blissfully through the intrusions and flashbacks his father battled in our company before I had even left the maternity ward. Only in some ways was it a relief to come home.

What do our children remember?

We have come a long way in the years since, but PTSD is still very much with us. It’ll be with us always. And our children sadly bear witness to some of its worst moments. They don’t know a life without PTSD overshadowing it.

Just as with my husband’s, I cannot erase their memories. They will remember, but they do not have to be bound by these moments.

I will not let this shadow define them.

Follow this journey on Married to PTSD.

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