Explaining My Husband's PTSD to My Daughter


“Mommy, why is Daddy so angry?”

I feel my throat tighten as familiar tears prick at the corner of my eyes. My daughter sobs into her pillow. She doesn’t see me trying to empty my face of the distress that rattles me. The turbulence of my husband’s anger still hangs in the air, even though he left the bedroom and the house a while ago.

“He really frightened me, Mommy.”

My children do not deserve this. I don’t either, but this is their father, the only one they’ll ever have. This is my husband, who I vowed to love and support. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is part of our lives now, and we live with it as best we can. No more playing it down. I need to be honest in admitting these rages affect us all. No more making excuses for him. It’s true that he didn’t ask for PTSD, but he is in control of his own recovery.

I stroke my daughter’s soft hair, soothing the anxiety that lingers in us both, searching for the words that might make sense to a 7-year-old.

“Darling, I have a story to tell you about Daddy, but it’s not a happy one.”

She rolls over to look at me, her eyes and face still damp from her tears. I feel she already knows a lot of what I’m about to tell her.

“Daddy has been a paramedic for a lot of years, many more than you’ve been alive. Over that time, he has helped a lot of people. Most of the people he helped were very sick or very badly hurt. Some of them even died.”

Her eyes widen at the word. For a 7-year-old, death is becoming a very real concept, something tangible, something to fear.

“Even though your dad is an amazing paramedic, not everyone can be saved. Some of the people were old, but some of them were little children or babies.”

She doesn’t speak, but fresh tears begin to well. I move in closer to keep stroking her hair and carry on with my story.

“The sadness and hurt from all the people Daddy helps stays with him in his mind and that’s why he no longer works on the ambulance. He simply cannot bear any more sadness and hurt. When this happens to someone, the doctors call it PTSD.”

I notice a flicker of understanding. She recognizes the term. She’s no doubt overheard it in passing conversations.

“PTSD can affect anyone, but it can be more likely with people who work in ambulances, the police, firefighters or soldiers who go to war, who all see a lot of sad and scary things.”

I pause a moment, mindful of the emotion beginning to engulf my voice.

“The sadness and hurt in Daddy’s mind sometimes gets overwhelming, and it rushes out as a loud angry shouting voice, lots of stomping and banging, and a very scary face.”

Her little voice tentatively cuts in. “Is that why Daddy had to go to angry school?”

“Yes, that’s right. You remember? Angry school is what we called the place that daddy went to to learn about why PTSD makes him feel so sad and angry. There were other people there too, with PTSD like Daddy, having a break. The doctors taught them ways to get their bad feelings out safely. They also worked out which medicines might help with Daddy’s PTSD.”

She absorbs every word I say, her little brain processing this very grown up topic. I feel a sudden flood of dread in the pit of my stomach. What the hell am I doing? Isn’t she too young for this? Isn’t it all too much? But I’ve already come this far, and honestly this is as much about her life now as it is ours. My daughter deserves the truth and she deserves to hear how it ends.

She waits for me to continue. “So when daddy’s PTSD is triggered, it often comes out as a lot of anger. But sometimes it comes out as crying. Sometimes it comes out as nightmares when he’s sleeping, which make him upset the next day. PTSD makes Daddy very tired. You already know about how he needs time on his own when he’s feeling stressed.”

I look down at her and see her give a small nod. Her tears have dried now. She snuggles a little further into her bed.

“But although PTSD will be with him forever, because no one can block out bad memories, there are three things you must always remember. PTSD is something that has happened to Daddy, nothing you did to make it happen and nothing you do will ever make it worse. PTSD might make Daddy scary and loud at times, but his rage is never your fault.”

I turn my gaze to meet hers in the now darkening bedroom.

“And PTSD will never ever stop Daddy from loving you to the stars and back. We are the reason Daddy tries his best to overcome all that PTSD brings.”

She throws her arms tightly around my neck, thankfully not seeing the tears spill down my cheeks. I could easily hug her forever.


Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.


Related to Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Two women with their arms around each other, looking at a sunny landscape

5 Things You Can Do to Support Someone With PTSD

Having a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) sometimes makes you feel like an alien; sometimes it makes you feel alienated. Not everyone with PTSD got their diagnosis because of the same type of trauma, or even the same reaction to their trauma. So, knowing how to respond to and support someone you know with PTSD can [...]
Up close shot of woman with red hair lying on the grass

5 Things That Make Me Feel Safe During an Anxiety Attack

I don’t usually disclose this, but for the last 10 years or so, I have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression. It’s difficult for people to understand what it’s like when depression finds you and takes a hold of you. People who have never felt what it’s like to be frozen and [...]
Spinning ferris wheel on a sunny day

To Those Who Feel Broken From Childhood Trauma

This is for you. This is for me. This is addressing the horror, the invisible illness: childhood trauma. You might feel broken right now. No matter how long ago the trauma happened, resurfaced or how many years you have been on this dizzy, circular ride of healing, you still carry a part of you etched [...]
PTSD word with an old dirty keyboard.

A Letter to Myself After My PTSD Recovery Program

We were asked to write a letter to ourselves as part of a post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) recovery program. It was mailed to us by the team three months later. Dear Christina, This letter is to acknowledge all the hard work it has taken to bring you to this moment in your life. I know how much [...]