10 Things I Wish I Could Have Told My Parents About PTSD

I am estranged from my family. We haven’t spoken in years. After many, many therapy sessions I have learned to accept this and I’ve moved past it. Don’t get me wrong, it still hurts sometimes. Birthdays and holidays are especially challenging. However, I have come to accept, rather grudgingly, that these people I grew up with are not the people I remember and that is OK. Our paths are different now.

I do wish, in hindsight, that I could have given them insight into my world.

From my own experiences, here is a list of things I wish I could have told my parents and sister when I was first diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):

1. Please be patient with me. Sometimes I do not have the words to express what is going on in my head and it might take a bit to find them. Please don’t take my silence as not caring. It is sometimes the caring that causes the blocks because I am very careful with my words. The last thing I want to do is escalate the situation.

2. Listen with your eyes as well as your ears. If you see my hands start shaking, or if I suddenly quit making eye contact, it means my brain is getting frazzled. My words might not make sense to you. I might seem unusually happy about a somber event or sad when things seem to be going really well. This is my “normal.” This is my brain being over stimulated and trying not to spiral into a full blown episode.

3. Please understand that everyone deals with trauma differently. Just because an aunt went through the exact same kind of trauma and is now working in law enforcement doesn’t mean that my way of dealing with things is any less valid. Her way works for her and that is great! She is getting the type of people who hurt her off the streets and saving other people. That is noble and just and I applaud her for that. My way is to write and to talk to people about my experiences so they know they aren’t alone. We are two completely different people dealing with horrible situations in our own way.

4. Please do some research on PTSD. Some of the things you can learn from the medical professionals will give you insight into what may sometimes seem like strange behavior to you. For example, did you know that PTSD causes physical changes in the brain? I didn’t until I did my own research. Did you know it affects the memory center of your brain?

5. Speaking of memory, please do not assume that I am lying about anything. You raised me well. You taught me to be honest and kind. However, my brain is kind of messed up. I have big gaping holes in my memories that my brain is constantly trying to fill in. It does not always succeed in getting the facts 100 percent correct. I might remember being somewhere on a completely different timeline than when I actually was there, or I may not remember being somewhere at all. It really is hit or miss some days. I always tell the truth to the best of my ability at that moment. I live my truth in moments. Sometimes I am lucky and pieces of the jumbled puzzle fall into place for a while.

6. Please do not assume that I am “just being lazy.” Some days having PTSD is my full time job. The fact that I get out of bed at a decent hour, eat breakfast and shower on some days is a major accomplishment. Yes, sometimes I have dirty dishes in the sink. Yes, some days I play video games for hours to distract myself from the wars going on in my head. But I pay my bills, I always have groceries in the house and sometimes I am even social.

7. Please understand that I am not always going to make the best choices. This does not mean I am a bad person. It means I am in survival mode. It means that I would rather live with someone with their own set of issues than live on the streets. It means I sometimes will spend money on what you might consider to be frivolous things. It might mean that I got really drunk one night in an effort to keep my world from totally unraveling. My core set of morals never changes. You instilled those in me and you did a great job. I have had bad days. I own up to them and then I forgive myself and move on. I need you to forgive me too.

8. Talk to me. Please don’t assume that I am being selfish or that I only call when I need something. Sometimes it is enough to hear your voice to get me through the day. Sometimes I will need help. My life is a mess and I know this. I do not ask for any more than I would willingly give if the shoe were on the other foot. Talk to me about your day. Talk to me about normal everyday things. Don’t be afraid to share your joys and your sorrows and worries. It actually helps me to know that “normal” exists and I can get back there someday.

9. I am fragile. I will take every criticism to heart no matter how well intended. I know you mean well. I know you are confused about this person you thought you knew. I know that sometimes you will forget and talk to me as if I can comprehend and react like most of the people you know. Some days this is true. Some days I will overreact to the slightest thing. Practice forgiveness, because believe me, I am my own worst critic and I mentally beat myself up for blow ups I’ve had over little things.

10. Know this one fact will always be true: I love you. I would not exist without you. None of this is your fault. You raised a good person. You should be proud. Even though mentally I am not the same little person you raised and I’ve become someone you barely recognize, I still have memories of when things were different. I still remember playing and laughing. But please remember, none of this is my fault either. I did not ask for any of this. I had big dreams that were taken from me by the unfortunate circumstances that were beyond my control. I have different dreams now. That is OK.

To other parents who may be reading this: I know not every situation is the same. PTSD is an insidious beast that has no rhyme or reason. I hope my insights might help you deal with your child. It’s a rough road. If you are reading this, you are already ahead of the game. Thank you for being supportive of your child!

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Thinkstock photo via Stefana Lapadat

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