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How I'm Being the Parent I Want to Be While Struggling With PTSD


For most, there are times when parenting is overwhelming. Sprinkle in a newly diagnosed mental illness and you have a recipe for loneliness, isolation from the other parents, depression, an enhanced fear of screwing up the kids and an exhausting (sometimes bleak) future outlook.

Depending on the age of the children, there is a fluid process of deciding what to share and being careful not to overshare, while learning to cope with your illness. I think it’s important to let the children remain children. They may be old enough to help with caregiving needs, but there is a line between caregiving and placing them in a parenting or therapist role.

As I was coming to terms with my past and began to understand the effects my trauma had on my everyday life, my world turned upside down. I felt terrible all the time, as the pain of the past oozed out in fierce emotional waves that sometimes found me dissociating as the only way to cope.

Trying to maintain a semblance of family and what I thought it should still look like had me feeling depressed and overwhelmed. It was hard to believe that things would get better and have a positive outlook — that healing could happen.

Mental illness does not just affect one person — it can affect the whole family. There is an ever-changing definition of “normal.”  My son called each stage our “new normal.” He said that new scenarios that were initially confusing and scary — Mom can’t work anymore, can’t be alone or hop in the car to run to the grocery store — turned into regular life as the family adjusted.

Going through therapy for trauma and beginning to come to terms with a mental health illness can be a very lonely, confusing and scary existence. However, It does not have to be an alone existence. Find support!

I have had this wonderful opportunity many times from an organization who asked if I would be willing to reach out when they receive email from people wondering if they know anyone with a similar diagnosis who is also a parent and has had success on their healing journey.

Sending an email like that is a wonderful and impressive step. Although we often feel we are hanging on by our last parental thread, it is an amazing show of strength to ask for help. I tip my hat to people who risk asking for help, especially when it comes to parenting. It’s often hard to initially confide for fear of being judged.

I understand how frightening that can be! It was terrifying to let myself trust people enough to help me with parenting those first few years that I was in intense therapy. I knew I couldn’t do it alone. I wanted more than anything to maintain my sense of family and I needed a lot of feedback and support.

The old adage that “it takes a village to raise a child” was, for me, ever-present while I was going through the worst of my symptoms. I learned that I had to learn to trust the process, ride the waves and keep my eye on why I wanted to heal. I understood that in order to be the parent I wanted to be, I had to go traverse the rocky terrain of facing my past and learn to live with the effects of my trauma that manifests as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Parenting is difficult. Parenting with a mental illness (or any illness) brings a whole new level of challenges. But an ever-changing “new normal” is OK. And again, we don’t have to do it all alone. It takes a village to raise a child; it takes a world of acceptance to understand that 1 in 4 people struggle with a mental illness. With a bit of emotional support, parents with a mental illness can raise well-adjusted children. Children that one day will fly from the nest, carrying into the world a strong base of unconditional love and support.

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Thinkstock photo via Melpomenem