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PTSD Is Not Just for Soldiers

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If you are anything like I was 10 years ago, when you hear the term “post-traumatic stress disorder” or “PTSD,” you picture a soldier coming back from war. You picture this soldier with night terrors and rage as he or she deals with the traumatic images and experiences he/she may have encountered on the front line.

• What is PTSD?

I talk with a lot of medical students and new parents about some of my earlier experiences with my daughter, but I don’t talk about them a lot publicly. There are a few things that happened in the first two years of being a mom that took me to a dark place. Once I found my way out of the darkness, I began trying to help others find the light as well. I’ve talked before about grief and the Stages of Adaptation and how these have an impact on parents of children with complex needs. Today I want to talk a little about PTSD.

When I used to tell our story, I could not get through it without completely breaking down. As I would tell people about her birth and the first time I saw her, it would feel like I was reliving the entire thing. I could smell the juice the nurses would bring me to help hydrate while pumping, I could smell the alcohol they used to wipe everything down, I could hear the 10 different alarms all chirping their own melodies, I could see the pain in my husband’s eyes. Everything was vivid and so real. As I told the story time after time, I was taking myself through it all over again. This happened for about the first two years. I would be at the grocery store and hear a sound that would set me off, or maybe a family member would say something that would trigger an episode. I avoided places and people I knew would trigger an event. I had no idea what was wrong with me. I thought I was just sad and didn’t know how to get past it.

One day someone told me I was experiencing PTSD. What? I am not a soldier, I am a mom. I had no idea someone like me could end up with that diagnosis. Trauma is a scary and real thing. My daughter’s intense delivery, and being told day after day that my child would not survive the night, was traumatic. With a diagnosis, I realized I was not alone and that many parents of medically complex children, and many parents of children who start life in the NICU, suffer from PTSD.

If you are reading this and thinking “That’s me, that’s what I am going through,” please know you are not alone and you can get through this. Once I understood why I was not able to get past the early events in my daughter’s life, I was able to address my issues, and I did eventually get to a place where I can tell our story without reliving it. Some people are able to work through this on their own, but therapy may be needed in many cases too. There are many therapists who specialize in helping parents of children with complex medical issues. If you are having a hard time getting through it, there is no shame in asking for help.

Originally published: April 24, 2016
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