Living with PTSD.
I live my life day to day. Aside from the standard stresses that come from parenting and ‘stuff’, I hold onto a glorious contentment. A gratitude and wonder at being Mummy. It was a long time coming and I thank goodness.
And then days like yesterday happen and you come along and remind me that you’re there, always lurking in the shadows. Will you ever leave me?
The last few days saw Bertie and Etta sent home from nursery with temperatures. Bertie has yet another eye infection. This time she couldn’t open her eye.
And then after another drowsy day on the sofa yesterday, I prepared Bertie for bed. As I changed her nappy I saw an angry rash rising over her tummy, arms and knees. I felt the panic rise. I googled meningitis. I got a glass and rolled it over the rash. The rash didn’t disappear and my heart dropped. I called NHS 111. I was told to take Bertie directly to A&E.
The panicked calls ensued to arrange childcare and Daddy was told to shut up shop and come home. I raced Bertie to hospital.
As I drove the all to familiar route to the hospital that already fills me with dread, I spoke words of comfort to reassure an upset Bertie. As I did so a voice screamed in my head that this was it; that it had all been too good to be true and our run of minor illnesses was to be replaced with life threatening illness once more; that she’d already been through too much; that I can’t do it; that I wanted to stop and scream and punch the steering wheel and have everything be ok; that I was frightened of what was going to happen next.
We got to A&E and Bertie did everything the doctors asked her to and phone calls went back and forth about her symptoms. Meningitis was ruled out immediately. Scarlet fever was suggested and finally a viral infection was decided upon with instructions of red flags to watch out for, such as a continued fever. I was asked to collect a urine sample directly into a sterile pot. Once Bertie cottoned onto this, she decided that there was no way she was going to provide said sample. Thereon ensued Mummy’s ridiculous attempts for 4 out of the 6 hours in A&E to catch a wee from a stubborn two year old. Eventually we left on the proviso that we would get the sample at home. We got home at 1.45am.
Once home I wanted to curl up and cry. PTSD triggered by yet another illness and the memories of months of hospitals, fear and sadness.
Through all of this alarm bells were ringing that something may go wrong. That something has been missed. That what if this illness is going to lead to something much worse.
This is the legacy of trauma. Bad things happen. They already did. So you know they can. My outlook changed forever in 2016 and the year that followed.
My girls have survived so much. In a moment like this I felt scared that it may be different.
How much of this is being a Mum, and how much of this is PTSD? I imagine it’s a mixture of both. Who knows, I may be even be better at responding to these situations because of my previous experiences? Though it feels anything but.
PTSD frightens me because I don’t control it, but I can take steps to ensure that it doesn’t control me. Taking care of our mental health is just as important as putting a plaster on a broken leg to fix it. If we didn’t have the right treatment our leg would be wonky and wouldn’t work as well. Why is our mental health any different?
For me taking time out where possible to ‘just be’ without interruption is a massive part of my self care. I’ve learnt I need this else the symptoms of PTSD build up and overwhelm me. As a busy mum it’s impossible to heal from such an upset when the logistics of the average day mean you don’t get time to sit still for a minute.
Fortunately Daddy was off today so our planned lunch date was binned and I went out on my own. I’d have preferred that he was with me, but as parents it doesn’t always work out like that.
I’ve pottered round shops, sat and watched the world go by; written this blog and had time for me to sit still and think. Just to check in and acknowledge my feelings is so valuable to my wellbeing. Today was my ‘Hello PTSD, there you are. Let’s deal with this the best way I can’ kind of day.
in doing so, I’ve felt sad today. I’ve felt scared. I’ve felt vulnerable. I’ve felt like curling up and having a good cry.
I’ve felt fortunate.
Fortunate that I have a supportive husband who is able to do childcare just as well as I can, which means I can come out for some self care. Fortunate that it wasn’t life threatening illness after all (as I write that a nagging voice calls ‘you hope’). Fortunate in so many ways.
I’ve felt grateful.
I’ve looked at other people today such as people living on the streets and felt grateful to be going back to my home and family. Goodness only knows what a person who is homeless has experienced to take them to that point in their lives.
I saw a woman paralysed from the neck down smiling at her partner in the cafe as he gave her a drink.
Sometimes thinking about what other people experience can help put things into perspective. I feel grateful for the problems I don’t have.
I remember feeling this as I stood outside the hospital where Bertie having heart surgery. A family came out in such distress. The father was holding a bag full of a child’s clothes. Their grief was palpable. I will never forget them. How I wanted to reach out and hold them. And how very grateful I felt not to be them.
Unfortunately, no matter what situation, there will always be someone with bigger problems.
Your feelings are valid
It doesn’t mean that because there are people worse off than me that my feelings are invalidated, it just means that I can be grateful for the problems I don’t have. It doesn’t make me less entitled to feel as I do. I just find that sometimes it helps me to balance the load.
Learning to live with PTSD
I’m learning that I live with PTSD and it may never fully leave me. I can’t undo the trauma that sparked it. It happened. Therefore I learn to manage PTSD and not let it manage me.
For me that involves recognising the triggers and symptoms and facing them head on. By that I mean not hiding from them or pretending that everything is ok and ignoring them – I tried that and it doesn’t work. We don’t have to ‘just get on with it’. I’ve found that if I don’t take care of mental health it will soon catch up with me at a time when I’m least expecting it.
I see my feelings, acknowledge them and accept them. I do self care and I talk to those around me that need to know.
I also take time to see where I’ve improved. Previously, I’d avoid going to hospitals at all costs, but in the last few months I’ve been able to take the girls without question despite knowing that even the journey there is a huge trigger for me.
So, yes PTSD may still have a hold on me but I’ve got a whole lot of wriggle room that I didn’t have before and I can live with that.
Love and strength to you.