The first time I was diagnosed with PTSD I was in my early twenties, over a decade after the very sudden loss of my father just a few days before my 11th birthday. The treatments for this were a blend of anti-anxiety medicines, antidepressants, mild forms of hypnotism, and months (well in reality years) of therapy. The trauma had happened, and could not happen again, my dad was gone, and that was that.
When I had my daughters this reality of mortality stirred through my mind with my PPD, a thought determined by therapists to be triggered by that PTSD I thought I had nipped in the bud just a few years before. “Was there a baby when your dad died?”
“My brother, he was four months.”
And so began an entire realm of PTSD discovery on a case I thought I had left far into the past. This was a more difficult trigger to focus on because no longer was I shocked over losing someone, now I was afraid for my children losing me. This reality was high in the realm of possibilities and kept me up at nights, haunted me in the quiet of my days, and followed me into the most heart touching of moments.
I remember sitting with them, watching their first steps, immediately thinking, ‘at least I lived to see this.’ My thoughts at night would be something like, I wonder how they would remember me, if they would remember me if I were to pass today. The first therapist’s answer was to accept these thoughts and then move on, the next therapist’s answer was to load me up on anti-psychotics.
In August of 2016 my husband was not in the room when I found our one and a half year old daughter choking in the middle of the night. In a frenzy we attempted CPR before we realized that this was not her choking, but her having a seizure. I didn’t know anything about seizures, it was nothing I had ever had to deal with in my life. I was lost, scared, and didn’t understand. The most frightening bit was not so much the seizure itself as the aftermath when my spirited toddler did not come back to us mentally until we were in the hospital over an hour later.
The community was good to us, as I fixated on the what ifs, what if we had not been in a hotel that night, what if we had been at home and I had not heard her seizing in her room. What if she had really choked, what if she had not woken up that next morning. The thoughts forced themselves through despite my attempts to turn them off. I tried accepting them and moving on and that would work for about 15 minutes before the dark chills would return once more.
Within a week though life was back to normal, the what if playbacks had finally been conquered by the ER doctor’s voice, “it’s highly unlikely it will happen again…” I would leave out the second part, “but if it does happen again then it may happen every time at the on set of any fever.”
At the end of October 2016 I was on a flight from Houston to Alabama when Baby K’s eyes fell back in her head and her legs began to jostle just as our plane took off. Again I was alone, but I handled everything in a calm and cool manner. I was amazed at myself to say the least, not one tear shed, not one panicked scream, just pure communication to those around me to help my baby overcome this as safely as possible.
The demons though came later that week, those little monsters that spoke to my daily thoughts, “it took less than a hour for Baby K’s fever to peak, what if that had been the middle of the night? What if it happened while she was somewhere beyond my reach?” With night after night of no sleep, the PTSD grew into a full fledged monster, and we lacked the insurance or the extra cash to seek professional help. My husband was more frustrated and annoyed with my “crazy” than understanding, so I just had to learn to deal.
About a month or two later we were uprooted and homeless. I traveled again alone with the girls to live at my grandmother’s house for what would be a month. Of course there was anxiety boarding the aircraft, every move and jolt baby K made in my lap during take off sent me into an internal state of panic. When we arrived I rolled our giant suitcase and a pop up crib into a bedroom I had spent many of my summers in and managed to fit Baby K’s crib between the two twin beds.
Laying that night in total darkness I heard both my daughters’ breathing in rhythm, and my mind for the first time in months was allowed rest, and I slept. The entire month was a dream, only one moment of panic in an entire 30 days, when I had become accustomed to 30 moments of panic in the matter of an afternoon.
I reflect now over the past year and I hope that someone can gain from my suffering, that someone can find hope in my message that it gets better. The breath will return to your lungs, the comfort will return to your routines, and sleep can happen again. I recognized my triggers and developed my own forms of healing.
- Heat. Heat set me off. The entire summer living in Florida became a series of neurotic freak out after freak out. The heat made Baby K warm to the touch, which then sent sensory memories of holding her hot feverish body in my lap as we boarded the flight.
- Being Somewhere Without a Swift and Easy Exit Strategy. It’s that feeling of being somewhere with the inability to leave. Amusement parks, concerts, movies…each one I attend is a major internal accomplishment
- Being Alone With The Kids. Both incidents I was alone when I discovered her limp and seizing body. As horrible as it may sound, I just want someone else to be the one.
- Being Aways From the Kids. I’m so fortunate to have an amazing patient babysitter who understands my crazy and has no problem texting me temperatures at bedtime if I’m out of town.
- Strobe Lights. My child is not epileptic, there is no research tying febrile seizures to epilepsy, but they are a reminder and trigger all the same in my mind, for whatever reason. (why does every amusement park attraction have to utilize strobe lights?!)
- Anniversary Dates. It seems it should just be an arbitrary number, but while overcoming trauma the numbers are significant.
As fall hit this year my worries had subsided over seizures. The longer without meant the less likely chance for a repeat venture. On the anniversary of the first seizure we coincidentally attended Medieval Times, which was exactly what we had done the night of the first seizure. A cold sweat hit me as they placed the soup in front of me. I kept in silence as my eyes kept venturing over the Baby K who sat in her daddy’s lap. Did she look warm? How could I check without being obvious? Once more I thought I had overcome, but here I was backsliding as if we were back at day one.
My Coping Mechanisms:
- My Mommy PTSD Survival Kit to conquer the heat in the parks is a cooling rag for Baby K’s neck, a water bottle to keep her core temperature down, a thermometer to ease my imagination, and a bottle of Tylenol just in case of an actual bonafide fever.
- My Spouse’s Occasional Support. This wasn’t a guaranteed quantity, in fact I’d say he greatly battled my PTSD/PPD more so than giving in to what he calls “crazy”. But the few times that he has shown support has made me feel less isolated.
- Faith and Prayer. I had a healing prayer conducted for Baby K, something I kept a secret for sometime. When things became touch and go I take a breath and remember I have no control. But God does, and it was relieving to hand that burden over to him.
- Chamomile Tea. I don’t even need to consume the tea, all I need is a great big inhale and the relieving comfort travels through my body.
- Writing. With the loss of my father came the gift of writing, it was how I coped, it was how I overcame. This blog has been my major coping tool for any large stressor in my life.
- Baby Monitor and Cameras. I need to feel connected to my babies at all times, and especially with a move into this oversized home I needed all the tools possible to appease my separation anxiety.
- Hobbies & Puzzles. From puzzle games on my phone, to building elaborate lego creations I have found keeping my mind busy, keeping it potent has made a dramatic difference in diminishing negative thoughts of my imagination.