Bam Bam Bam.
“Oh My God – He’s trying to coming in”! Those were the words that rang in the air on the cold winter night as my oldest son screamed in terror.
My husband had been working the night shift and the other kids had long gone to bed. N was busy on the computer and I had just said goodnight and was heading off to bed. I don’t think I ever moved so fast in my life. The whole thing is really still a blur. I shouted to N to grab the baby and get upstairs with the other kids.
He was about 6 feet tall, bald and pretty hefty. What was particularly odd was his attire. It was freezing and the snow was at least a foot high and he was barefoot, shirtless and wearing pants that were shredded from the knee down. Keep in mind this was the season of the bath salt zombie killings. So there’s that.
Fast forward thru the 911 call, frantic pacing and a few mashed up attempts at the Hail of Mary prayers; the cops came and took him away. Apparently he was unarmed and had been high on something. He saw our light and was looking for somewhere to get warm. We have not heard from him again nor have we since experienced anything like it.
That was 2 years ago. That was 2 months ago. That was 2 weeks ago. That was last night.
Welcome to the world of PTSD and the nightmare that plays over and over and over again. It is my poison and it is my gift. I will explain why.
It is my poison as it effects my every day. My PTSD triggers result in anxiety attacks. I become paralyzed. My legs don’t move and my heart beats so hard it feels as though it is going to rip thru my chest. My eyes tend to burn and my face gets tight. I think that I am dying. It can strike without warning and I never know what is going to set me off. Last night it was a thumping sound coming from my dishwasher. I knew what the sound was but I couldn’t even get out of bed to go verify. I was frozen. It affects my sleep, my eating habits and my mood.
It is my gift. I have come to realize that I am a very empathetic person by nature. Now having PTSD combined with secondary trauma that is often experienced by caregivers (a whole other conversation), I find that I can relate to my trauma survivors on a whole other level. I can see unexplained fear in their eyes combined with panic and slowly walk them out of it. I have learned the grounding technique and I can guide my own kids through it. It doesn’t stop all anxiety attacks but it makes and good dent. Lucky for me, wine can usually pick up the slack.
The Grounding Technique
Foster children have a greater chance of facing PTSD than veterans. Let that sink in for a minute. That is a lot of kids walking around in schools, parks, churches and ball fields that are caught in a nightmare that is looping over and over again in their heads. They are waiting for the next trigger to set them off.
There was a study done regarding children in foster care. 60% of those sexually abused were later diagnosed with PTSD and 42% of those physically abused were later diagnosed with PTSD (Dubner and Motta 1999). The same study soon found that 18% of foster children who experienced neither physical nor sexual abuse had PTSD. This may be from exposure to domestic violence, community violence, or other events (Marsenich, 2002). This would be similar to Secondary Trauma.
What does any of this have to do with anything? Well, let me explain. Once you understand PTSD and realize how many kids are affected, you begin to see things differently. Crazy behaviors that annoy you now seem to have their place. With awareness and acceptance comes calmness and ability. The ability to help another heal is amazing.
PTSD Poison: The week before Halloween, our neighborhood has a fun tradition. The kids “Boo” each other. They sneak around the block, placing treats and goody bags on porches and ringing the bell or knocking and running. It is simple good natured fun. Normal Julie Reaction: Hahahaha! How cool! Our turn! Crazy PTSD Julie Reaction: Oh My God! Everyone upstairs! Hide! ~~~then me calling neighbors to check the house and getting upset and lashing out at my friends. This then resulting in a “what is her problem” reaction. (Warranted, I must admit).
PTSD Gift: Teacher speaks harshly (warranted) towards one of my kids. She ducks her head like a brink was flying thru the air (or like maybe she was going to get the shit beat out of her, just saying). Refuses to participate from that minute on and results in a phone call home.
Normal Julie reaction: What the heck is wrong with you? You shouldn’t have been fooling around in class and you need to buckle down and do as expected of you.
Crazy PTSD Julie Reaction: That sucks. Let me talk to teacher to figure out what happened (just because I get them, doesn’t mean I am stupid – they are still kids with playing angles) and we will get to the bottom of this. What can I do to help you survive this class? Now, I know that we will get thru this. Together.
My final word on this is that there is no use telling anyone that faces PTSD not to worry or it’s all in our head or our imaginations are out of control. You see worrying is for things that haven’t happened. Our terror already happened. It’s not all in our head. It’s in our nervous system. It’s in our hear rate. It’s in our soul. It’s not our imagination. It was our reality. It still remains our reality. Instead, pull out the grounding technique. Guide us thru it. Hold our hand and be there on the other side.
That all being said, life isn’t Tumblr and I believe we all have a choice. We can wallow in our nightmare or we can turn on the light and pull up the big girl panties and have a glass of wine. Obviously, you all know what I pick.