PTSD: What It Is, How It Relates to You, and What You Can Do about It
PTSD = Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
The National Institute of Mental Health defines PTSD as follows:
“PTSD is a disorder that develops in some people who have experienced a shocking, scary, or dangerous event.
It is natural to feel afraid during and after a traumatic situation. Fear triggers many split-second changes in the body to help defend against danger or to avoid it. This “fight-or-flight” response is a typical reaction meant to protect a person from harm. Nearly everyone will experience a range of reactions after trauma, yet most people recover from initial symptoms naturally. Those who continue to experience problems may be diagnosed with PTSD. People who have PTSD may feel stressed or frightened even when they are not in danger.”
You can find that site and further information here.
Why talk about PTSD now?
There are many reasons to talk about healing from traumatic experiences, but right now our world is filled with heinous crimes, unjust sentences, and natural accidental deaths. I am hurting so badly because of these happenings in our world. I have a strong sense and need for time to go inward, to feel safe again, and to heal.
I only heard of these stories, I didn’t experience any of them, and yet they have effect. They impact anyone and everyone from my perspective. And so, we will talk about PTSD today. It needs talked about and I’m going to discuss it in the context of parenting a child on the autism spectrum. I’ve talked about it before, and here we are again.
I scoured through many articles and definitions of PTSD, and the following are the most common events and triggers listed that cause PTSD:
Car or plane crashes
Sudden death of a loved one
Sexual or physical abuse
Those are all incredibly horrible situations and I want to honor that they would absolutely cause PTSD that would need intense healing, understanding, acceptance, time, safety, etc.
I want to go one step further though and really honor that each of us probably has experienced an event that has led us to struggle. Something happened to us somewhere along the way that has caused us to be scared or fearful, even when it’s not obvious why we suddenly feel “on guard.”
I’m adding one to the list for the whole world to see.
I want to add an additional cause of PTSD and I want it on record. Yes, one-time events can absolutely cause PTSD, but what I’m seeing more and more in my own life is that cumulative traumatic incidents lead to cases of PTSD that affect our daily lives.
I’m adding here and now that “You are at a higher risk of suffering from PTSD if you have a child on the autism spectrum.”
It’s stories like this one from my own life that make you start feeling crazy in the first place. In short, there was a cup of milk, a half inch of table space, and then lots of screaming. Like, a really impressive amount of screaming. It was traumatic from the pitch that was being shrieked all the way to the amount of time that the screaming took place.
I went to a DOCTOR for help after this incident (who knew they don’t know everything in the whole world?), but I did not get the help I needed in that moment. Maybe I did, but I sure feel like I lost several years from the truth of my life when the doctor shared with me that OCD kids only have hand washing difficulties. It’s not about milk cups moving, doc said. Um, OK.
When I first reached out for help as I did in that story, I did not get affirmation nor did I get validation for the experience I was having. I got more years of crazy is what I got.
Maybe it wasn’t a totally traumatic incident, but really . . . it WAS! We were having dinner and then all of a sudden my child was screaming like the house was burning down because a glass of milk got moved. And this was not a one-time incident. This type of scenario played out over and over again.
How does a parent handle this without some backlash or difficulty? We don’t. It has affect and we have to deal with it.
Insert crazy making here
That common type of incident experience over and over (and over) again is what I believe we have to heal from. I feel that is one of the causes of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for parents of autistic children.
Our children often scream like they are in a war zone and there is essentially nothing we can do for them. Not only is there nothing we can do to help calm them and help them be quiet so we can actually think, but moving a cup of milk is not a thing that should create such screaming. /Insert crazy making here/
I’m shaking my head because I know there’s nothing I could do, yet I had so much to deal with. We were fine one minute and then we were on 10-bell alert the next. Moment after moment, day after day. That is what my life looked like and felt like for over a decade.
From there, eating dinner didn’t feel safe for awhile. Cups of milk were feared because those things were freaking DANGEROUS.
And as I think about it, I don’t think I’m fully over that moment in time . . . but what I have found for myself is that there are ways to look back. There are ways to heal specific moments that need healed. There are actions and tools to open up those moments, look at them, acknowledge them, learn from them, love them, and eventually, fully heal from them.
What I yell from the roof tops!
I need this to be heard loud and clear: I believe that our children are doing their very best in each moment. I believe they are trying to get their needs met and some kids have different ways of doing that. All children are perfect right where they are.
These children who struggle with OCD, PDD, ASD, etc., are there screaming, hitting, throwing, threatening, whatever they are doing . . . as the best that they are capable of in those moments. They are feeling too much, scared, unable to communicate effectively . . . I want to approach them with love, patience, guidance, intelligence, understanding, and anything else that will help them and everyone else that’s involved.
It’s why I take parenting classes on how to do my job better as a parent so I can help my child handle life better and create a more stable and loving environment for my entire family.
Adults can be a different subject altogether, but for children I believe we are there to love, help, teach, stand by, and give all that we can so they learn how to do it easier, kinder, and calmer the next time those feelings arise.
Ok, so how do we do this Mica?
There’s no short or easy way to “heal from PTSD” in my experience (and boy oh boy, do I come with a jack ton of experience with this).
Step One to Healing from PTSD:
Accept that you probably do struggle with some form of PTSD. I’m a writer and so I write in my journal. I’m also a reader, so I read books that are about the subjects I want to explore–like PTSD, for example.
Step Two to Healing from PTSD (and life in general):
Accept that it’s OK to have things happen to you that might need to be healed. Accept that you are perfect and even more awesome with the difficult parts of you. Accept that PTSD is part of our human condition. It just is.
Step Three To Healing from PTSD:
Find a therapist that you trust. Go to them for an extended time on a regular basis. Take breaks when you need to, but come back time and again. I did some of my very best work with IFS therapy, but anywhere you can afford for an extended time will work very well.
My thoughts on this, too, are that my kids were in speech therapy, occupational therapy, meds therapy, psyche therapy, and I was simply the driver. Where was my help? I was worth getting help, even though I did my first bit of work with the interns that were cheaper than the regular therapists. I found help when I needed it and made it through some dark, dark times because I had help.
Step Four to Healing from PTSD:
Find even space. What do I mean by that? I mean, and I know this is a big “if you can,” find even space. Find routine. Have a schedule that you can count on week after week. Clean your house and make it beautiful (organize outside so you can feel organized inside). Walk each day at the same time. Have the same coffee each morning. Do things you like to do on a regular basis.
I’m trying to say find consistency in life while you’re doing your major healing.
Step Five to Healing from PTSD:
Find your tribe if possible. They’re out there and there’s a person for you who will care about you, listen to you, serve you a warm drink, and accept you as you are. Try to find that person and hang out with them and remember to give back to them in some wonderful way.
Step Six to Healing from PTSD:
As I briefly mentioned in Step Four, walk each day at the same time. Or really, just walk each day! Better yet, if you can get on a regular workout schedule. This is not a heal-all method, but it is a heal-most method that I fully believe in and stand by for optimal mental health.
Step Seven to Healing from PTSD:
Go back to Step Two as much as possible. Remember that you are OK and if you are on this journey, you’re not having the easiest of times in life. I’m not sure any of us are really, but we have a bit more on our plates when we live with a different brain.
So much love and healing for ourselves first and thus our world,
I found a lot of value in this article from HelpGuide.org, but please know there are hundreds of organizations, businesses, and therapists that want to help you, and our world, with the PTSD we are all struggling with.
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