Yesterday, I had to ask my son for help. I was getting ready to go to a radio/video interview and became extremely overwhelmed. Not just public speaking jitters, but that terrible, debilitating overwhelmed that comes with having PTSD. He responded perfectly. His text said, “yep, I’ll be there at 4:20 to pick you up and be your therapy dog.” (you have to have a sense of humor when dealing with a mental health issue…or at least I do!) When we got to the studio, and I was about to go inside, the host came out and introduced herself to my son. He told her his name and said, I’m mom’s therapy dog today. The host loved it, laughed and asked him to come inside and hang out by the cameras and producers. It was so calming to have him right there with a big thumbs up, and at the same time, it was hard to ask for help from my son.
My symptoms have definitely affected my family the last eight years. I went from the grounded beacon of the family to initially becoming totally dependent on them. After I learned some coping and distress tolerance skills, I was again able to maintain a “mom role.” My children are in their twenty’s now and even though my kids have taken on different roles in helping me manage my illness, they still expect me to be mom when they need me. It’s become an awkward/brilliant line that we’ve all learned to walk.
Sometimes it’s difficult to know that my daughter is not only my daughter but one of my caregivers. She is the one who can tell immediately if I am having a “bad day.” Among many other things, she knows how to help with a menu in a restaurant so I don’t get overwhelmed by choices. She can tell if I am in over my head and overwhelmed and can tell if I’m triggered.
My son, who had the biggest problem adjusting because mom wasn’t the mom he expected anymore, has grown into taking the responsibility of managing anything that is concrete and sequential. He’s a teacher by profession and he feels best when he can problem solve an issue for me. He helps me with the things that can be extremely overwhelming, like making a power point for a presentation, or having to make calls that require going through multiple layers of people before getting the right one on the phone.
My husband has been wonderful and supportive and picked up the slack when I couldn’t. He works hard, comes home from long physical days at work and still is attentive to his wife who has a chronic illness. He appreciates the help the kids provide as he has a lot on his plate. But our dynamic has changed too. He sleeps in another room during the week because of my screaming nightmares that wake him up. He has to get up at 4:30 am for work, so it’s imperative that he gets his sleep. We have been married for 33 years, so we adjusted and maintain the attitude that this is a temporary arrangement in response to my illness.
It’s all okay, and sometimes it feels not okay. My family dynamic has changed, and that happens in life. All things change. When you are the reason for the change it’s a slippery slope from feeling like a burden to feeling like this is what happens in life and we adjust. Like any disease, PTSD doesn’t just affect one person, it affects all those in your life who care about and love you.
My son calls our life the New Normal. He said, “at first, it was awful, terrible and scary. Now we know what to expect and we adjust. We all know how to work around and with your symptoms. It’s okay, it’s our life and we are lucky.” As I continue to heal, and our family grows and changes our “normal” will become different all the time. I continue to stay hopeful and I’m extremely grateful that we found a way to stay together as a family, knowing that things will never be the same. The lesson of the impermanence of life.
image: Alexis Rose
Thank you for reading my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph