I awake to the sound of my 4-year-old asking for breakfast. For him, every day is exciting. It’s whipped cream on pancakes, bike rides, and hugs. He smiles and chatters away as I make my way downstairs. I try to shake off the nightmares that kept me up all night, but my body feels tired and sluggish. My stomach is in knots.
“Will you read to me, Mommy?”
How can I say no? I sit down with a cup of coffee as he piles his favorite books onto my lap. He snuggles in next to me, and I put my arm around him. I kiss his head and give him the biggest smile I can muster.
Right now, I am Mom.
Under the surface, my mind is fuzzy, filled with memories that continue to haunt me. My body doesn’t understand that this is a sweet moment. There is no danger here. Bad memories play in my head like a video stuck on repeat, a never-ending loop. My brain is stuck in the past.
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Every day, it feels like I am drowning, desperately swimming for the surface, except I have no idea which way is up. I flail around, searching for something to hold on to, desperate for anything that will show me the way out. My body is screaming for oxygen, but the surface of the water slips further and further away with every movement. I’m drowning in my own fear and anxiety.
I have PTSD.
I close my eyes and breathe. I read every Clifford book we own. Twice. My son smiles and giggles at the big dog’s antics, and I’m reminded why I’m trying so hard to get better. I push back against the memories trying to distract me and remind myself . . . At this moment, I am safe.
As my son runs off to play, I slip away to take a quick shower. For the first time that day, I am alone. The sadness, fear, and anger I’ve been holding in overwhelm me, and I finally allow the tears to fall. I turn the music up just a little bit louder to cover the sound of my sobbing. I don’t have long. Laundry needs folded. Dishes need washed. Bills need paid. I have a minute, maybe two, before one of the kids comes looking for me.
There’s a knock on the door. I let the warm water wash away my tears. I take a deep breath and step out of the shower.
My daughters are waiting for me. They need help with their math. I sit, patiently explaining how to multiply fractions. I make sure their chores are done, and I chip away at my own endless list of chores. The job is never done, and the house seems to get messier with each passing day. I long for the energy to get it all caught up.
I’m relieved when the afternoon comes. I have therapy and am hopeful it will help.
I sit on my therapist’s couch, holding the vibrating pads for EMDR therapy. I cry and shake as I allow the memories to play in my mind. We talk through my experience each step of the way, and I can feel my body starting to calm down. The memories start to feel more distant, like actual memories, instead of something I’m living right now.
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I end the session feeling encouraged and hopeful that I can get through this. It won’t always feel this way. I am getting help.
I head home, emotionally exhausted and in desperate need of a nap, but it’s dinner time and the kids are getting hungry. I reluctantly start pulling ingredients out of the fridge. My 4-year-old pulls his step stool up to the counter. He wants to help stir. My 8-year-old offers to peel the garlic, and my 11-year-old sits nearby happily snuggling with our dog. My husband walks through the door after a busy day at work, gives me a hug, and jumps in to help with dinner.
As I look around at my kitchen, full of the people I love, I realize I have a lot to be thankful for. PTSD is painful and isolating. Parenting through it adds yet another challenge, but it will always be worth it because my family means everything to me.
Healing is my way back to them. My way back to the life I desire. I won’t stop until I get there.