When I say “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder,” you probably think I must be a military veteran trying to process service-related trauma. That’s certainly what I thought when I studied PTSD in graduate school, looking at “shell shock” and other related symptoms. Soldiers felt that their lives were constantly in danger, which caused the issues.
An under-recognized cause of PTSD (in my opinion it is not given the attention it deserves, anyway) is domestic abuse.
My issues with PTSD are a result of domestic abuse.
If you are actually being abused, you might be the last to know it. Your life changes so subtly that you don’t notice until a serious precipitating event knocks you in the head and you realize something is horribly wrong. After I left the marital home, I felt a rush of emotion, like the “veil had been lifted,” and suddenly I could see all of the negative behaviors and treatment for what it was.
The anxiety and depression debilitated me for many months. Raising children is hard enough but I could barely make it through the day. My first therapist said, “I don’t think your symptoms are that bad to qualify for a PTSD diagnosis.” That therapist left Family Services of Dayton, and I got a new therapist who was very intuitive. She did diagnose me with PTSD. I constantly was triggered back to traumatic experiences by doing ordinary things. All of a sudden, getting a text on my phone, using the same knife block at my sister’s house that we have at the marital home, driving by the location where we had our first kiss, and other seemingly random occurrences took me directly back to living in the constant fear that I experienced.
I started working again after having been a stay-at-home parent and had to put my kids in daycare. So many transitions and the grief from all of the constant flux in my life increased the anxiety. I couldn’t sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time. I’d wake up in the night and kiss my children, happy to know that they were safe. Over the year, I started on an anti-depressant, which did help, and continued with therapy weekly. I started to embrace the safety of being with my family and the security of being around safe people at work who genuinely cared and had a basic understanding of abuse.
Each time I went to court, I almost had a panic attack (and did have one at various points). I continually shoved my feelings aside in order to get through the day since the court doesn’t actually care about my experiences. Their thought was, “Why are you upset? You should be able to sit next to him and make a parenting plan. If you don’t, that means you are not a caring parent. Children need both parents in their lives.”
Sometimes it has to be enough to save myself.
I can’t protect my kids from their dad, as our Co-Parenting Coach so lovingly put it. I think any mother has a duty to do her best to protect her children. It has been a journey fighting against the way of life that is the court process, which protects a man’s interests. I got a different, more expensive attorney in the hope that things would turn out differently. Money is the king of the court – whoever has the money has the control. A man has the money, especially when he has taken all of my money, possessions, and everything I built up over ten years.
I started EMDR therapy and so far it has changed the game. It feels like a deep cleaning on my brain. The therapist uses technology to create an environment similar to a REM cycle, where my brain can process traumatic events and I can reprocess them in a safe environment. Suddenly my brain felt clear. The hamster wheel of anxiety had stopped. It started back up with the uncertainty of getting another attorney. It has been so hard to make any decisions lately that this makes sense for me to feel uneasy. Emotional abuse causes you to feel like you are incapable of making decisions.
I know I am lucky to be alive and blessed to have a new chance to make something of myself. I have finally internalized that it’s not my fault that this happened to me. I am still a good person and I was chosen to be abused because I am such a loving, empathetic, great parent and talented human being. Someone with a fragile self-image feels threatened by someone like that. They wish they could suck those qualities out of me. Now I know I will prove he can’t.