Thursday, 20 July 2017

Thinking about C-PTSD again... trying to make sense of it...

I thought I'd share something I posted on the Around The Dinner Table Forum (for parents of young people with eating disorders). A while ago I started a thread aimed at parents like me who may be suffering from post-trauma-related symptoms after years of battling with our child's eating disorder. It seems I'm not alone in experiencing typical PTSD symptons (or, rather, C-PTSD - Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Other parents are struggling with this too. So here's what I wrote today (in the hope that it might strike a chord with someone and help in some way):

One thing that's difficult is that (and I'm sure I'm not alone in saying this) 'everyone' (family, friends, colleagues, etc) assume that because your child is recovered then everything is now OK with you and the family. That you, as the parent, are able to pick up where you left off all those years ago and 'get your life back'.

Before the C-PTSD struck, I thought that too. My son was doing splendidly (albeit with a few blips mainly to do with settling into Uni life), I was writing, blogging and doing stuff in the world of eating disorders, I was also getting my freelancing business back on its feet. But three-and-a-half years ago things began to change. It was gradual but it slowly began to dawn on me that I was changing; I wasn't the 'old me'. I was dissociating from stuff, feeling numb, needing to hide from the world, unable to work properly, feeling extreme anxiety, having nightmares... and so on and so forth. There'd been a large gap between my son beginning to really embrace full recovery and me slipping into C-PTSD. I understand such a gap is common following long-term trauma (as opposed to a single traumatic event).

Meanwhile, despite us parents starting to struggle with PTSD-like symptoms, everyone still continues to assume that everything is OK. And it's so easy to feel that we're 'weak' for feeling this way (and to automatically assume that others will label you as weak); that somehow we 'shouldn't' feel like this and should be able to fix it. (The 'get a grip, woman!' attitude.)

But it's because we've been strong for so very long that we have ended up like this. But of course my 'inner critic' then responds with: "Well, if you're such a strong person, Matty, then how come you can't fix this? You're WEAK! Mwa ha ha!" (Go take a running jump, inner critic!!)

It is because we are strong - and never give up - that we are reaching out for help here as well as possibly seeking professional help. Just as it wasn't possible for our children to recover without help, it isn't possible for us to 'fix' this thing without help either. I often liken it to when I broke my elbow and slipped a disc (cycling, in 2015!!)... it wasn't my fault that this happened but now that it had there was nothing I could do except wait for it all to heal, with some professional help (e.g. doctors, pain killers, physios, etc). I couldn't fix it just by wanting it to get better quickly or feeling that it should heal faster. My brain was / is no different! After all, the brain is a physical part of the body and what has happened to it, as a result of trauma, is actually a physical process (if you read the experts' books which describe 'short circuiting' of various bits of the brain). But like my elbow and back, it will heal with a mixture of professional- and self-help. In good time. The brain is 'plastic' and, in the same way we became ill with this thing, we can recover and get our 'real life' back. But it may take time, and that's OK.

The two emotions (if I can call them that) that I had the most difficultly fixing were: numbness and anxiety. Two emotions that appear to totally conflict with each other when you think about it, but which are typical of C-PTSD. I was numb for a couple of years. Thankfully I've thawed out and am feeling again. Some of the anxiety is still there, but I always was an anxious person, so that may be just part of my DNA. I no longer feel the need to 'blot out' the anxiety through excessive cycling, knitting, etc! This year, for the first time since 2014, I truly feel as if I'm cycling etc for normal reasons. It is a completely different feeling, I am pleased to say. (And thank God I'm not knitting as much because I am running out of room to store all those knitted sweaters!!!!!)

I am rambling again, I know... Just trying to (a) make sense of it all and (b) throw in my 'two-penneth' if what I say here helps anyone!!!!

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