When Life - Living with PTSD - A Heroes Journey
As a wife and mom of 3, it’s difficult to have PTSD and all these medical issues.
I apologize ahead of time for the rambling or scattered thoughts as I am not a writer by any means.
I am going to start by explaining how PTSD has impacted my life as a wife, mother and my friendships.
I have a service dog and she does Medical Alert, PTSD and mobility. I have severe PTSD and that impacts my entire life, every single day. I am not able to go into details about how I got PTSD or my health issues except it was combat related and due to explaining that alone will trigger me to be in a bad place mentally and emotionally.
It impacts every relationship I have because some understand, and others don't but even if they do understand it can be difficult due to the symptoms that follow with PTSD. These symptoms are nightmares/flashbacks which include intrusive thoughts that are involuntary, sadness, fear or anger, detached/estranged, avoidance of situations or people that possibly trigger (remind me of the event), very strong negative reaction to loud noise or unexpected touch or noise, trouble concentrating and sleeping, impatient, memory issues, irritability, survivor guilt, hypersensitivity, and hyper-vigilance to name a few.
As a mom this makes it harder to be patient, shield them from my triggers, unless my husband and I can catch it quick enough to shield them from it. It also means I unfortunately miss out on things that most mothers would be experiencing with their kids; to name a few examples, amusement parks are too busy for me and have too much going on, a simple trip to the grocery store is a huge ordeal for me and a big deal to go to the store. Parks are difficult and honestly any public place that normally would be something that would be super fun to take the kids to is difficult for me. Now I definitely do my best, but I generally can’t go unless my husband is with me or unless a really close friend who knows me well enough to know exactly what will trigger me or understands my signs. I am extremely guarded but over this last year I have taken steps to start trying to be more public regarding my struggle. To an extent to hopefully help another person in some way even if it is a virtually small amount or one person is better than none at all. I have been fortunate enough to have a husband who completely understands my PTSD and knows how to deal with me and it; so, while it does make it easier it’s still no cake walk.
My husband has to screen TV shows, social media, and movies, to list a few, in order to avoid a trigger. Something like a 2 second commercial or 2 second part of a movie or TV show can trigger a HUGE reaction from me that can last days or longer. For example, the most recent movie "Maze Runner - Death Cure,” instead of allowing my husband to screen it prior we just decided to watch it together one night after the kids went to bed. Well… there was A LOT of explosions and so I was triggered by that and certain phrases that triggered me. Those triggers lasted about a week and my night terrors were extreme. I would wake my husband up screaming, kicking, sweating, crying, and fighting in my sleep. The other side of that is after being triggered like that I become hyper sensitive and then it’s easier to trigger me again in those times. It’s this loop that I can get stuck in and that includes extreme sleep deprivation because then I either can’t sleep or don't want to in order to avoid night terrors. The crazy part is, is that this is only a fraction of things that make life difficult with PTSD. It is a literal battle and struggle every second of every minute of every hour of everyday… LITERALLY… no exaggeration.
It is incredibly difficult for my husband. He shoulders the heaviness it is for someone to be married to someone with PTSD because in those times the normal daily things are a struggle for me to complete. I cannot express how appreciative and thankful I am for my husband who doesn't make me feel like a burden and he gladly helps me and is nothing short of amazing to me as my husband and a father.
I would be lying if I didn't say we had our hard times. When he has had a tough day at work and comes home to me struggling, not only with my PTSD, but my medical issues too. I take care of the kids; getting them to and from school and I stay at home with our now 15-month-old son who is our youngest. If it’s been a struggle with the kids too then he comes home to a war zone literally. We have a method that we use to rate our days: he rates his day with 1 being the worst and 10 being the best and I rate my day on the same scale. This is so we can be more aware and know what we are about to have to face with each other and as a team with our kids. This just only adds to our ability to communicate and not clash.
As a mother, unfortunately, my kids have seen me at my worst, but they understand PTSD. Of course in a perfect world I would love for them to not have to, however they do and we have decided instead of keeping them in the dark we are honest with them and explain to them about PTSD… why I have it and what it does to me and sometimes if I am struggling and having a bad day with it, I am honest with them and I just tell them it’s a tough day.
My kids, well at least the older 2, are very understanding and they are so thoughtful and caring. My husband has taught and continues to teach our boys how to love unconditionally, even when experiencing tough times, to do it genuinely and respectfully. They don't like to see me struggle and while I am honest with them I still try to shield them from it because I don't want them to worry but they always can tell. My patience isn't the best and it takes a lot on my part to keep my patience and constant self-talk to maintain the ability that I need to be patient. It has sucked to miss out on certain things with them, but I would rather them experience it with their dad than miss out because of me or knowingly trigger myself in front of them that could scare them if it is bad enough.
My kids and my husband gave me a reason to not commit suicide when early on in my journey with this. I almost committed suicide and they were my reason not to. Anytime I struggle, I think about my husband and my kids and wanting to show my kids no matter what you're dealing with or go through there is always a reason to continue to get back up…to smile… no matter how hard it is to keep going and pushing forward.
I have tried therapy for my PTSD in the past, but it wasn't the right time, so it didn't work. As a person who suffers from PTSD, you must be ready to deal with it and want to address it to be open and vulnerable to the process completely. If not, it will not work. I am in treatment for my PTSD now psychologically outside of just medication treatments because medicine treatment isn't enough. It requires both at the same time for it to be successful to the full extent possible. You must be ready and open minded to understand it will get worse before it gets better.
Think of it like this; you are pulling the scab off an old deep wound and then pouring salt and lemon juice in it, but then you will sew that wound up and then it will heal. However, something to understand is that you will never be trigger free per se; you will be able to have not as strong or intense reactions and things of that nature, but this is different per person, personality, and many more variables. So please understand this is what it is like for me. I have tried therapy in the past that I wasn't ready for and I pushed myself way too far too soon. That exacerbated my PTSD, but now after many years I am finally ready as I ever will be to face it and confront it head on and just be open to any improvement is better than staying stagnant. That is what I am hoping to gain from my current therapy.
Now to move forward to my health which does make my PTSD worse. Because of the nature in which I developed these health issues it impacts my kids, my marriage and my everyday life. All I can say is hang in there with me because this is going to get much more involved health wise.
My stomach doesn't function because it is paralyzed. I have what is called gastroparesis. I am not diabetic and it’s not just strictly idiopathic either due to the fact it was caused by trauma which made it to where I do not absorb food and I cannot eat like a normal person can. In fact, it might not even get broken down and emptied from my stomach at all. Initially I was dying from this, along with many other health problems we will address further down after this, but due to the severity and how grave the situation was, I was approved to get a gastric stimulator. At the time this was not fully FDA approved due to still being in research and so they only were allowed to use it for humanitarian purposes. Basically, saying it was my last chance to survive. They placed the gastric stimulator and I managed my health for a short amount of time with that and medicines until they had to continue to increase the settings of the stimulator and we realized I was still struggling to sustain my weight.
Now to explain the gastric stimulator… it is a pacemaker for the nerve in the stomach to shock it to stimulate function. As my weight was decreasing and my other health issues started getting worse again (I will go into details about those soon… I promise LOL) my Gastroenterologist suggested that we do a J-tube in my abdomen along with a pyloroplasty. A J-tube is a tube that is inserted directly into my intestines to bypass my stomach and allow liquid nutrition to be directly absorbed. It is a lot easier than solid foods. During the first J-tube placement they did the pyloroplasty which means they severed my intestines from my stomach at the pyloric valve to widen the opening and then sewed it back together. Now all this helped, but we got overly excited and I thought that I finally got caught up weight and nutrition wise. We thought that there was no reason to keep the J-tube there any longer (it had been a little over a year) because it was believed at the time to be temporary. Boy we couldn't have been anymore wrong! Over the time frame I went through a total of 8 J-tubes for various reasons; from my body started rejecting them to due to my pregnancy with our youngest son (which is whole complete story on its own). It didn't stretch as easily but it helped him get the best nutrition being born 11 weeks early, which I don't mind coming back and telling that story separately later if anyone is interested because it's a HUGE story in and of itself.
Along with digestion and absorption issues, I have heart issues called Dysautonomia, an arrhythmia, and SVT. These make it extremely difficult blood pressure wise and heart rate wise and makes me feel like I have been running for a while even if I have been laying down resting. I am in a wheelchair due to my left leg having RSD with CRPS which is extremely excruciating. It’s called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy with Chronic Reflex Pain Syndrome. I don't just have pain in my left leg, I have pain in my abdomen and back also. I am in A TON of pain to say the LEAST. My left leg is so painful that wind blowing on it will cripple me and make me want to scream in agony.
I have Raynaud’s phenomenon meaning narrowed blood vessels in my extremities which increases the issues with my left leg because of the RSD and CRPS. It is important to keep the leg warm to prevent gangrene (which I developed in my toes) and was so close to having a below the knee amputation. I decided that regardless of prosthetic or my own leg that I would walk again and would make it through! Even though I could have had a stroke due to how bad my blood pressure was secondary to the pain or seizures, it would be so bad I would want to cut it off myself and I was extremely close to telling them (even after the gangrene was healed up) that I was done with the pain and to take the leg now! Then the pain management specialist had an idea that I could do the trial of having a spinal stimulator. I tried the trial for 5 days to see if it would work. I was the 1st one in my area and 2nd one in the state of Tennessee to get the smart 3D spinal stimulator. It can tell what position I'm in whether I am laying on left or right side, sitting, laying on my back etc. This made my RSD w/CRPS a game changer to say the least! I was determined that I would start physical therapy and slowly reintroducing touch to my leg, which was slow, but I was proud that initially it took the edge off.
At the same time, it was time to get my gastric stimulator replaced since the battery was dead. I also had another J-tube rejected by my body which means I required a bowel resection and repair of the intestines, a NG tube, and then replace the J-tube again which they did. I went through that a second time in 4 months which meant that I had 6 surgeries back to back in 4 months that left me extremely struggling because after the J-tube was rejected by my body for the second time they realized they couldn't put anything in my abdomen again. This required me to go to a port-a-cath where I would now get nutrition through that which is called TPN. That means my nutrition goes directly into my blood stream. Currently my sole source of nutrition is my port-a-cath and I get TPN at night 12 hrs and then regular IV fluids during the daytime. Now I only eat small amounts multiple times a day in order to remember how to swallow (yes if you do not do it then your body will forget) and I will also drink water as best as possible in order to be able to keep the stomach acid down. I do this along with eating small amounts of food to absorb that also and take the meds I need to take by mouth. Right now, the TPN is forcing my body to absorb things a little bit but its tough regardless.
I have a home health nurse that comes out and I am unable to leave the house on my own currently, but I am working on getting my independence back. My service dog has helped so much with me both mentally, emotionally, and physically. You might be wondering what is my point with telling this tiny fraction of my life (oh yes there is much much more to my story than just this tiny amount) … well through my struggles it has allowed me to realize that if everything was perfect then I wouldn't know the true meaning of living, love, or blessings.
I truly believe that I do not take life for granted because I have almost died 5 times literally right on the edge of death… 2 times my heart actually stopping. Through these moments where life broke me down and made want to almost give up, I also learned that through these horrible, crappy times that I questioned “Why me,” and “Why God would put me through this,” however, only through those times did I find true strength.
I often tell people that you never know what you are truly capable of until it’s life or death and you are in survival mode. It is either you fight to stay alive for those who you love dearly and for me it was my kids and my husband; or let go and give up. For me, giving up is NEVER an option! I will fight to live until God takes me home.
There is a series of phrases and Bible verses that ring true for me and help me get up and keep on getting up and getting through life and never giving up. ALWAYS! Regardless of whatever is going on or whatever pain it is to keep on doing my best to smile even if I need to cry first or give myself 10 minutes to bitch about it, but after that I force myself, whether I feel like it or not, to smile because there is no giving up. It’s important to keep on keeping on and I tell myself every morning "Today is going to be Awesome!”
These phrases (the non-bible verses I do not know who wrote them, but it wasn't me) are my go to when I need a quick boost. The first one is - "You were given this life because you are strong enough to live it,” and the second one is - "Pain nourishes courage. You can't be brave if you have only had wonderful things happen to you.” The third is - "Your pain has a purpose," Philippians 1:29. Lastly - "Praise be to the Lord my rock who trains my hands for war my fingers for battle," Psalm 144:1!!!!
These help me and some other ones, but these are the main ones that I think they will hit home for so many others.
Submitted by: Amanda Bass
Find Amanda here:
I had the pleasure of meeting Amanda not long ago through social media and was truly amazed by her strength and determination to overcome her PTSD. I reached out and hoped she would share her story with us because I think awareness is incredibly important when it comes to the mental and physical health of those who have served our country. Her story is remarkable and I hope you leave here with a little more compassion than when you arrived. Thank you Amanda for sharing your story and for your service to protect our freedoms.
Leave a comment
Please note, comments must be approved before they are published