Post Traumatic Parenting Disorder

Post Traumatic Parenting DisorderWe moved this summer. New town. New house. New church. New stores. New restaurants.

New therapist.

It’s been a few years since my last therapy experience, and that was mostly to help me regain my equilibrium after a failed attempt to go off of medication. This is, like everything else in my life lately, different.

I should start by telling you I’ve battled depression as long as I can remember being alive. My earliest memory of an out-an-out mental war with myself was from elementary school. It was cyclical and I always bounced out of my funk before it became dire enough to seek help.

And then I got pregnant.

Whooooo boy! How completely unprepared for that could I have been? Hormones out the wazoo mixed with what I thought of as my melancholy periods… Postpartum depression drove me so deep into the grey I no longer remembered color could exist.

All of that is backstory though. Where we are now is yet another unexpected pit I didn’t know I could stumble into. And, once again, it’s triggered by parenting. This time, however, the hormones out the wazoo don’t belong to me.

My oldest is thirteen. He was a difficult baby, but we survived. He had a rough Kindergarten year, but he bounced back. He is clearly very smart, IQ of 127, and I figured he inherited my ADHD (goes nicely with chronic depression). However, by the summer before third grade, it was clear things weren’t quite right.

ADHD? Yes. But also… Asperger’s. That one label explained so much. I looked back to babyhood and everything in me screamed, “YES! That’s it! That’s the answer!” Midway through third grade, something else became obvious. His tics went beyond the scope of Asperger’s. Hello Tourette’s Syndrome.

We homeschooled for three-and-a-half years, while learning the ropes of everything that landed on my child’s genetic plate. I won’t lie and say that was easy. At least half of our days ended in tears, mine and his. But I was determined, and when I am determined, I can do just about anything I want.

When he returned to public school in seventh grade, I breathed a sigh of relief. The end of 2014 brought me peace in many areas of life. My son was doing well, and I was doing well. My marriage was great. My career was starting to take off.

And then, holy hell, there was puberty.

Parenting with mental illness is no walk in the park on a good day. But parenting a child with mental health issues WHILE battling your own mental health issues? I am 100% certain Dante missed a circle.

I’m pretty good at self-care, but childcare became more than I could manage. My son’s episodes (the bland word we use to describe him morphing into a natural disaster) became increasingly frequent and more intense by the day. And his episodes would trigger flight or fight in me, my own self-preservation screaming at me to run for cover.

I have learned, living with Depression, what I can and cannot handle. And we were clearly in the latter category. My husband is about as neurotypical as they come, and he was at a loss for how to handle either one of us. He’d carried me through depressive episodes more times than we can count, but this was not a depressive episode. This was something brand new.

I didn’t breathe well. I shook. My son’s very presence made me short-tempered and, in the end, terrified. No one but me could handle this kid. He’d decided everyone else was the enemy. He didn’t like me much either, but he’d at least let me speak to him when he was whirling like a dervish. The problem was, I didn’t want to speak to him anymore. I couldn’t do it anymore.

When one of my child’s episodes happened at school, I drove him to the ER. That afternoon, I drove him to a behavioral health facility, sat in a drab green room and watched movies with no sound while we waited for admission. I had no phone and no book and no one but my child. He was weak and defeated.

So was I.

During the ten days he spent inpatient, I was exhorted to rest, but what I did was worry. I worried I had failed him. I worried that my own mental health made me unsuited to parent anyone, let alone this kid who needs so much in the way of consistency and stability. I have never been accused of possessing either trait.

More than that, however, I feared.

I sat on my couch and I feared my child coming home.

I had lost all hope.

In a beautiful act of mercy, my in-laws swooped in and took their grandson for the summer. They removed him from the stress of relationships that were strained to the breaking point and gave him the gift of peace. They parented him in my place, and I sit here with tears in my eyes, grateful to them.

And now, my son is home again. He’s starting 8th grade, and I am starting therapy.

He seems 5000 times better, but I am not better. I am tense, anxious, afraid. I did well over the summer, but within days of my child’s return, I felt my body start to fight. My muscles don’t want to relax. My brain doesn’t want to look forward.

My heart is terrified of hope.

I will be starting EMDR therapy. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. I’m new to EMDR, but – best I can tell – it has to do with stimulating both sides of the brain and reprogramming disturbing memories.

Do you know what EMDR therapy is typically used to treat?

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

So this is where I am now. I react to my child like a soldier returning from war. The slightest agitation in his voice resounds in my chest like a fighter jet taking off. His tiniest show of temper shoots off missiles in my brain.

He is my beautiful, smart, creative, boy. He’s turning into a man, and everyone tells me he’s even turning into a good man.

But I’m still crouching in a foxhole, the enemy surrounding my camp.

I’m told it will not be like this forever. I pray that’s true.

12 responses to “Post Traumatic Parenting Disorder

  1. The fact is ALL parents experience periods of PTPD and depression. That is why God gave all of us our family and friends to turn to and lean on when there seems to be no hope. We are all here for you, Heather. Even on the days that seem to be the darkest, God has hand picked the people you can turn to for immediate support. You are surrounded by all of us who love you so much. I have to believe that even God Himself has to share some of our human emotions as He tries to parent us and we resist His guidance. Rest in His love and in the knowledge that you are lifted up in prayer daily. All of your effort and dedication to being a good parent will be blessed by the greatest parent of all, our Heavenly Father, God. Your loving Mom-in-law


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  5. Many studies have found a a link between parental mental illness (especially post-partum depression) and autism spectrum disorders (AST) in children, so you are probably not the only mother in that situation. The question of what causes the increased prevalence of children with autism for children of parents with mental illness doesn’t seem to have found a definitive answer yet (is it anti-depressants taken during pregnancy, is it genetic, is it the impact of post-partum depression on parenting and on the child, or a mix of the two or three?). Maybe there are resources written about this situation and challenge.


  6. So much of your story resembles mine. My daughter was identified with High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder when she was five…the same year I was finally, correctly diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and PTSD. Way too much more to the story to go into here.
    I just want to say two things: Thank you. I already wasn’t looking forward to puberty, but, reading this, sort of helps me to prepare. Forewarned is fore armed, right?
    I also want you to know that you aren’t alone. It’s good to know I’m not alone, either.


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