I have been tagged. That’s right. Stephenie of the blog BlendedLifeHappyWife tagged me in this “Rocking Motherhood Challenge” which has been circulating among the Mama blogging community. Basically each Mama tagged is supposed to make a list of ten reasons she is a good mom. Now, normally, I don’t go for these types of things. But I am really grateful to Stephenie for tagging me in this one.
Why? Well, for starters, my Post Valentine’s Day Special on relationships did an unexpected number on my head. I’m still working out why, but for whatever reason I was really moody and sensitive for several days after posting it. And now I am working on another gutwrenching post. I don’t want to reveal yet what it’s going to be about but…trust me when I say that you are not going to want to miss it. The big post I am working on is really important to me, and I am doing it of my own volition of course, but it’s also really draining. I need a positivity boost.
Actually, over the last couple days I have been basically beaten over the head with media telling me to stop focusing on negative events and start focusing on feeling grateful. I’ve been seeing the same message from various different sources and, frankly, it’s getting to be disturbing. I don’t believe in God in the Abrahamic sense, but there have been numerous times in my life when some kind of Universe-Star-Wars-Force-Golden-Compass-Dust-thing has made itself unequivocally known to me. I’m starting to feel like this positive messages, er, message is one of those times.
My first reaction to these “think happy thoughts” memes was to get offended. Typical PTSD reaction, but at least I’ve been getting better at not annihilating everything in my path when I get offended ;)! So I think I handled my annoyance pretty gracefully, all things considered. I left a couple comments on the blogs with these messages, saying basically that it’s not so easy to just start thinking happy thoughts when you have PTSD, but I think that overall I was polite enough. Then this sentiment came up on my peer support group.
I really like my peer support group. Which came as a big surprise to me when I realized it. I never liked group therapy because it usually meant some form of Whatever-Anonymous, but this is different. The group leader is really cool and understanding, and she has this incredible ability to hold me accountable for my shit without making me feel like I am shit. And the peers in the group are pretty rad too. I don’t exactly look forward to leaving my apartment and braving the trip to Group, but I do like actually being there once I’ve made it. So anyway, I feel pretty able to express myself honestly in Group, and when the subject this week was that same positive thinking sentiment, I spoke honestly about how I thought this was unfair and even an act of gaslighting my PTSD.
“Nope,” said my group leader, “It’s not.” That is not at all a direct quote, but you get the general idea. She went on to point out to me that the message was not, “think happy thoughts and your life will be magically fixed” but was instead about trading self-harming, negative thoughts for thoughts which focus on what I am doing right. And she went on to give me concrete examples, which I really appreciate because pretty much the only criticism I can handle is constructive criticism that includes concrete examples.
“You’re going to therapy,” she said. “You’re choosing to pursue healthy habits instead of unhealthy ones. That’s a positive. Even if it’s frustrating because it’s not working as fast as you would like it to, that’s something to be grateful for.”
And, whoa. She’s totally right.
So to follow the theme of positivity which has been plaguing me all week, I accept the Rocking Motherhood Challenge.
And because I am me, I am taking it one step up. I am going to write about how having PTSD has made me a better mother.
I don’t even know where I’m going with this so….why don’t you join me on the journey?
1.) I’m teaching my children about empathy
Living with PTSD has greatly expanded my capacity for empathy. Once upon a time, I was a highly judgmental person. I looked down on people who were less educated than me, people who I perceived to be less intelligent than me, people who made different choices than me, people who dressed differently than me, people who listened to different music than I did. I pretty much judged everyone who wasn’t me. Of course, this all came from a place of deep hurt. My family upbringing was not the best. I was the product of my parents’ affair and my half-brother, who I admired as any little sister does, would often tell me that I was a “mistake who should never have been born.” It’s entirely possibly that I had some form of mild PTSD even before being officially diagnosed from the domestic violence.
The PTSD that arose from The Ex’s abuse, however, was extreme. In my early 20s, right after the abuse, I was pretty damn crazy. I am not ready yet to share all of the crazy (and embarrassing) things that I did before I got help for my PTSD, but I will tell you that I have spent many an evening screaming and crying in a hospital on a 12-hour psychiatric hold. That scene from the movies, you know the one where the crazy person is writhing around while a couple nurses struggle to hold her still so they can give her injection to make her shut the fuck up? I’ve been that crazy person. That drug, by the way, is called Haldol, and it makes you feel like total crap. It makes you pass out for a while, but when you wake up you feel sluggish for hours. Your limbs feel like they have weights attached to them, but inside you are super restless. You don’t have the energy to do anything about that restlessness (and in my case, I was strapped to a hospital bed), so the feeling just stays trapped inside, roving. It’s called akathisia, if you’re interested in learning a little more about what medical professionals are really doing to people undergoing a psychosis.
All that is to say: I have fallen pretty low. How can I laugh at the woman shouting and rambling to herself in the street when I myself have been that woman? How can I scoff at the beggar crouched by the storefront, when I know what it is to need so badly that begging is the only option left? How can I degrade the shivering junkie desperate to escape his withdrawals when I’ve been there? Even those whose experiences I don’t understand personally, I can at least treat with empathy. I know now that we are all just a collection of hurt people hurting people.
Of course, with my history, this is easier said than done. I have yet to forgive a lot of people who have hurt me. I doubt that I will ever forgive or empathize with The Ex; I don’t even want to. He doesn’t deserve it. But I am working on building my empathy. In terms of motherhood, I am showing my children that all humans deserve to be treated and talked to with respect. Everyone has a back story. Everyone deserves to be heard. I think that’s a fine groundwork for my kids to build from.
2. I understand temper-tantrums
If PTSD has taught me anything, it has taught me rage. I understand how infuriating it feels to be hurt, or ignored, or to not get your way in world in which you feel powerless. And who feels more powerless than a toddler? A toddler’s life is pretty cushy. I mean these little people don’t even have to wipe their own butts! But as pampered as they are, they don’t get a lot of say in things. When they do get choices, it’s because they’ve been allowed choices. It’s not really freedom if it can be taken away, is it?
As adults we know of course that we have to take charge of our children’s worlds. It’s for their safety. It’s to help them learn, and build healthy habits so that when they are free, they make good choices. But they don’t know all that. So when we say no to that second popsicle, because we know the sugar rush it would induce would result in an unmanagable crash, or when we take away the Sharpie they got ahold of because it’s toxic and could end up in their mouths, or whatever variety of parenting controls we have to take, all they feel is rejection. And I know how bad they feel.
Don’t get me wrong: There is a certain pitch that their screams sometimes reach which feels like a drill going straight into the center of my brain. When that happens, I have to leave the room and breath for 60 seconds, or I’ll blow up and yell, which always makes me feel terrible afterwards. But normally, I am pretty patient with their fits. My husband has actually marveled at my ability to stay calm while Anabelle throws herself on the floor and wails like a maniac. It’s not that the screaming and tantrums don’t bug me. They do. Oh, they do. But I understand the place that they come from. I know that place very well. And I understand that a tight hug and patient listening will go a lot farther than yelling or punishments. Sometimes I have to remind myself of this knowledge, but I am getting better at enacting it every day.
3. I appreciate my children
In my last post, about relationships, I discussed the way in which cherophobia (the fear of happiness) impacts my ability to always feel the love I have for my children. There are moments throughout the day when motherhood is just too much for me. My anxiety overwhelms me and I have to step back. Put on a cartoon, and hide behind my phone or a book for a while. It’s irrational, but I get scared that my life has been so shitty because I have some kind of curse over me, and that if I let the…I don’t know…malicious universe? Curse-casting warlock? Jealous ex-boyfriend with a candle and incense?…If I let that thing know how much I love my babies, if I really feel that love in my bones, then somehow the curse is going to extend to them and hurt one of them, or even kill one of them.
Which would be unbearable. So I shove my love deep inside of me and numb myself on Facebook until the fear has passed.
The flip side to this, however, is that when I am able to be present with my children, I appreciate their little selves to the fullest extent. I will sit and spin toy cars around the carpet and over their feet for an hour straight, just listening to the chimes of their laughter. Because I spend so much time afraid and anxious, I cherish the times when I feel joy. I appreciate my kiddos, each one for their unique traits, and I lavish attention upon them as often as I am able.
4. I exemplify courage.
Courage is not a lack of fear. Courage is continuing onward in spite of the fear. I am frightened all the time. I have had so many scary things happen to me that fear is now just a shadow I live with. There are some days when I am too afraid to leave my apartment. In fact, most days I am too afraid to leave my apartment.
And most days, these days, I leave my apartment anyway. I walk through my fear. My children see this every day. They may not be able to understand it exactly. Only my son knows that I have PTSD, and I told him only the most basic facts as a way of explaining why he lives with his grandmother right now, and why his biological father is not in his life. As my kids they grow older, however, they will come to understand their mother’s bravery. My hope is that by exemplifying courage every day, I will help my kids cultivate it within themselves.
5. I exercise every day
Until recently, I was never a fit person. I was naturally skinny as a teenager, so I didn’t feel a societal pressure to exercise. Neither of my parents did any kind of sports or exercise, so I didn’t feel a familial pressure either. Besides that, I considered myself a “creative intellectual.” For some reason, when I was younger, I had this idea that a person could only be one type of thing. If I was a writer, I couldn’t be an athlete. If someone was a “jock” she couldn’t be an artist. So I did the minimum in gym class, and never stretched or worked out at home. I couldn’t even touch my toes until my late teens.
When I met Rick, he introduced me to fitness. I got hooked. I discovered that exercising, if even just ten minutes every morning, completely changed how I felt throughout the day. Exercising doesn’t eliminate my anxiety, but it helps. It doesn’t erase my depression, but it soothes it. Yes, every once in a while I do skip my routine, but I pay for it by feeling physically and emotionally squished. I like the changes that exercise produces in my body, but it is truly my mental illness which motivates me to work-out every morning. And of course, this means that my daughters get to see me exercising. Which means that they exercise as well. Right now, it’s just silly play versions of exercise, but I will be surprised if they don’t each develop fitness routines when they’re older. And whether they know it or not, they can thank Mama (and Papi) for that!
Wow. I can’t believe that I have actually come up with FIVE whole ways in which PTSD has helped me “rock motherhood.” And I didn’t even cheat! These are legitimate reasons, and they are truly tied to my PTSD. It’s been tough though. And my kids are about to come home from daycare. So, I am going to take a break. I have a therapy appointment tomorrow. I’m going to ask my therapist to help me come up with five more ways that PTSD has helped me be a good mom, and then finish this with a part two. Hope you’ll join me again to find out what I come up with after getting a professional’s opinion. For now, thank you for coming along while I explore the positive side of PTSD.
Do you have any suggestions for the last five ways PTSD helps me rock motherhood? Can you think of ways in which something you normally consider a barrier may actually help you be a better mama or papa? Let me know in the comments below!