Today’s interview features Author Brandi Kennedy, a writer, blogger, and fellow trauma-mama. Her courage and tenacity shine through everything she writes, and I’m sure equally through everything she does, even when she doesn’t recognize it herself. I am honored to share her story here on Betty’s Battleground.
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Now, I invite you to learn more about what life is like for parents living with PTSD in this interview with author Brandi Kennedy.
Parenting With PTSD: Brandi Kennedy
What are your diagnoses?
PTSD – I am told that this is an umbrella term which also covers my diagnoses of Panic Disorder, Anxiety, and Depression. These are all official as per my psychotherapist.
How many kids do you have?
2 live children (1 miscarriage)
How long were you having symptoms before you sought treatment?
Most of my life, actually. My official diagnosis was only recent – just last year actually. But looking back … I’ve been living with this since I was a child, and I can see so many places where it impacted my life. My friendships, my work experiences, my romantic relationships. My parenting. It breaks my heart to realize now how much this has worked to mess things up in the background of my life. I often wonder where I might be if not for PTSD and the symptoms I live with on a daily basis. My symptoms have been ongoing for most of my life due to an abusive childhood that just seemed to keep carrying on into my adult life. I’ve talked quite a bit about it on my blog, but most specifically here: http://authorbrandikennedy.blogspot.com/2016/12/its-been-hard-year-my-journey-to-ptsd.html
Is there an incident from your past that you can use to illustrate the type of trauma that caused you to develop PTSD?
There are several, actually. I’ve talked about it quite a bit on my blog, even including some more specific memories here and there. There are many I haven’t shared, but one of the ones I have shared was when I was maybe around 7 or 8, and I watched my stepfather strangle my mother against the side of the trailer we lived in. I remember seeing him lifting her by her throat, and watching her feet come up from the porch floor. She hadn’t put the right amount of Miracle Whip on his sandwich.
What is your most prevalent symptom?
Anxiety, for sure. Being around too many people, too much noise, too much smell, too much … anything. I get overwhelmed very easily, and will end up shaking, sweating. If I can’t move away from it, I’ll either get really irritable and grouchy or burst into tears – total loss of control. I hate it. There are other things too, but this is the one thing that most impacts my daily life, and it can be triggered with impossible ease.
What are your best coping mechanisms?
I listen to music a lot, but in recent weeks, I’m even finding that to be too overwhelming. In general, my most effective coping mechanism is avoidance – although this often leaves me very isolated, which is triggering for my depression. I spend a lot of day choosing between one or the other: will I go out and interact while fighting the anxiety, ensuring myself several days of mental and physical exhaustion that possibly even makes me sick, or will I stay in and protect myself from the anxiety, thereby ensuring that I’ll not only feel isolated and abandoned by the people who don’t reach out because they don’t realize, but also that I’ll feel like a horrible mother for the way my PTSD affects my kids? Some days it works out – other days I’m damned if I do and equally as damned if I don’t.
Do you or have you ever used unhealthy coping mechanisms?
I smoked for a while, and off and on throughout the years. I drank. I’ve entertained suicide a thousand times or more, and probably would have gotten into drugs if I hadn’t already known from the beginning (and feared that knowledge with all my heart) that I would have liked them.
How does PTSD affect your ability parent?
This varies. On anxious days, I’m easily overwhelmed by noise and the regular demands. I actually have pretty good kids, but they both have ADHD and also have anxiety issues, so they’re very busy most days and quite a lot to handle. But then when I’m overwhelmed, I’m more likely to be irritable and annoyed by the “little things.” Sounds tend to be magnified, so even listening to one of my kids play quietly grates on me and I have to struggle not to overreact to them. For example, as I’m filling this out, one of my daughters is playing with a canister of buttons and the quiet sound of the buttons stirring around together has me gritting my teeth so hard it hurts. She’s barely making any noise at all, but I’m totally on edge.
Other (depressed) days, I’m extra sensitive emotionally to the little things they say. I’m more triggered by the natural childhood inclination to self-centeredness, and then I take little things like them not liking a new recipe I made for dinner as a personal rejection. It’s like all of my emotions are on full blast – including my sense of guilt, because I see my daughters trying to accomodate me. And while I love them and am proud of their willingness, I kick myself for being one of the reasons they’re so careful.
How has your PTSD affected other areas of your life?
It’s prevalent in everything in my life, from how I feel in my daily interactions with family and friends, to how I interact with others in my capacity as a writer. Author events are anxiety triggering because they’re often crowded and very busy – and blog stuff is stressful for much the same reasons, but in a digital way. I’m always watching my numbers, obsessing over my editorial calendar and the quality of my content, etc.
The largest impact has been in my tendencies toward agorophobia though. Not that I’m “afraid” to go out, per se, but being in certain places (crowded stores, waiting rooms, etc.) is stressful enough to have kept me from seeking help until it was almost too late.
Is there anything you wish you had to help your recovery that you don’t currently have access to?
More understanding from the people around me. More power in each moment to change who those people are allowed to be. I’m still in the middle of a really hard process of stepping back and removing toxic relationships from my life, many of which have lasted decades. I have setbacks all the time that I think might not happen if not for the influences of some of the people in my life – but some of those people are people I can’t just cut ties with, for various reasons. In the meantime, I’m just working on opening life up to more people who ARE understanding and who tend to “get it” in the way that I need.
Is there something that is said or shown in the media which hurts you as someone with PTSD?
The implication that occasional sadness somehow equates to the kind of depression that made me debate the best way to kill myself without my kids having to know it was suicide outright offends me. I’m also pretty annoyed with the idea of “post election stress disorder” that was talked about for months in the media recently – I feel like this takes us a huge step backward in our progress toward legitimizing trauma syndromes and what they really look like for the people living with them. And I know trauma is experienced in different ways by different people, but comparing election results with near-death experiences and other direct trauma really cheapens the reality of what my life is.
If you could dispel one misconception about PTSD or mental illness, what would it be?
Just because you can’t see it today doesn’t mean it isn’t still there. I can smile just like anyone else, appreciate a good joke, laugh at a movie, love a good song. But none of that erases the PTSD or it’s impact on who I am and how I live my daily life. It’s invisible some days – but it’s there. I also wish we could dispel the notion that PTSD is somehow a soldier-only illness.
Thank you Brandi, for being so frank about your experiences with trauma, motherhood, and PTSD. I asked her a few more questions, so if you would like to learn about her support system, how her childbirthing and miscarriage experiences affected her mental health, and how PTSD helps her to be a better mom, please subscribe below for the monthly newsletter that will be going out soon. You’ll get all those questions answered, and more!
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Til next time.