PTSD: Part Four

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During the last few months, I’ve been talking about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and how it affects me a loss mother. I am the type of person that has to make sense of everything that is going on with me. Probably a little controlling on my part, but that’s how I’m wired. Depression, anxiety, and grief have flooded my life the past (almost) ten months and I thought there was something more going on with different experiences I’ve had since Jensen was born. That’s when I started researching. I came across Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and rolled my eyes thinking only people who’ve went to war or are in horrible accidents have this disorder…

But the more I was researching, here, about PTSD, I found a lot of the symptoms I had were very similar to what was being described. Even when as I read the fourth one just now, it’s exactly how I am in certain situations. Again, I am not a therapist or psychologist. The symptoms I researched just made sense to me and my situation. It is a way I can understand my grief and what I’m feeling. Speaking to other loss moms, I know I’m not alone in feeling these different things. This little four post series is just letting you know that if you do have these feelings, there are others that are facing them as well. For a symptom refresher, here is the list one more time.

  1. Reliving the event.
  2. Avoiding situations that remind you of the event.
  3. Negative changes in beliefs and feelings.
  4. Feeling ‘keyed’ up or being on the lookout for danger.

With each on of these posts about another symptom, I find myself just marveling how I am facing each one when I’m writing. I pulled of the VA’s website again to really see what feeling ‘keyed’ up is like. Two things jumped out at me immediately, having a hard time sleeping and not being able to concentrate. This would make much more sense if you were sitting with me at this moment. Although this will be posted in the afternoon, I’m writing at 1:30 in the morning. I never sleep. It’s so hard for me to really settle down and relax. Honestly, I’m afraid of having horrible nightmares and I’m just on edge. There’s a fear that something bad is going to happen tomorrow. Because why wouldn’t it? The paragraph also talks about being jittery and always alert. This really distracts me from sleeping. I’m constantly moving while laying in bed. No wonder why I can’t peacefully fall asleep. Then comes the concentration… I can’t think long enough to make myself just sit still. Like me writing right now, there’s a hundred different places I want to go with this post. Yet, my train of thought gets cut off and something else jumps in its place. Which causes me to get angry and irritated myself; I guess that means ‘keyed’ up.

Maybe that just my severe anxiety?

But, another part of this symptom talks about outside triggers. They talk about being surprised by a loud noise or a surprise. For me, it’s babies crying and a rhythmic beeping. Although I am thankful there are babies crying out in the world and that another mom doesn’t have to deal with silence, it hurts. It sends me up the wall because all I want to know is what Jensen’s cries would sound like. I want to be able to pick those babies up and just cuddle them and make them feel better. But then I don’t. It sends me spiraling to all the what ifs and sadness. Then I get mad at myself because I want Jensen. Panic ensues and this is all triggered by one cry. The beeping noise is a little weirder. Let’s say when I’m at the grocery store and the cashier is scanning all the items, that beeping morphs into a heartbeat sound. Just thinking about those beeps and the silence of that last ultrasounds triggers me. It’s not something I’ll ever be able to prevent, but I can feel it coming. Sometimes they’re louder than the other, but that’s real.

It also talks about sitting with your back to the wall at a restaurant or anywhere you go. For me and my situation, I would say I’m hyper aware of where I sit or stand in public. I’m always scanning. In those moments, I’d be able to tell you how many babies are there and where they are. It’s almost like I’m trying to prepare for that cry. I want to have all my guards up so I don’t feel like I’m spiraling to a complete panic attack. It’s rough. I know it’s not really a lookout for danger, but it is a lookout for a trigger. A baby is harmless. They are innocent, sweet, and deserve all the love in the world. But for me, it’s more complicated than that. I see all those things in a child, but I also see the space Jensen should occupy. Feeling that loss every time you see a beautiful, little baby breaks my heart. I don’t want to see them and instantly go into a panic attack, but I can’t control it. Now that I’ve really thought about being keyed up in situations, it’s perfect to explain it.

Living with PTSD after loss is a part of my life now. I face almost every symptom every day. There are days where I can try to be so strong and only let a few get to me, but I’m working on it. Losing Jensen has a ton of different layers of pain and healing. These four symptoms of PTSD are four big ones. It’s impossible to tackle the realization that my life will never be what I planned, grief, anxiety, depression, PTSD, secondary losses, and so much more all at once. If you’re going through all of this, please know that you’re not alone in this. I know how overwhelming losing a child is and everything else that we have to face. Sometimes it feels that no one will ever understand all of this feeling, but there will be people (like me) that can relate and just listen.

If you’re reading this and you’re a support person… first of all, thank you. You have no idea how much it means to be there for a your loved one. Second, be patient. As I said above, we can’t tackle this all at once. No matter if its weeks, months, years, decades, or even a lifetime, the best thing is to just have someone listen. If you see your loved one is struggling and are being triggered, ask them what they need. Everyone is different in that way and sometimes they just need to escape that situation.

This concludes this four-part/symptom discussion about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. There’s a huge possibility that I come back to this or even symptoms of depression and anxiety in the future. I think it’s crucial for people to talk about mental health and how it’s normal for people to battle. It helps us know that these aren’t crazy thoughts, in the most crazy time of our lives.

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PTSD: Part Three

In November I started talking about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and how it effects women who have experienced pregnancy and infant loss. When I started these postings, I really thought I would be able to delve into them during the holidays. They went hand in hand with how I was feeling, but I couldn’t put it in words. I was feeling everything so deeply and at the same time, I was so busy I couldn’t get it all out. Honestly, I had forgotten that I needed to continue these, until last night.

I’d also like to say, I am in no way am I a trained psychologist. I’ve honestly never even taking a psychology class in college. This is just me making a connection with a very real life disorder and sharing my journey with you all. A lot of women who have experiences loss do go through these same symptoms. Not everyone is the same and not everyone goes through this journey just like the next. If you don’t feel like you’ve been through this, you’re not alone. If you do feel like you go through one symptom a day, you’re not alone. Although I’m here to talk about anything with you, this is not by any means a diagnosis.

To refresh your memory and incase you want to go back and read, these are the four symptoms of PTSD and how I have experienced them post loss. I found these symptoms on the Department of Veterans Affairs.

  1. Reliving the event.
  2. Avoiding situations that remind you of the event.
  3. Negative changes in beliefs and feelings.
  4. Feeling ‘keyed’ up or being on the lookout for danger.

If you read my post yesterday, I’m definitely feeling some negative energy. I keep telling people that I feel so cynical now. Every day I expect the worst, but then think the worst has already to me. There are times I really don’t believe I’m ever going to feel better. That’s hard to type for you all to read. I want to everyone to believe that I’m going to keep surviving each day and to know when I have good days. Yeah, I smile and laugh more freely now, but I always feel the negative right there.

It was so difficult to experience the holidays with this cloud looming over me. The strange thing is, it’s almost as if the fog or numbness from the loss has worn off and I’m just feeling everything head on. Like I’m playing football without pads or jousting without armor. Although I really just ignored Christmas, the change of the year was definitely negative for me. I didn’t/don’t believe the world around me is magically going to get better. There are times that I don’t really believe what I do to help is actually helping. This is going to sound crazy, I know deep down that I’m helping myself heal, but my body is just producing all this bad energy. That’s truly is only way I know how to explain it.

Like I said in the beginning of this post, I didn’t even really think about continuing this, even though I’ve wanted to, until last night. For those of you that don’t know, I’m an avid reader. Well I was an avid reader before Jensen was born. I read Jensen children’s books every night before bed and read a handful of big chapter books during my pregnancy. Knowledge has always been so powerful for me and escaping to these worlds where I can learn more about different ways fascinates me. Anyways, I put off reading after he was born. The time I knew I should escape, I couldn’t let myself. I was afraid that my love for reading was going to change and it’d cause me nightmares. There was so much negative to an activity I loved to do. Then a book I preordered with Jensen came in the mail and I read it in the span of a week. I felt so much better reading, but hadn’t picked up another book throughout the holidays.

Again, I was being so negative with myself. I hated this world I was stuck in, but no other world had Jensen in it. When I got a notification that one of my favorite books from high school was turning ten years old, I figured I’d purchase that addition and try reading. Jay Asher’s Thirteen Reasons Why was one of the first books I read that really talked about the dark and gritty. It’s also the first one I really, really understood the dynamic of loss. Of course I’ve read books before that had characters die, but this one was centralized about Hannah Baker. If you don’t know the story, she commits suicide and tells her thirteen reasons why via cassette tape. Each of her reasons are people and their actions that impacted her decision of taking her own life. Suicide is a serious issue and I know you’re wondering how it connects to me and pregnancy and infant loss.

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Well first, let me tell you how it directly connects to Jensen. In the book, you’re reading the protagonist’s point of view on how he views Hannah, as well as hearing her story. His name happens to be, Clay Jensen. I completely forgot that before ordering the book. My heart skipped a beat reading his name over and over again. All the other words blurred together as my eyes instantly went to the name I constantly say and write. That’s an obvious one, but then, in the last chapter there’s another part that blew me away. Clay’s locker combination is 5-4-23. All random numbers, except, Jensen’s birthday was the 5th of April, which is the fourth month of the year. So this might be pushing it, but this year I turned twenty-three. Kind of crazy, right? What’s more crazy is when I finished my marathon read this time around, I ended at exactly 4:25am. The minute Jensen was born… Just thought I’d take a second to share that with you all.

Now back to all seriousness…

The book is a work of fiction, but I know what it’s like to be in that dark place. To think you are all alone in this world and that when you finally reach for help, you get told to move on. Of course the world is different to me than it would be for a high schooler. There’s more experience and years, but it doesn’t make that loneliness more than the other. But I kept thinking of how PTSD after losing Jensen has brought all these negative feelings and beliefs in my life. I question,” Why Me? Why Jensen?,” over and over sometimes. At times I don’t want to reach out and spread this darkness. But what happens when you keep it all inside?

There’s a lot of statistics and facts I know about losing a child. One I do not know and have not looked up is that suicide rate among grieving mothers. In the book, Hannah contemplates how she wants to kill herself and she mentions running her car off the road. You wouldn’t know this, but I’ve thought those same things. I’m not suicidal by the way, but I wonder what that release of pain and darkness would feel like?

As much as the negative and darkness cloud my life, there’s one big shining light. It’s the light I see when I drink my chocolate milk in the morning and every night as the flame dances on top of his candle. I would do anything to have Jensen back with me, to have him physically light up my world. Unfortunately, I’ll never have that. But I do have him and moments full of blinding light and love. I have hope that I will see him one day, but I’m not going to rush to get there.

Post traumatic stress disorder is real for mom’s who’ve lost their child. I’ve never lied to you guys on this journey and I won’t stop now. A book triggered me last night to think of everyone in the world who can’t stop those negative thoughts or who’ve felt so alone they didn’t know what else to do. These go hand in hand. Or, as Hannah would say, “everything… affects everything.”


Even if you’ve found my page and have not experience the loss of a child, but are still feeling completely alone, please reach out to me. There is hope and one day there will be a light so blinding that you’ll want to share it with the world. It might not feel it in this moment or the next, but I promise you, you are wanted and you are loved. You belong right here and maybe it feels like this suffering will never end, but there are people (like me) that will help you through every step of the way.

Avoiding Situations.

Earlier this month, I talked about Reliving the Moment and how Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is common in moms who have experienced pregnancy/baby loss. In that post, I shared the four major symptoms of PTSD and my experience with the first one. Although right now my mind is blocking when I found out Jensen’s heart had stopped through the day he was born. Moments come flooding in my brain and I can only analyze those small bursts of time. Even though there’s no way to know when I’ll remember more about those two days, I find myself clinging on to the second symptom. For the ease of this conversation, here’s the list once more:

  1. Reliving the event.
  2. Avoiding situations that remind you of the event.
  3. Negative changes in beliefs and feelings.
  4. Feeling ‘keyed’ up or being on the lookout for danger.

When I first decided to talk about PTSD with you all, I didn’t even realize how much the holidays would go right along with the discussion. With Thanksgiving being my first, BIG holiday without Jensen, I didn’t know how I would handle the day or my emotions. Every day has been a test for me, but Thanksgiving and Christmas are really big days. They’re days where I’m supposed to be showing him off to the whole family and they let me know how big he’s getting. It’s the missing out on what his favorite holiday food would be, what his face would look like seeing the shiny ornaments on the tree, and so many countless things that these days bring with children…

As a loss mom, I have to weigh my emotions for family-get-togethers and other type of situations.

For the sake of not going on and on, I’m going to specifically talk about avoiding situations during this Thanksgiving. Maybe in the future I can touch on situations that directly remind me of the day Jensen was born. There’s so many ways this second symptom could go, but I think this is more relevant and timely for right now.

Going to Thanksgiving this year was hard. My family actually had two different ones, one that had all the kids and the other with just adults. Honestly, it was bittersweet to have. It’s nothing against my family, at all, but it sucks that Jensen wasn’t here. That he couldn’t be experiencing his first Thanksgiving with his whole family. I felt horrible, obviously I didn’t go to the first one. I avoided it, completely. There was no strength in me to go or even think about it. The whole night I would’ve pictured Jensen there and there and there. But like everyday since he’s been born, he isn’t physically here. There’s no silly smiles or trying to take all the food off the table. My brain puts it there, but it only makes his absence even more noticeable. I thought the second one would be better.

It wasn’t.

In the morning, I laid out my outfit and did everything I needed to around the house. As the clock kept getting closer to four, my anxiety kept getting stronger. Again, I felt myself wanting to avoid the situation and all the visions I thought I was going to have. Then when I told myself it was okay to have those thoughts, I was terrified to have everything come back to me. I didn’t want to go down the rabbit hole and that’s a really big possibility. My brain has been actively trying to remember those two days. I feel like if I give it a little room to explore my deep thoughts, it’ll play it all out. That scares me, especially because I don’t know if I’m ready for that.  So, logically what does a person do when they’re not ready to face something? They avoid it.

That’s what I did, for a few hours at least. Four came and went, and I still didn’t feel like leaving my bed. Jensen’s urn candle was on and I just kept watching it flicker, wondering what he would want me to do. I was still seeing him eating mashed potatoes and how he would look like at thirty-three weeks. Even sitting here in my room, I could see him dressed, ready to go, and watching me frantically get ready. I saw him in a denim shirt and khaki pants, with his white tennis shoes. Those images came so vividly even with me not at the dinner table. I avoided what I was afraid of for as long as I could. This type of situation of reliving the event, never goes away. I relive the days I was pregnant with Jensen, certain moments of his birth, and each day that he should be here.

When I got to my uncle’s house, I took a deep breath before I walked in. I kept playing with my Jensen bracelet as everyone greeted me. My arms felt empty, I kept thinking how I should be carrying him in his car seat. I’m not going to lie to you guys, it hurt. It felt like my chest was being crushed. This feeling overwhelms me and is usually present in my day-to-day life. Yet, I still made it to Thanksgiving dinner. A plate was given to me and I filled it up to eat. I sat, ate, and talked. There were moments I wanted to cry and there were moments I laughed. I kept wondering why I had avoided going over for those few hours and I wondered about my lifetime of avoiding these situations.

Losing a child brings a lifetime of hurting, dreaming, and avoiding. But with every step and day we continue on, we heal just a little bit at a time. I know how stressful the holidays are and how the PTSD can really hit. Even though I went to Thanksgiving dinner and have certain plans for December, it’s perfectly okay to avoid these days. Grieving is a learning process that we have to figure out each day. If one day you’re ready to face these challenges head on, do it. If the very next day, you just want to stay in bed and avoid everything, you have every right to do so.

You are not alone. These feelings are not strange or weird. Be gentle on your heart. I know how hard this is, just like I know you’re doing your very best.

 

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A little side note to this post…

I’d like to let everyone know that Poe made it home on Sunday. He’s lost a few pounds, but he’s safe and has no injuries. I am so thankful for my community, the positive thoughts that were coming my way, and that Jensen lead Poe back to his home.

 

Reliving the Moment.

Did you know a lot of women who have went through pregnancy loss also suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)? Before Jensen was born, I only thought veterans or people who went through a really violent experience only had PTSD. The weeks following his birth, I knew I would be going through postpartum healing, grief, and probably depression. I didn’t really think it would be much more than being really sad. Honestly, I felt so strange and different when I was feeling so much more than that. It wasn’t until after I talked to my therapist that I realized that a lot of what I was going through was the same symptoms.

Before I go on, I just want to say I’m in no way comparing my situation to a veteran or person who’s been through a war. That doesn’t mean I’m downplaying the tragedy and trauma I faced though. They’re different types of PTSD, but they’re both very real and affect a person’s everyday life.

There are four general symptoms of PTSD that can be found on the Department of Veterans Affairs:

  1. Reliving the event.
  2. Avoiding situations that remind you of the event.
  3. Negative changes in beliefs and feelings.
  4. Feeling ‘keyed’ up or being on the lookout for danger.

At thirty-one weeks post loss, I’m constantly facing each on of these. Sometimes all of happen them in one second and other times it really just is one that I can’t shake off. It’s very unpredictable lately.

For the next few weeks, I’m going to refer back to this list in certain posts. I want to be able to focus on each on when it happens or when it’s feeling most raw to me. Even though I’m experiencing all these feelings, sometimes one hits more than others? Maybe that’s not the best way to explain, but I’m not sure how else to do it.

Anyways, I want to talk about the first symptom on the list: reliving the event.

This past weekend, my brain has been focused on a single moment. I’m not really sure what brought it on, but it’s demanding to be present. This moment is being freeze-framed in my mind over and over again. It’s different then any of my flashbacks that I’ve had before, since it’s not triggered by sight or sound. The moment is a feeling that consumes me and is hard to pull away from. My latest flashback is the moment Jensen was born.

My mind has completely blacked out the time I walked back to the delivery room to getting wheeled out of that room. The only break in the blackness is only ten minutes at the most that I have little pieces of. Before this weekend, it was the last few pushes, the guy beside me yelling out 4:25, and me asking if he had ten fingers and toes. That’s it. It’s all I had remembered until I held Jensen bear. Logically I know the moment he was born only lasted a few seconds. Not to get too detailed in hopes I don’t trigger anyone else, my brain knows I pushed, he came, and was delivered. My mind is now sending me the feelings I had, but shock blocked them out.

Wholeness.
Holding on to hope.
Rush.
Push.
Release.
Hopes being crushed.
Emptiness.
Silence.
Final confirmation he was gone.
Loss of him and myself.
Blackness.

When I look at these feelings wrote out, they just look like words. I can understand someone who hasn’t gone through stillbirth not really understand them or someone who isn’t me. I mean feelings are personal and each of these words bring tears to my eyes. These emotions and ‘words’ happened within seconds, it’s a lot to process. Obviously, since it’s taken thirty-one weeks for my brain to catch up with itself.

Wholeness and emptiness are really sticking out to me. At one moment, his weight was right there. There was still hope, that I knew couldn’t be true. It’s like Jensen’s body held hope, wholeness, and everything that I ever wanted. When he was born, it all went away with him. I first felt the emptiness of where his body had inhabited for months, then the deafening silence. It was all so final and happened too quickly for me to even process.

As the flashbacks keep happening, I can feel the emptiness again and I can’t catch my breath. I literally start hyperventilating, even now when I’m trying to recall it.

It sucks.

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Feels like I’m living a nightmare, which I really guess I am. I lived through my worst nightmare and it doesn’t seem real that I haven’t woke up yet. The moment he was born was the best and worst of my life. Jensen was perfect and his body was beautiful. My body let me deliver him, complication free. That moment brought his birth and it could have easily been just the best day of my life. I see the beauty in his silent birth, but the darkness of the nightmare overshadows that moment. I also relive that silence and release of the physical connection we had. Death is ugly. The loss of my son hurts, so does the loss of my identity as a person and the hope I had in the world.

Reliving his birth is hard. I’m triggered by silence, even now and probably for the rest of my life. There will be moments of hope, wholeness, and release that I will encounter again that will most definitely bring me back to this. But somehow I continue to survive. Somehow that release didn’t take me too. You can look at that good or bad because I’ll always have to live knowing that my heart didn’t stop when his did; that somehow the silence didn’t kill me…

If you’re around me or anyone that’s working through trauma, just know these little triggers bring them back to the worst moments of their lives. Don’t encourage me to just move on from them, let me talk them through with you. There will be tears and moments that I can’t say anything, this is when I need you the most.