16 March 2015

PTSD: Pt. 3, Triggers

(PTSD: Pt. 2, Getting Help)

I'm so thankful I got help. SO thankful. I'm thankful that in spite of all my fears I reached out and took the help that was there. Just admitting I needed the help I didn't want was incredibly difficult. Moving toward understanding how badly I needed that help has been sobering. I've finally decided to talk about my experiences for two reasons. 

First, I found out a close friend was diagnosed with Postpartum Depression and talking to her, hearing her say the same things I'd been feeling was a relief. There is no way we are the only two people I know dealing with depression. Both of us are doing SO much better after seeking help and I want so badly to help other people get through to the other side.

Second, is the little guy sitting in my lap right now. :) Our foster son has brought so much healing to our family and I want to write more about our experiences with him. My PTSD and finally getting help laid the foundation for that healing. Had I not gotten help then foster care would've been more trauma on top of trauma rather than the beautiful healing experience it has been. In order for me to talk about this awesome little guy and all the good that has come from knowing him I needed to first explain the help I got before becoming his foster mom.

There is one more part of PTSD I want to try to explain. Triggers.

I felt so dumb having panic attacks. They didn't make sense! I would tell myself over and over again, "you're okay, everything is okay, deep slow breaths..." but it was like another part of my brain was running around pulling every alarm possible, screaming that NOTHING was okay. I was so frustrated with myself. They weren't coming because I was working myself up to it. I wasn't sitting there fretting and thinking about painful, stressful things, they were just happening and most of the time I had no idea what was setting them off.

When I met with the Nurse Practitioner she explained that these panic attacks are caused by (please excuse my non-medical explanation) my brain stem, or the part responsible for fight or flight responding to stimuli I may not be consciously aware of. Once I started to really understand and be aware of that, I started to cut myself some slack, but still continued to feel "dumb" for having these episodes. 

The medication worked SO well to stop the panic attacks after they started which then made it so I could focus on working through and healing from the trauma. 

I eventually had an experience that helped me let go and stop feeling weak or dumb for having the panic attacks. It's kind of a weird experience but it was perfect for me.

I was watching The Little Couple with Aurelia. Side note: it's a great show. There is a lot I love about that show. Anyway, we were supposed to be watching The Little Couple together but I was working on something else so I wasn't entirely paying attention. I was sitting there working on whatever I was doing when my throat tightened, my heart started pounding and racing and before I even realized what was happening I had tears pouring down my face. It was bizarre! I was focused on what I was doing but something had triggered a panic attack. I looked up at the tv screen and knew instantly what it was.

In this episode Jen, a neonatologist, was going through a simulation with a mother who was soon to take her medically fragile child home. The mother was sitting next to a dummy and working through a simulated medical emergency where she needed to clear his airway (he had a tracheostomy). Daniel and I had done a similar training for Noah before leaving the NICU. Not only had we done a training just like this one but the emergency of needing to clear your child's airway was entirely too familiar.

I hadn't even been aware this was on the TV. I wasn't looking, I wasn't even listening (that I was aware of) but my subconscious was taking it all in and reacting. It wasn't my fault.

This experience took the last bit of burden off my shoulders. It wasn't my fault. I wasn't weak. I wasn't overreacting. It was something I really, truly didn't have control over. Finally knowing and accepting this has helped direct me in my healing. I need to heal and reprogram my brain's response to things I have to experience. 

Starting the medications prescribed to me were helping tremendously. I was able to focus on healing and working through the trauma without it throwing me into a mess of fight or flight. I was really making good progress toward healing and a whole lot more progress was about to come our way, brought in by a sweet little boy. :)

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