As I have been reflecting the past couple of weeks on the anniversary of my hospitalization and preparing my kiddos to go back to school, I have wondered just how I got through all this chaos last year. I remember my husband doing the back to school supply and shoe shopping, my dad picked up hair bows from the uniform store, and my sisters and friends filling in other pieces of the puzzle. When I was released and “mom life” smacked me in the face, I’m not sure how I managed. It’s really just a blur.
But that isn’t what this post is all about. It is about my kids. My “treasures” as I refer to them.
I have tried writing this post many times but emotionally just couldn’t get through it. So, now, the stronger me will give it a try.
Many friends and family have asked me how my treasures reacted to my hospitalization. Did they know where I was? Do they understand my challenges? How am I managing day to day with them? Do they know about the bombing? And there are so many answers for each of these questions but really the answer is, yes. Over time my husband and I have shared details with them that we felt they could understand. As they grow and mature we will continue to share more details until perhaps one day I share this project with them. I hope they will be proud.
I knew that when I go out of the hospital that they were going to have missed me and want to know why I was there. I’ll never forget seeing their little faces waiting for me to be released in the waiting room. My daughter had so many questions right away and my little boyfriend couldn’t stop hugging me and telling me he loved me. It was heartbreaking. And it also motivated me to work hard through my recovery.
Children have a natural curiosity and I knew this was an important time to be honest with them. They trust me and I can’t lie to them. I also knew that once I made it through this trying time in my life that hopefully I would have shown them firsthand how important faith, grace, honesty, family, and fighting for yourself is. It’s everything I want them to value in their own lives and so I knew I had to set that example for them. I also, have experience as the daughter of a mother who mostly gave in to her own mental illness and pulling and pushing her along has been an enormous strain on me. I won’t be this for my children. No matter how difficult it gets, how uncomfortable it is, and how challenging life may be — I will never back down shamefully to PTSD. I won’t let it define me or hold me back from living a beautiful life. It might be a small part of my life, but it isn’t ME.
Some ordinary day to day situations have been hard to get through with the kids this year. For starters, driving can be hard. If they are screaming or fighting I have to remind them that I am trying to focus on driving and my brain injury makes it hard to do so when they are being loud. Restaurants and public places have also been trying for me for the past few years as well and I do my best now to prepare mentally ahead of time because I don’t want my kids to see me leave those places fearful again. Lights, televisions, background music, and crowds are all overstimulating for me and create the perfect storm for my anxiety to bubble up. I mostly use homeopathic remedies, mantras, grounding and coping skills to get through those situations now. Our busy over-scheduled life got a major overhaul too and I was able to honor myself by saying “no” to so many commitments that were just adding to my stress load.
I have also found ways to share with my kids when I’m not feeling well and struggling with PTSD symptoms. I simply tell them I’m not feeling well and I start to add guided meditations and essential oils to our nightly routine. These tools end up helping all of us! But sometimes when I’m really struggling it’s harder to contain and the demands they place on me can be overwhelming.
One particular instance with my treasures sticks out and I know its an experience that they will likely remember as adults. We were buying new ballet shoes for my daughter one day and we were in a store I once bought my own dance gear from. I know the couple who run it well. I was in the middle of a long PTSD wave and they could tell I wasn’t my usual self and asked if I was okay. The tears immediately started and I couldn’t keep them in. They were so amazing to me and the kids and made me feel safe and comfortable to share my story. My treasures were upset to see me come undone and they shed a few tears too. At that time the bombing hadn’t come up yet and I told Jeff it was time to explain that piece of my story to them. We sat down that night with Mal, our little lady, and we did our best to share what had made me so sick. One day I am sure we will give the same details to our little guy too but for now he is happy knowing I am getting better and that I love him.
My daughter’s questions were so focused on whether or not the bad guys were caught and if people died or were hurt, that me being there was not scary to her. That was fine with me. I am happy that those were her questions because her heart needed to know those things. She handled this knowledge with such understanding for a six year old. I guess some things seem clearer when you look at them through the eyes of a child. I wish my mind could only make it that simple.
So we tackle the questions as they come up. That method has seemed to work for us around here and we explain it the best we can on their level and we are honest with what we know they can understand. As they get older the conversations will be different and I am sure we won’t back down from them or hide the answers. That I have promised to myself.
My kids have also embraced my newfound love for natural medicine and accompany me often for acupuncture treatments. Of course the first time was funny for them but now they are used to it and know that it helps me feel better.
My family spends a lot of time in Boston. It’s my husband’s hometown and we spend our summers enjoying Cape Cod. It is a place I can’t avoid and I want them to feel safe there. I had thought that them knowing about the bombing would scare them or trigger a sense of lack of security in them when we are back there but it doesn’t. They feel safe there and that is very important to Jeff and I.
My new family, my survivor family, have really embraced my family too. I think that has helped all of us heal. Jeff finds support from other spouses and my kids get to play with the other kids who are around and somehow in our shared misery of wounds both visible and invisible, we all lift each other up. It is a group I never thought I’d be a part of but now that they are in our lives I am so grateful. They are mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, children, and friends just like I am and we are learning from them how to get through this.
When I look back on my hospital stay, I remember each person there telling stories about their kids. Some didn’t have custody of their children. One lady had overdosed in front of her kids. Some people were the bi-product of broken and abusive families. And some were young kids themselves trying to navigate their hospital stay the best they could. It was very intense and I learned that as humans we each have in common a need to feel loved, comforted, understood, safe, and validated and this starts when we are children. It never goes away. So if I can encourage anyone going through PTSD or any other mental challenge who is a parent right now I would urge them to share their journey with their children. Maybe even just small pieces of it at a time. It is one great way we can break the cycle of shame and secrecy surrounding mental illness.