I have always felt an affinity with the ocean-like coming home. The smells, breeze and the seemingly endless stretch of ocean and beach. When standing on the water’s edge and looking out into the ocean it can seem as if all of life’s problems just float away, as the calming influence of the environment soothes any worries circling in my mind.
I am strong! I have lived a life filled with experiences that have shaped who l am! I am not ashamed to have experienced this illness as it sought me out for a reason. It can be easy to judge a person who is unwell, when what they really need is understanding and support! Everyone will have a time of need in their lives and you can’t protect yourself from events, illnesses or experiences that come upon you unexpectedly. You do the best you can with the resources you have and keep on living the life that has been given to you.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder:
No-one would welcome or want this disorder in their life and happily l can say it is no longer part of mine or my families, but the experience has changed all of us and brought us closer. Those on the outside could not have known what we were experiencing on a daily basis as life was just about coping, caring for ourselves and trying to figure out what was going on and how to get through what was a most difficult time.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a set of mental health reactions that can develop in people who have experienced or witnessed a life changing event that threatens their life or safety (or others around them) and leads to feelings such as intense fear and helplessness. My troubles started after the birth of my first child. It was a traumatic induced birth involving lots of interventions including forceps and cutting as l was 41 weeks pregnant. Following the birth my daughter was not a good sleeper and there were many breastfeeding difficulties and adjustments to be made to cope with a first baby. l was going to bed early and breast-feeding her regularly throughout the night and basically felt exhausted and mentally fatigued all of the time whilst doing my best to be the perfect mother. A few weeks after her birth l was up feeding my baby and watching the television when the events of September 11 unfolded. The shock of it all was so unexpected and confronting to me and triggered a fear for the safety of myself and family. I was at home a lot at this time and watched the news reports on the television which were constant and in great detail. The loss of life was devastating and the events so shocking that l experienced a vulnerability which l had never known before. I felt scared to go to places where there were lots of people and started to experience feelings of fear and worry every day. When my daughter was ten months old she had the first of about ten febrile convulsions. This just made my feelings of insecurity and worry amplify as her welfare and health were at risk now.
Fast forward a couple of years and l gave birth to my second daughter who was born with an undiagnosed deadly birth defect called Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia. We were told by Doctors that our daughter may not live through the night following her birth as all of her bowel and some of her organs had moved through a small hole which was in her diaphragm and one of her lungs was very small. I had made the decision to have a caesarean section following the physical trauma of my first daughters birth and this decision ultimately saved my daughter’s life as the medical team were there to care for me but ended up treating my daughter. The day after the birth l was in great physical and emotional pain but had to travel by car to the children’s hospital to be with my baby. She had surgery at three days old to repair the hole in her diaphragm and put her organs back in place and although this went well we were told she might be brain-dead. Those first days were very long and l didn’t get to hold my daughter until a week after the birth as she was connected to a mountain of tubes and machines that were keeping her alive. Our life seemed out of control and one day went into the next as we witnessed our own child fighting for her life and other babies in the ICU losing their fight, with those parents having to face the worst outcome.
A link to the short film our family made with Channel Seven and the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. It was part of the healing process.
Our daughter made an amazing and miraculous recovery and the next two years were like a blur as caring for her consumed every moment of my day. Her health was fragile as her body tried to cope with one lung that was only a third of the size it should have been and a digestive system that had been traumatised as well as the many other complications from the interventions she experienced in ICU. The Obstetrician who delivered my daughter suggested to me that l should have some trauma counselling after the birth of my daughter, but it was said in an off the cuff kind of way and l didn’t take it seriously. I thought l was and would be fine and all of my concern was now for the two young children l had both of which had ongoing medical issues.
When you are in the middle of this experience it is a dark and lonely place to be. It is difficult to describe the feelings in your body such as a heightened sense of flight or fight reactions, feeling like your physical and mental world is surrounded by impermeable walls or that possibly my husband was the only person who knew and understood what was going on. There were sleep disturbances, anxiety, many unpleasant physical reactions, a fear of everything and a feeling that l had to be perfect. I tried to cope by keeping busy, taking care of myself, talking to friends now and then and exercising alot, but mostly l just took one day at a time and kept it all to myself which of course took a terrible toll on my health.
To all of those people who didn’t or couldn’t understand because they weren’t the ones living our life l would say that l was too sick, sleep deprived and vulnerable to explain it all. If l seemed emotionally strong it was because that strength was for my daughter, fighting for her rights to be able to feel included at school, get the medical attention she needed and to have the best chance at living a normal life. Inside l was not strong as my body internalised the emotions and reactions from those around me, challenging why our family functioned the way it did such as not going out a lot, eating a restricted diet or being very protective of our children. I was on auto pilot for a long time and reality struck almost 2 years ago now when l became very unwell and had to re-evaluate my whole way of living.
My children are now 12, 10 and 7 and they are so wonderful and mean everything to me. I need to be strong for them and especially my second daughter as she will face many challenges in her life. I am on this wellness journey to be the best person l can be and am proud to say that l am strong mentally, physically and emotionally. It is liberating to be free of the trauma and emotion of the past few years. I can write about it now because l have removed the burden and illness from my life. It takes time to recover and an acceptance and ackowledgement that we are not robots that just process information and then move on is essential. Life is a journey of experiences, learning and growth and l have learnt that l am a strong person with incredible internal resources that were challenged to the extreme by circumstances which were out of my control.
I am grateful for every day of my life now. Modern living is busy and full. It can be easy to forget how wonderful life can be and to remember to take some time each day to enjoy the simple things in life. I have to try and not get too caught up in all of the sadness in the world and to keep balance in my life because when you have been through a PTSD experience there is a vulnerability there that needs to be protected. I try to surround myself with like minded people who appreciate family, are caring and show empathy to others, and l hope that if you ever have had a PTSD experience or are going through one that you can in time enjoy life again and that those around you can offer unending support, caring and love which can support your wellbeing.
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