“When the House Grows Quiet, We Fall Apart”
When they stumble, we pick them up. When they’re lonely, we hug vigorously. When they ache, we make the pain go away. But it’s never enough, and the ADHD PTSD catches up to us eventually.
Do you feel guilty because your child’s behavior makes you depressed?
When a fellow member of my ADHD parent support group asked this question recently, I was not offended or appalled. It was a bitter pill to swallow, yes. But the question, I felt, was a fair and accurate one for parents like myself.
What was my reply? Without a moment’s hesitation, I said “It feels more like PTSD than depression to me.”
I was not being flippant; I was being real. For parents who are shocked by the idea that a child might trigger a serious mental health condition in his or her own parents, please take a moment to step back and really listen.
When Parenting is Traumatic
Please know that I don’t reference post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) lightly. The parents who get this bold statement know what it feels like to anguish over the episodes and behavior that cause you to walk on eggshells, take a deep breath, or just break down and cry. They know they can survive the stressful moment itself, but the real pain comes afterward. The trauma emerges later when you slip up and yell or break down for no apparent reason.
The reason, it turns out, is buried deep beneath the surface, stored in the memories of earlier moments when we saw our kids struggling with things out of their control, and we had to be strong for them. In the heat of the moment, we will ourselves to remain stoic and strong for them. Or worse, when we lost our temper and yell at our warriors for something we know is beyond their control. Afterward, our hearts break, and we feel every ounce of that pain.
It all catches up with us when the house is finally silent. When we are worn out and over tired. When we are physically and mentally exhausted. When all we want to do is sleep, but instead our minds grab all the stress and anxiety that we placed on the shelf in the moment.
This is when you feel the weight of the burdens that you bear for your child, whom you love with every fiber of your being. You begin to second guess your every step, every word, every time you lost your temper. You anguish over the shame of not being collected every minute when your child needs you at your best. This is when you realize you can never give enough; your child will always need more.
The PTSD I’m describing is not terrifying or scary in a way I imagine soldiers or police officers experience PTSD. But it is traumatic and sometimes even crippling to watch your child struggle, particularly when they do so every day.
All we want is to make life easier, better, happier for our kids — and we can’t. So when it is safe and your kids and spouse are sound asleep, you fall apart. You lay awake with your mind being taken over by self-doubt and debilitating regret.
I am not an expert, but that sounds — and feels — like PTSD to me.
Updated on March 5, 2020