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PTSD and Childhood Bullying – A Silent Suffering

I always thought that PTSD was something soldiers developed – I was naïve; had no idea anyone could develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. After my teenage son began to get into trouble, I assumed we’d become another statistic – a family with an out-of-control teen.

After we started family counseling, my therapist suggested that I try private therapy. About a week into it, I was diagnosed with PTSD. The therapist said were several things that led to PTSD.

PTSD, or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, can occur when something horrible or traumatic has happened in. It causes stress every time you encounter a situation is similar to the previously-experienced traumatic events.

I’ve had a few types of traumatic events. I had a rocky relationship with my father growing up and then his death was both very sudden and very traumatic. An abusive relationship with my ex. I’ve experienced abuse from my son. Lastly, I was bullied by a girl from second grade all the way through high school.

My reactions to everyday situations can be more intense than they need to be – but whenever I am in a stressful or threatening situation, I relive past experiences. It’s hell, reliving the same horrible day over and over.

Once, when I saw my grade school bully in the grocery store, while I was there with my kids and we were checking out. The sound drained out of the store. My heart began to race. Blood pumped in my ears. My face got hot. As soon as I was able, I grabbed my kids and ran for the car. I must’ve driven break-necking speeds home, but I don’t remember getting there.

I had a panic attack after seeing this woman! We live in a small town and the odds of running into her are probably higher than in other areas, but I never see her. When I did, I hit fight or flight mode, and flew! That was six years ago.

Since I began therapy, I’ve seen her again. My daughters were with me, and this time I made sure to make eye contact with her as I turned to my daughters and said, “Girls, let’s go check out. I think we’ve got all we need now!” I turned and went to check out. As we left I felt so proud of myself for facing her, and not fleeing like a chicken facing slaughter!

Thanks to the ways she traumatized me, I always tell my kids, “Don’t take anyone’s crap at school!” Recently my daughter was getting harassed by a staff member at her middle school. I contacted the principal and reported her. This woman has not bothered my daughter since I reported her; threatened to file a sexual harassment suit against the school.

Since starting therapy, I stand up more than I used to. Despite all the reasons my therapist thought that I was traumatized, I think the bully and my father’s sudden death were the two that really affected me.

I was a victim of domestic abuse, but I came to terms with it, and took a stand. I left my then-husband and married the man responsible for making me feel like I was worth more. I call him my White Knight because I was considering suicide when we met – he saved me.

My son and I have resolved many of our issues and are working on our relationship; things are getting better.

I still have issues with my dad’s death.

See, I was blamed for him dying. He died from cancer 14 years ago and afterward, I was told that being around stressed him out – caused his cancer to return after it had been in remission.

Being blamed for his death is a hard thing to overcome. But this year, I was able to make it past his birthday and the anniversary of his death (exactly a month apart) without being a total mess!

To all those out there who have been bullied, abused, or lost a loved one, don’t assume you are strong enough to deal with it on your own.

PTSD snuck up and took over my life. I’d been miserable for years because I didn’t know what I was trying to cope with on my own. I suffered for years without understanding why, until I didn’t want to live any more.

Now, I cannot imagine having missed one day of my kids lives. Good or bad, I want to be there for it all. When they graduate from high school, when they get married, go off to college, when they start their own families. I want to be there, protect them from the problems I had. To tell them, “You’re better than this!” Or smile for them after they avoid bad situations entirely!

Don’t hesitate to get help for PTSD. It really does make a difference.

I never wanted to go to therapy every week, but I am, and I am doing much better. My therapist told me last week that he thinks I am nearly ready to be done. I think that’s a remarkable thing to hear – I am better, I can do it.

My therapist told me recently that I’m a remarkable person for dealing with what I’ve experienced, and still managing to smile. I told him that despite any issues I’ve had, I have great kids and a loving husband.

That’s all I could ask for!

Dose of Happy: Student Identification

This week I notice my son had something I’d never seen before – a high school student identification card.

When you have a child who has had a non-traditional school experience (his first 1-½ years of high school at a therapeutic day school), suddenly the “normal” becomes cause for celebration.

It’s such a simple thing really – a photo on a piece of plastic – but it means so much more.

It means my son is just as important as every one of his peers.

It means that my son belongs.

It means that making a difficult choice regarding school placement when my son entered high school has paid off.

And that makes me happy!
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What’s your Happy?

Don’t think you have one? Look harder. Something will make you smile today.

We want to know!

Share it with the world on The Band Back Together blog or share it on Facebook. Whatever you want to do, do it. Just find a bit of happy in this Monday!

Covering The Scars: Failing Moms

If you are a friend, you’ve no doubt heard me refer to the young Prince and my daughter, Sam. You may not have heard me discuss My Dude, who will be 20.

My Dude has lead a life of struggle – he’s no angel, despite his problems and all of our efforts, we could not help him. We tried our best, we failed him, but when he is ready we will try again, and again, and again, and again.

This left his mark on each of our souls in this family; they say when one person has a disease, the entire family is sick. (Whoever the hell “they” are, that’s about the only thing “they” ever got right.)

He also left his marks on our house. Walls written on, slammed doors, the broken dishes. They’re really silly little things in the grand scope of things, when you consider how many times we’ve had to start over: house floods, hurricanes. When his lows were so low and the anger beast would rage out of his fists and into the walls, nothing was safe.

holes in the wall from bi polar son

The upstairs was covered with signs of his anger.

For years, the holes would multiply, weekly, monthly, until eventually, I learned it was silly to fix them because they would come back, bigger, with more vengeance.

So we stopped. We stopped fixing the holes, we focused on simply surviving the best we could. We made horribly hard choices that parents shouldn’t have to make.  He grew bigger, stronger, and his disease became more pronounced while he became increasingly distant.

Two years ago this week, what little was left of my world crashed down.

My Sam-I-am, left for the university; she’s my only daughter, my first born, my best friend, the first thing I had ever done right, and my biggest confidant. I wanted her to escape the madness, to spread her wings and go, but the selfish child in me wanted my friend, my baby, my daughter to stay. Two weeks before she left, I received a medical diagnosis that I kept secret for three weeks so she would go, as she’s the kind of girl who would give up her life to stay behind and help.

The diagnosis was so shocking, the amount of research was mind boggling while coping and adjusting our lives and goals around it.  But we did.  A couple months later, Dude had a break down, freak out, and then he left.

I have spent one and a half years without him, though he did briefly return twice. It didn’t go well either time, and both times he left on bad terms. Once, after a physical altercation with me.

Every night I go to bed not knowing where my son is, if he has eaten, if he is safe, if he is alive. When my phone rings from another state or an unknown number in the middle of the night, chills run up my spine and I feel like I will vomit, as I prepare for that phone call that no parent wants. Because I don’t know. I beg him to get to a doctor. A hospital. A police station. A shelter. Anywhere.

He’s never had a job. He’s never driven a car.  He receives no welfare, no medicaid, no anything, he’s not a drain on your tax dollar, but does have mental illness and he is walking around this country. How has he survived? I have no idea.  He is good looking, very good looking. He’s also very smart, and a great con man. I love him dearly but I’m not looking at the world through rose-colored glasses.  I wouldn’t want anyone to cross his path because honestly I have no clue what he is capable of: he hasn’t been on medication for over a year and I can’t legally make him take any, as he is an adult.

So for this past year and a half, when I don’t hear from him for a week or longer, and I worry, or I get a call of him just talking crazy I can sit on my stairs and run my hand over that hole in the wall and try to absorb some of his pain. Because I am his Mom. It’s my job. Kiss the booboo, make it all better, right?

But, I can’t. I have never been able to make it all better. He goes from loving me to wanting me dead in one deep breath. So I leave the holes in the wall to remind me of his pain, to remind me of how I can’t fix him, how I can’t help him. All I can do is love him, remember that he is real, even if he isn’t here.

Over the last three weeks he was calling 10-15 times a day, and full of tiger blood and all grandiose, like Charlie Sheen. For some reason the stars lined up and a guy who did drywall came by, so I hired him and paid him. My dad went in the hospital last Friday. I spent the entire day in the emergency room until he was admitted. I got home and at midnight I got a call from another State that my Dude had been picked up, they wanted to know about his mental health and he had asked them to call me. I had to say horrible things about him, to strangers, who think I that am a mother who doesn’t love her son. What they don’t know is I love him enough to say those things so they will get him help.

I hope.

In a strange twist of fate. The law being what it is, I can’t find out if they have my son, if he is alive, where he is, how he is. Nothing. Tomorrow will make six days since I have had an update and it’s eating at me, yet I have to go on, with work and life and baseball games for the Prince, Sam-I-am turns 22 on the 11th and graduates on the 13th. Still, I know nothing about my Dude. I kick out jokes, posts, tweets, pictures, but why isn’t my phone ringing, DAMN IT? I am his mother, I need to know he’s okay.

I went to the stairs today, put my hand on the wall where the drywall had been fixed. I just sat on there and felt I couldn’t have betrayed him more if I had tried. I’m so sorry, Honey. I hope one day you will understand that I love you to beyond the universe and back.

To all the parents who feel like they are failing, messing up, being judged, on the edge or losing it: you will survive. While I can’t guarantee your sanity, you will survive.

Hang in there.

Proud Mom And Ally: Be The Change

Where my family lives, there are very few people who know what transgender means, even though we are a sizeable city. Not even the doctors here knew what transgender meant until we explained.

Imagine having two transgender children in a community that is extremely conservative and evangelical. The schools are unwelcoming. The churches are unwelcoming. Most people reject the local LGBT individuals. The state legislature is actively pursuing bills that legalize discrimination against people like my children.

Given that the trans population is less than half a percent of my state’s population, the lack of awareness of trangender people is unsurprising.

Visibility of transgender people in the media is increasing, but not at a rate fast enough to make a dent in the general population. Here, where we live, at least, visibility occurs as the few LGBT people come out of the closet to their families, friends, coworkers, and ultimately to the community as a whole.

Being out in a conservative, Republican city and state is often dangerous. Add in any other minority characteristics and the danger to the individual increases exponentially.

My two wonderful teenage transgender sons have to navigate this world. It is terrifying to think of them in the school setting (so they are homeschooled), unbelievably frightening to think of them out there alone and out as they medically transition in the future.

Transgender visibility and awareness is vitally important. My kids were born into the wrong bodies. In the second trimester of my pregnancies, each of them were exposed to increased testosrerone, changing their brain structures to resemble male brains (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/05/180524112351.htm).

Like sexual preferences, being transgender is not a choice. My sons, despite the identification at birth being female, are male. Because they are trans males, they are the lucky ones. They are less likely to be abused, less likely to be killed than trans females. They will, with testosterone, grow facial hair, increase their muscle mass and deepen their voices. They will enter into society with the stereotypical male look with ID cards that match their genders.

Most transgender people are not fortunate enough to have accepting families and doctors. Most struggle and suffer because of the extreme prejudices they face.

As allies to the LGBT community we can help change these struggles. We can make sure that all people are accepted and treated equally. Trans visibility is key, but without our speaking up for the community, for our friends and family members, change will be slow. We must make this a seismic change.

Ask The Band: Is Donor Insemination The Right Thing To Do?

Can I do it alone?

I have a son. He’ll be four in a few weeks – a sweet, smart, active little boy with a big heart. However, his father and I split up over a year ago, largely because I wanted more kids. While we had agreed upon it previously, he later decided that one was enough. He loves our son, of that I have no doubt, but he refused to have another child.

I’d had enough.

The breakup was nasty but I agreed to shared custody. Leaving was the hardest thing I have ever done – not leaving him, but sleeping under a different roof than my son. However, our custody arrangement is such that I see my son pretty much every day, and most nights. At least it’s bearable.

My son keeps asking me to bring home a baby for him (which is just so darn cute), but I wish it were that simple. I want another child. My biological clock is ticking louder every day. In a few months I turn 40. Somehow that number has always seemed the age I should be finished having kids.

For the past nine months (irony, anyone?), I’ve been actively searching for Mr. Right. Someone intelligent, attractive, single, honest, interesting, gentle, kind and creative, who likes kids and wants to settle down – and who hasn’t had a vasectomy. There isn’t anyone like that in my regular life so I’ve tried four different internet dating sites. So far I’ve met 18 local men and, well, short version: no luck.

So I have a choice.

I can take the risk and wait, or I can cut out the middleman (pun intended) and just do it myself with the help of a local fertility clinic.

I can afford the procedures and they’ve accepted me as a client. I’m lucky to have a job that will pay me almost my full salary for a full year of maternity leave, and a great health plan that covers most costs. I make enough money to be able to support another child. What more do I need, right? Case closed! Decision made! Sign me up and show me the stirrups!

Then the doubts set in.

If I get pregnant this fall, my son would be five by the time the baby was born. Is it fair to him? Will I have the energy to do all the things he needs me to do for him? Will I be able to get him to school on time – help him with his homework? Will he resent sharing his bedroom? Will he resent sharing me? Will his father think that he can steal our son away from me because I have another child? I wouldn’t put it past him.

Is it fair to deprive a child from knowing his father? Will the baby wonder? Will this baby resent that my firstborn son gets to spend time with his father but he or she can’t?

I remember those first months (and first years) of having a baby. It’s exhausting. Not enough sleep, constantly on call, never a moment of privacy – and that’s what it was like when the father was there to help out.

What happens if I’m on my own? No one is going to make me a sandwich. No one is going to vacuum for me or unload the dishwasher. No one will change a diaper once in a while to give me a break. No will bounce a teething infant for an hour or two in the middle of the night so I can sleep. No one will pick up groceries from time to time.

I will have no one to rely on but myself.

I don’t have family around, and all of my friends are leaving town one by one – it’s their careers, I always knew they’d be going sometime. Could I hire a doula for the first few months? A nanny? How much would that cost? Can I afford it? How do I find one? Would she expect to live here in my tiny house? Where would I put her?

What would it really mean to have a child on my own? Can I do it alone? The only single moms I know had a hell of a time, and they had friends and family around to help. What if I have twins? How the hell would I handle that on my own? My mother was a twin.

Am I strong enough to handle it?

Donor insemination.

It’s the right thing to do.

Right? Tell me I’m right.

Please.

Ask The Band: Baby Girl Is 2,581 Miles Away

When I was 15, I accidentally fell in love with a 20-year old, Jeff*.

I know, that sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. I didn’t know how old he was, I just knew he had saved me once, and then he stuck around.

I spent the next six years of my life bouncing back and forth between loving him and hating him. I gave him more of my energy than was responsible by any stretch of the imagination.

When I was 17, he cheated on me… kind of.

We were fighting and said we were over, but we both knew it wasn’t going to last. I forgave him. We found out later that the girl he’d slept with was pregnant. She also got hooked on drugs.

By some miracle, she carried that baby to term and delivered a healthy baby girl. That baby girl came home with us. Her mother’s rights were terminated by the court, and Jeff was all she had. I was Mommy to that baby girl. Jeff proposed shortly after we brought her home, when I turned 18.

Unfortunately, things didn’t work out so well once I left for college. Despite promises from Jeff that he’d move closer to my university and we’d stay together, it never happened. We went from living together to a long-distance relationship. Then, we went from a long-distance relationship to nothing.

Despite the end of our romantic relationship, he still allowed me to be a part of baby girl’s life – I was the only “mom” she even knew. When he realized the toll our separation was taking on her, he started bringing her to visit every week. She’d stay the night with me, and he’d have nights to be the 23-year old guy he wanted to be.

This arrangement has been working out pretty well for the last three years. We’ve toyed with the idea of getting back together, but we know we shouldn’t. The idea of being married to him is great; the reality is scary. He has a long and scary history of breaking my heart. He broke my heart again four weeks ago.

See, Jeff is from Washington state and it’s been his dream to go back. A month ago, he was offered a great job in his hometown. When he called to tell me about it, he sounded like a little kid on Christmas. I couldn’t have been happier for him. It struck us at the same time what moving meant, though. He’d be taking his daughter all the way across the country – away from me.

We had until May 7th to find a solution. That was his deadline to accept or decline the offer. On the 2nd, we were still fighting for an answer. I was laying in bed when I realized that the answer was simple: he needed to go. He needed to worry about himself and his daughter, and not me. I knew from his voice during that first phone call that nothing other than going to Seattle was going to make him happy. He needed to go for it and let the pieces fall together. He will not be without support, family, money, or love. Neither will our girl.

When I told him this, he cried. He felt like he was making a mistake for not finding a solution that included me. I told him that if this life move was meant to include me, it would find some way to, but right now, I’m staying put.

They started their road trip on Wednesday. Jeff planned a crazy six day adventure with all kinds of fun cities in the middle. Every couple hours, my phone rings, and I get a travel update from the best three-year old travel reporter in the world. I spend some time crying after each call. They’re in Portland tonight and will be at their new home tomorrow morning. It’s taking everything I have not to get on the next plane and meet them there. I don’t really know why I wrote this here, The Band.

Am I wrong for feeling this way about a little girl who isn’t even mine? Am I being ridiculous?

*Names changed to protect privacy.