She started screaming again. This is the third night this week. I can hear her crying, pleading for help, pleading for “them” to stop. I go to her room. She is fighting off an invisible demon from her past. She is scratching and twisting. Tears streak her face. I go to help her and she mistakes me from the villain. She starts hitting and kicking me. No matter how many times I call her name or shake her, she does not wake up. She is locked in there. I can’t get her out. I hold her, absorbing the pounding because she thinks I’m the monster. I do it to keep her safe- to keep her from acting out her night terror. After a half hour of this, she wears herself out. She falls limp and finally plummets into a real sleep. I stare at her crying. I pull her close and pray. I pray that the Lord will free my child from the pain. I pray that one day she will have relief. So far relief has not come.
This is how my husband and I’s nights go about 2-3 nights a week. I can’t remember the last time either one of us got a good night’s sleep. This demon, this monster that attacks our child at night is called Post Trauma Stress Disorder or (PTSD).
What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder?
Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is when someone has difficulty recovering after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event(s). The symptoms can last for a few months or years. Sometimes symptoms may not show up until years later when symptoms are triggered from another terrifying event. PTSD cannot be cured. However, through therapy and learning of good self-help strategies the symptoms can decrease.
What are the symptoms of PTSD? Please note that symptoms can express themselves differently in children under 6 years of age.
-Nightmares or Night Terrors (Nightmares where they act out their dreams and cannot be awoken).
-Recurring, negative memories from the traumatic event(s)
-Reliving the traumatic event(s) (Flashbacks)
-Strong emotional and physical reactions to triggers (things that remind you of the trauma). They are individualized based on the trauma experienced. It can be a smell, a sound, an item, a person, a place, a time of day or year, etc.
-Since these thoughts and triggers are so distressing to someone with PTSD they may go out of their way to avoid the triggers. Example: I know someone who was sexually abuse by a man who wore a very popular cologne which is still produced today. She will not enter any store that has a cologne counter because that cologne is so triggering to her.
-Isolating ones self from people and places associated with the traumatic event(s).
-Sense of hopelessness and that it will never get better
-Pervasive negative thoughts about oneself and the world
-Difficultly with memory- it can also include forgetting details about the traumatic event(s). In young children, they may cognitively remember the events, but their body does.
-Difficultly maintaining relationships and feeling detached from family and friends
-Pervasive negative mood and feeling of emotional numbness
-Easily startled and hyper vigilant
-Difficultly with sleeping and concentrating
-Self-destructive behaviors: drinking too much, driving to fast, etc
-overwhelming guilt and outbursts of anger or aggression
-Children under 6 may reenact traumatic events through play and may have nightmares, but the nightmares do not always contain the traumatic event(s).
What I need you to understand about PTSD is that when you have met one person with PTSD you have met one person with PTSD. Yes, there are common symptoms, but the traumatic events they experienced and their triggers are as individualized as each person. Just because something does not threaten you does not mean that thing is not a trigger for someone else We must be sensitive to that fact, and try to unobtrusively find out their triggers.
People with PTSD cannot just “get over” their symptoms. You cannot love or discipline them out of existence. Trauma affects the biology of the brain and is a medical condition. As any other condition, it takes medical intervention such as doctor consultations, therapy, and sometimes medication to help decrease the symptoms.
Children sometimes will show anxiety, depression, aggression, suicidal/ self-harm tendencies, irritability, extreme guilt or shame, and self-isolating behaviors. Really young children may not remember all the trauma, but will show the symptoms. Educators, if you know a child you are teaching has been through traumatic events, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE ask what their triggers are. It will save both you and the child some potential difficulties and possibly improve communication.
If you find my blog helpful, please follow it and share the link with others. I pray that I am giving these children a voice. #MamasOfTrauma
Post traumatic stress disorder. (n.d.) Mayo clinic. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967