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Moms and stress disorders: Signs and symptoms

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Post-traumatic stress disorder

After my son's sudden major health crisis in 2003, I yearned for normalcy. I looked for and appreciated the routine and boring in our lives, and I kept waiting to feel better. He was doing so well, and it was and is such a blessing. I kept waiting to feel like his illness was over and done and we'd put it behind us. Those feelings never came. Instead I experienced increasing anxiety, sleep disruptions, and irritability, among other things. I most definitely was not myself, even while I was so thankful for the outcome.

Stressed Woman

When you hear about anxiety disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), you probably think about war veterans or survivors of bad accidents or violence. But those aren't the only causes of PTSD. Just about any shocking, traumatic event can trigger PTSD symptoms. The crisis after the crisis.

Symptoms

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a severe and ongoing emotional reaction to a traumatic event, such as a physical threat or harm to you or someone else, an act of violence, or other significant and dire event, and it is ongoing and interferes with normal life.

Symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, anger, avoidance, numbness, other sleep disruptions, hyper-vigilance around situations similar to the traumatic event, and other displays of anxiety. The symptoms can develop days, weeks, or months after the triggering event, and last for months. Symptoms can keep you from enjoying your life as you did - and think you should.

You may wonder, what's wrong with me? Why am I not over this? The psyche is a complex thing. I've sometimes felt like I had to grieve the life we had before my son's illness, grieve the loss of our innocence. As a mother, the whole idea of my little boy being so sick, and I was supposed to be his protector, and yet I couldn't protect him from this added another layer to the emotional trauma - in addition to my son's physical trauma.

At some point I realized I was exhibiting PTSD symptoms. Once I was able to identify what was going on and why, I was much better able to address the underlying issues.

Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event develops such symptoms, however. It's highly individual and your psyche may vary. But for those experiencing such symptoms, it's very real.

Get help

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms after a traumatic event, you should seek help. Only a mental health professional can officially diagnose PTSD. Once diagnosed, there are treatment options. While you may never get "over" the traumatic event, there are options to help you manage it effectively.

Even if you do not have full PTSD, recognizing that you are having an ongoing emotional response to an event is the first step to dealing with it fully, and integrating the event and it's meaning to you into the rest of your life.

You are not alone

There are more parents than you realize dealing with a crisis after a crisis, dealing with fallout from a traumatic family event. It can be hard to seek out those others, but it you find one you may find you have a special bit of understanding with one another. Mostly it helps to know that you are not alone, and what you are feeling, while perhaps not exactly normal, is quite understandable.

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