I now have a new level of empathy and understanding of people experiencing PTSD. Throughout my years as a counselor, I have read countless articles and books explaining the impact of trauma on a child’s brain. I find it fascinating, and it’s one reason I spent a year working for Helen Ross McNabb post-undergraduate. Family Support Workers are given clients who are high-risk and have little support at home as first-time mothers. As an educator, support system, and type of caseworker, we went into the homes of these mothers at least once a week.
My first client was 14 and had the most precious, tiny baby girl. She smoked throughout both of the pregnancies I knew her for, as she bounced from one subsidized housing complex to the next. She was living in a homeless shelter at one point with her baby girl while pregnant with the next. She was kicked out of her musical apartments because she continued to let her abusive baby-daddy back in over and over, after she’d made restraining orders. When I quit to go back to graduate school, she was living in an emergency women’s shelter and still having contact with him! And, as an outsider, we would all wonder WHY?!
It’s one of those classical cycles of abuse, and she was abused by her mother and had no relationship with her and no family support. She was like many of my clients where you want to scream ‘what are you doing!? Stop it’. But living with their own ongoing trauma, little education, no family support, and no money, they lived for what was right there in front of them, whether it be good or bad, not thinking ahead. I still remember her name and wonder what she’s up to now. (She did get her GED so I pray her girls and her are safe.)
Trauma may be abuse, death, natural disasters, witnessing violence, going consistently without basic needs (neglect), or an extreme unexpected event. It comes without warning and you may experience the stages of grief, even if it’s not an actual death. Post traumatic stress disorder is classified as: a stress disorder which can develop in children and adolescents as a result of directly experiencing, witnessing or being confronted with a single-incident traumatic (stressful) life event, or a period of prolonged stress due to a traumatic experience. – MacQuarie Univeristy , Sydney, Australia
And, it’s something I just read about until this spring. Now, I understand firsthand what it looks and feels like as an adult. I just feel fortunate to have such a great support system and lifestyle that we are getting through it. But, I still am fascinated with what it does to your brain. Both the trauma itself and the lack of sleep and self-care make for a real brain-malfunction! And, I am still feeling it’s effect.
Memory…what memory?! Did we talk about this!? I recently had a conversation with a sweet friend who retold a serious story she told me after Brody was diagnosed. I don’t remember when she told me this story the first time but I experienced deva-vu as she retold the experience of her husband being diagnosed with a brain tumor years ago. As she recently retold me, I apologized because I had totally forgotten that she’d shared this same story before. It wasn’t until she got into the meat of the story that it came back to me.
Fortunately, I have been spared many of the life-altering symptoms of PTSD because I do know I should talk about it. I should take care of myself, get more than enough sleep, eat right, and exercise. I do these things and yet, I’m still tired and feel foggy. So, what about all the poor children out there who don’t have that choice!?
I believe it’s something that is still so overlooked and underestimated by many teachers, PTSD. Children who live with or experience domestic violence experience the PTSD and can alter the way their brains develop. Children living in extreme poverty with daily uncertainties could certainly experience daily trauma. Our immigrant and refuge children have often times experienced war and violence. If I even think about having to take a test, even a test that Elementary School children take after Brody as diagnosed with a brain tumor and the month thereafter, I shutter to think of how I would do! I could feel that my brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders! You know that newborn, sleep-deprived brain that parents experience?… When you can’t remember if you put conditioner in your hair!…. If you don’t know if you washed your hair, you probably can’t take in a lot of new information, much less retain it!
I now know and understand what’s that like…..and I wish more teachers could believe that it’s real and it’s not that the child just doesn’t care or try enough. It must be frustrating to them too! It’s nothing personal; it’s their brain and it can only handle so much!
It’s already clear that untreated PTSD can interfere with a child’s normal brain development and increase the risk of other psychiatric conditions such as depression and substance abuse, Carrion concluded. “Early intervention is critical for children with post-traumatic stress,” he said.
I think about this today because I am lucky enough to be getting a lot of rest and relaxation lately. I am surrounded by people who love me. And, I’m doing things to keep my life and emotional well-being on track. But, this could easily not be the case if I were a helpless child. It’s amazing what a strong support system will do. My own two children show no signs of PTSD after experiencing a definite unexpected traumatic event. We are all so fortunate, and I cannot be grateful enough.
To those who aren’t so fortunate, I want us all to have more empathy and understanding. I think we all can go that little extra step to ask what’s wrong, to investigate just a little deeper, to give the opportunity for those who are hurting to get help. We can all love our neighbors as ourselves. Because you never really know when you yourself will need some extra love and help!