Really! Not this again

I want to thank those of you who have subscribed to my blog recently. To catch-you-up, many of my blogs revolve around the highs and lows, joys and challenges for my wife and me parenting our 8-year-old boy, KD. He is an only child who loves sports, and I’m his main playmate. He’s kind, sweet, sensitive, funny, generous, and sometimes a challenge and complete mystery for this therapist/parent. If you want to look through the archives, you can find them on my website: rivercitycounseling.com.

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For the first four years of KD’s life his health was horrible. Unless he was on antibiotics or in the NICU/PICU, he had this cough that just wouldn’t go away. And no matter what we tried, he couldn’t breathe very well. The daytimes were typically relatively ok, but the nights were horrific. He only slept a few hours per night, and when his problems were particularly awful, our only option was for me to take him for a steam. This happened five or six nights a week. One visit usually did the trick, but on the worst nights, we’d have two visits. It sucked…

The trauma was nearly disabling. I rarely had nightmares, but I lived a life in which every time he coughed, day or night, I was ready to mobilize and do something, anything. And believe me, my ears were always open. When it got so bad that they started wondering if he had Cystic Fibrosis, I went through the roof. Fortunately, his brilliant doctor figured out what was wrong, and he has been much better ever since.

But I wasn’t better. Although I think I hid it relatively well, I still was ready to head to the steam or PICU every time he made a sound that was close to a cough. We call this hypervigilance, which is a classic sign of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Or simply put, I was an emotional wreck…

Fortunately, I’ve spent years working with the best therapist in town, and things have slowly gotten better. I’ve reached a point in which I still react a little bit when KD coughs particularly hard, but I don’t start rummaging through my drawers searching for the outfit I wear in the steam or start packing my bag for the PICU. I don’t live my life on red alert anymore. I no longer have PTSD…

But I’d also never tested my healing in real time. Recently, his cough returned, and I was back in the steam for five or six nights in a row. In the back of my mind I knew it was his allergies (which the same brilliant doctor confirmed and prescribed a medicine that has made things much better), but I wasn’t positive. And on some level I was worried that I would head back to the PTSD zone. Granted, it was a major drag to be woken up and I became a bit sleep-deprived, but I didn’t freak-out. Instead, I sighed, suited up for the steam, and reminded myself that this is a temporary situation, rather than a sign that I was heading back into hell. And I was right. And this is pretty cool.

After finishing writing this, I reflected on what things were really like for me back then. With this in-mind, I want to share a blog I wrote a couple of years ago. Quite frankly, I think I minimized the hell we were in. Still, it gives a taste.

Until next time…

Is it trauma or just a little drama-River City Counseling

In my last blog (“192 hours until kindergarten starts”), I talked about the beginning of kindergarten for my son, KD. As expected, I was a both a little sad and happy. Then I went home and took a nap.

I also had a reaction I didn’t expect. All parents are a little bit nervous about leaving their “angels” at school for the first time, right? A few more hugs than usual are given, right? A few tears are normal, right? I feel that I took it a little beyond where I should have. I didn’t freak out, but I had a little, gnawing feeling in my belly that said things weren’t OK.

It took a while, but I think I’ve figured out why. During the first three years of his life, KD had a ton of health issues. I’ll spare the details, beyond sharing that he had 4 ICU visits, and we spent 5 or 6 nights/week in the steam to help him breathe better and cough less. We were constantly on red alert. Although his health is stellar now, there’s something about starting kindergarten that’s reminding me of the nervous feelings I used to feel on a nightly basis. I’m not exactly on red-alert, but I’m certainly hovering between orange and yellow.

As much as it’s driving me crazy to feel this way, I’m also trying to be easy on myself. My brain has been hard-wired from years of trauma from him being sick, and when my buttons are pushed in a certain way, my impulse is to take him and flee for safety. Fortunately, logic has also kicked in, and this leaves me with the power to make a choice: take him home or leave him behind.

Most of the time, making decisions based on our past experiences is good judgment. If we got mugged walking down a dark side street, we’ll probably walk down brighter, busier streets in the future. Or if we got a ticket for speeding and not wearing our seat belt, we’ll probably slow down and wear our seat belt in the future (or at least for a day or two.)

Other times, it really doesn’t serve us. Even if we have the impulse to do one thing, we’re better off resisting and doing nothing. If we need a job, we’d better go to the interview, rather than skipping it because we’re anxious. Just because I have the impulse to take KD and home-school him again, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. I’ve taught in the past, and it’s a past I’d rather not revisit. (And even if I tried to, I think that my wife, having home-schooled KD until last week, would change the locks and puts bars on the windows to stop me.)

So what are we left to do when our impulse is to run away, but our brains tell us we have to stay, even if it feels awful? The best choice is to try to be easier on ourselves and do extra things that we know are good for us. Some of us go to the gym more, and others spend time with friends. Some of us take naps (something I’ve done every morning this week) and others of us do yoga or Tai chi. Some of us write in our journals, and others clean house. And I guess some of us just walk around in circles, until we land at our computers and talk about our dramas on Facebook. If it’s good for us and helps us cope with our emotions, rather than run away, do it. (I’m also aware that there are times when, even though we know staying to confront something is good for us, we’re unable to because of past trauma we’ve experienced. When these situations present themselves, it’s likely that some extra support from an experienced mentor, pastor, or counselor will be necessary.)

Of course, doing what we know is good for ourselves isn’t always enough to feel 100% about the decision. But I’ve taken my advice and done a few of the things I’ve suggested, and it’s helping. He’s finished a week of school and loves it. Leaving him behind was the best idea possible. Now, if only I could get him to sleep past 5:24 a.m. (which has happened 5 days in a row) and get rid of the pesky cold I’ve caught, I think I’ll be good to go.

 

One Response to Really! Not this again
  1. elizabeth
    May 19, 2016 | 8:24 am

    How wonderful that you have progressed in your emotional reaction to KD’s ailments. I know the feeling going back to a time when there was a serious accident in my family with a child being severely injured. It took a long time to not relive the experience and even now if I think about it I get a physical reaction of feeling chilled and anxious.

    Our children are so precious and the love so big for them that we always will react when they are not 100 percent. It’s God’s gift to give children, but with the gift come a very intense ebb and flow of vigilance…

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