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Why Self-Care is So Dang Hard for Parents Raising Kids with Trauma

 It's Monday. 

I woke up excited, which elated me.  There was no anxiety, which is usually what paralyzes my body on days like today, until I hop out of bed and start moving.   

To feel calm about where I was going, was validation that I am growing and healing.

This morning I was doing something just for me, to take care of me, without anyone else.  

That in itself was an accomplishment.

There are so many reasons why self-care is so dang hard for parents raising kids with trauma.

Why Self-Care is So Dang Hard for Parents Raising Kids with Trauma

Why Self-Care is So Dang Hard for Parents Raising Kids with Trauma

There's always a reason not to take care of myself.

When Sunshine was home, life required two adults in the house at all times due to behaviors and safety. This was always my reason for not taking care of myself.  I couldn't leave the house without her.

Today there were complications with my husband's medication.

The doctor's office filled out insurance paperwork wrong for my husband's prescription on Friday.  The prescription was denied on Saturday.

My husband is without the medication that helps him function at his best. He is unable to think as clearly and do all that he usually can.  This comes with much frustation and exhaustion for him.

Normally I wouldn't worry about leaving the kids home with him for such a short time in the morning. 

But, between the withdrawal he's experiencing and all that he's struggling with right now, I just wanted to make things easier for him.

Caring for our three kids alone with all their preteen and teenage hormones paired with their own diagnoses of autism and Reactive Attachment can be a challenge, no matter what time of day it is. 

This is especially true if one kid is upset with another.  Though ages 14, 12, and 11, the kids are emotionally and in some cases developmentally, much younger in age.

I talked to the kids, asking if they wanted to come with me and wait in the van during my appointment playing on their phones and media devices. 

I also gave them the option of staying home, setting up a plan that didn't involve expecting anything from their father, and being on their own while I was gone. 

They chose to stay home, do their morning routines and chores, and then have their media time in the morning instead of later on in the day.  

My husband chose a few tasks he could work on while I was gone, knowing that the kids were expected to fend for themselves unless there was an emergency.

The fact that I would be alone in the car was a HUGE deal, but that came with its own fun.

Anxieties are always present.

It's been raining for days. My first challenge was getting Big Red (our 12 passenger van) out of the worn gravel driveway without getting stuck in the mud.  

I praised Big Red as we successfully did just that.  

It was still raining outside. The roads were wet.  

Ever since my husband and I hydroplaned while on our way to get married years ago, during a horrible rain storm, driving in the rain causes anxiety.  

The anxiety doesn't ever stop me from driving if I have to, but I will avoid driving in it if I can.

I was running a bit late, which is not like me at all.

This morning though, I decided to eat breakfast before my appointment.  I was feeling so relaxed and calm, I thought I'd give it a try.

But like with all anxiety ridden appointments or events, eating beforehand causes stomach and bowel issues, which I had to take care of before I left. 

If I was going to make it to the appointment on time, I had to take the highway.

I hate driving on the highway near our home.  The trucks are HORRIBLE.  Driving Big Red has definitely increased my confidence and minimized fears, (because she is so darn big and I feel safer), but I still avoid the highway when driving locally as often as I can.

My anxiety about being late overpowered my fear of what I may run into on the short stretch of highway I'd need to take to my appointment, and so I did it.

As I successfully drove onto the highway and into my exit lane, again I found myself talking out loud to Big Red, cheering us both on. We did it!

It may seem like something little, but to me, it was a big deal.

I made it to my appointment exactly on time.  I leaned back in my seat and let out a sigh of relief as I parked the van.  I'm here.

Negative thoughts will win if you let them.

Technically nothing horrific would have happened if I was a few minutes late, but I was always taught to be on time and that lesson has stayed with me.  

When I don't show up to an appointment on time, I find myself thinking negative thoughts about myself, which I didn't need any more of this morning.

I had already had negative thoughts while getting dressed. My outfit wasn't appropriate or good enough.  

I counteracted those thoughts with the logical argument that I had been wearing work out clothes all day every day for years because it was the attire necessary to care for Sunshine.  

Since she had left, I did splurge on a pair of jeans for myself, but the button broke, so I had nothing else, other than two dresses that I wear to church.

My outfit was just going to have to do.

The other negative thought was about the fact that I wasn't wearing make up to my appointment.  

I know it's important to look my best. I was taught that wearing makeup was part of this process. 

But to be truthfully honest, wearing makeup isn't a need for me, especially when I know I will most likely cry.  

Wearing makeup is further complicated by the fact that I'm allergic to so many brands, so when I do splurge on it, I want it to last as long as possible. 

It's amazing how much effort goes into actually doing something for myself, especially when it comes to overcoming the anxieties of all that could go wrong while I'm gone, paired with the negative thoughts in my head.

But I made it!

Today, I was starting with a new mental health therapist, a therapist just for me. This was my self-care gift to myself.

Therapy can be a good thing.

I've worked with so many therapists over the years with our girls, related to their Reactive Attachment Disorder and other struggles, but the focus was always the entire family.

This was going to be different.

I'm not going to therapy because I'm a horrible person or feel someone else is a horrible person and I need that validated.

I'm not going to therapy because I need to be fixed or think anyone else needs to be fixed.

I'm not going to therapy because I did something wrong and was sentenced to work on myself.

I'm not going to therapy because I have a severe mental health struggle that warrants continuous therapy over an extended period of time.

And if I was going to therapy for any one of these reasons, that would be okay too!

I AM going to therapy to help me work through the negative thoughts in my head, because I've done all I can do on my own, and want to improve those skills.

I am worth it to work through those things.

I AM going to therapy because all of the trauma I've experienced in my life has changed me. 

I'm not quite sure how to manuver through all of those changes on my own, especially when it comes to triggers and how my body responds to them, especially now that Sunshine is no longer at home.

Trauma is real.

I'm going to therapy because my brain has been trained to survive in continous trauma for so long, it's not sure what to do without that trauma, nor can it trust that it's really over.  

And why should it? It probably isn't over.

For so long, I have lived feeling like I wasn't good enough.  

No matter what I did in most relationships... 

No matter how much effort I put in...

It wasn't enough.

This was magnified by ten, as I couldn't save my sweet Sunshine. 

No matter what I did, no matter how much I fought, and no matter how much abuse I was willing to take to keep everyone else safe, it wasn't enough to make her better.  It wasn't enough to heal her brain.  

And I know I did EVERYTHING I could.  

The one lesson I took home from working with the therapist at her first RTC is that I am a great mom.  Before Sunshine left a year ago, I did not feel that way.

But even now, I fight those negative thoughts in my head regularly, especially when I'm thinking about Sunshine, or anything related to Reactive Attachment Disorder.

I AM going to therapy because I want to work on my anxiety.  

When Sunshine was here, our family lived in constant worry and anxiety about when her next episode might be, what would set it off, and who would be effected by it.  

Every little decision felt like a life or death decision because it was. Someone could get hurt or worse.

And at the very least, there would be a screaming fit that could last hours.  It would take both my husband and I to help her during those behavior seizures when she lost all control.  

Since she's been gone, any little thing triggers anxiety, even more so when it relates to Princess and her Reactive Attachment Disorder.  

I absolutely hate when my body feels so anxious, especially when my brain knows what it's from, why it's there, and how to respond to it.  The whole process is just so exhausting and impairing. It drives me crazy!

Speaking of anxiety...

The anxiety I felt as I traveled to my therapy appointment about little things like rain and the highway didn't end once I arrived.  It only became worse.

I'm high risk for COVID-19 due to asthma and chronic lung damage.  

Walking into a place where there are other people, especially those who decide not to wear a mask correctly freaks me out.  

It is not convenient for me to get sick and die right now.  

Unfortunately, it's also not my turn to be vaccinated.  

I only leave the house when I absolutely need to.  In order to obtain therapy, the intake needed to be done in person.

I found a safe corner of the waiting room, separated from where others were sitting, so I could feel alone and safe.

Triggers are real and come even when you don't want them to.

But that's when it hit me that I was actually at a therapist's office waiting to see a therapist.

For some that may not be a big deal, but to me it's HUGE!

Mental health therapy and I do not have a pleasant history.

Therapy in itself is a big anxiety trigger for me.

There are experiences from my personal past that have contributed to this, but then there's the fact that I've been a parent to four children with diverse needs for a LONG time.

I've been judged by many who are considered professionals in their fields, are well intentioned, but have not lived in the trenches, and therefore don't understand or know how to deal with the actual behaviors we have been faced with.

I've been in those sessions where the therapist focuses on what my girls say, whether true or not, and then told it's my responsibility to change and fix things.

I've been in those emergency crisis situations where police, doctors, and therapists all look at me as if I'm what's wrong with my kid, because no child at that age is capable of what we're reporting, and the kid has decided in the moment to behave perfectly in front of others. 

Or it goes the other way and they do see behaviors and judge that the only reason a child could act that way is if they have a horrible parent.

I've been in those sessions where I already feel like the scum of the earth because I can't seem to do anything right, no matter what I try, because absolutely nothing works.

The therapist then asks me to try harder, or do something different that takes even more effort on my part. That's when I feel like I'm about ready to break inside.  

Sometimes this is because I've already tried what the therapist is recommending and it didn't work. 

Other times it's because I feel like there is nothing left in me to give, because I'm already giving 200% and physically hurting from all I am giving. They just don't know that.

As the therapist asks me to do more the negative thought process in my head, that tells me I'm not good enough, is confirmed. 

This is not because the therapist meant it that way, but because my head is already there and the therapist has no idea how much I'm hurting. 

After all, this is a session about my kids, not me, so I don't take the time to talk about me.  If I tried, Sunshine wouldn't be okay, and then I'd get hurt.  

So, my motto is I'm willing to do whatever I need to in order to help my kid, documenting the process, so next time when asked about this again from another therapist, I can prove that I've already tried.

Initially, therapists have no idea what an over achiever I am.  I strive to do everything right and to put 200% in so that I'll have no regrets.

Therapists have no idea how much I've read and researched to try to help my child and myself. 

Therapists have no idea that I document and chart EVERYTHING to keep all in my family safe. I analyze EVERYTHING looking for patterns and solutions. I leave no rock unturned.

Therapists don't know that I take even the slightest criticism or critique seriously, because that's what I'm used to.  Anything I can do to improve myself, that will help my kid, I'm willing.

As all of these thoughts flooded my head in the waiting room, my body began to tense up and shake. I immediately practiced the breathing exercises my hemotologist had taught me, reminding myself that seeing a therapist was a good thing.

Not all experiences are bad.

And that's what I did until my name was called.

You can do it!

I could feel my mind racing as it does when I'm anxious.  My trauma brain was taking over, which for me feels like ADHD on steroids.  

Thankfully my body was calm.

The therapist was very kind and professional.  She made me feel at ease quite quickly.

I answered her questions and shared experiences during the intake.

But my biggest hurtle and anxiety was wondering what she thought of me.

Had this trauma all these years really messed me up to the point that I'm not okay or broken?

I was raised to believe that there was an "us" and a "them."  It wasn't acceptable to be one of "them." By going to the therapist I was now a "them."

I've worked so hard to overcome all of this trauma and anxiety, but what if it wasn't good enough? 

What if I've done everything all wrong?

What if the therapist did start acting like Dr. Phil?  How was I going to respond?  I really did NOT want to have to work through big triggers during our first meet and greet.

What if the therapist thought I'm nuts and wouldn't contine to work with me? 

I know for a fact there are very tactful and some not so tactful ways to do that.  Sunshine has been turned down by so many specialists for that very reason.

The session went well.  Thank goodness. I knew my anxieties were high because of where I was and what I was doing.  

I knew that I was having a hard time focusing, thanks to ADHD on steroids that always comes when trauma is triggered. The trauma here being that I was sitting in a therapist's office talking to a therapist.

But in the end, I did it!  

I went to my first therapist appointment and survived it.  

Yes, I was emotional and shed a few tears, but that was okay.  

There were most definitely times between wearing two masks, my asthma, and heightened emotions that I may have sounded like I was gasping for air, but again, that was okay too.

I wasn't put down by the therapist. 

I wasn't made to feel that I wasn't good enough.

In fact I think the highlight of the whole appointment was when the therapist showed excitement about working with me.  

It felt as if I had passed this big test. I was good enough to get help at improving myself, not because I needed to, but because I wanted to and that was okay.

The therapist even gave me homework to start reading the book, The Body Keeps the Score. I LOVE this because it means I can take action working on me, and do something, while I wait for our next session.  (Yes, I am a total nerd like that, but it helps my anxiety about therapy, so I consider this a good thing.)

Now that the intake is over, I can meet with the therapist over telehealth, which should hopefully be a much more relaxed situation than dealing with the triggers of the office building.

Take your moment.

The minute I stepped up into the van, used my hand sanitizer, and turned the key in the ignition, my entire body let out all of the emotions and triggers it had been feeling all at once.  To me it felt like my body was expanding and shrinking all at the same time, with just a little shaking.

My eyes welled up with tears and I cried happy tears.

I felt so proud of myself for working through all that I had, to get to and through this appointment.  

I was brave.

I fought the anxieties.

I fought the negative thoughts.

I trusted a stranger, who was a therapist.

I took care of me, and that was a BIG deal.

Prepare for the fallout ahead of time.

Because I knew ahead of time that my husband did not have his medication, our daily schedule was adjusted to accomodate that.

Instead of the late afternoon, my kids played media devices in the morning.  This definitely affected their afternoon learning.  Dinomite even reported that he felt sluggish and in a daze.  

I could have been upset and blamed myself for the kids' struggles during learning.  But instead, I just went with it and we did an art project today instead of diving into more difficult math concepts.

During the days when Sunshine was home, if I did have to leave the house without her, there would be heck to pay. So we adjusted.  We'd prepare her.  

My husband and Sunshine would create a visual schedule of things they would do together while I was gone. They planned their own fun time.  

I would call to check in.  We provided Sunshine with a comfort item to snuggle with if she missed me.  

Sunshine's absolute favorite thing to do was to exchange emojis and gifs using my husband's cell phone with supervision while I was gone.

Even with all that, when I came back, she was still upset.  There were times when she would be mean to me for days, but it wasn't nearly as bad with the preparation.

Why am I sharing?

Now some may be wondering why I'm sharing this glimpse of my day.  

Others may be thinking after reading this, that yeah, I really do need therapy.  And that's okay.

But the reality is, so many of us parents raising kids with trauma are going through extreme situations on a daily basis.  

Over time we don't even realize them as extreme situations anymore, because they're just normal for us.

We put all the energy we have, and then some that we don't have, into helping our kids, and don't take care of ourselves.

This goes on for YEARS.  

But here's the thing.

It is okay to get help for yourself.

Not because you're bad or wrong, but because you deserve to take care of yourself in any and all ways that you may need.

It is okay if taking care of yourself and getting help for yourself is HARD.

It is going to be HARD.  

But, YOU are worth it.  

You ARE okay.

You ARE good enough.

And whatever it may be, whether it's mental health therapy, or finally getting to the dentist after four years (that was me last month), you can do it!

You can expect that there will always be at least one reason not to take care of yourself.

You can expect anxiety.

You can expect negative thoughts.

There will be triggers.

But they will be worth it to get you where you want to go.

Once you've been successful, don't forget to feel all the feels and celebrate!

Self-care is so dang hard for parents raising kids with trauma.

When you successfully do that, you NEED to celebrate.

And then be okay with whatever fallout comes. 

Plan for it ahead of time.  

Adjust expectations.

Because YOU my friend are worth it!

For those who would like to follow my story as a mother raising children with trauma, be sure to subscribe to our FREE newsletter.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy the posts below:
What Is Reactive Attachment Disorder To Be a Mother of a Young Child with Reactive Attachment Disorder From the Mother of a Bully What NOT to Do with a RAD Child How to Discipline a Child with Reactive Attachment Disorder Am I Going Crazy?

Why Self-Care is So Dang Hard for Parents Raising Kids with Trauma

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