One Mama’s experiences living and parenting with PTSD

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For those people that have not heard of you before could you tell us a bit about yourself your story?

Yes, thank you for asking. I am a writer from the Pacific Northwest. I have been writing since, really, forever. Even before I could write I would tell stories with my dolls or favorite Disney characters, and then when I was five years old one of my aunts taught me how to write poetry so that I would go away while she finished doing some important adult thing…and it worked. I wrote something like twenty poems at once and then just never stopped. After that I began writing stories and plays and everything in between, and getting a lot of it published from an early age.

When I was fifteen, however, I got involved with this guy who turned out to be a narcissist and a sociopath. He was extremely abusive. I mean across the board; every category of abuse he committed against me. He even kidnapped me. I came out of the relationship with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and that has been really hard to deal with. I got involved with drugs for a while, as a way of self medicating. Naturally, my publication rate went down as I became more and more focused on escaping me memories through drugs.

Eventually I went to grad school for writing and was introduced to mindfulness therapy, which was the first thing that allowed me to take myself out of a panic attack or flashback without having to take a pill or have a drink or something. Now I am writing again, and it feels like a homecoming.

Your blog Bettys Battleground focuses on your experiences living and parenting with PTSD, PTSD is a condition that is difficult to fully understand how would you describe it?

I would describe PTSD as a poorly built time machine.
Your body, your actual physical self, continues to move forward through time and accumulates new experiences and all the normal things we as humans do, but your mind is stuck in the past. In a way, part of your body is stuck too, because you have hyperarousal and inappropriate hormonal reactions, like fear reactions when they aren’t warranted. PTSD manifests differently in everyone who has it, but for me I have a lot of dissociation. Dissociation is basically the feeling that life is not real. It’s sort of like I am constantly in a dream, a nightmare really, waiting to wake up. I often have the feeling of screaming in my head, like the way you feel in your body and mind when you are screaming, but I am not actually screaming. And I’m just hoping to wake up into a life where that feeling is silenced.

And it also feels like being possessed.  It feels sometimes like I am possessed by my past self. Imagine that you are being attacked. How would you react? Probably in a very dramatic manner. Screaming, thrashing around, and maybe fighting back. Certainly not in any way that would be considered normal in any other situation. Of course, while you’re being attacked, it’s okay to behave this way because you’re defending yourself, obviously. You are doing it to survive. During a PTSD episode, it is as though the person I was when I was being attacked takes over the person I am now. I behave as though I am in the midst of an assault. Only there is no one around who is hurting me. It is just the air that is hurting me, the scope of the world, which feels like a cruelty in its vast indifference.  It is strangers, who transform into phantoms of my abuser.  I look crazy, I act crazy, I am crazy, but to me, I am just surviving.

And it also affects my ability to feel joy. PTSD is very complex; I’m sorry I can’t give a shorter answer. But, yes, I am actually afraid to be happy, because in my past, my happiness and love and acts of kindness were met with violence. So there is an association there, in my brain, between joy and being hurt. I don’t want to be hurt, so I try not to feel happy. Which sucks because of course I do want to be happy, just like anyone else, but I am also terrified of it. I have read about a practice called somatic therapy which treats PTSD by addressing the physical body; the points in our body where our trauma is physically held, like knots in our muscles and all that. Easing and healing those points is supposed to also help the traumatized body stop its inappropriate hormonal reactions.  I’m not a doctor so I may not be explaining it exactly right, but it sounds like something which would help me very much. Unfortunately, it is one of those things which is only available to the wealthy.  That’s a reason I’m doing my blog; so often we hear the stories of celebrities or public figures or other rich people who have terrible things happen to them, and we follow their journey of recovery. And of course, people with money feel pain too, and deserve to heal too. But I think it’s worth showing the world that those of us who don’t have money go through those same traumas but our journeys toward recovery are much harder, and sometimes don’t happen at all.

What inspired you to start your blog Bettys Battleground?

My abuser came back into my life last year. We have a son together. He doesn’t live with me; he was diagnosed with autism around the same time I was diagnosed with PTSD. It was very apparent that the scope of his need and the scope of my need were in conflict and that neither of us would have the best chances at life we both deserve if I were his sole and primary caretakers. I was also quite young and had no money to pay for his special care. His father certainly didn’t contribute. I am very lucky that my family came together to help with his care. He has been living with my mom for five years now. He’s nine. Of course he still has autism and he still struggles, but his life is good and he has a steady routine and access to all the care he needs. But this man, who nearly killed my son when he was an infant, and who assaulted me and drugged me while I was pregnant, is now trying to get visitations with the ultimate goal of taking custody.  It’s an absurd expectation; I think what is really going on is that he learned I was married and got jealous and is now trying to exert control over me in the only way he has left.

The problem is that it actually was working. My PTSD worsened. I had to quit my job, and my husband and I almost lost our apartment. We had to do a fundraiser just to keep from being evicted. It was really embarrassing but also really beautiful because so many people came together with donations from $10 to $500 and we were able to raise all of the rent due and even a little extra. It was very touching.   We don’t ever want to be in that position again though. My husband has been working, and I have been going to a lot of therapy. I felt it wasn’t enough though, so I started my blog, Betty’s Battleground, and it has helped a lot. Telling my story and seeing people’s kind, encouraging reactions; seeing people share it, and hearing how it has helped other women like me better understand their own traumatic experiences, has been extremely uplifting.

As a blogger about PTSD you’ve probably been asked/given advice about PTSD many times, what would you say the best piece of advice is that you’ve been given?

My blog is fairly new. I just started it this past January, so I have not yet received any unsolicited advice.  A lot of encouragement, but no advice yet, though I expect I eventually will. The most helpful tool I have learned though has been mindfulness, which I picked up in Colorado while attending grad school.  I am not very good at sitting meditation; I’m just too anxious and my breath is not a strong enough anchor to keep me feeling focused and embodied. I like doing yoga and other forms of exercise. If I start my day off with some mindful exercise I feel a little less anxious and depressed than I would otherwise. Mindfulness helps because it allows me to safely enter my body, so to speak. There is no emotion attached to being mindful, so when I do it I can allow myself to live within the present moment, and to feel my body fully, without the fear that comes with feeling happy or being in danger. I try to find opportunities to be mindful throughout the day; I actually have a post on my blog about six activities I can with my kids while also secretly engaging in mindfulness, things like Play-Doh or drawing to music.  I recently shared that I turned cooking into a mindfulness activity with another trauma survivor on Reddit and she came back and told me that she tried it and found it very helpful too. That felt really good.

Your blog covers quite difficult topics like the post “Why Did You Stay”, are they equally difficult to write or is it therapeutic to put the experiences down on paper?

Both. Overall, Betty’s Battleground has been a healing experience for me. There is something very freeing in just putting it all out there for the world to see.  An unloading of the weight of the shame and secrecy and pain that comes with abuse. I have also been writing fictionalized accounts of my abuse for years. Having already done that has helped me to now be able to write true accounts. Some of the posts are difficult though. Oddly, the one that was most problematic for me was “Relationships: A PTSD Post Valentine’s Day Special,” which is a relatively tame post about the ways in which having PTSD has affected my interpersonal relationships. I still haven’t fully figured out why, but for about a week after writing it I was really grumpy and anxious.

You are about to interview other parents with PTSD for the website, how did that idea start?

It has been so helpful for me to share my story and I want to offer this opportunity to others. I have a writing background. I have my degrees and I’ve been published and I have just been writing for so long. I still have self-doubt and performance anxiety, but overall I am mostly confident about my writing and about showing it to people. Not everybody feels the same way.  I think that everybody who wants to tell their story should be heard, so I want to offer that opportunity to other survivors who may not have the confidence to do it on their own. And who knows, maybe these interviews will help them gain the confidence to continue with it on their own. I would love that.

I also feel that there is still a lot of stigma around PTSD, domestic violence, and addiction. There is still a lot of shaming, and a lot of misconceptions which are passed around as truths. For example, there are people who believe that most women who accuse a man of rape are lying. How ridiculous! The truth is that far more rapes occur than are ever reported, much less charged. In order to dispel these lies and misconceptions, those of us who have lived through these traumas need to hold our heads up high and shout our stories to the world. That is really, really hard to do, however, and it becomes much easier when there is someone by your side doing it with you.  I want to be that person by their side, and they can be the people by my side as well.

You also write on a variety of other topics from sci-fi to poetry, which authors would you say have influenced your style?

Oh wow, there are some many different writers who I love. From Homer to Shakespeare to Philip K. Dick and Ursula K. LeGuin.  Like you said, I love speculative fiction. I have a quote from Allen Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ tattooed on me, and also from Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ and also from John Lennon’s ‘Imagine.’ I wrote my critical MFA thesis on the prescience of Philip K. Dick, Ursula K. LeGuin, and Octavia E. Butler. I wrote my college entrance essay on ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I recently featured an interview and book review of an exquisite new author who I was lucky enough to meet in grad school, Sarah Schantz. It could definitely be said that I aspire to be like her. If I had to pick just one favorite author, however (and that’s difficult, because there are so many greats), it would have to be Neil Gaiman. I adore Neil Gaiman. Our babies are around the same age, and I have a secret fantasy that we meet one day at a playground and they become best friends and I get to hang out with Neil Gaiman and his awesome wife, the musician Amanda Palmer.  I recently won a poetry contest, and I got inappropriately excited to see an ad for the award ceremony placed in the same magazine as an article written by Neil Gaiman.

Here at Artistic Echoes we love music, are there any particular artists you listen to whilst writing, any new artists that you can recommend?

I love music as well.  I grew up in Seattle, so of course I am a huge fan of Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix. I also love The Beatles and John Lennon. The Gorillaz are another favorite.  There is a folk musician named Jason Webley who I am sort of in love with; he was actually in a duo with Amanda Palmer and is friends with Neil Gaiman too. He started off as a street musician here in Seattle, so I have memories of being a grungy awkward teenager dancing to his music on the sidewalk and harassing him between sets. His lyrics are incredibly beautiful and poetic and have definitely inspired my writing in the past.  I have a character loosely inspired by him in the novel I have been attempting to write for the past decade.   While I am actually writing, however, it is difficult for me to listen to music with a lot of lyrics, so I usually stick to electronica. I really enjoy psy-trance, especially Infected Mushroom.

What plans do you have for the rest of the year?

I am working really hard to grow Betty’s Battleground. I added a fiction segment so that I have an excuse to keep up with my creative writing. I would very much like to reach my target audience: other parents or people with PTSD or an addiction, or people hoping to learn more about those subjects. And I would also like to make some money from it. I am not certain how I can do this; I know I don’t want a bunch of random ads on my blog, but I would also be happy to do reviews of products I genuinely like, or things which can help with the topics I wrote about. I am also available to proofread and edit blog posts for a small fee, and to write or ghostwrite content. It is important to me to make money through writing because my family really needs it, and if I can’t monetize my writing, I’ll have to go back to working a regular job, which I think will be harmful to my mental health right now and will also basically mean giving up my blog and my artistic aspirations.  It’s also what I’m best at.

I am also putting together a theatrical production about addiction. I am seeking to showcase the voices of real addicts through monologues written by the addicts themselves. Everyone has the option to use their real name, a pen name, or to submit anonymously. The e-mail for that is, if any one reading this is interested in learning more or submitting something.

Thank you so much for these interesting questions and for the opportunity to be on your website!

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