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  • Writer's pictureGina Heumann

Six Signs of PTSD in RAD Caregivers

Many people (including at one time, me) associate PTSD only with combat veterans, police officers who’ve been involved in tragic events, and rape or sexual assault victims, but there are actually quite a few other causes for this debilitating condition. As a caregiver for a child with reactive attachment disorder, I would never have recognized or suspected PTSD in myself until someone pointed it out, and even then, I just tried to suck it up and think myself better. While some people can heal themselves over time, the vast majority of PTSD sufferers require professional treatment in order to fully recover.

As it turns out, PTSD can occur in people of any ethnicity, nationality, gender, or culture, and any age. Apparently one in 11 people will develop PTSD at some point in their lifetime, and it’s twice as common in women than men. PTSD can be caused by serious accidents, severe health problems, abuse, death of a close relative, and also being a caregiver to a child with RAD.

My official PTSD diagnosis actually came after my son got better. We had done over a decade of different treatments and therapies before finding the family-intensive program that finally helped him heal from the neglect he suffered with his foster mom. Until recently, he was extremely angry, suffered from acute anxiety, and would react violently towards authority figures, especially his primary caregiver. That was me.

Our journey included him punching me in the head while I slept, pulling my hair, kicking me in the shins, threatening me with a knife, and throwing heavy objects at me. We had many holes in our walls, and property destruction was common. When you read about abusive relationships, the advice is always to leave. But what if the abuser is your own child? Leaving really isn’t an option. So I pushed on, stuffing down my own anxieties and throwing myself into researching a magical cure to bring peace to our family.

Problem is, once my son was essentially “cured”, I continued to relive our worst moments, walk on eggshells around him, and wait for the other shoe to drop. If you’re a caregiver for a child who has suffered trauma, there’s a good chance you may have PTSD. Here are some symptoms to look for:

  1. Intrusive Thoughts This can include “flashbacks” to the traumatic event, but in my case, there wasn’t just one event. It was a series of events over many years. My intrusive thoughts included recurring memories as well as involuntary triggers at the time of year when his behaviors were the worst. I started to think of myself as a terrible mother, the mom of the “bad” kid, and someone undeserving of success, happiness, and love – and I couldn’t get out of that thought loop no matter how hard I tried.

  2. Physical Signs Physical signs of PTSD can include headaches or migraines, heart palpitations, stomach issues, lack of interest in sex, and panic attacks. PTSD can also present itself with chronic pain, which in my case was usually targeted to my neck and shoulders. The pain was sometimes so unbearable that I had trouble holding my head up.

  3. Avoidance Victims of PTSD may avoid people or places that remind them of the traumatic event. Again, mine wasn’t a single event, but a great deal of our issues happened at school… so guess who stopped volunteering for field trips, bake sales, and PTO events? I just couldn’t face the other parents who I was certain were gossiping about me behind my back, and I also had trouble listening to how perfect other peoples’ kids were.

  4. Changes in Behavior These could be irrational, angry outbursts towards others, and I’m embarrassed to say I lashed out at service people over some of the dumbest things. It wasn’t me; it was the PTSD! I was unable to concentrate, aggressive, and just not my normal upbeat self, and I was prone to uncontrollable crying at the drop of a hat. I’m still working to get back to a more positive place.

  5. Sleep issues Sleep issues could include nightmares or trouble sleeping. In my case, I was completely unable to turn off my brain and stop the irrational thoughts. I was exhausted at night and had no trouble falling asleep, but I just couldn’t stay asleep. Well-meaning friends recommended vitamin supplements, meditation, yoga, exercise, and other natural solutions, but nothing seemed to work until I addressed the PTSD.

  6. Negativity I already said I wasn’t my happy, positive self, but feelings of negativity were so strong. I felt hopeless, numb, moody, and couldn’t remember things. I suffered from such low self-esteem that I thought nobody would care if I wasn’t around. Yes, I did have suicidal thoughts on a regular basis.

PTSD isn’t something to take lightly. Severe anxiety and depression can drastically interfere with day-to-day functioning and lead to other health issues. If you’re suffering from any of the symptoms above, don’t wait. Find a mental health professional to help you snap out of these disturbing thought patterns. For me, the solution was EFT tapping with a licensed therapist, but EMDR is also an effective technique to quickly heal the post-traumatic stress.

RAD kids push our buttons and threaten our sanity, but it doesn’t have to be our permanent mode of operation. If you are the parent of a RAD kid, be sure to work in some self-care and some of your own therapy, so you can better handle the cards you were dealt.

Hang in there, warrior parents!

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