What do you do when one member of a family is a survivor of childhood trauma and another family member has a serious health issue?
What do you when the other's health issue is also chronic and disabling?
What about other family members like the siblings, the other parent or the other partner?
What do you do?
This happened to us. In 2005, our oldest daughter was diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (formerly Asperger's Syndrome). At that time, we had no idea that my husband, Derek had an extensive history of childhood trauma. As I share in my ebook “For the Partners of Childhood Abuse Survivors,” he had dissociated from most of his childhood.
During those years, we navigated the world of an Autism diagnosis. We enlisted medical, psychological and academic supports. At home, we supported our daughter in small and large ways. She also has attention and math disability so much of our involvement included reminders, checking homework, and helping her stay on task. Her struggles with social anxiety meant lots of reassurance from us. Although we are fortunate that she does not struggle with verbal expression, the daily input was high.
In 2012, the collision happened.
In one lane: our daughter with the challenges of Autism. In the oncoming direction: my husband mentally struggled as suppressed memories came back.
Neither of these health issues is over. Our daughter still has Autism. Derek still has a dissociative disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. My other two daughters and I still find ourselves emotionally and mentally tossed about.
Autism Blueprint Podcast
This week, I was honored to be a guest over at Autism Blueprint podcast. The show is called “The Trauma Tightrope: 8 Survival Strategies When Autism and a Parent’s Traumatic Past Collide”.
The show notes include 8 Survival Tips When Autism and a Parent's Traumatic Past Collide.
Here, I’m modifying the concept to include any health condition.
There are different types of health scenarios too. Three examples are:
- A temporary health condition. For example, one of our children had warts. It went on for three years. The extra appointments, waiting to see a dermatologist and then, the trauma of wart-freezing were really stressful!
- A chronic and debilitating condition. In our case, we have a daughter with a neurodevelopmental disability.
- Stress-related health issues. I have struggled with chronic back pain and an intermittent skin rash.
What do you do when childhood trauma collides with another family member's health issue?
1. Watch for signs of depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues in family members.
2. If you suspect or know you have a history of childhood trauma, please consider professional help before a collision occurs.
3. Survivors: If the health struggles of another family member trigger overwhelming feelings or memories (powerlessness, guilt, rejection) from which you cannot disengage, please enlist professional help to process your reactions.
4. Don’t minimize or downplay the impact of the health condition or the childhood abuse. Both are difficult.
5. Become self-aware:
- Learn about your coping strategies.
- Practice awareness and acceptance of your emotions.
- If you are the 'healthy' parent/partner, learn to regulate your emotions.
- Mindfulness practices can help.
6. Inform your other children's' schools, coaches, music teachers, best friends' parents, etc of your home situation. These people can play an important role in supporting your other children. (If age-appropriate, tell your children what you are doing and why.)
7. Accept help. When someone asks what he or she can do for you, have a ready response. Don't be shy about accepting help!
8. Stress management and self-care are crucial. Check out the free self-care guide at Autism Blueprint. It's applicable for any health issue.
9. Seek education about your health issues, physical or mental.
There is no-easy-answer when childhood trauma collides with another family member's health issues. Keep going. Reach out for support. Be informed.
Most of all, take a deep breath! If I can do it, you can too!