Trigger warning: child loss
In the United States alone, there are nearly 8 million Americans like me suffering from PTSD. Although it’s common for some to think of PTSD as something that only afflicts war veterans, this is a misconception that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Because when someone experiences any type of trauma (whether it be war, abuse of any sort, child loss, a major vehicular accident, etc.), they are not immune to the deep cuts from the sharp and jagged knife that is PTSD.
So, let me tell you from personal experience what PTSD looks like when it stems from the tragedy of losing a child:
Keep your mind busy. Don’t think about it, don’t think about it. DON’T THINK ABOUT IT.
Every time my eyes close, I’m thinking about it. I’m reliving it, every last bit of it. Or, at least, the three scenes that haunt me to this day. It’s realistic, and I can vividly picture inside my head every moment happening once more, second by second. Or, what it’s been lately–snippet by snippet. It’s a Rolodex of images–memories–that flash all too rapidly.
My eyes clench shut, my body curls up, thick sweat coats my skin, and this is the only time in my life where I’ve ever felt so frustrated with my inner emotions that I physically want to pull out handfuls of my own hair. Anything to escape my memories.
And when the night terrors come, the entire house is sure to know it. Since I have no recollection of how I act while I’m asleep, I have to take my husband’s word for what plays out in the quiet of the nighttime hours. I’ve been told that soft cries escalate to frantic huffs. Frantic huffs lead to unrecognizable words and sometimes a distraught and repeated “no.” Then the no’s turn into gasping and (when it’s at its worst) a blood-curdling scream wakes my husband and sometimes me too. I don’t always remember my dreams, only that they were awful.
It’s like something out of a movie, and it’s been a part of my life for three years now. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen every night like it used to, or even every month anymore. But it does still happen.
PTSD still stands in the way of living a normal life with my surviving children, and it’s unfair to them, my husband, and me.
When my husband notices my personality shift (whether it happens in the morning, during the day, or in the middle of the night), he’s quick to suggest I take a moment to myself to step out onto the back porch and take a couple of tokes off of the big, purple bong I’ve named Barney. (Because I’m classy and a ’90s baby, and I do what I want.)
I’ve found what helps, and I’ve decided to stop judging myself for it.
I smoke weed for my PTSD so that I can still be a living, breathing and functioning parent to my living children. I know there are those who will scoff and shake their heads, but this is what helps me.
Alexander Neumeister, MD, director of the molecular imaging program in the Departments of Psychiatry and Radiology at NYU School of Medicine, told Popular Science, “There’s not a single pharmacological treatment out there that has been developed specifically for PTSD.”
“That’s a problem,” says Dr. Neumeister. “There’s a consensus among clinicians that existing pharmaceutical treatments such as antidepressants simply do not work. In fact, we know very well that people with PTSD who use marijuana — a potent cannabinoid — often experience more relief from their symptoms than they do from antidepressants and other psychiatric medications.”
For me, this rings true — and rings true loudly. Whenever I’ve voiced my trauma or symptoms to a doctor of any kind, it doesn’t take long for them to hand me a small, blue paper with a benzodiazepine written on it. Rightfully so, I guess.
But I’ve tried them all… Xanax, Ativan, Valium, you freaking name it and I’ve been prescribed it.
But let me relay a glimmer of my life when taking a benzodiazepine…
I was on my third dose of a particular benzo when my family and I ran into a family friend we’ve been acquainted with for years at our small-town grocery store. For me, I felt like I’d seen her recently but I couldn’t recall when. It was weird, so I hugged her around the neck while telling her just how much I’d been missing her. “Sweetie,” she said, giving me a dumbfounded, concerned look, “we went out for breakfast together this morning.”
That was the very last time I took a benzodiazepine, because I cannot be an effective parent if I can’t even remember what I did four hours earlier that same day.
“What is PTSD?,” says Dr. Neumeister. “It’s an illness where people cannot forget what they have experienced.”
More than that, it is an illness where certain individuals cannot forget the response their brain gave during the trauma of what they have experienced.
Research was published on Science Daily that looked at symptom reduction in patients with PTSD. The research showed that participants who took medical marijuana reported a decrease in flashbacks, lessened avoidance of situations that reminded them of trauma, and a decline in hyper-arousal. Yet I and so many others still struggle to get relief due to state laws regarding the use of marijuana.
This is what helps me, and there is a heightened stigma and controversy on it still. While marijuana should not be the sole treatment when dealing with PTSD, it can and does help.
When I’m struggling with flashbacks and night-terrors or my PTSD has been “triggered,” I smoke pot. I smoke pot because no other medication eases my horrible symptoms in less than one minute. I smoke pot because I cannot die from it, whereas with so many other drugs I could. And I smoke pot because this is my life, my trauma, and my PTSD to learn how to cope with.
If you or a loved one has suffered the loss of a child, check out our Scary Mommy Child Loss Page for resources, connections, financial aid services and more.