“Mummy, why is Daddy so angry?”
I feel my throat tighten as familiar tears prick at the corner of my eyes. My daughter sobs into her pillow, she doesn’t see me trying to empty my face of the distress that rattles me. The turbulence of my husband’s anger still hangs in the air, even though he left the bedroom – and the house – a while ago. “He really frightened me, Mummy.”
My children do not deserve this, and neither do I. But this is their father, the only one they’ll ever have. And this is my husband, who I vowed to love and support. PTSD is part of our lives now, and we live with it as best we can. No more playing it down. I need to be honest in admitting that these rages affect us all. And no more making excuses for him. It’s true that he didn’t ask for PTSD, but he is in control of his own recovery.
I stroke my daughter’s soft hair, soothing the anxiety that lingers in us both, searching for the words that might make sense to a 7-year-old. “Darling, I have a story to tell you about Daddy, but it’s not a happy one.” She rolls over to look at me, her eyes and face still damp from her tears, and I feel that she already knows a lot of what I’m about to tell her.
Debra Swain gives advice for people who have partners with PTSD (post continues after the video)
“Daddy has been a paramedic for a lot of years, many more than you’ve been alive, and over that time he has helped a lot of people. Most of the people he helped were very sick or very badly hurt, and some of them even died.” Her eyes widen at the word. For a seven-year-old, death is becoming a very real concept, something tangible, something to fear.
“Even though your dad is an amazing paramedic, not everyone can be saved. Some of the people were old, but some of them were little children or babies.”
She doesn’t speak, but fresh tears begin to well. I move in closer to keep stroking her hair, and carry on with my story.
“The sadness and hurt from all the people Daddy helps stays with him in his mind. And that’s why he no longer works on the ambulance, because he simply cannot bear any more sadness and hurt. When this happens to someone, the doctors call it PTSD.” I notice a flicker of understanding. She recognises the term, she’s no doubt overheard it in passing conversations.
“PTSD can affect anyone, but it can be more likely with people who work in ambulance, or the police, or firefighters, or soldiers who go to war, who all see a lot of sad and scary things.”
I pause a moment, mindful of the emotion beginning to engulf my voice.
“The sadness and hurt in Daddy’s mind sometimes gets overwhelming, and it rushes out as a loud angry shouting voice, lots of stomping and banging, and a very scary face.”