ptsd after losing a parent
Unfortunately, burying a parent is one of the many woes that comes with adulting—but one we often think we’ll tackle later in life. Losing a parent at any age is surely stifling, but when you’re still in the stage of figuring out your “why” in life, it can be a traumatic experience and life-altering. Add an unexpected cause of death, and well, you’ve got a formula for a massive blow. That’s what I experienced when I lost my dad back in 2017 to suicide.
Somehow, I managed to get through that part of life in—what I think looking back was—an out-of-body experience. I never could have imagined how “strong” I could handle such a situation or even how quickly I would have been able to find my new normal. I knew immediately I was going to need counseling to help me through my grief and once I completed my sessions, I thought it was time for me to gather what emotions I held onto and go about my life. I stopped receiving calls from people checking in. The “sorry for your loss” every time I ran into someone who heard the news had become less frequent. And everyone had appeared to move on from my dad’s passing, myself included. And then recently I started to feel completely out of whack; an unexplainable misalignment with self.
After a conversation with a co-worker telling me about her experience with trauma counseling years after surviving a horrific incident, I decided to look into some sessions for myself. As I looked through the limited list of black professionals who offered trauma counseling, I wondered if my loss even qualified for trauma counseling. I mean, I did just lose my dad from suicide but in my eyes that’s not as traumatic as seeing someone killed right before your eyes. I battled for awhile with the idea of going, but one thing I was certain of was that something about me was off and I couldn’t put my finger on it.
So I decided to just do it.
As I tried to explain my unexplainable misalignment, the counselor started noticing a commonality between my “symptoms.”
Avoidance behavior: purposely avoiding situations, things or people. I had gotten into a habit where I would avoid being in the garage longer than what I had to (the garage is where my dad took his life). Avoiding pictures of my dad—no matter when the picture was taken or how much happiness or sadness was in his eyes. And, avoiding the area near the hospital where my dad eventually took his last breath.
Obsessive behavior: looking for cars that looked like the one my dad drove and staring into the car to see the driver. Going out of my way to catch a glimpse of a person’s face if they had a similar physique to my dad.
Nightmares: having to relive those moments all over again in my dreams on almost a weekly basis. Not being able to sleep consistently through the night.
Spacing out: there would be times that I would space out in the middle of the day and just replay the moments of the day when my dad took his last breath. For some reason I couldn’t stop putting myself in that situation again and relieving those emotions.
And then there’s the anxiety. Every time my phone rings from a family member I panic that on the other side of the call, there’s bad news waiting to be shared with me that will change my life forever. While sharing all my symptoms with the counselor, I did so in the most numb, unemotional, unattached way possible. And yet, as soon as she told me I had all the signs for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the tears began to roll down my face. Never did I imagine losing a parent would cause me to suffer from PTSD. I had never even considered a “normal” person like myself could experience PTSD. My ignorance led me to believe that only veterans suffered from such a thing. Her observation allowed me to put a name with my unexplainable misalignment. It allowed me to take a deep breath for the first time in a long time. And, it finally started a second chapter of my healing.
In the almost two years since my dad’s passing, I’ve realized grief comes in stages and it certainly doesn’t affect everyone the same. I quietly suffered for too long about what I was going through because I couldn’t put a name to it and I had accepted that this had become my new normal. There are many lessons I’ve learned from losing my dad unexpectedly, but one thing I certainly won’t take for granted is my mental health and encouraging myself and others to get the help you need.
Editor’s Note: Mental Health is a serious topic that Excuse Denied takes very seriously. Amaya’s story is not the means for providing sufficient help for someone suffering with PTSD. Please contact a counselor or psychotherapist if you believe you have any of these symptoms.
Amaya likes to consider herself an extroverted introvert who prefers the convenience of communicating behind words rather than in person-she’s never been the one to enjoy public speaking. Amaya finds her passion for writing through her experiences whether it be her childhood, her brief stunt of living in Washington D.C. (which created an interest in politics), traveling, or her millennial-aged marriage. Amaya gets paid for a living to write all that goes on in her current city of Charlotte, North Carolina but also has a knack for telling the stories that mean the most to her in hopes of inspiring other like-minded individuals or maybe even provoke a thought in those whose opinions differ. Regardless, she hopes you enjoy the content and continues to come back!