By: Tosha Maaks
When my father became sick about three years ago, I started to wake up almost nightly with night terrors. I would begin to cry and scream in my sleep to the point that my husband would wake up from a sound sleep and hold me as I tried to regain my composure and find a way to go back to sleep. Most of the time I wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep at all and I would give up and just get up for the rest of the night, even if it was 3 AM. Since I have bipolar disorder I already see a psychiatrist and therapist regularly and so the work began to figure out what was happening.
My dreams were always the same. One of my four children were hurt and I could not get to them when they needed me most. For example, in one dream one of my children had been hit by a bus at the end of our block and I was frozen where I stood, my legs were embolized, I could not move them- for some reason they no longer worked. I was screaming so loudly that my husband shot up from his sound sleep scared that something was seriously wrong. I was still asleep and my husband grabbed me and shook me awake. I was crying and was not able to go back to sleep after that dream.
After discussing these dreams with my therapist it was decided was that when my father got sick the lack of relationship that I had with him over the years since he had abandoned me at the age of fourteen when he left my mom for another woman had really scarred me deeply and left me scared that my diagnosis of bipolar would somehow cause me to abandon my children the same way my father had done to me. It is true that my deepest fear in life is that I will not be there for my babies when they need me and I fear that this illness will be the reason I won’t be.
It's this fear that helps keep me well though. I use this fear in my recovery process. I know that part of the reason I didn’t have a relationship with my father is because I believe he had undiagnosed bipolar disorder and I chose not to be in his life because it was triggering to me. I know my children get to choose to be in my life too at some point. So therefore, I take care of myself. I go to the doctor. I take my medications. I go to bed on time, I get up on time, I eat right, I don’t drink or do drugs, I go to the gym. I do many different things that I have developed every day that I call my care plan to take care of myself to keep myself well. I want my children to want me in their lives so I do what I need to for that to happen.
It was determined that this was a form of PTSD caused from the trauma of the abandonment from my father. I was fourteen but being fourteen, I was old enough to realize he left my mom and me to love another woman and raise someone else’s children and forget I was even there like I didn’t even exist.
Many people think that PTSD must come from something like war, but PTSD can be caused by any traumatic event that happens in your life. For me that traumatic event was my dad leaving me behind and taking off. I was daddy’s little girl and I always thought my parents had a very strong marriage. They were married 25 years and the Christmas before he left he told our whole family that his wife and kids meant everything to him. I seriously have no idea how the man changed his mind in such a short amount of time.
My dad passed away last year. I have night terrors only occasionally now. When I do though the dreams are still the same. I don’t think they will ever change, I thought once dad passed they might, but they haven’t. I do wish I could say I have forgiven the man for the abandonment, but I’ll be honest, I have only just “let go” of my hatred of him. I don’t know if I will ever be able to say I have forgiven him. I may have to be happy with just the fact that I have been able to “let go” of it.
Having bipolar disorder makes you aware when something else may be wrong in your system. Had I not been living well in recovery with bipolar disorder already, I may not have noticed that something was wrong by having these night terrors, and I wouldn’t have asked for help as quickly as I did. Since I already had one mental health diagnosis it made it easier for me to ask for help. I am lucky in that regard. However, we need to make a society where everyone feels safe to ask for help. There should be no more stigma around mental health.