A Family dealing with PTSD Blog #2
Written By: Sean DeVarennes, CSCS*D, Sports Performance Coach
On the previous,and first ever, blog written by me for the Emotional Fitness Academy, I
described 3 rules that helped carve a guiding path for my experiences as a young boy raised in
a household of a first responder dealing with PTSD. As I had mentioned, these three rules were
general but applicable to either the spouse or child growing up in an environment with the
presence of PTSD.
For this blog, I wanted to focus more on the child growing up in the environment. If you
are a viewer of this article with a son or daughter growing up while you/ your spouse is dealing
with PTSD, this is for them and for you. As I am sure the viewers/readers of EFA would know,
PTSD is not something that can be discussed in a condensed and generalized view. It is a very
complex disorder that gives a host of issues mentally, emotionally and physically for the first
responder and potentially those closest to them.
As a kid, we grow up with many questions regarding our realities. Why do birds chirp and bees
buzz? Why can’t I have ice cream before eating my vegetables? Why are mom and dad fighting
when they love each other? Why does my dad seem ever increasingly more distant from having
conversations with me… Why does mom get angry with me so often compared to my friends’
dad or mom?
These are very real thoughts provoking our minds to ponder about. The issue that might
occur with these thoughts for a growing child is, for the most part, as we get older, and
especially as we enter our adolescents, we deal with the constant barrage of human emotions
that we do not quite understand at the time. When you combine the two… we get very
emotionally ‘tangled’. Add to the list that you have to explain to most of your friends why you
cannot attend or do certain social events (partying, drinking, hanging out past midnight) and
they ridicule you for having such ‘strict’ parents, and you feel belittled and humiliated. This is
where you see some go through the ‘rebellious’ phases of their youth.
What most folks, including your friends, fail to see is that your parent who is a first
responder is unlike any other friend’s parents who are not. They might not have to deal with the
very worst of human behavior on a consistent basis (although, again, depends what the
environment they work in, but most first responders will typically have dealt with traumatic
events one way or another more than once). Teenagers at this point very rarely (from my
perspective only) understand the differences between a parent that had a bad day because of
an office dispute, or a parent having a bad day because they witness a suicide or stopped
someone about to fatally wound them, who, after being arrested, curses the first responder and
vows to murder his/her family members.
If that wasn’t enough, you possibly may have dealt with incredibly emotionally charged
arguments either between the parents or between you and the first responder parent. A typical
argument can induce very negative emotions. But what about adrenaline provoking? There are
not very many out there. What about ones where your dad reacts in such a disturbingly
non-normative manner in which fear, anger, and your fight or flight response surges your
adrenaline to act with fists clenched?
I would like to share with you that as a kid growing up, I was very, very shy. However, I
always considered this very fortunate in my circumstance. It allowed me to be observant. As I
start to recognize this now, this behavior allowed me to ask questions all the time about
behaviors of friends, family and colleagues. I was never confrontational unless I was truly
pinned in a situation where confrontation was the only possible solution. Ultimately, this was my
strength, and it provided me with an extremely valuable life skill – being able to place myself in
other’s shoes no matter what the scenario is. In other words, I believe this made me a very
empathetic person. .
Now that you know this, I implore you to hone in on your sense of empathy when reading
this scenario. You have never confronted anyone in your life. You overhear your parents clearly
arguing in the other room. But the argument is much more than just the tone rising. Imagine
your dad screaming, screaming to a point in which you have never experienced before. You
hear him exclaim that they want to kill themself. They scream that they are always the problem
maker in your family. You then hear your dad scream, “I should just die!”. … How did you feel?
Can you feel the emotions I may have felt? Did you feel a bit of adrenaline? I remember, all I
wanted to do was run up and confront my father (I did in fact do this in my later years, which
almost ended violently). The very confusing part of these confrontations was, I wanted to stand
up to the monster inside my father’s mind and thoughts, not my father himself. This surely may
sound odd. And it should. Because if you recall on my very first blog – I explained that PTSD,
when present, creates changes for our loved ones. The most important thing you can recognize
is who your loved one truly is underneath the mask of PTSD. For some reason, at that very
moment when I confronted my father in my mind, I was voicing my cry to help my ‘true father’.
Admittedly, this happened a few times while I was writing this, please understand that
these are very real thoughts that provoke the mind of a first responder who suffers through
PTSD. A lot of times, a person with suicidal thoughts will never tell their family or colleagues.
Instead, they keep those words bottled up inside until it is too late. Thankfully, my father was
one of the lucky ones that verbalized these actions instead of acting upon them. .
So why did I bring you through this rollercoaster of emotional experiences? In light of
these dark times you may be facing or have dealt with, especially as a teenager or even child,
(we certainly have to give more credit to kids as they absorb everything they see and hear in
front of them), this is where our ‘empathetic’ skills can and must emerge.
The term ‘emotional resiliency’ is thrown around these days for the highly successful
businessman or pro athlete. Essentially, the definition of the term highlights the ability to adapt
through stressful events, and cope with extreme odds with firm belief of one’ self. As children,
spouses, and especially first responders, we have that opportunity much more often to improve
and acquire this resiliency. As a child, we must view this as a fortunate opportunity to have such
an early exposure to it. I say this because we bear witness to not only show immense support of
our loved ones dealing with PTSD, but being strong for them even when we can not directly
help them through PTSD. Remember that those dealing with PTSD are impossible to relate to
unless you, or colleagues, have experienced the very same issues or events they have dealt
This is where practicing and applying rituals, routines, or in some aspects reading about
emotionally resilient people comes into play. Because we as family members, and especially
children, will come to realize that there are many emotions we deal with on our own. I for one
can admit, I had to do this by myself – as no one around my age dealt with the same
environment I had growing up. But this does not have to be the case.
This is why again, we have so much information at our fingertips. Whether you are the
spouse, child or first responder even, you have many resources to help you with this. This is
why I started writing these blogs in order to enable anyone who reads these to either reach out
or seek guidance (This is also one of the many reasons why Emotional Fitness Academy was
Thank you for your time. I hope this was valuable to anyone who has read this!