Things I Learned about PTSD from Getting the Stomach Flu

I got a stomach bug (or something) last week. Fortunately it was just a little 24 hour thing, but for that day I was so miserably sick. I couldn’t do anything but lay down at the risk of terrible stomach cramping and lightheadedness. But my husband had to go to work, and I didn’t want to get any of my friends and their kids sick, so X and I just toughed it out.

Independent Toddler

And I learned a lot from the experience. For one, I don’t actually have to play with my son. He’s two years old, so yes, he does need his mommy, and even aside from that I’m the primary source of human interaction for this very social little boy. But if I don’t feel like playing with him — or I can’t, like when I’m sick, physically or mentally — it’s okay. He did a great job of finding things to do and was content to have me in the same room with him. Every now and then he’d wander over and pretend to feed me whatever he was making in his toy kitchen. (“Crunchy carrot! BIG BITE!”) And it we were both fine with the arrangement.

Now, I don’t mean this to say, “So I’m just going to leave him to his own devices all the time!” But it does help me to have a lot less anxiety about the moments when I expect him to entertain himself. X is wonderfully self-sufficient, and if my PTSD means that I need a break, he is perfectly capable of giving it to me.

Tired Mom

On that note, I can also take a nap when I need it. Unfortunately I ended up sleeping off and on the entire day while I was sick, but my house is very well babyproofed and my child is very well trained, so I can confidently say there was never a time when he was in danger. There have been other days when my PTSD has prevented me from getting the rest that I needed, and I’ve fallen asleep on the couch for 20 minutes while X plays a few feet from me. Ordinarily I’ve felt really guilty about that, but, pfft. Whatever. I’m a better mom for getting the rest I need, and he’s probably a better kid for seeing that I take care of myself and seeing that he can take care of himself for a bit, too.

Fed Is Best

I do congratulate myself that I at least pulled myself together enough to feed him. And I learned something important — I don’t have to feed my kid balanced meals all the time. I usually do — every food group represented each day, heavy on the lean protein and vegetables. He even eats something green every day (almost.) I struggle with my relationship with food, and it’s important to me that healthy food in moderate portions is a normal part of his upbringing. To the point that I stress over it in stupid ways. (“What do you mean he’s only eaten orange vegetables today??)

But you had better believe that when I was sick, it was not important to me. Want some cheese? Here, bite off a chunk from the brick. Want some saltines? Sure, just save some for me to eat with my ginger ale.

X didn’t mind a bit, and the next day when I was feeling better, we got right back to our raw vegetables and tuna sandwiches. The truth of it is, we keep really healthy food in the house as a rule, so who cares if it’s perfectly balanced all the time? The next time I’m frazzled and it’s snack time, I’m going to tell myself to take a chill pill.

Come Hell AND High Water

I also realized from all this that I can clean up later. While I was sick, I just found all sorts of creative places to lay down and “supervise” my toddler. The couch, the guestroom bed, outside the bathroom door, the middle of the kitchen floor…good times.

Meanwhile, my toddler destroyed my house. Dumping out my purse? Alright. Pulling all of the clean clothes out of the basket? Mkay. Found the playdoh and scattered it all over the kitchen? It’s cool.

When my husband got home, he practically had to paddle himself through the wreckage with a canoe. And the next day, when I was feeling better…I cleaned it up. And that was that. Nothing to get worked up over, nothing to fuss at X about. Bad days come and go, and so do good days. So I just try to make the good days count.

Needing Instead of Just Needed

And really, getting so sick wasn’t such a terrible thing. It forced me to remember that I don’t have to do things aloneYou know that canoe-paddling my husband had to do? He didn’t say a word about it. He called in to a meeting so he could come home early to be with us. He fed X dinner, cleaned him up, played with him, and put him to bed. He got me some water and some medicine and sent me to bed, too. He was there for me in every way that I needed him, reminding me that there are two adults in our home and he wants to pull his weight.

In short, my whole carefully crafted life went up in flames… and it was fine. The anxiety and guilt that I carry around doesn’t actually have a point. The rules I set for myself, well, they’re more like guidelines. X and I are resilient human beings, and if my PTSD — or any other illness — means that we need to demonstrate our resilience, so be it. Everything’s going to be fine.

Knowing that first hand is the first step to making my days subsequently sweeter.

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