Being a Dad with complex PTSD – when rage takes over

close up photo of screaming man

TW: child abuse, suicidal thoughts

I’m a Dad with complex PTSD. I suffer terribly with depression, shame, rage, self-loathing, anxiety, self-harm, avoidance, paranoia, a bunch of other stuff. But I am trying to raise a child, and to do the best job possible.

I am trying my hardest to break the cycle of abuse that created my and my parents, and their parents. But the road is extremely bumpy. Today I hit another huge bump, and despite my shame, I want to share what happened.

Context

In an attempt to show myself some kindness, I want to describe some mitigating circumstances. I feel like there was a line in the sand around late November. I honestly can’t remember specifics of what was going on before then, although I know I was feeling crap most of the time. But I think events since November have led up to this point.

As I described in another post, I was given ultimatums by both my GP and my therapist, which led to me currently receiving no treatment for my mental ill-health. I came off meds and was dumped by my therapist, right before Christmas.

Then there was the usual trouble with Christmas and New Year that basically left me feeling constantly suicidal and unsure if I would make it to 2022. A few days into the new year and my daughter gets Covid. She wasn’t too poorly, but we had to manage full time childcare with two full time jobs.

On top of this, the nursery threw us under the bus by emailing all parents to let them know that we had brought Covid to the setting. This is not only childish, pathetic and aggressive, but 100% incorrect. Despite a 40 minute phone call they refused to apologise.

After that I felt severe stress and anxiety for about a week/10 days. I started to believe that everyone – my family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues – were out to get me. Talking about me, going behind my back etc.

In the last week or so, I have been thinking about applying for jobs elsewhere. I feel the need for change. However I have been wrestling with the part of me that tells me i’m not good enough. It tells me that I am too ill to try a new challenge. I will never find anyone as willing to accommodate my mental health needs as my current workplace. In fact, a potential employer might find out about my illness and reject me outright.

My wife has been working late constantly, soI am left alone most nights. I need my ‘me-time’ but it’s too much. I’m pretty certain she would rather be at work than with me. She says she will be finished in an hour but takes 3. On top of this I have been giving pretty strong hints that i’ve been feeling crap, and she has not engaged at all.

So i feel incapable, unimportant, unwanted, rejected, trapped, broken and without any hope for recovery.

Then, a trigger

I have been feeling the darkness creeping in for a couple of weeks. The darkness of depression and rage. I have tried to fight it. For self-care i’ve been walking, trying to eat well, playing bass as much as I can, listening to audiobooks, engaging with twitter chats like #csaqt and #survivortough and reaching out to friends on there, who have been really supportive and kind.

I have been trying lots of self-care, including a beach trip in the freezing cold!

Maybe all that self-care has kept things at bay, but, after all, I am unwell. I knew a meltdown was on the horizon, and it happened today.

This morning my daughter started screaming, just for fun, at about 7.30. She just kept screaming. She thought it was funny, but we were telling her to stop over and over. But she wouldn’t listen. The combination of the loud noise and the fact she wouldn’t listen just tapped into something, and the rage came out for a moment. I shouted at her, angrily, to stop, and her mum took her upstairs.

At these moments, I lose a lot of my control. My emotional brain has taken over, and I don’t have rational thought any more. The realisation that I am almost screaming at a 3 year old only comes when I see the look in my wife’s face, and then the shame hits me. I go into retreat, quickly realising what is happening, and leave the room.

That crack in my control is costly. My daughter starts to cry and she looks scared. I’m a monster to her. And to myself.

Rift and repair

My therapists have told me that these things will happen. Every fibre of my being is desperate to avoid becoming my father. This involves trying to deal with my shit – a lifelong journey, I now realise – and controlling myself to protect my daughter from outbursts like the one I describe here.

But it is really bloody hard. I’m 37 and only discovered that my traumatic upbringing has turned me into this person 2-3 years ago. I’m trying to undo a lifetime of damage and habit, and right now I have been rejected by mental health professionals who are supposed to support me.

It’s bloody hard at the best of times, but under these circumstances, I guess it is no surprise that I snapped. But I know to try to repair the rift as soon as possible. If I apologise, try to explain and make friends with my daughter, then a lot of the damage will be undone.

So I apologised, explained, and took her to nursery. She seemed to be happy enough with me when I saw her off. I had (maybe) recovered the situation.

Then, things escalated

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of it. I came home to my wife. I hadn’t really forgiven her for ignoring me this week, so I have been irritable with her, and she has been irritable in return.

We got into an argument about what food we have in the house. It escalated over a tiny matter – she said ‘you just told me there’s all this food – look, we’ve got beans, tuna..’ etc. I replied saying I hadn’t said that at all. She then denied saying the very words I had just heard.

Obviously when you write it down, it sounds like we were arguing over absolutely nothing. The problem is that she did say those words, and she knew it. I told her she had said them and instead of accepting it and admitting a mistake, she did what she always does, which is to deflect and defend. She has been working on her defensiveness in therapy, but still does it, especially when stressed.

Even though it was a small thing to keep arguing about, I couldn’t let it go. I know that I was getting more angry at this stage. I was probably still triggered from the morning. The events of the last few months were sitting high up in my mind too. My tolerance was low. I got more angry and stormed off, furious with the deflection tactics, and in particular with her pointing out I was shouting.

I knew I was shouting; I was in the midst of a flashback and a rage-vent. When you’re told that you are shouting, in a way that suggests every word is null and void as a result, it doesn’t help.

Suddenly I was bursting with hot rage and decided to leave the situation. I stormed upstairs, shouting, and then I erupted with it all. I went into my ‘office’ room and started punching my chair again and again. I picked it up and threw it, making a big dent in the wall and breaking one of the legs. I was screaming with rage – “I HATE MYSELF I HATE MYSELF AND EVERYONE ELSE!!! LEAVE ME ALONE!!!””

It sounds like something an angry teenager would do doesn’t it? That’s probably because i’m fairly sure that’s the part of me that takes over in those situations. I am consumed by the inner 16 year old who was beaten up, emotionally abused and utterly consumed with rage. That boy never learned how to deal with the rage. Then he became a man, and then he became a dad, with complex PTSD.

I finished punching things and throwing them around. My hand was bleeding, heart pumping, throat raw, breathing hard. I broke my chair. I dented my wall. Suddenly, the rage subsided and was replaced by shame, sadness, grief and loss.

The aftermath

What can you really say at this point? I’m sorry. I’m sorry for how I acted, but more for who I am. I’m sorry i’m alive sometimes. I really feel like my family is better off without me.

My wife came and spoke to me. We discussed how I need support, but that there isn’t any. We talked about how our relationship is at the moment. Can we honestly go on like this? I told her I should kill myself.

Now what?

I’m telling you this because I am passionate about this stuff. It might be hard reading, but not talking about hard stuff doesn’t make it go away. Maybe talking about it will help me, or someone else?

I think there are a lot of people out there like me. Not necessarily just Dads, but people who have so much inside them that they are fighting to control, to keep away from their loved ones, but who are really struggling to do so. They are good people dealing with terrible burdens.

Life is hard. Right now, there is so much going on that EVERYONE is finding their resources drained. If you have a history of trauma and abuse like me, then you know how hard it can be on the best day. It’s damn-near impossible to expect any significant period of time to go by without breakdowns if you’re dealing with all this AND looking after a small child.

I am ashamed of myself. I want to be different. What was done to me was not my fault though, and I am trying to recover and be a better person, so my shame only goes so far, before it turns to anger, grief and sadness.

As bad as I feel about myself, there is a growing part of me that knows it is more constructive to move on and do the work. Instead of spiralling out as usual, I will continue working on myself and trying to be better.

If you have any comments or thoughts about this post, please do get in touch. Thanks for reading, and take care.

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