The Pictures You Don’t See on Facebook: PTSD and My Son’s Service Dog Hero

We went on vacation last week, and it’s not lost on me that we’re now part of a narrowing group of American families who can afford ridiculous luxuries like paid time off and time together in the sun and water. Never mind that this holiday was paid for by Nana and Papa, and not us; we won’t pretend generous grandparents involved in their grandkids’ lives and with the means to gift us family time isn’t its own elite past time. We’re beyond lucky. We know it, and we walk a line that’s littered with guilt and gratitude in equal measure.

I posted pics on Facebook to prove we vacationed. Our happy family. Smiles, surf, sun and silliness. And I didn’t feel guilty about that. Not even a little. I still don’t, in spite of the loud voices everywhere telling us we’re Fakebooking when we post the pretty things and are trying to deceive our friends by highlighting only the joyful parts of life and omitting the rest. Facebook is my scrapbook. It’s where I hold happy memories. And the more happy on Facebook the better, in my opinion. POST ALL THE LUNCH PICTURES, I say. I WANT TO SEE YOUR PRETTY SANDWICH, friends. And ALL THE BABY PICS, too. TOO MANY CUTE KID PICS, PLEASE. When did we decide to be the cranky, old lawn neighbors, anyway? “Damn kids! Keep your happy off my Facebook lawn!

I feel guilty, in other words, for having a vacation at all. Guilty and grateful because I want ALL the families to have one, too. But I feel no guilt for having a happy moment out loud, and one I can share in public. Maybe because I long to share your happy moments, too. Or maybe because I know that vacations and families and friendships and children and life are made up of the happy mixed with the unhappy. The joyful mixed with the barely-holding-it-together. The gasps of air at the surface mixed with drowning. The magic and the mess intermingled. Grace and grime all the time.

Maybe, for me, it’s because every moment like this one,

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comes hand in hand with innumerable moments like this one
IMG_0547where our son, who experiences Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from an early life that was deeply unfair to him, falls all the way apart.

Our vacations, therefore, are moments of trauma and triumph strung together haphazardly. Angst and sorrow sprinkled with joy. Frustration, mostly, for this precious man-child, and tiny glimpses of freedom, now and then, and not often enough.

I don’t usually share much with you about Ian’s life or ours with him. I have occasionally here and here and here and here. But mostly we keep what he experiences to ourselves because each of our kids has control over the “publish” button when it comes to their stories, and Ian is the most private of our kids, the one who’s most bewildered about this strange life; the most uncertain that there are good things out there for him; the most sure that he’ll be hurt again like he was in his first life, before we were there were champion him and fail him and champion him again, like all parents who mean well and succeed and fail in equal measure but still hope they’re not screwing it up entirely.

I took the pictures below of Ian with his service dog, Zoey, months ago, because he asked me to. He wanted to “watch Zoey do her job, Mom,” and so I sat with him while she worked as she so often does to ease anxiety and panic that overtakes my son but which he’s helpless to explain, bearing the double burden of PTSD with an expressive language disorder that keeps most of his thoughts and feelings stuck inside with no way out. I’ve kept these pictures private, of course, because they’re really not mine to share.

Except that Ian has asked me now for a week straight to show them to you.

We had a conversation after vacation. A conversation about Miss Zo and her special place in our lives. A conversation about the many who suffer, as Ian does, from PTSD and myriad other disabilities. A conversation about mental illness, with which I am far too familiar myself. And a conversation about what it’s like to feel so terribly alone, wading through the muck and mire and wondering whether there’s a way out.

Ian said, “Show them, Mom.”

I said no. A whim on his part didn’t seem like a good enough reason to show his anguish to the world.

He still said, “Show them.”

I said no again. And again. And again.

But he’s asked me every day for a week after that convo. Until I said, “Why, Ian? You usually want to keep this to yourself. You usually don’t want people to see this. And once we show them, it’s not possible to take it back.”

And Ian said, “So they’re not alone, Mom. So they know they’re not alone.”

And so, to honor my son and his battle, my son the hero, and his dog the hero, too, here are the pictures we don’t show on Facebook. A face of PTSD and the dog who would lead him to the light at the end of each tunnel:

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With love, friends, and the reminder from my kid that we’re not alone,

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ABOUT BETH WOOLSEY I'm a writer. And a mess. And mouthy, brave, and strong. I believe we all belong to each other. I believe in the long way 'round. And I believe, always, in grace in the grime and wonder in the wild of a life lived off course from what was, once, a perfectly good plan.
44 comments
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  8. I just want to hug everyone involved. What wonderful parents you must be for him to know he is so surrounded with love that he can try to help others, too.

  9. Thank you for being so brave, Ian.

    How fortunate that you and Zoey found each other. The love of a dog is an amazing gift,

  10. Thank you Ian!!! I promise to use these photos to show some kids I know that they are NOT alone.

  11. Thank you Ian for being brave and caring enough to want others to know that they are not alone. I am thankful for Zoey in your life and your life in this world.

  12. Thank you Ian. I’m going to show these photos to my son who is so embarrassed when he feels like everything is way too much. Thank you Ian’s mama for listening to him. <3

  13. That’s awesome. Thanks for sharing, Ian. One of our sons experiences PTSD, and I’ve begun to consider a service dog for him.

  14. Beth, so often when I read your posts, I am feeling the same way about so much. I too have five kids, although mine are five girls, young adults and almost young adults, and I too have a set of twins. Your comments about vacation and how the vacation wasn’t perfect hit the nail on the head so directly that I burst into tears, making me realize that I had been holding it in since this weekend, when we had our not-so-perfect vacation that still was good, because we were all together. As for Ian, what a rock star he is to be able to share that. I have been skirting around the idea of an emotional support dog for one daughter, but I’m still finding my way, as she’s a college student, headed into a new apartment with unknown roommates. Still, I see the love that Ian and Zoey share and how Zoey is supporting Ian (and Zoey is thrilled to have Ian in her life). It makes me want to keep trying to find my way for my daughter and a support dog for her. Thank you!

  15. Ian is brave and kind. What an awesome kid!

  16. You have, indeed, been blessed, Beth, by this precious man-child. What bravery and compassion he has to want to share his own pain in order to help others. And what a blessing Zoey is in your life, too. May others be touched and inspired by your post and I hope Ian understands what a powerful thing he did. And good on him for his persistence in making you see what he wanted!

    Hugs for you all!
    –arden–

  17. Thank you for sharing your real lives with others, it is a beautiful gift.

  18. Zoey is a furry angel. 🙂

  19. Wow, thank you so much Ian for sharing this. What a handsome young man you are and how beautiful is Zoey! Your mom was and is my Zoey and probably is for many others. That probably isn’t fair to her as I think she already has her hands quite full but it comes with no pressure. I distinctly remember days where I was just trying to hold it together, where I was surrounded by people but felt completely alone and yet when I’d get that message in my inbox that meant your mom was sharing a bit of herself and her life, it was the only thing that made me feel like I wasn’t alone. So thank you to all three of you for bringing light and smiles to the world.

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