Anxiety & This Time of Life

My sister-in-law has been dealing with panic attacks for the past 10 months or so… they generally occur in connectiole on with driving and specifically when diving outside of her neighbourhood. She’s been getting professional support and medication and it’s been very helpful for her.

I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I’ve had it for years. Probably for my whole life – or at least I’ve probably lived with at least the seedling symptoms of it for as long as I can remember. The past couple of years have really brought my anxiety to the forefront in life. As I think about it (because with my anxiety I can’t NOT think about things) I’m pretty certain that the trigger for this season of heightened anxiety is the fact that my children live with (and daily deal with the consequences of) neglect and trauma in ways I can’t fix. There’s nothing I can DO about it. And that just plain old sucks.

That and I am the one who needs to be their source of emotional regulation. When they can’t self-regulate, they need to look to me to be their source of calmness. They need to look to me to see how to deal with anger, frustration, grief, sadness, annoyance, and any other BIG feeling which causes a rise in cortisol levels which they don’t know how to process.

So even when my capacity to handle stress for the day (due to fatigue, work stress, sickness, or whatever it is) is already just plain old DONE for the day, I’m still “on stage” for them. I’m always “on.” There’s really no rest from it until they’re asleep… which (considering they have sleep disorders isn’t always consistent or fantastic) is pretty draining. On call. Always on call.

It produces an extraordinarily high level of cortisol for me… and in this life stage of working (albeit 0.6 FTE), caring for our children, being active on 2 boards (1 NFP, 1 charity) and and 2 other committees (2 NFPs) in my spare time, and all the other general family and home/school responsibilities… I’ve got very little free time. Then again that’s pretty much the same for most of my friends. We seem to be all in similar seasons in life right now. Whether they’re home right now with babies and toddlers and just rushing around like crazy, working full time in senior management or high levels in their fields; or have involved PACs and balancing children in before/after school care and trying to shuttle them between sports and arts and everything else.

Ugh. It just leaves rare instances when we can actually get together. I’m lucky if I can actually see my close friends once every 6 months. Which is SERIOUSLY pathetic. Hubby and I? He’s out at least two nights a week. I’m out at a meeting at least one meeting every other week. Today I was freaking out because I’ve got a hole developing in my one pair of properly fitting pair of jeans. UGH. But when the heck can I go get more???

So anyhow I get these anxiety attacks. Or adrenaline attacks or I don’t know what. It’s like an adrenaline let-down after a major event but not after an event. Things can be going well and I can have finished a bunch of great things and then suddenly my heart is racing and my chest is all tight and I’m deep breathing in and blow breath out through long puffs… and I’m freaking out. I want to shake my hands out and roll my shoulders. I want to get out of my car and shake my arms out and jump up and down and then walk around in circles constantly murmuring “I’m ok. It’s ok. I’m ok. It’s ok.” It’s not a panic attack. The best I can describe it is like an anxiety attack made of of adrenaline… but my words are saying “I’m ok. It’s ok.” my brain is screaming “I’M FREAKING OUT!! I”M FREAKING OUT!!!!”

I don’t know. It’s not a panic attack. It’s like all the physical symptoms of my anxiety saved them up for after the stressful stuff happened and then I’m having a big adrenaline letdown.

And honestly, I bet you that if I actually got to get together with my girlfriends once a week and just go out for dinner and drinks and just have a gab and relax and re-charge my batteries it would reduce my cortisol levels. It would help me maintain some semblance of normal person me in all of this. Not just “Hi – I’m your personal self-regulation model and sponge” (who soaks up everything you feel and keeps on smiling) but never has a healthy way to get it out… blog for another day.

Man. That would be nice. A social life. They say it comes. just give it a few years. This is just “the busy years” they say. And the lonely years. And the drinking at home alone years. And the Netflix years. And the smutty romance novel years.😉

A Birthmother’s Love

Sometimes I get a little pissed off with memes and pictures floating around social media about adoption and a birthmother’s love and care for her child. Her care and intentionality in the plan… how amazing and selfless she is in thinking of another above herself.

Not that some or all of these character traits may not be true, but more so that in cases where children are removed by the Ministry (CPS, etc) it’s generally NOT because the birthmother is a kind and gracious, selfless person who has gone above and beyond. It’s generally because of a complex mix of societal, generational, and economic factors – combined with other potential complicating issues from abuse to addition to mental illness.

No one shoe fits all, but what I can say from OUR experience (as an adoptive family – adopting an “older child” sibling set, in Canada, from foster care) is the following:

1) Adoption is actually not about their birthmother. Adoption is about us a family unit, and about our kids. Removal, temporary/permanent custody, foster care, visits, termination of rights, etc., were the parts which actively involved her. The only thing about adoption that she was involved in was being informed and then us signing an openness agreement (morally binding – not legally binding)… but ADOPTION wasn’t and isn’t about her. She had no part in that. She had no part in that placement. Our sons’ Guardianship Worker (social worker who acts as their guardian on behalf of the Ministry/province) was the one who made the decision/recommendation for placement/adoption. Her rights were terminated two years before that.

2) My children feel rejected by their birthmother, not loved by her. It doesn’t matter what the social workers have said, what their foster families have said, what we have said, what she has said or done during visits, etc. The reality is that her behaviour and choices which got her into the position of having her parental rights terminated after two years of them being in temporary foster care are what speak to them of rejection. Those choices and behaviour say to them that she doesn’t care enough to put in the effort – to do what needed to be done to get them back home and to keep them there. It all feels like rejection and it has shaped their worldview and their senses of self. I say this past tense because it’s a reality we work with… it’s difficult to figure out how to explain abstract concepts to children whose minds are still at a point where they think in black and white. I think we’re doing a pretty decent job of it and we work together with our counsellor (who is an expert in working with adoptive families post-placement) but it’s not a surprise that rejection may likely be a lifelong struggle for our kids, as is common for many adoptees.

3) Every time I explain that we adopted our children there comes the second implied question about which type of adoption we experienced. Most people gravitate to thinking of local infant adoption, or to international adoption. When we say “children” or “sons” their minds tend to move toward international adoption, with the presumption that it’s unlikely that we adopted twin babies here in Canada. Therefore when their first question comes out “Oh! From where?” and my response is “From here.” they seem quite confused and reply “… but from where originally” and so I reply the name of the nearby city where the delivery hospital was where they were technically born.” They tend to still seem confused. This is the point where I need to intervene. “We adopted them through the foster care system.” “….Oh! Oh, good for you guys!” These sort of memes annoy me for the sheer surface-level factor that there’s so little known about the concept of adoption from foster care and that I can’t make a mirror meme; “Adoption isn’t about rejection of the child by the birthmother so much as it is about the psychological incapacity of the parent to provide minimal caregiving required by the parent for the child to reach the minimum potential required by an adult in today’s society… but she still loves you!” 

*sigh* Not going to get as many shares on Facebook is it?😛

Time to go take my anxiety meds and my sleep meds and pretend that I’m a normal person whose brain turns off at normal times.

 

How do you feel about being adopted?

So our SW came by today for the second week in a row to try to get the boys to answer some basic questions as part of the finalization of our adoption and in order to get the adoption order. And by “basic” I mean that the questions are simple, not that the responses are simple.

The two questions they avoided like the plague last week (distract! distract! distract!) were “What do you like about being a part of your new family?” and “What don’t you like about being a part of your new family?” They did *such* a great job at avoiding any questions last week that she had to come back again this week and I got the awesome job of explaining to them that until they answer the questions she just had to keep coming back… again and again and  again. So if they could pretty please just tell her anything (positive, negative, deep, superficial – anything!) then she can finish up her part of the paperwork and they’ll never need to see another social worker again!!

Please!

Pretty please!!

If you’ll just answer the stinkin’ questions then you can watch a movie before soccer practice!

Please! Argh!

So today was lots of behaviour and an obvious desire to avoid seeing her and talking to her. But eventually she sat down with them and went through some customized books which tell their (and most every other kid’s) stories and at the end it talked about words which might describe how a child feels about having been adopted by their new family. They had choices like happy, sad, excited, nervous, angry, calm, etc.

To my surprise our youngest chose the word “calm” when talking about how he feels about becoming part of our family.

Our oldest chose “angry” to describe how he feels.

When the SW asked him to explain what makes him feel angry he responded that he’s angry he couldn’t stay with his birth mom. Which is interesting to me for 2 reasons:

1) It’s been over 5 years now… and that pain is still there. That anger is still there. He doesn’t understand WHY he couldn’t live with her and we he can never live with her again.

2) It’s super duper hard to find the right way to explain and the right amount of information to use when trying to verbalize to a child why their birth parents aren’t allowed to parent them anymore. There are so many euphemisms used in situations like this (often rightfully – these kids don’t need more trauma) but really, they’re kids. They’re not dumb. “They had adult problems” is too simplistic because the response it “Why did they have adult problems?” and “What kind of adult problems?” and these are super tough to answer without getting too detailed – at least in our case they are. And I wonder if our oldest understands the reasons why he was removed, outside of using fluffy language to placate.

So yeah. I’m chewing on this new. Our youngest (who acts out and melts down and can generally be the loud terror of the house) feels calm when he thinks about being part of our family… and our oldest (who pushes everything deep deep deep down into himself and them hums and smiles and says “I’m fine!”) feels angry about being part of our family.

Both encouraging and heartbreaking at the same time. Bittersweet, eh?:/

Privacy vs Education

I’m really wondering about the benefits and drawbacks of being open about what it’s like to walk through adopting a child “from a hard place” versus keeping the information private to protect our children, and finding it challenging to understand where to draw the line in different situations. 

When our kids first came home it was pretty obvious that they were adopted; mostly because we still live in the same community, the same house, jobs, church, friends, etc. as before and yet suddenly – BAM! Kids! That and they called us “new mommy/daddy” and “forever dad/mom” for a good couple of months after coming home and often referred to their foster family in public conversations. Kind of hard to hide that anyhow… that and we had no clue what we were doing so often likely looked pretty lost and more like clueless babysitters than anything else.😉

So we talked about it, since they did. They weren’t ashamed about it and there’s nothing to hide so yep. We did get a few oblivious/presumptuous questions (i.e. “So what’s the story with the mom?”) but after a few re-directs and us focusing on how they’d been in an awesome foster home for a long time, most folks got the hint and dropped it. 

But nowadays we’re just “mom” and “dad” and I’m not quite sure how to approach some things. More recently if we refer to adoption in mixed company (those who know and those who don’t) to our foster family or to waiting for the adoption order, etc., we get these surprised looks… which is what it is, but more so my big question is “How much of the trials and joys of this journey do we share?”

I want people to actually consider adopting through foster care. So many are scared of the challenges and so back away from it. I want to encourage them that it *is* beautiful and do-able. I also want to be honest about the crap we deal with… and to not feel like the real and frankly valid struggles our kids have to work through aren’t a dirty little secret we need to hide. The pain they feel makes sense. Of course they’re feeling deep deep grief. The confusion they feel is valid. Of course they are confused and aren’t quick to trust. The anxiety and fear and hope and plain old desire to dissociate when it’s too much? All of it I get… and I want to talk about it to normalize it for us and to defend it for them.

To defend their right to grieve relationships. To defend their confusion and anger. To defend their blossoming hope and the corresponding fear of rejection which comes with it. 

Of course they feel this way – any of us would. I would! They’ve experienced more loss in their little lives than I have as an adult – of course it’s hard… so I want to be honest that no, Christmas wasn’t magical. Christmas was exhausting. I want to be honest that even though you think they’re “settled in so nicely” that you’re only seeing the superficial things like them knowing our routine, and hearing them call us “mom” and “dad” – not seeing the mixed loyalties (‘if I love my new mom does that mean I don’t love my foster mom anymore?’), the massive sleep issues and nightmares, and their highly practiced skills at trying to distract us from having deep and real conversations. 

But then I fear that by being honest it will come across like they’re “bad kids” and that it’s super scary and not worth it, which is patently untrue. These kids are awesome. And resilient. And stinkin’ funny! And sweet, gentle, caring, imaginative, sociable, and a million other things. They’re just dealing with the crap that life has tossed them and dealing with it like kids. Because they’re kids. 

So yeah… I want to defend their privacy. It’s their story. Their background… and yet I want to explain what it’s like for a child who’s been through so much so that I can help others have eyes of compassion for them and so that others can see that when poor behaviour happens it’s not them being bratty – it’s my kids being little and not knowing how to deal with pain and loss of a scale where most adults wouldn’t be able to deal with it. I want people to realize that even though I’m tired and often frustrated, I’m also humbled and feel very privileged to walk beside these two boys and to help them navigate their losses and to help give them voice. (If nothing else I will have earned any love and trust they give me!) 

I’m curious about others in the adoption world. How do you decide what and how much to share? 

A Good Mom

I just got a Facebook message from a friend of mine. It was a really sweet one, basically just saying “I want you to know that you’re a great mom and you’re doing so well…” I mean honestly – who doesn’t need/want something like that?

But the weird part is how much it kind of makes me feel nauseous. Why? Partly because I have NO FREAKING CLUE what I’m doing 90% of the time. Sadly that’s an improvement from where things were at when we met our kids in June and when they came home in August, when I  had no clue what I was doing 100% of the time… but still. I’m mostly lost.

That and the sucky part is that I often notice that I have no clue what I’m doing but even when I am doing some (what I *think* is) decent parenting, I feel somewhat detached. Like I’m still at work and in my office and talking an employee through a conflict situation or coaching a manager through how to deal with a performance issue.

Detached.

Professional.

Solution oriented.

Side note: I know that this is my first post about our boys (whom I haven’t actually even introduced to you yet) but I’ll basically be re-creating this blog backwards and with backdated posts so really I’m jumping in here… so try to stick with me!!

Don’t get me wrong. I love those boys. Love them fiercely and passionately.

But honestly I also just choose to love them. Choose to be tied to them forever. Choose to deal with the tantrums and the ignoring and all the other fun stuff of kids from hard places going through adoption transition… and this is a kind of love which necessitates not feeling too much so that I don’t shut down with Ben tells me (in an off-the-cuff, casual tone) that he doesn’t love me and wants to go back to living with his foster parents.

I mean really – who needs to love from a place of emotions then? Nope. Not worth it. That’s when I choose to love him from a place of compassion. From a perspective of being a safe place to land and a safe place to rant.

I do not do it from a place of deep feelings of in-love-with-him.

And quite frankly it’s the day-to-day parenting which is exhausting. It’s the “he looked at my toy!!!” moments and the time (two days ago) when I had to explain that better bum wiping was required because someone wiped poop all over my jeans leg while sitting in my lap to get dressed.

That’s the stuff that just leaves me thinking “WTF?? Seriously???”

And nobody prepared me for this stuff. The AEP didn’t prepare me for how to deal with kids. My books and videos and websites didn’t help. Who tells you how to jump in and just “be” a parent to a child? If you’ve never been a parent before then how do you figure it out without muffing it up 90% of the time? And with kids who’ve had less-than-stellar parenting in their birth family homes, don’t they deserve some decent parenting?

I mean I’m the one with the stunned face when I realize that people bring in gift cards for school teachers at Christmas. Oops. Or who answers the question of whether or not my 6 and 7-year olds are old enough to chill in the car while I run into the ATM? I mean is that bad at this age? I have NO CLUE.

So while I very much appreciated that lovely note tonight (I needed it – it’s been a rough day), I also often question if it’s a sincere and objective commentary on how I’m doing at *actually parenting* after 5 months, or whether or not it’s one of those “My heart is just so warmed that you adopted – you’re a great mama!” comments, which are more of a feel-good for the writer and which don’t actually reflect any understanding of my sheer ineptitude. I read them and I appreciate the sentiment but often just feel like it highlights the fact that I’m not a good mama. I’m probably not completely flubbing it up for someone who’s been a parent for 5 months, but “good”? What is that? What does that look like? What’s my measuring stick for success here?

Most mothers of elementary-aged kids have a general guesstimate of what their kids will eat. That or how much they should be eating. Or what size shoes they wear.

One step at a time I guess.

Anyhow, I digress. I think I wish that someone would be specific for me, like “Hey – you did a great job of de-escalating Ben there!” or “Wow! Nice job of not freaking out after Robby wet his pull-up, sheets, duvet, pillow, and pee pad last night! Even after you stayed up super late to take him to the bathroom twice! Excellent job of being patient!”

😉

Maybe one day. For now I’ll take the sentiment and appreciate the heart behind the words. And maybe one day someone will tell me and I’ll believe it. Or, if I ever get to be that blessed, one day my kids will tell me that.

Maybe one day.

Hiatus Over… I’m Back!

Well it’s obviously been… “a while” (aka 2 years) since I’ve blogged. Which is a shame since so much has happened.

Like, for example, we started and completed our AEP (adoption education program) training; waited six months for a social worker to be available to do our homestudy; went to New Zealand; did our homestudy for a couple of months; waited a couple more months for the social worker to finish our homestudy); asked a whole bunch about two super adorable little boys; begged our worker to ask their worker about them; went to an ANE (Adoption Networking Event) / ARE (Adoption Resource Event) – depending on who you ask about what they’re called; met their worker and tried to charm her; two days later we got “the call” that she’d chosen us for them; got our disclosure files; made the commitment and then 9 weeks later, BAM! Parents!

So we’ve had our sons with us since August 2013. How crazy is that???

I’ve been chatting about all of this online with a bunch of awesome peeps, but haven’t been blogging – obviously. Sooo… I’m going to try to re-create the past couple of years by digging up a bunch of posts about our process and how we got to now, because really at this point I’m in the heart of parenting kids “from hard places” and sometimes I just need to vent blog about how things are going, what I’m learning and trying, and researching, and that’s less “forum chat-y” and more “blog-y” if you know what I mean.

Anyhow, here’s to my one resolution for 2014 – get my butt in gear and blog this stuff!!

Rough Start to 2012

Well,

I got pretty sick over the Christmas break. I’ve been feeling ‘off’ for about 6 weeks, and it got really bad over about 2 weeks between late December and early January… spent days laid up in bed – woozy, SUPER nauseous, brutal headaches, sore throat, and low-grade fever. I told people it was the flu, but I knew it wasn’t.

Went to the doctor last week and apparently my blood pressure was really high, even for my family history of high blood pressure. She was fairly concerned and has sent me for a bunch of bloodwork. I’m going back next week to confirm.

So here are the options (which I already find bizarre): reflux esophagitis, gall bladder disease, diabetes, or m. pylori. How random are those options?!? The blood pressure thing seems to be most concerning… for me as well.

Anyhow, I’m not throwing up anymore, and I’m less nauseous right now so that’s good. That bsing said, I still don’t feel ‘right’ and I’d like to figure this out soon so I can get back to life better.

Ugh… hope your new year is going better than mine so far!😉