Tag Archives: Adoption and Emotional Health

Owning Recovery

I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. As mom to Hope, my mental health has definitely wavered in ways I didn’t anticipate; I don’t mean that to sound bad, but parenting is hella hard.

I’ve learned a lot about myself and my mental health and emotional wellbeing during these years as well. I’ve been consciously working on being better and stronger and figuring myself out. At 48, I’m still working on that.

Hope will be 20 in about two months, and I don’t expect her to be where I am. I don’t expect her to be as self-reflective or as clear about life. But as we head into a year and a half at home and almost a year since the down-slide started; I find myself wanting Hope to take more ownership of her recovery.

I know she wants to get better, but there’s really not a lot of activity behind it. I know it’s got to be hard cooped up here, without school, friends, or a job. We are now past the stage of devastating depression that left me terrified; she’s improving. I’m relieved. But that’s it.

I’m still shouldering Hope’s recovery; I”m not sure if she’ll ever take the lead. At the smallest suggestion of *doing* anything, a litany of excuses come tumbling forth, sometimes before I can even complete my sentence. I hate that and really never respond well. Just this evening I had to take a deep breath, remain calm, go deep into the communication skills tool box and explain how it makes me feel when she makes excuses.

There are times when I really wonder when and how long Hope will need my intense involvement in her mental health care. I know that my feelings about it are colored by my own journey, how my intense need for achievement as a proxy for worthiness is so different than Hope’s. I know that comparing our journeys is stupid, a fools’ errand, and yet there are quiet moments where I ramble off how I took on getting myself help almost as soon as I entered college and how I’m still managing appointment schedules for a young adult who is literally doing nothing all day but surfing YouTube and TikTok.

And then I feel guilty about even remotely comparing us, and then I start the crazy thought process all over again. It’s so ridiculous.

But I do wonder…does Hope want to own her life in a way that looks…kind of normal? I don’t know if she’s healthy enough to really consider it. I don’t know if her trauma’s of the last year, that involved some really bad adult flexes, have just made her regress in ways that push off adulting for a long time. I don’t know. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t either.

I’m trying to be patient; I’m trying to follow her lead 70% of the time and push/pull her 30% of the time. Once I post this, I’ll be sending her places to apply for a job. I know that getting out and working will help her. I aspire to bickering over the car and finally deciding to buy a second car because her life will have grown to such a need. But that’s probably a long way off.

For now, I am shouldering and powering the return to the fragile health status we had before. It’s rough when you desperately want to return to a more normal version of not normal, but here we are.


Transitions

Decisions are really hard for Hope; she’s easily overwhelmed when she has options. Early in my journey with Hope, I learned that I had to narrow her choices if I was ever going to get her to make decisions. She can’t have more than 3 choices and some days that’s a stretch.

And overwhelmed Hope is miserable, and so are the folks around her who are silently screaming

MAKE A DECISION ALREADY!

She gets anxious weighing the options, reviewing and re-reviewing, then she panics and guilt trips herself because she knows everyone is waiting until she’s just paralyzed.

Recently, Hope spent an hour sifting thru burger places on UberEats; I was shocked when the delivery gal knocked and Hope grabbed her McD’s bag.

Me: McD’s? Really?

Hope: I couldn’t make a decision and I was hungry so I just ordered McDonalds.

Even with McD’s she self limits for months at a time: She will order the same, exact order for 5 months and then change to something else for a season. She does this because she makes the decision one time and sticks with it to avoid just sitting there going “um” at the drive thru window.

With Hope now approaching the age of 20; there are more decisions than ever. We recently had a family appointment with a doc to talk about meds. Doc explains everything, lays out 3 options in rank order and asks Hope to say what option does she think is best.

Blank stare.

After confirming that she understood the options, and confirming that ultimately this was her decision alone, she balked. We eventually got through it with some coaching and patience; she made a decision. But I could tell that our super mild mannered, even tempered doc was a little undone by the inability to make a decision.

Over the years I’ve become a lot more patient when she hits decision-making snags. I’ve adapted, but I haven’t really seen her skills improve or her anxiety go down. I’m hopeful that we will hit a turning point sometime soon.

I’m realizing that while Hope complained about how strict the military school was, she seemed so much more grounded there. The structure, the limited choices, that environment is one that kind of gave her the structure her spirit seems to demand. Her senior year, I asked her if she wanted to consider military service; but for her hatred of any physical activity, I could see her doing well in service. It also would’ve been kinda cool seeing how so much of her bio family were at some time in the military. Hope shot down the military idea hard and fast, proving that the ability to decide was in there, but only when it was something she really had a strong opinion about.

Right now, it almost feels like we’re going backwards. If Hope can avoid any kind of decision, she will. This year at home with minimal structure has not been good for her development. I am incapable of providing the structure she needs to thrive. Tomorrow, she resumes her job hunt. I’m hoping something turns up. An occupied Hope is a happier Hope–the decision-making isn’t much better, but at least emotionally she’s more stable.

I know she will get there; it’s really going to take time and lots of confidence building practice, though.


My Shero

Hope is my shero. She is a supreme badass.

I long to be as strong as she is, of course without all the icky stuff that made her so strong.

I am and will always be in awe of my daughter, and after art therapy tonight, I told her so.

Hope is struggling, which means we’re struggling. It’s just been such a rough few months. I noted a few weeks ago that we seemed to unexpectedly turn a corner that at least made me think we were out of a danger zone. Despite being out of danger, my daughter is just struggling with so many demons related to her life story. It’s hard to watch; it’s hard to live with. It’s hard because I hate seeing her hurt at all; but it’s devastating because I feel helpless in trying to help her get emotionally healthy.

Recently I spent an hour just doing routine case management for Hope: touching base with some teachers about assignments, checking in with the guidance counselor, trading emails with AbsurdlyHotTherapist, etc, etc. It was in the emails with AHT that I learned about some recent emotional developments that made me grab a tissue. I knew things were tough, but I didn’t know that Hope was ready to talk about them. An abbreviated version of the development? Hope is feeling the full range of her emotions after suppressing them for a very, very long time, and feeling stuff supremely sucks.

I felt…relief about the development, but I know that it also means we’re really in for a long, rough ride. Feeling feelings is a good development, but after so long, yeah, it sucks so bad.

Hope has started talking to me about what she’s feeling, how often she feels sad, when she experiences anxiety. We talk about coping. It’s hard for her to deal with feeling stuff. I explained to her that her mind and body are strong; all the things inside her have worked hard to protect her for a really long time. As a result, emotional walls were constructed, feelings about big and small things, chunks of time and experiences were compartmentalized and put neatly away in the back of their minds because she simply didn’t have the time or capacity to deal with any of it.

It’s really amazing how hard the body and mind will work to prop you up, to make you resilient and to make you functional in the midst of a lot of dysfunction. It truly is a miracle. It is a gift from the divine.

The flip side of that miracle is when your mind and body takes its rest because things are no longer chaotic, the hypervigilance and the emotional shields are no longer necessary. It’s then when all of those feelings you’d unknowingly tucked away reemerge.

It’s taken four years for my daughter’s *body and mind* to acknowledge that she’s safe and secure in a way that allow for all of this other stuff to come tumbling out. Four years to get to what essentially is the beginning of the really emotional journey to healing. These four years have flown by in many ways, but four years is  just over 1400 days and that kind of feels like a long time. Four years is only ¼ of Hope’s life.

In retrospect, these last few years of my and Hope’s journey together were just prep work; almost like we were being screened; like our admission to the hardcore emotional work was like taking the LSAT or the GRE and we needed a minimum score in order to advance. We finally have the necessary score.

As I talked to my daughter recently, I explained how things are going to be hard; the emotional work is going to be taxing, but that she was surrounded by a lot of people who loved her and would help her through it. We talked about what it feels like to feel things you’ve avoided for so long. We talked about what it’s like when you body and mind says they are ready to deal, but your daily consciousness is like, “that sounds hard, eff that.” We talked about “trusting the process” and learning to how to consciously trust since her body and mind seems to already trust that this life is safe.

I asked what else I could do to help her feel safe; she shrugged.  

I told Hope that I thought she was the strongest person I know. I told her how I admired her because I do. Hope said she didn’t believe me, and because I love data, and Hope knows this, I listed the many reasons why I thought she was both strong and brave, She stared off while I rattled off my list with lots of examples. She’s a friggin superhero.

I told her because of all of that, I know that she can get through this healing process. Yes, she will need help and support, but she’s got that from me and her extended family. It will not be easy feeling all these icky feelings and figuring out how to reconcile them, and things even may feel worse before they feel better. She will get through this.

As for me, I am wrestling with emotions too. I’m over the moon that there’s been a shift. It hasn’t come easy for either of us. I’ve fought hard to create a home that gives Hope what she needs physically and emotionally. I’m in a constant state of worry if I’m doing enough; if there’s something new I haven’t tried that might make a difference in her life. I’m unfairly marginalizing our experience because I compare us to other adoptive families dealing with their own dramatic developments. I’m also depressed and anxious and exhausted of my own accord. At least a few times a day I sit down, close my eyes, take a deep breath and exhale a short prayer for Hope, for me, and for our futures.

I genuinely admire my daughter. Sometimes I wonder how she gets up in the morning. Her strength and resiliency dwarf mine. She will get through this, and I will have a front-row seat. I will continue to learn so much from her. She’s a teacher and she doesn’t even know it.

She is my heart and my shero.  


Look at Me!!!

So this weekend I decided that I was finally going to break my promise to myself to never ever visit another plantation in this lifetime.

I grew up in central Virginia, and while growing up I visited numerous plantations. They creep me out. I swear I feel the ancestors, hear their cries and feel their anger about folks traipsing around still profiting off of their backs. I don’t care that some of these places now have some memorial placed to the enslaved or whatever—a profit is often still made. I just want them all to go away, but since they won’t I choose not to visit anymore.

Then Hope came along, and I remembered how much I learned from actually visiting historic places. I started feeling like maybe I should break this promise just once so she had the historic (and awful) experience and so I could teach her about these places and the irony that they are preserved and revered so. I’ve struggled with this for more than three years.

So, this past weekend I resolved to rip the band-aid off and take her to visit Mt. Vernon. It’s not far and well, there’s the whole first president, founding father narrative. So, we were getting ready to head out when my dad called and asked if he could come visit from a few hours away.

I took that as a sign that the Holy Homeboy was not ready for me to go back to a plantation.

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Anyhoo, my dad comes to spend the afternoon with us, and Hope…well, she acted like an attention-starved little kid.

Dad and I are having our routine “cell phone with unlimited data plan” conversation.

“Mom, mom, mom!!”

“Yes Hope.”

“I’ve saved a lot of money from my allowance. I think we should put it in the bank.”

“That’s a good idea, Hope. We can talk about that tomorrow.” She hands me a wad of money.

WTH?

Dad and I are talking politics.

“Mom, mom, mom!!”

“Please say excuse me because we are taking, but yes Hope.”

“I don’t think I want to go to that Korean immersion camp.”

“Um, OK.” I attempt to draw her into our conversation about politics since we talk about that kind of stuff often, but no dice.

Image result for thirsty meme

Dad asks her about her activities and she does the mime thing.

This back and forth goes on for hours. My dad was patient while I was visibly patient but ready to wring Hope’s neck on the inside. I took a break and had them chatting while I fixed a light dinner for us all. I thought about why it all was going down like this.

I don’t get to see my parents as much as I used to, and they are getting older so having them drive up for a day is a rare thing. I don’t know how many times this will happen in my lifetime or his. This visit was especially precious, and I’m a daddy’s girl.

Hope is so jealous of anyone who takes my attention away from her. Although my dad was eager to spend time with her, and she genuinely is fond of him, it was like she was threatened because he showed me attention. She’s like this with almost anyone who comes across our threshold to visit us. If the scope of the visit is not entirely devoted to her then she is hell on wheels. She’s full of non-sequiturs, rude interruptions, and just level 10 annoyances. It’s exhausting, and I often wonder if she behaves this way with her peers. Like if she manages to develop a friendship, is anyone else who comes around a threat that triggers this antisocial behavior?

I did my best to be patient with her, gently correcting and redirecting her, but I was frustrated. I was trying to enjoy my dad’s visit, trying to portray solid parenting in front of my dad, not get rattled by this wacky behavior, get dinner on the table and search for some kind of understanding that would trigger some empathy for my daughter.

The long and short of is that Hope and I still have a long way to go on this journey. I hope one day she feels safe enough with me to not have to compete for my attention. It’s a reminder for me that she still feels like I might abandon her, even in the smallest way. It’s painful to think about that, and it’s tough to find away to address it without meeting full on resistance and denial.

I got so much more than I wanted this weekend, having time with my dad, but I was also reminded that my daughter is still a fragile little girl screaming “Look at me, mommy! Look at me!”

I see you, Hope.


Narrow Range of Emotions

During all of our quality time this past weekend, I asked Hope how she was feeling emotionally these days. I got the standard issue response, “Same.”

Every time I ask Hope how she’s doing/feeling, she lets me know that nothing has really changed. The only thing emotionally that seems to have changed much over the last year or so is that Hope can actually talk about her emotions and what they feel like and what the impact they have on her looks like. I’m proud of this evolution even if she says it hasn’t had any impact on managing her emotions.

Hope says she has a very narrow range of emotions: anger ←and →sadness. She’s said that she just plays the appropriate emotions on the outside for everyone else’s benefit.

My daughter is a marvelous actress.

I scrolled through some of my favorite pictures of her on my phone—surprise pics from good gifts or a great musical performance.

“These reactions aren’t real?”

Hope tried her best to explain that a small part of her feels the emotions, but really, she just amps the reaction that she knows folks want to see. She feels sadness and anger all the time.

Then I was sad and angry, and a wee bit hurt that all those great moments we’ve had are a little tarnished because she had to fake the appropriate response.

I was sad that despite finding a home with lots of loves and 1st world comforts she’s still so sad and angry, and angry that so many people hurt her and still control her ability to live a fulfilled life.

My daughter can’t live authentically because she’s so broken that she can’t feel the full range of emotions available to her. That’s a doozy.

Trauma is such a bitch.

It’s hard enough learning to connect your body and mind through emotions and learning to harness everything, especially as a teenager. But when everything is so disconnected? I found myself really wondering how she processes other people’s emotions? Does she read them correctly? I mean, I guess she does since she tries to respond accordingly. But I have to figure that this emotional stuff is connected with her social challenges.

I believe in time, Hope will enjoy a widened emotional range; I’m hopeful.

I’m wildly emotional. We watched A Dog’s Purpose this weekend and I cried all through the dang thing. I was hugging Yappy and about the go get The Furry One’s ashes to sit with them. I laughed hard during Despicable Me 3, and I was shocked that the South Park movie was more vulgar than I remembered. My heart felt shaky from missing my 6 month old nephew when pictures of his first time in a pool came via text. Worry furrowed my brow when I heard my mom wasn’t feeling well. Empathy spilled out when I heard about Sister M’s dog being terrified of fireworks on July 4th. I felt it all. I am a big emoter, and sometimes it annoys Hope.

With such a narrow emotional range, my wide range has caused Hope to call me overdramatic on more than one occasion.

I asked Hope was AbsurdlyHotTherapist helping her explore ways to help her allow herself to feel more. I already knew the answer: there’s so much rage that has to be dealt with first that prying open the emotional landmine is secondary. She did say that going to talk about it was really helpful in letting off some steam each appointment. I’m glad.

It often feels like there is so much to juggle with Hope’s recovery. The facets feel countless, and the need to shift coping strategies is never-ending. Some mornings I lay there looking at the ceiling fan wondering what will be expected of me in parenting my daughter that day. I whisper a prayer to keep the drama to a minimum.

Beyond making sure she feeling physically safe, it’s hard prioritizing what to deal with. It’s also hard to control my own range of emotional responses. It’s hard to admit that I wish I emoted less so that I could focus on strategic management of Hope’s healing—but I’m guessing that would make me a less effective mom to her. She needs my emotion—not only as a reminder of my love but as a model for expressing emotion.

It’s all so complicated and painful.

I just hope that one day Hope will be able to smile genuine smiles; laugh real laughs, sleep with the light off, feel confident, know she’s loved and can return love in a healthy way. Until then I’ll keep playing whack-a-mole trying to help her, and just relish those moments when she appears to be authentic in her emotional expression.


Thoughts on Being 16-3

Hope turned 16 this weekend. It was a fun filled weekend with lots of quality time, shopping, family and good eats. I went a little overboard on the gifts, but it was fun and 16 is a significant birthday. She seemed to enjoy herself; she relished under the nearly non-stop glare of my attention. I catered to most of her whims—including agreeing to vacuum the walls and ceiling of her room in order to eliminate possible bugs in her room. She was a delight to be around; seemed genuinely happy to be the center of attention. #nosurprisethere

During the course of the weekend, I asked Hope how she felt about turning 16 and did she feel like she was 16? She replied that she felt like she was 3.

I thought at first she was joking, and while she might have been a little tongue in cheek, it was about the truest thing she’s said.  I talk to AbsurdlyHotTherapist regularly, and Hope’s emotional age is much younger than her chronological age. It isn’t 3, but it is in the single digits. Grammy was with us when she responded; she was speechless.

I thought the response was interesting for so many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that we just celebrated our 3rd family-versary. Could she have been born again when she was adopted? Maybe, I guess.

I know there are times when she is very much like a big threenager. She’s taking a break from her ADHD meds at the moment. We made it through one store reasonably well, but then we went to Target. She expended all of my reserve energy with one sprint around the store. Target = #overstimulation. So many things to see, notice, comment on, show me, touch, sniff. I swear to God that Yappy does not sniff at the dog park as much as she was distracted at Target. After a 15 minute visit, I told her I needed to rest for a bit. I asked her how she felt—anxious, excitable, jumbled, having a hard time remembering all the things she saw, swearing she didn’t say things she did. It was maddening, and a challenge for both of us.

I told her that sometimes I think she acts like a 5 year old, and she laughed.

I totally meant it.

Sure she has come so far; she has matured emotionally a lot, especially in the last few months. Her ability to vocalize her feelings has really come a long way. All told though, Hope is still emotionally very much behind her peers.

As she enters her 16th year, I wonder what that means for her. She spent her birthday with me and a family friend. There were no friends to invite. There was no party. There were no dates. And while that might be true for many teens; I wonder how long Hope will be in this space. I will always be here for her, but I wonder when she will be able to develop healthy friendships with peers who will provide her a kind of support that I can’t. I wonder when she will desire some level of independence. I wonder whether she will have any healthy romantic relationships.

My curiosity and worry about Hope’s future isn’t new though. The fact that my daughter sees herself feeling much younger than she is chronologically is new. The self-awareness is growing, and as it continues to develop I’m hopeful that it will help her catch up somehow. I know it won’t be overnight, but I hope it speeds up.  I Hope that she will get closer before she graduates in a couple of years so that she has the joy of experiencing some meaningful high school rites of passage. I want my daughter to suck in all the life she can. I recognize that she probably just wants to suck in all the normal she can, and her normal has double backed to a time when she didn’t have what she has now.

For now, I have a sweet 16, 3 year old who at least knows she’s a 16-3 year old.

I guess that’s something.


Emotional Confessions

Author’s Note:

I wrote this post at the start of the week after an emotionally taxing weekend. I wasn’t showing myself much grace; I wasn’t giving myself space to just breathe.

I’m on the upswing now with a lot of support and love from my village.

I sat on this post, changing the post schedule repeatedly. It was too raw; it was just too much.  I felt ashamed about my meltdown. I felt embarrassed about whining about how hard this journey is…a journey I chose. As I begin to feel better, I realized that I needed to just go ahead and put it out there, hoping that giving it air and light would validate the raw feelings of other folks who are struggling.

So…here it is. I hope my transparency makes someone who also feels these feelings know they aren’t alone.


As a parent, I would like to think that my good characteristics outweigh the bad. I hope so. I hope that one day, when I’m really and truly called to account for my many, many flaws, that the good stuff will get me through the pearly gates.

I have a terrible temper, seriously it’s awful. It makes me shake it’s so awful. I sometimes have a hard time controlling it. My preferred weapon is words. I will grind you right down; my anger makes me want to make you small with words.

I have the capacity to be really, really mean. I know this; I’m not proud of it, but I know this.

I’m passive aggressive, though through the years I’m managed to abandon a lot of those behaviors, but please know that they are still there.

I’m selfish, incredibly selfish. I like what I like and I don’t want to compromise or give it up or whatever. I often think about what I had to give up to be a parent, and I feel some kind of way about all of it.

My natural state is to be super blunt without care for feelings. I am a good Southern woman, though, appropriately brought up to mind my tongue most of the time. I try to mind my manners and demonstrate tactfulness, so the bluntness often appears dulled.

I am very comfortable with conflict. I don’t necessarily like it, but I am very comfortable with it and sometimes will trigger it just so I can use my word weapons and “win.” Why? Because winning makes me feel better about myself and sometimes I really just want to feel better about myself and sadly, winning a conflict, no matter how ridiculous, is the quickest way to achieve that.

At 44 as much as I try to continue to evolve, especially as I parent, I know that my personality is locked in. I am who I am. My dissertation was all about resistance to change; yeah, I am. I’m totally resistant to change. I hate change. I hate thinking about it. I hate the need to be flexible even though I promote it and have to practice it for everyone’s well-being. I don’t want to.

I liked the old me and I’m not so sure that I like the parenting me. Actually, I’m sure I don’t, which just makes me feel awful. I love my daughter, but I’m not a huge fan of this parenting thing.

As I think about these flaws, I wonder what the hell made me want to be a parent. Seriously, talk about the most-long term triggering activity one could sign up for. I mean…seriously, parenting…while it brings out the best in me; it also brings out the absolute worst in me. I spend countless hours biting my cheeks trying to hold my own dragons in check.

Hope knows that biting my cheek is my anger/anxiety tell. She learned that early on. She also knows I have a wicked temper. She’s been subjected to the brunt of it a couple of times. She knows that I have the capacity to destroy her. It’s the truth, and it’s a truth that shames me. emotionally.

Our mutual knowledge of this fact terrifies me. I try so hard to build her up knowing that a horrible bout of anger and frustration could bring it all crumbling down. Knowing that kills me; the guilt…is…crushing.

Daily, especially bad days like one I had recently, I wonder if I was the best home for Hope. I think she could have done better. I wonder was this route right for me? Could I have led a child-free, but happy and fulfilled life? There are days when I wonder if I’m just making things worse for her, in spite of the permanence she desperately needed—is this really what was best for her?. I wonder a lot of things.

It’s taken me years and a lot of therapy to face my own deep seated flaws and I had a “conventional, normal” upbringing. Will the glare of adoption ever dull and allow me to just be a regular old parent? My flaws, while still bad, don’t seem so drastically horrid, under the softer lighting of parenting with no adjectives.

I’m struggling with my own identity as me and not ABM or Hope’s mom. I’ve been so consumed with trying desperately for Hope to be successful that my own personal goals and successes have fallen by the wayside. I’ve had two major work publications come out in the last two months. I barely acknowledged them even though they are the culmination of years of work. I have withdrawn from friends because I’m “busy” making sure geometry homework is done, chemistry quizzes are taken and A Brave New World gets read. I spend an absurd amount of time monitoring the general comings and goings of online behavior because…distractions are bad and ADHD teen life is stupid.

I’m going through the motions just trying to keep my own dragons at bay while I tend to Hope’s dragons.

I’m tired, so very tired, and I suspect falling back into my old chilly friend, depression. I’m sure that my self-care game is weak right now, which allows the time and space for my flaws to step to the forefront.

Hope and I remain hopeful, but right now it doesn’t feel like hope bears out. She insists that the world is against her and finds the tiniest evidence that fits her world view and magnifies it into a universal conspiracy against her. I keep hoping that overnight her limitations will disappear leaving me with expectations that are routinely unmet making me frustrated, angry and disappointed in me, her and the world in general.

We are doing everything we are supposed to be doing. I am marshaling every external resource I can. On the outside, we are doing it, but behind these doors, we struggle. We struggle day in and day out. We struggle with our individual flaws, our individual limitations, our shared problems, and ranges of emotions that are just…overwhelming and exhausting. Some days, we struggle just to stay alive. And it’s rarely seen under the carefully worded and curated social media posts. It’s rarely shared because the glare of judgment is likely to just sear a hole through me.

And I’m afraid. As much as my own self-criticism and loathing bring me down and the fear of external judgment paralyzes me; I’m most afraid of Hope’s view of me. I am terrified of what she must think of me. I know she loves me, and I’m sure there’s a healthy amount of “I hate you!” because she’s a teen girl, but critically, I fear her perception of me as her adoptive mother.

I’m afraid as I listen to adoptees talk about what works and what doesn’t that Hope will one day tell the world about all of my shortcomings as her mother. Will Hope be hypercritical of me? Will she spend these latter years of adolescence thinking that I was a failure as her mother? Will she be on social media talking about me badly? Will she write lists enumerating all the things I should’ve, would’ve, could’ve done despite what feels like the sacrifice of the very core of my being and the need and desire to suppress everything I ever thought or thought I knew about parenting to parent her the best I could?

I’m mindful of the pain I caused my own mother as I often wrote about her in the beginning of this journey and my disappointment and anger towards her for how she “treated me” in the early months of my journey with Hope. It wasn’t pretty, and it should’ve been private, but it wasn’t.  Will Hope look back on these years with righteous anger about all I did wrong when I was trying desperately to hold on and do right by her? How will she see me? How will she see us? I already know that I live in the shadows and shoes of those who came before me and that there are romantic notions that I will never be who they were or could have been. I acknowledge that but I do wonder, five, ten years from now, will Hope know how hard I tried to give her the love and life that she deserved?

Parenting is so very hard and it magnifies all of your flaws. Parenting a kid from a hard place with a ton of her own baggage…it’s another level of crazy.

Ultimately, my confession is that I have no idea what the hell I’m doing and I’m desperate not to screw up. I feel like every personal flaw is on front street and out of control right now. I feel like I can’t get anything right and that I can’t motivate, coax, drag, pull, prod, cheer, nudge or pray Hope into the success she deserves. I’m back to wanting more for her than she wants for herself, and worse, I love her so much that I now own that failure, and I know somewhere, somehow that she and others probably think I own that self-hate too.

It’s just too much.


Recent Reflections

The last week or so I realized that things had changed around Casa d’ABM. Things were…routine. Things were relatively smooth.

Hope and I have always been a loving family, even if it didn’t always seem very loving as we grappled with our challenges.

It’s been hard for both of us.

But I realized that something was really, really different and that upon reflecting, things had been different for like a good month.

I realized that our day to day life was very much what I envisioned when I started this journey.  I have this family that I adored. There was a healthy balance between goofing off and discipline.

Hope’s ability to demonstrate responsibility and initiative in some areas not only existed by really had dramatically improved.

She was affectionate.

We worked together.

We actually got back into the habit of eating together (Thank you Instant Pot).

We felt more attached.

Things just feel different; it’s difficult to explain.

But gosh, it’s so beautiful.

At a recent medical appointment, the doctor said to Hope, “You look…happy.”

She squinted and said, “Yeah, I guess so.”

She’d never said that before. Even if it’s temporary or fleeting…gosh that was a precious moment.

We are happy, and right now, right this moment, I’m living my dream.


Mood Swing Apps

I track our moods. I use apps. I like data. I want to see if there are patterns, if I’m gauging what I see and feel properly.

I use Mood Log to track Hope’s moods. It’s a simple app, with a clean interface. You can add emotions or behaviors and associate them with highs or lows as you desire. I try to log in the morning for consistency, though sometimes I’ll log big mood swings over the course of a day. It has helped in giving me some insights into how often her moods change…or rather how often I interpret a mood change.

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Hope’s Mood Log

I’ve been doing this for about two months now. I do look back at the week trends, but I only recently started looking at the trends over the two months. Hope’s weeks start low and the closer she gets to the weekend the better her overall moods are. I can see now in retrospect how stressed she must’ve been on Monday mornings going to school and how tough it must’ve been for her to rough it through the week.

It’s also become easier for me to just see regular ole teenage mood swings and those influenced by hormonal changes. Moving forward I’m hoping this will help me take a lot more things in stride.

I realized in order for me to do that, I needed to pay closer attention to my own moods. I use the app Pacifica to track mine. It is a little more dynamic that Mood Log.

My logs on Pacifica

My logs on Pacifica

I find I tend to rate myself more conservatively over time. For me to rate myself on the higher/good mood end I probably have to be ecstatic; really negative engagements with Hope during which we blew the roof off the house, will get dramatically lower rating.  Despite the extremes, I know my mood shift more than what I record. I find it interesting that I don’t seem as honest with myself as I do when I rating Hope. I’m not sure who I’m trying to impress.

At any rate, mood tracking helps me try to figure US out a bit more. I also share them with our therapists, who find them helpful in seeing what happens between visits.

Anyone else tracking moods? What are you using? Does it help?


Clouds of Sadness

The range of emotions felt at Casa d’ABM is pretty wide. I’ve always been pretty high strung, and I’ve written about my own struggle with depression in this space before. Living with a teenager is pretty tumultuous. The hormones…O.M.G. It’s amazing, really. I am convinced that I didn’t display the full range of crazy that I was feeling during my adolescence—not that I didn’t have the emotional swings, but that I didn’t act out.

Lots of people think my parents were strict; to some degree they were, but really they set high expectations and I had absurdly high expectations for myself. With the bar so high I was mindfully cautious about acting out.

I was a bit jealous of kids who didn’t seem to approach adolescence the same way. I wished I’d sneaked out more; went to more movies I wasn’t supposed to see. I did a fair amount of boozing my senior year, but still there was a hard limit on what I would do. Not a bad thing, but a self-control thing that gave me hang ups later in life.

So, now, years later, having a teenaged daughter who is a trauma survivor, is impulsive, at times angry, and seeming always sad…well it makes for an emotional roller coaster for all of us.

Except for Yappy—world’s happiest dog.

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So I guess that should say both of us.

This is an especially hard time of the year for Hope. Lots were crammed into the summer months of her young life. This year the memories seem to be crushing. We get treatment, therapy, but sometimes the sadness moves in faster than a weather cold front.

And if you know anything about weather, cold fronts, hitting warm air means storms. Sometimes really, really, crazy storms.

That happens here. The storms are a bit quieter now than when we first became a family, but they are no less disruptive or worrisome.

I try to remind myself that the frequent presence of emotional storm, complete with downpours, represent that this is a safe place. Hope is able to express her full range of emotions in our home. This is a safe place to work through it all; she can emote here.

But here’s the thing, secondary trauma and compassion fatigue are real. It’s not just about loving Hope; it’s about demonstrating empathy (constantly); managing our life as a therapeutic case; navigating big and little decisions that may have triggering effects; always being anxious waiting for the other shoe to drop after stumbling over a trigger.

It is exhausting for both of us. Hope can sleep for hours and hours sometimes. I know that part of it is that her young body is run down and exhausted from fighting her own fight/flight response to life. I know the other part is just coping with the overwhelming sadness that she lives with.

On the weekends I am eager to resume my old life of running errands, hitting the gym, spending the afternoons and evenings doing something fun. I end up running the errands that I have to in order to keep the house running; taking Yappy to the dog park and waiting to see if I can help Hope get herself together. By evenings, I’m emotionally done and I don’t even feel like I’ve done anything.

We might’ve tried a new restaurant or rented but didn’t watch the Redbox movie I picked up in hopes of having some fun family time.

The reality is that a happy house is a rare scene around these parts. It’s about trying to survive and fighting to push the clouds of sadness away.

I hear that the hormonal part will settle down in another year or two; I hope so. Self-care helps with my ability to cope, but living with this level of stress is tough. It is exhausting. It is depressing.

So we both end up sharing her trauma. It ends up being cloudy and sad for both of us. I look forward to a day when it won’t be so overwhelming for Hope, that the depression she feels won’t consume her life, when so many things won’t be triggering.  When that happens for Hope, it know it will happen for me too.


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