Tag Archives: Depression

When Magic Ain’t Enough

First things first: Hope is doing marvelously. She has friends; she is social. She is trying to stay on top of her schoolwork. She joined a club last week. She’s doing great. She’s also still open to questions for her column, so…Ask Hope by sending an email to adoptiveblackmom@gmail.com.

Me?

I’m not doing so hot.

It’s not an empty nest thing, though some of it is probably a change thing. No, it’s really about work and personal life. I hit an emotional wall a week ago that was just incredibly damaging, and while I grinned and bore it; I’m not ok. And this week I feel like it shows across every aspect of my life.

I recently celebrated 15 years in my job as a diversity and inclusion professional. I love my work; I know I’m making a difference. There is so much work to do, but I can look at several generations of students and see the impact that my work along with the work of so many others.

I’ve got research projects and consultations and student organizations. I give lectures, conduct workshops and create assessment tools. I’ve written policies, standards, papers and books.

I’m not bragging. I’ve just worked hard.

Along the way I went back to school, did a couple of degrees and half raised an amazing daughter.

I feel like if I totally checked out right this moment, I will have left a mark, and that’s immensely satisfying even when I see so much more that can and should be done.

But it has all has come at a cost.

I’ve been one of few people of color broadly and very few black people and even fewer black women, in countless spaces over the last 15 years. I’m used to it. I can hold my own in such spaces, but these spaces aren’t always inclusive or hospitable. I’ve been called names. I’ve heard racist jokes. I’ve been harassed. When I went natural and chopped my hair off the first time, a white male colleague said I looked exotic. I have given lectures that were rated poorly because I didn’t have any effs to give about white fragility.

I’ve coached, coddled, chastised and championed.

I love this work, but it is emotionally exhausting creating content to reach, teach, and move people in ways that keeps them engaged and not triggered by their own fragility. It comes at a high cost that I’m willing to pay if it means that I can make this profession better. My commitment to this work is also why I continue writing about my life and parenting experience in this space, why Mimi and I hosted Add Water and Stir and why I’m now trying to move into doing some consulting with adoption agencies interested in exploring these issues.

I recently participated in a work-related meeting that demonstrated clearly to me that there is still so much more work to be done. It was in a space that positioned me as an outsider, that felt very silencing and was wholly oblivious to how problematic it all felt for those of us who were outsiders—either by professional discipline or race.

No one was mean. No one said anything inappropriate. No one was overtly racist. But it was very superficial and wildly damaging to me emotionally.

It’s been a week, and I haven’t recovered. I’m still working, still producing, still rolling, but feeling like the walking wounded. That space wrung what little Black Girl Magic I had left. It’s gone. It’s like the experience just zapped it. I am broken.

Couple that with a continued barrage of trash on the dating scene and I’m on the ropes. I’m just done. Last week, I pulled my profile down and shuttered myself like I was preparing for a hurricane. It was like a one-two punch and the ref is just hovering over me counting….1. 2. 3. 4. 5…..

I can’t get up.

I’m emotionally empty.

depressed

People can see it. People can feel the icky energy rolling off of me. My therapist knew as soon as I walked into her office yesterday that I was not ok. She remarked that my energy was similar to when I started going to her shortly after Hope’s arrival when I was deep in the depths of post-adoption depression.

And she’s right. I sobbed in her office. I finally said how unseen I felt at the meeting; how so much of my work seems in vain, how the dating scene is trash, but I would love to have a life companion and that I’m hella glad Hope is away at school while I’m seriously falling apart.

My empty nest fall was *not* supposed to be like this. The work I love is not supposed to make me so miserable. Dating should not make me wonder if the next dude is going to be awful to me too.

I’m not going to stay in this dark place though. I’ve booked a 5 star get-a-way for two weeks from now on a whim. I thought as the bill was rising higher and higher as I as I was upgrading this and that, this is getting pricey. Then I asked what would I be like in two weeks if I don’t do this or something like it? What if I didn’t invest in myself? And what would Hope do/say/feel if she saw me like this?  I might be ok, but the people around me will surely suffer—actually I will suffer most of all.

So, I booked exactly what I wanted and needed for 5 days away in a location that’s warm, sunny, beachy, with lots of rum, good food and lots of brown people—majority brown people. I need to be in a space where black and brown folks are the dominant culture for a few days. I need to feel emotionally safe; I need to not be directly under the searing gaze of white folks for a few days. #yeahIsaidit #lovebutyallareexhausting

And tomorrow, I’ll be calling up the doc and getting some new meds. A vacation time-out will help a lot, but I know it is not a panacea for what ails me. I know that it will not bring my magic back. Chemistry will help bring my magic back. So will eating right and continuing to make plans that focus on my restoration

Parents weekend is next week, so I will get to see my beautiful Hope then. I’m so excited about seeing her and getting a glimpse into the life she is creating for herself. I’m so proud of her. With my restoration plan coming into focus; I feel better about the ABM she will see next weekend. The vacation will jump start a new chapter for me; I’m committed to that.

I do not like the dark space. I do not like feeling like I’m wandering or wondering. I want to come back from this. I want to keep going; I want to be strong and magical. I also want to be better at preventing this kind of emotional spiral.

Practice makes perfect right?


Times are Hard

My holiday break has ended, and I’m dutifully back in the office. I could have telecommuted today, but if I had one more solid day with Hope I might snap.

These last couple of weeks with her have been great, but we learned quite some time ago that having breaks is a good thing for us.  My travel schedule has historically given us both the reprieves we’ve needed to maintain a health-ish mother/daughter relationship.  Since going to boarding school, we really seem to relish the time we spend together on the weekends.

During this break, we have had some good time to talk about 2019, about how graduation looms, about the college applications she’s sent off and how some decisions will soon have to be made about her future. When I initiated these chats, Hope talked about how fast it is all going and how anxiety provoking it is. I agreed; these last few years have flown by and knowing that graduation is only 130is days away has me reaching for the brown liquor bottle and a couple of cubes of ice. We are both really starting to get anxious.

Hope has made such great strides these last few months. I feel like she, and me by virtue of proximity, have backed away from the edge of the crazy cliff we were gripping to the last 18 months or so. During weekends home, Hope gives off a slightly more confident air. She’s not as anxious and doesn’t seem as depressed. I know it’s all still there, but it doesn’t feel as consuming as it used to. There was a time that I swear I feel like it was all I could do to just keep us…going, living, breathing.

The growth and stability has been encouraging to me as a parent. I began to allow myself to daydream about her life in college and beyond college. Of course, I have ridiculous hopes and dreams for my daughter, but honestly, I’d be thrilled if she was just ok, functional, independent, roaming out in the world as a regular Jane. Still the sprigs of growth gave me hope and allowed me to fantasize about Hope’s future. We visited a couple of colleges, and she submitted her college applications. We high fived even as all the activities were a little nerve provoking around the edges.

These two weeks are the longest that Hope has been home since before our vacation to Europe in August. The first few days were such a rush for both of us; it was Christmas after all. We traipsed around Virginia visiting family, doing some shopping and finally settling in back home for the second week of vacation. And…then I began to really see my beautiful Hope.

The trauma triggered behaviors began to peek out. The somatic anxiety ailments descended like a black, plague-filled cloud. The excuses for inability to function much became amplified. The failure to listen to full questions because she was more concerned about getting a chance to respond to questions that *weren’t* being asked increased exponentially. The attention seeking behavior—we just got back from our obligatory doctor’s visit which was wholly unnecessary and merely attention seeking, moving through unrelated phantom symptoms designed to elicit a surely deadly diagnosis, sympathy and a hopeful pass on all the homework she failed to do because she was watching K-dramas.

As Hope’s usual struggles reemerged, I have battled my own demons. This is a challenging time of year for me. I don’t mind the cold, but darkness feels…emotionally dark. I struggle the most with my depression during the winter months. My motivation shrinks; I feel exhausted all the time. I am continent to just cozy under a blanket and do…the least. It feels so hard to propel myself to function. I just feel like sleeping all the time. But, well being functional and high achieving doesn’t leave much time for that, so I power through with some sarcastic self-talk. I try to date despite feeling like the whole dating ordeal is just trash. I go to therapy to talk about my fears more than my hopes, and I pop that blue and white pill every morning praying that it keeps me firmly on the ledge, while contemplating the need to get back on the prescription that features a little white pill when I need more pharmacological help.

And because I’m always looking forward, I’m thinking about what happens after the next 130-some odd days. Will we be planning for college or a job? Will she make it to graduation? Will I have a better idea of what her new needs might be and the ability to come up with a plan to meet them. What will success look like for Hope? Right now, it’s all a bit of a black hole, and honestly, my personality type does *not* do well with black holes. I’m working on my patience. I’m working on taking it as it comes. I’m working on meeting Hope where she is, but I’m feeling like I have no idea where that will be.

I am a good mother. I know that. I have worked, really, really hard at mothering Hope. I’m far from perfect. I’m failed and dusted myself off countless times. I try to be reflective and course correcting, but I am feeling lost as we fast approach the next chapter. I don’t know what’s next.

I imagine that this is overwhelming for Hope as well. It’s scary not knowing what’s next. Hope and I are facing the next chapter independently and together—we both have our stories on what we think comes next and how we’ll handle it. We both have hopes and dreams, some of which are not based on reality at all. We are both afraid of failure even though what that looks like is probably widely varied. And then there’s reality and decisions and things we’re experiencing together for the first time. It’s exciting and overwhelming and it’s own dream come true to get to the senior year. But we both are looking into the void to figure out what’s next.

It’s awful and awesome in its own way.

I just know that I’m probably a bit overwhelmed and depressed at the moment, and I need to get on top of that. I can’t lead in the darkness when my own reality is too dark. Sigh…

This. Is. Hard.

 


I’m Spent

I intellectually understand why Hope engages in self-sabotage. I totally get it on an intellectual level. There’s the need to actually be the failure she sees herself as. There’s the need to create a situation where she is not increasingly independent as she moves to adulthood. There’s the reality that her brain, having been subjected to early and multiple traumas just doesn’t make the same kind of connections that neurotypical kids do.

I have read the articles. I’ve listened to adult adoptees. I chat with other adoptive parents. I totally get it.

And then there’s the reality of living with it.

And the reality is that I don’t get it at all. Like not even a little bit. Not even the smallest fraction.

The emotional roller coaster is like being on one of those obnoxious carnival spinner rides that makes you feel kind of nauseous halfway through. The kind of ride where you just close your eyes, take long, slow breaths as you try not to hurl while the ride is still going.

This was an especially trying weekend with Hope. She broke a rule on Thursday night that required immediate and meaningful consequences. Of course, this meant that essentially my first weekend home in a month *we* were grounded. The tearful, depressive “woe is me” episodes were authentic if brought on by her own behavior. I tried to be connected. I had her drive me around on my weekend errands most of the morning. I tried to bond over shopping for Mother’s Day gifts for the grandmothers. I insisted that she come with me and Yappy for a couple mile walk out in the glorious sunshine.

I finished the application for the summer boarding program I hope she will attend this summer this weekend. The application prompted a difficult conversation about the academic reckoning that Hope is facing as she looks to start her senior year of high school. Despite multiple meetings, lots of conferences and long, painful conversations with Hope before today, there’s still remains a core of denial that graduation may not happen as scheduled. We are rolling headlong into some real natural consequences that have been 4 years in the making, and I’m in a state of nausea waiting for Hope to act like none of us tried to tell her that the situation was this serious.

And I’m trying to figure out how to balance a possible delayed graduation with the fact that my daughter has zero desire to grow up anyway. Hope deserves a childhood, but Hope also needs to be doing a few more things independently than she is. I’m not kicking her out, but I do wonder what the long game is for her, for us, for me. Will she ever want to be independent? Will she continue to self-sabotage to see if I’ll come save her? When will it be too much for me? As I’ve been working on updating my estate planning recently, I’m really thinking about my own mortality and how I want to spend the next 30-40 years, assuming I have that long.

And why the fuq will she not just fold her laundry and take out her trash like I tell her to? This on top of all the really serious stuff just is the most triggering because it’s stuff completely within her control which is probably why it’s not getting done. URGH!

I adore Hope. She has added so much to my life. But despite really working hard this year to practice self-care and trying my best to be a more emotionally regulated parent (I’m not even yelling anymore) I’m just exhausted.

In fact, I think I’m not yelling because I’m just spent.

It seems nothing I do motivates Hope. This last year has felt like we’re on emotional eggshells. Family members have suggested that maybe I’ve spoiled her. I would LOVE to spoil my daughter, but I don’t know if that’s a thing for her. I know there are things she enjoys about this life, but after four years, she still struggles to ask for things she wants/needs. I know that her trust for me only goes so far.

And so we just go round and round with me nudging, pushing, pulling, cheering, encouraging, and loving and Hope sitting, stalling, denying, avoiding, and sabotaging.

I’m accepting that this is our life and that she’s undoubtedly having a hard time. I honestly am a little tapped out though. I don’t know what to do or say other than a hug and a pat and a “there, there it will be ok, I promise.”

This weekend has been hard. I’m proud that I didn’t barf—figuratively, emotionally or literally. But I’m going into the next week feeling like I’ve been through an emotional ringer, and it almost always feels that way these days.

I’m not sure when this part of our ride will change, but I hope it’s soon.


We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile
And mouth with myriad subtleties,

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but oh great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile,
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

~~~Paul Laurence Dunbar

I used to have this poem hanging in my office as a reminder to visitors that sometimes we hide our feelings to just get through. As a diversity professional, I am constantly, intentionally exposing myself to emotional ish in order to help people move to the next level of inclusion. Consequently, I wear a mask.

A lot.

This poem kept me up really late one night this week. I couldn’t get it off my mind because of something Hope said to me. Essentially, my daughter wears a mask.

She wears a mask to get through every day, and it exhausts her.

Hope is an amazing young woman, and there are days when I simply marvel at her. There are other days when I see the turmoil on her face, but the reality is that on most days, she’s really, really good at hiding it.

Having been a long-time depression sufferer, my own mask is worn as much as to protect me as it is to motivate me. My own intrinsic motivation wills me to get through things and wills me to just fake it and it will get better.

I recognize that most people wear their masks for everyone else’s benefit. Who wants to be around a person who is wearing their suffering? The self-protection mechanism is such that if you desperately want to be around people, you just try to keep it together and conform so that they won’t be put off by you. You drag out your mask and hide all the ish behind it.

I feel like Hope and I are in a battle for her life right now. I see her; I see her working so hard to keep it together. I see her fighting so hard to get to a place that doesn’t hurt so much. She does take her mask off with me; sometimes not all the way, but enough for me to know what’s lurking underneath.

On the one hand, I’m so relieved that Hope trusts me enough to lower her defenses, her shields, but on the real…I feel helpless. I feel like I’m doing everything I can, everything I can think of to help shepherd her to a healthier place, but it isn’t helping the way we need it to.

That helplessness has got me feeling like I must wear a mask too. I mean, who goes around sharing that their kid is just struggling to keep it together, which means that you’re struggling to keep it together too. Who wants to see your eyes after you’ve sat in the bathroom sobbing and urgently praying for 10 minutes because you know the path this could all go down? Who do you trust, besides other parents walking in these shoes, with this kinda thing because most folks Just. Don’t. Get. It.

So, you both put on your oxygen masks in the morning and try to make it through another day.

I try to model authenticity for Hope. I try to use ‘good’ communication skills; I try to ask for what I need. I coach her to take care of herself. I encourage her to emote, to build solid friendships so that she has some peer support. I email the health professionals and the guidance counselors, even after Hope and I have decided on a course of action. I need allies to step into the gap to help her help herself.

This week has been a huge turning point for me. I have fought the good fight on trying to make sure that the homework has been done and that school stuff was a priority. School is such a core value for me; it’s social currency, especially for black folks. But, I’m done. It’s just not worth it. Hope doesn’t need the extra pressure, and neither do I. I’m fighting for my kid’s survival. School, while still important, can’t be central to that paradigm. Healing must be the sole focus. It has to be; our future depends on it.

And so, we’ll start this week differently. We’ll go back to basics. I’ll prioritize quality time. I’ll focus on more family care, not just self-care. I’ll ask about school, but not about the work. I’ll find another doctor who can help me chase down the right pharma-combo for her. I’ll lower my mask so I can always have a clear view of Hope and her mask.

Hopefully this will be the beginning of the end for Hope’s mask.


The House is Quiet

The house is quiet tonight. Hope has been asleep since I got home from work. I kind of anticipated that; things around here are becoming increasingly predictable.

Saturday, I did my best to get my own emotional train back on the tracks. Sunday was devoted to doing what I do best and what really brings me out of the darkness: problem-solving. As I got up yesterday morning, I resolved to help Hope put together a success plan for the day and the week. I resolved to develop a boss-level meal plan for the week. I thought I might get through some of the accident related paperwork since I finally hired an attorney this week (I could write a whole post on how awful that experience was, how personal injury lawyers have earned their ambulance chasing cred and how I just figured that the slime factor was what made them good at what they do, but well, that’s the gist of it). I thought I would organize my things to do list at work so well that I would be able to blow throw the week with a lot less emotional labor than last week.

I had such big hopes and dreams. I knew there was a high probability that the most important ones (about Hope) would end in emotional drama, but I just wanted to believe I could will it to go smoothly for one day.

Yeah, my will ain’t that strong.

I focused on researching ADHD and trauma friendly study strategies. I watched a lot of videos, read some articles and came up with a plan. Hope woke up already anxious about all she had to accomplish for school in one day. #11thgradeishard I pitched my plan to help her get organized with a few changes to the way she did things. I came prepared for resistance and didn’t meet much. I helped her create a plan for the day. I told her that I would check her planner during the week to see how she’s coming along. We made an agreement; we shook on it, we smiled.

I headed off to conquer the rest of my things to do, already feeling like I was climbing out of my hole of depression and anxiety. Those were some good moments, couple of hours even…and things went to hell.

Despite finding success in the new approach to time management for a couple of tasks, Hope decided that her approach was better suited to achieve overall success. We’ve been using her approach for a couple of years now, and I have far more gray hair to show for it and well academic performance would suggest that a different approach is worth considering. Sunday slid away with very little productivity, but increasing levels of anxiety, you know, just to balance things out. By day’s end, all the homework had not been completed and I was considering biting my nails.

I made a hard decision to give away our tickets to tonight’s Katy Perry concert. It wasn’t decision about punishment; it was a decision about protecting my emotional health and weekly capacity levels. Knowing that we were already behind on school work meant it was already going to be a rough week. A break in the routine meant that another night would be loss in potential productivity. I thought about the morning meltdowns of last week with crying and late trips to school and leaving work to go pick Hope up because she just tapped out by noon. I didn’t know if I could do another week like that so soon.

So, I gave away the tickets to just take the concert out of the equation.

And a darkness fell over the household, and nothing improved. This morning Hope overslept, and apparently came home from school and just went to bed.

And me? I took Yappy to the park (our happy place). Fixed myself a healthy dinner, poured a glass of Malbec and realized that I couldn’t do any of the work I brought home from the office. Today is just a wrap.

Seriously

This is what depression and anxiety looks like for us.

For the second day my daughter is overwhelmed and ground to a halt, and the one thing I rely on to pull myself out of the darkness felt like an epic fail. Oh and we didn’t see Katy Perry in concert. I’m not mad, I’m just sad that it’s so hard to find our groove.

I have never ever hated school, never. On the roughest days of going to school, there was still something I loved about the academic stimulation. I love that I found a career in education, my work is incredibly fulfilling. But seeing school through Hope’s eyes is incredibly painful. It’s so many things that are hard about it that it feels like it’s too many to list. One of the hardest things is seeing the wheels spin on the school bus and feeling like we’ll never make the progress we fight so hard for. The other hard thing? Feeling like I can’t do enough to help Hope acquire some educational privilege to help her journey through this life as a black woman. There seems to be nothing I can do to make this easier for her, nothing.

It hurts because I want so much for her, but also because so much of my personal identity is wrapped up on being a fixer. I’m constantly reminded on this journey that I can’t *fix* Hope’s life. It’s feels really barren, useless. And while I intellectually know that that isn’t quite the reality, that’s the thing about depression. It will spin its own narrative that isn’t based in any kind of reality.

And so, the house is quiet. I have no idea if we will bounce back to our version of normal tomorrow. I know it’s late on Monday and I’m already over this week. I know that there are key dates on the immediate horizon that are major triggers for Hope. All I can do is take a deep breath, try to get enough rest, exercise and healthy food and keep pressing forward with my daughter.

I actually wish the house wasn’t this quiet.


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