Tag Archives: Emotional Health

Hitting the Wall

This week, I feel like I hit the wall. I’m just over and done with everything. I feel like I could just crawl into bed and sleep indefinitely. I’m just emotionally exhausted.

Nothing about this year has been easy, but these last 4-5 months have just been brutal. Work just exploded after the murder of George Floyd, and while the intensity has died down some the expectations and work haven’t. I decided about 2 months ago to stop accepting speaking and writing engagements. That hasn’t stopped people from asking though, and I’m getting better at saying no without explanation.

My job cuts across so many other programs within my organization. During a recent meeting I swear I hear my name over and over and over on projects led by others. It was then that I realized part of why I am so effing tired. I’m spread pretty thin.

And then of course there’s home life. While we are past the crisis of the last two months, we are still very much in a tender phase. We’re stable, but fragile. I don’t feel like I’ve had much time or space to process anything because I was just trying to soldier us through it. I threw myself into finding support for Hope, figuring out what needed to happen with the rest of her college semester, dealing with health issues and just babying her, because she needed it.

Oh and can’t forget about Yappy and the day he shat all over the living room and dining room. Or the second COVID scare. Or the inability to get away from here and take a vacation. Or…Or…Or…

And Thursday evening, I feel like I just cracked. I don’t even want to watch TV. I don’t want to read. I don’t want to talk. I don’t want much of anything but to be left alone to just drift away to lala land. My brain just doesn’t wanna. I know that after I post this I will curl up on my couch and go to sleep. I already have my blanket and my pillow.

I’m not sure how to get on top of this. I’ve taken another day off next week and I’m committed to trying to block off more time to just rest. I’m realizing that I’ve got some ego issues (but I just HAVE to be a this meeting) and some issues about disappointing others that I really need to confront and wrestle with because the status quo is not sustainable.

I’m also worried about how my mini-breakdown will affect Hope, who is coming off of her own crisis. I believe it is important that she remember I’m human, but I don’t like her seeing me like this. It can be triggering for her. But I also know that I”m simply incapable of faking it right now. I’m just empty–and this is after having a weekend completely free last week when she went to visit the grands.

I know I’ll be ok, but right now I just feel blah with too much to do and a lot of responsibility that I’m not sure I can handle. Rough times…


The Fall Season

The fall season is typically my most challenging of the year. While I am usually ready for sweater and boot weather, I struggle with the diminishing day light hours, less outdoor time–which means less patio time–and the sense that we should all be nesting.

This year, I feel like we’ve been force nesting for the whole year. When quarantine started for me and Hope, it was the just the second week in March. Since then, we’ve only been out of town once to visit my parents.

I buy the groceries, typically over 2-3 quick outings a week. We see most of our doctors online, but we have had several in person visits, including more frequent visits as of late. We’ve “risk splurged” and gone to the beauty supply store and a recent trip to Ulta to just…browse. I’ve hit Michael’s a couple of times for yarn. I’ve gone out to happy hour/dinner (outside only) with my podmates maybe 7 times (roughly once a month) and I recently started seeing someone and because of concerns about risk, we mostly hang out at his place.

Now that I write it out, it seems maybe like a lot, but it really hasn’t felt like it. Hope has definitely had more time outside of the house than me. She’s worked two jobs during this time, and at one point was out of the house nearly everyday. Both jobs are in the rear view now and she has withdrawn from school for the rest of the semester.

Hope is the epitome of a homebody. She will stay in pjs for days, snacking in bed (and sleeping with the litter of wrappers), and happily go down Tik Tok/YouTube video rabbit holes if I let her. While she might genuinely want to be more social, she can be content chillaxing in her adult onsie.

I like having the choice of staying home, but I’m social. I appreciate being out and about. I’m frankly worried about my emotional health going into the fall. I don’t feel like I have that many choices, and zoom and MS Teams are just stand ins. It honestly feels like things are closing in.

I’ve pulled out my therapy light. I’ve got several craft projects, and I’ve finally logged into some of the free movie apps. I recently started the couch to 5K program to see if I can build up to more time outdoors during the winter and fall months. Hope and I are binge watching Lucifer on Netflix, and I’m sure I’ll find something else for us to watch when we’re done.

Hope needs a lot of attention and nurturing right now. It’s been a rough few months. She’s doing great, but I’m worried about what if I can’t be what she needs during the dark months ahead? What if I go down my own rabbit hole? It’s not like I can call family for back up because of the pandemic. I mean, sure they will come if things are really necessary, but at what point is that? I haven’t really developed comfort with going away for a weekend–I worry about COVID exposure. We probably will for the holidays, along with pre-travel testing.

I am also worried about the upcoming US election, the fall out, these whackadoodle “militia” groups and just chaos. There was a “proud boys” gathering less than 2 miles from my home this week. Should I, too, stock up on weapons? Can goods? Am I even crazy for thinking about this?

So the fall, it’s here and…I’m fretting.


I’m a Mess Right Now

Before I even get into this post, I anticipate that it will be a hot mess of rants, rambles, emotional meltdowns and frustrations. It might resonate with your own hot mess of feelings. It might be just the thing you shouldn’t be reading if you are one of those cheery, obsessively positive people. So…gauge yourselves accordingly.

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about trauma during this pandemic.

I’ve also been thinking about coping.

I feel like I’m experiencing a lot of the former and not doing terribly well on the latter.

Two weeks ago tomorrow I began experiencing COVID-19 symptoms. For a week I dealt with irritating but mild symptoms. I was tired a lot, but unless there was a dramatic change in symptoms, I knew would be fine.

I turned the corner last weekend and physically felt great, despite still not having much of an appetite, all week. I dove back into work, which frankly is insane right now. Work has stressed me out, pissed me off, triggered so much anxiety, cursing and just full-blown emotional meltdowns that I just wash my face, put on my pjs and get in my bed shortly after I close my laptop. #depressionmuch?

And then, yesterday afternoon the sore throat returned. By 9pm I was coughing again and by 11pm my anxiety was in full bloom which only made me feel worse. I have no idea what this means other than abject terror about what’s next on this journey. I do know it probably means that my quarantine will get extended when I was so close to breaking free. I mean, I was just going to go to the Target, but still.

I’m a bit of a mess and overcome by constant waves of emotion.

Grief is a big one. I just keep cycling through the stages, sometimes even daily. Despite being externally low key these days, inside I’m at a level 10 just about 24/7. I’m probably tired from resisting the urge to populate every sentence I utter out loud with multiple f-bombs.

The quarantine has been especially challenging. I don’t always have the energy to connect outside of work hours with anyone—so no virtual happy hours these two weeks. Hope is hit or miss with her caretaking and engagement—she is ensconced in her room and only comes out for food or bio breaks. She will go to the store. She finally unpacked the rest of her college stuff from the car after I quietly, through gritted teeth raged that I’ve been asking her to do this for WEEKS. Yappy seems terrified to walk with her now. She grabs the leash and he runs to hide under the bed; I know there’s a story there. This has meant that despite my quarantine, I have had to suit up and take Yappy out ever so often to alleviate his anxiety and make sure he gets the opportunity to poop.

Cooking still falls to me.

Cleaning still falls to me.

I’m overwhelmed by everything and underwhelmed by the world’s response. I took off today because I was going to snap if I had to participate in one more Zoom call that should have been an email. I’m tired of expectations that I always be on camera. I’m tired that there isn’t a real, authentic acknowledgement that this ish is traumatic, and not just regular traumatic like “Do you remember where you were on 9-11?” No, this is like the year 2020 seems to be a never-ending cluster-f*ck…the whole gotdamn year. Yesterday I got up and took a walk (via YT video) because a series of back and forth emails in which I insisted that I could not help with a project (a boundary) resulted in a final passive aggressive email from my colleague. This was before 10am.

I’m over it.

I’m not motivated to do much of anything but find new cocktails to craft (I’ll be trying a Matcha Mule today). I bought yarn, I have downloaded patterns. I can’t even get myself to cast on stitches or to think about a project and I usually find knitting to be incredibly soothing. I have watched very little of the trending shows and movies everyone is writing about. I keep watching Law and Order, a couple of animal shows, and other stuff I’ve seen a million times. I just long to know what’s already coming—so I rewatch stuff I’ve already watched.

I’m a mess and I know it. I don’t even know how not to be a mess right now. I’m sad, mad, worried, sick, sick and tired, frustrated, confined, bored yet overextended at work and the thing that is seriously effing me up the most?

Some folks are trying to normalize this experience. This shit is not normal. And while I understand that it is the “new normal” and that normal as we once knew it is gone; I’m grieving *my* normal hard right now, so stop reframing this shit. I am not hearing it right now. STFU.

I’m beyond miserable, and there’s levels to my misery.

And then I feel guilty because, in the grand scheme of things I’m fine, Hope and Yappy are fine. My family is safe, sound and fine. There are so many people who are economically devastated in the midst of the mind f*ck this all is. I’m not experiencing that, thankfully, but I can’t even imagine having that burden too. It reminds me of the privilege I have despite everything.

So, yeah, just add woke guilt on top of the emotional dumpster fire that I am right now.

So this chilly Friday morning, I’m going to make me some coffee, put some Baileys in it, cut off several chunks of the bread I made yesterday, get in my favorite spot on the couch and sulk while watching L&O marathons on various channels and filling in with back episodes on Hulu for hours when I can’t find a broadcast episode. I will call my doctor to discuss the reappearance of symptoms and what it means for my quarantine, testing and over all health. I will snooze my work accounts—no I will not hop on your zoom for a few minutes. Let me lone!

Today will be for self-care in the form of tv watching, wallowing, carb loading, cannabis consumption and trying to get my mind right. I might even order takeout on a *Friday* (Thursday is takeout day at Casa d’ABM).

How are y’all?


My Conundrum

Hope will graduate in 55 days, and it’s still unclear what will happen after that, other than coming home.

In total, my daughter applied to 5 schools. Her school required 3 applications. She initially applied to 3, accidentally applied to one and purposefully added the last school. To date, she has only been accepted to one school—the one she accidentally applied to. We are waiting to hear from two schools, but I’m not optimistic this late in the application season.

This process has been…somewhat grueling. There’s a lot of hurry up and wait in college admissions. There’s also a lot of big emotions. You are asking people to judge you on past performance and potential and to make a determination about whether you can be successful there. There’s a lot of vulnerability there.

It feels even more vulnerable when you aren’t the best student, test taker and have spent the last 5 years in a family of overachievers.

AbsurdlyHotTherapist reached out recently to tell me how things were going with Hope. I knew things were rough; I also knew that this admissions process was weighing on her self-esteem and that the fear of what’s next was also weighing heavily. I asked if we really should just change course and go back to the community college plan; he said yes. So, I reached out to the guidance counselor and suggested that maybe all this college stuff was making things really difficult for Hope. She replied that essentially Hope is not ready for college.

So, we’re back where we started, and that’s ok. Except that now we’ve coached Hope to have hope about going to a 4 year school, made her go through the process and basically watched her fail. So now the original plan feels like plan b because of failure rather than plan a because of appropriateness.

As a mom who had high hopes and expectations for Hope and insisted that she throw herself into this process, I feel like a lot of this is my fault. Hope made a big decision to go to this school (which she sometimes seems to regret now) and that decision triggered my own instincts to aim much higher than what might’ve been appropriate for my daughter academically and emotionally. I feel horrible about contributing to all this. I feel awful that I contributed to Hope’s stress.

And yet, I also feel like some of this pressure was necessary. Hope’s struggles with school are both extrinsic and intrinsic; some aspects of this part of our journey is a major reckoning of natural consequences. She and I’ve discussed this, and she sees her own role in the struggle that is school. But we both see and acknowledge that there are definitely things beyond her control.

I’ve worked really hard to set Hope up for success, conventional success and other forms as well. I haven’t been perfect, hardly, but I love my daughter. If I could change everything for her, I would. Heck, the recent college admissions scandal had one family paying $15,000 to facilitate admission; I joked with friends that I could scrape that together on behalf of Hope. My circle of pals always talk about this kind of thing; how unfair it is, and how so few have access to those kinds of resources, access and privilege. We talk about it, but we also largely have access to all three because we are incredibly hardworking and fortunate.

A recent brunch outing with a friend revealed a link to a contact at the first-choice school where Hope was not admitted; my friend offered to inquire on our behalf, maybe her application could be “re-reviewed.”

Gosh, I wanted to say yes. It was on the tip of my tongue. This is the kind of privilege that we all want right? You want to have those well-placed contacts at your fingertips to assist you, to help you garner the access that you want, even if you don’t deserve it. It didn’t shock me that someone in my circle probably had a connect, but throughout the process, I never once considered reaching out.

I paused a moment, wishing I could smooth this path for Hope. I declined the intervention. That school fairly quickly denied Hope. It felt like a swift and painful rebuke. But the reality is that even if I could get her in; then what? She goes and finds that she legit wasn’t ready to go there. She struggles academically, emotionally, socially and then what? Possibly flunk out because she should not have been there, and her application indicated such.

I imagined a fix on my end that just set Hope up for devastation. I could never do that to her.

So, now I’m back to figuring out our current plan. Do we go visit the school where Hope was admitted and figure out whether it might actually be a blessing in disguise? Or do we concede that maybe this 4 year college thing really is a bit premature? Or something else?

I don’t know.

I also am afraid. What if Hope doesn’t launch? What if her room becomes akin to her living in my non-existent basement? How long will it take for her to mature and figure things out? Will she find her calling, and not just some career that *sounds* cool? Can I continue to be patient while she figures this out? And how will this affect us financially?

It feels selfish to say these things, but I would be lying if I didn’t acknowledge these thoughts and more were swirling around in my head.

I adore Hope. I believe in her; I do. I know she is afraid and worried about the future.

And so am I.


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.  


Still on the Mend

So, this head injury situation has become a major event in my life. I’m certain that I will remember this season for many years and for many reasons, even if some of the memories are lost to the ages because of short term memory loss.

Here are a few of my current brain injury lessons learned.

I’ve learned personally how invisible disabilities are so easily dismissed by everyone.

I’m still wrestling with memory issues, pain, dizziness, anomia (a lesser known form of aphasia. Thanks @SB for giving me a name for that symptom). My cognitive ability is a little slower. I need naps and have realized that I actually need to schedule them. I go from flat affect to overly emotional (emotional lability). I’ve definitely got some neurological issues too. It sucks.

But I “look” ok, so expectations of me haven’t changed. That’s been super humbling.

It is clear that my daughter also does not appreciate what I’m currently enduring and that makes me mad, really mad. And if I’m totally honest, I’m like, “Really, after all I’ve done for you and you can’t see that I’m kinda broken right now? Really? Fix your own damn lunch! And if you can’t take care of your hair like you said, I’m NOT taking you to the salon unless you’re paying.” (Ok, that last one does NOT seem unreasonable to me—her stylist is expensive!)

I am presently not exactly emotionally stable.

Also, not my fault but a reality nonetheless. I’m about a month out from the accident. I never cried. My body cried, but I couldn’t produce tears, which made the whole crying thing feel rather unproductive. That all changed this past Monday. I’m not sure if it was just how triggered I was by the events in #Charlottesville this past weekend or if my body just swung to the other side on its own. All I know is that by Monday, I could not stop crying. I said I would telecommute; I didn’t want to disclose that I couldn’t stop crying. My request to telecommute was denied because VIPs would be in the office and I was scheduled to give an hour presentation that I could’ve done online, but whatever. So, I took a washcloth with me to work to absorb the ridiculous number of tears falling from my eyes. I managed to pull myself together and only sob in my car and office. I counted those moments of control as a win that day.

I’ve also been prone to being extraordinarily cranky, and I’m embarrassed to say that last weekend my crankiness fell off a cliff. The typical teen behavior of loathsome laziness and parent blaming for her current life choices sent me right on over the edge of sanity. I raged and then fell into several days of sulking. Frankly I’m still in sulk stage, more because it has allowed me to maintain some kind of leveled out stage. I realize that my behavior could’ve been so much worse, but I began to worry that my injury was really going to be a major setback for me and Hope. I worried that a lengthy period of emotional upheaval for me would possibly mean problems with our attachment and leaving Hope feeling like she had didn’t have true permanence.

Because you know, when I take on drama, I want a whole Broadway show right in my living room. So, a joint session with AbsurdlyHotTherapist is on the books for this week.

That said, I’m still over Hope’s ish.

I’ve learned that I’m an abelist.

In my professional life, I’ve been doing some diversity work on ableism for a couple of years.  I am hardly an expert in that area and still have a lot of personal work to do. I remember last year doing some reading and really working on my facilitation of this issue at a few symposia. I took the Harvard Implicit Bias test related to ableism, which revealed that I was way less conscious about my ableism privilege than I would care to admit.

 

My experiences with Hope’s mental health challenges and diagnoses like ADHD have taught me a lot about ableism these last few years. I’m realizing that despite my best efforts, I’m an ableist and well, I guess I now have some personal experience on what it feels like to be on the receiving end of that.

If you were wondering, it sucks.

I am feeling betrayed by my limitations.

I keep asking how long this post-concussion syndrome will last. My doctor, who has also forbidden my love of brainteaser games so that my brain has time to rest, replied, “The shore looks far away when you’re up to your ass in alligators.”

Yes, he’s Southern and a gentleman of a certain age. 😊

He insists I’ll get there, but it may be as long as 6 months. He simply can’t predict, but if I take it easy and stop doing the most and take it down to doing just a lot, I will likely heal faster. My sister laughed at that, as would my closest of friends who know that taking it easy is not something I’m particularly good at. I’ve gotten better at it since Hope came along, but I’m not good at just sitting down and resting. I never have been.

I’m finding I am avoiding some things because I’m afraid I won’t be able to be 100% me. I got super frustrated when I said sauerkraut instead of sour cream yesterday; not a big deal but I’m wondering is there big stuff I’m switching up and messing up and I just don’t see it or remember it or what?

My boss sat me down this morning to talk about my schedule and how I’m managing with the appointments and such. He gently encouraged me to take some time off or do a reduced schedule for a few weeks.

Now this is all so supportive and wonderful and fortunately, today was not a day that I was sobbing or overreacting to the empathy and compassion.

I finally admitted that I was still keeping a schedule that was too demanding because I hated admitting that I’m not 100%. I didn’t want to feel like I was letting my colleagues down. I didn’t like admitting that this injury is worse than originally thought. I wanted to feel like if I just could power through then none of this accident stuff would matter.

My boss thanked me for giving me that insight and suggested that I take a reduced schedule. (He’s kind of awesome.)

It’s not just shame, which I’ve learned is a nasty emotion, it’s just my own anger about being betrayed by my body—again. Kind of like my infertility emotions, I am struggling with what I can’t do right now. What makes it wose? It’s not even my poor body’s fault. I got hit, I was in a pretty bad accident. I’m hurt. It’s the other guy’s fault. But it doesn’t matter.

This body of mine took the hit, but it didn’t bounce back. It wasn’t supposed to be this bad…but I knew from the moment of impact that it was probably bad.

It makes me think about the fact that I really need to get into better shape.

It reminds me that I’m getting older and am just not able to bounce back as quickly as I used to.

I do not like these revelations; I do not like them, ABM I am.

___________________________________
I leave for a lengthy business trip abroad next week. There will be lots of learning and lots of downtime. My mom is coming with me; initially she as my companion; it was my treat. Now, I’m hoping that she’ll take care of me a bit while we’re there and I don’t have to share her.

Until then, it’s about resting as much as I can. It’s about keeping things calm so I don’t scare or damage my and Hope’s relationship. I’ve got some cool writing gigs coming up, and I’m confident that I can handle those. In fact, I’m feeling better about those more than anything else at the moment. Until then, it’s counseling, the couch and some cupcakes.


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.


Eat the Cake

I like cake.

Scratch that.

I love cake.

The first few weeks after Hope was placed with me, I made what I called my weekly stress cake. It resulted in what I now like to call my “adoption weight” that I’m still carrying around.

hellnah

via Giphy

Making a simple white cake with chocolate buttercream frosting is something that happens with some level of regularity around these parts. I get it from my mom. She also loves to cook and bake. I can go to her house on any given day, having driven 100 miles, and find cake. It might be leftover cake, typically, I’m going to find cake.

I love cake.

Cake isn’t one of Hope’s favorite things. I can probably count on one hand how many times she has expressed any interest in having some cake I baked. Even when we get to my mom’s house, she’s uninterested in the baked goods, typically bonding with my dad over Popsicles. Cakes aren’t Hope’s thing.

But cake is totally my thing.

So, during our great family visit of #springbreak17, Hope’s grandmother started asking me about cooking and baking. My cake fetish came up. She laughed heartily as Hope and I described my love of cake and particularly homemade white cake with buttercream frosting. She chuckled and began to describe her baking process.

Now, no disrespect, but my granny, my momma and me…we don’t do cake mixes. I bought a cake cookbook one time and found when I got home that it was a cookbook dedicated to fixing up cake mixes. Um. No. The book was returned.

Not only is cake my thing, but I am an unapologetic cake snob.

As a part of her baking process, Grandma Hope talked about how she jazzed up her cake mix, and I smiled broadly and politely, delighted in the story. I’m sure it’s good; it may even be great….but um…cake mix? #thatscute #cakesnob

So, the next day when we went over for our last visit, Grandma Hope presented us with a heart shaped chocolate cake. It was the sweetest thing. So very sweet. She even put it on a real plate that we were to take with us back home.

So, we make our way to our next major travel stop, cake in tow. Despite my snobbery, I looked forward to having a nice piece of cake as we settled into our hotel that evening. I even had my wine in a can. It was fittin’ to be a good night.

Having cake is soothing to me; it’s not just my sweet tooth, it’s one of my favorite comfort foods. So, a cake, including cake mix cakes, made with love is going to hit my emo spot every time. This cake was going to allow me to get lit after several days of maintaining my emotions in a vice grip.

That is until Hope started making rumblings about *her* cake and how preemptively annoyed she was that I intended on taking a *big* piece of cake.

Wha? Hmmmm. Interesting. Ok.

Sister K ran an errand to get some things including some paper plates and plastic forks because I was getting some cake that night and needed something to put the cake on. Hope accompanied her and encouraged the purchase of small plates so as to limit the size of my anticipated cake debauchery. Sister K got an earful about the cake situation.

hellnah

via Giphy

By the time Hope and I checked into our room and settled in, my taste for cake had been soured by Hope’s anxiety about me cutting into the cake her grandma made for “her.” Never mind that she doesn’t even LIKE cake.

I called my mother and explained the situation. We marveled at how a proper Southern granny didn’t make scratch cakes! Yes, we were petty and judgy. I really wanted cake but SWORE that I would not touch Grandma Hope’s cake. I reasoned that I ain’t want her old box cake anyway.

After the family lovefest of the previous view days and the grace and southern charm required of me, I was saltier than a salt lick about not having cake–even a box cake! It brought out my petty and I confided in my Add Water co-host and good pal Mimi–who enjoyed a good chuckle at my cake related emotional shenanigans.

Despite my pettiness, I understood that Hope saw this as a very special gift from Grandma Hope. I intellectually understood that she had to play out this possessiveness, especially after how welcoming her family had become of me. This was an opportunity for her to have something from this visit all to herself. Oh, I get it, but I also knew that Grandma Hope made that cake largely for me because HOPE DOESN’T EVEN LIKE CAKE and she told her grandma so.

But whatevs. <Cue more laughs from Mimi.>

So I’m talking to my mom about this cake situation, and I ask her to make me a cake. Oh, yeah, I did. Dueling cakes. I had held my petty in check for 4 days…that might be a record. Ha! She said of course she would make me a cake because my momma loves her big petty, cake-loving kid. We debated the finer points of cakes made from scratch, milk vs. dark chocolate powder and marble cakes, because I come by my pettiness honestly.

I licked my lips in anticipation.

In the meantime, I hit the grocery store for a bit of commercially made cake to tide me over. I ate it alone and disposed of the container so Hope didn’t know. I might be petty, but I do have some semblance of couth that was still hanging on for dear life.

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I soon lost it though, and my petty was on full display by the time we arrived at my parent’s house a day or so later. I kissed my daddy hello, chatted about the lawn for a minute; walked into a house, grabbed a saucer and a knife and proceeded to cut myself a nice slice of homemade, lemon buttercream frosted white cake.

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It was delicious. And it was like a big emotionally satisfying sigh: Ahhhhhh.

Hope watched, and said, “You’re just going to eat that cake?”

Me, mouth full: “Yup. My mom’s cake.” #becausepetty

My mom commented that she could still make me a chocolate cake if I wanted. I declined. Got a plate of mac and cheese, a turkey wing and another piece of lemon cake. And all was well with my soul.

Hope got a Popsicle with her grandpa.

We are home now. Grandma Hope’s cake has traveled about 600 miles in a warm car and is 5 days old and counting. It is still wrapped in plastic and still uncut. I’m guessing it’s not going to get cut either, because cake isn’t Hope’s thing; it’s just not. I know there is going to be hell to pay when I have to dispose of the cake; it’s unfortunate. I really did look forward to having a piece of love on a plate.

I really do intellectually get why there was cake drama, but I also know that there was something about shaming me into not eating it that doesn’t make Hope happy. She wanted to protect the cake, but she is shocked that I haven’t touched it. I’m not sure she knows what’s behind the cake thing. I know that she doesn’t understand my own emotional connection to the cake. It will probably be many moons and a lot of therapy before she gets that connection.

I wish we had been able to enjoy the cake together. When Hope finally cut into her cake, she did offer me some. I wish I could’ve said yes, but I really wanted no part of the cake. My feelings, sadly, just were too much for me to even take one gracious bite. I’m tired and have been on my relative best behavior for a week. I did not want any of that cake.

Of course she dropped the first piece on the floor, which the deeply petty part of me took as a sign that sometimes the universe is petty and reactive.

I made myself some brownies instead.

Another time and another cake.


Histrionics on a Friday

There are few things in the world more heartbreaking than your kid, your adoptive kid, telling you that she moved here because she thought she would be happy and that she thought you would try to understand her but you don’t.

sadABM

Yeah, that got yelled at me today. #shetoldme

Sigh.

TGIF.

So, I’m still simmering over the early events of the week and what I feel like was the defiling of my house. And because I’m petty, my behavior has really been unpleasant this week. #regressive #notproudbuthonest

About a year ago, AbsurdlyHotTherapist had us imitate each other in the midst of a fight…yeah, Hope stomped around, hemmed, hawed, yelled and stomped some more. When she was done she added that I would do that for days at a time when I was mad.

Yeah, I do. When I have been wronged…I’m like a virus, you just gotta stay away and wait until I sputter out.

That, admittedly, is not conducive to consistently good parenting, and I’m working on it. I’ve gotten so much better talking myself into just letting it go, most days.

But I’m way more petty than just ordinary petty, and I’ve got a nasty temper, and sometimes it makes me wonder if I should’ve ever become a parent given my penchant for high strung emotion.

But, that’s neither here nor there, right? I just gotta keep pushing for improvement.

Normally when our conflicts have escalated to Hope’s screaming that she’s miserable or that she thought things would be different, I run to hug her. I feel guilt about triggering that kind of honesty from her (which as an aside, in those moments of high emotion she is an incredibly effective communicator about what she’s thinking and feeling). In those moments, I want to gather her up and dab her tears and tell her that it will be ok.

I didn’t do that today, though.

Nope

I resisted the urge, not because I didn’t feel those things, but because I needed her to have a reality check. I needed her to understand that families have conflict, that happiness is not judged episodically but holistically, and that I still need her to take responsibility for the things that she utterly refuses to acknowledge. Like clean that gotdamn room of hers.

A hug was not going to get us to that space in that moment, even if I wanted to offer it. #lowkeyrealtalk I didn’t want to anyway.

This last week has been like watching my bank account spout like a geyser. Money has been flying out of the house like Elphaba on a broom, and flying out for some ridiculous ish. Yesterday morning, I just cut the cash tap abruptly amidst wails of poverty and starvation. The sense of irresponsibility and entitlement had pushed me to this point:

 

giphy

You would’ve thought she was in a Russian bread line with all that wailing.

 

Now I can afford an occasional oil spout, and once money is gone, it’s gone, but if it’s one thing I can’t stand it’s spending money that doesn’t need to be spent on things that could have been avoided.

So, instead of the immediate comfort, today I sat down and patiently waited for Hope to sit down with me. I talked about empathy—mine and hers. I talked about responsibility—ours to each other, but um mainly her responsibilities to me and to our home. I talked about communication efforts-ours-and how we need to continue to work on them. And we talked about choices—when she has them and when she simply doesn’t.  #eatthecake

She spoke; then I spoke some more. And then I walked away.

I often wonder what Hope thinks happiness looks like. I swear she thinks it’s like a nonstop carnival. It’s not. I know that happiness is a collection of experiences in which things are good, satisfying, fulfilling; they may be interspersed with disappointment, but not overwhelmed by them. I often feel like Hope needs every experience to be happy, happy, joy, joy to experience and acknowledge some kind of continuous happy; she doesn’t yet know how to be happy.

She simply doesn’t know how to be happy. I’m trying to teach her, but really how do you teach someone to embrace and experience happy?

The inability to recognize happiness and to choose it really hamstrings our relationship. I feel like I will always disappoint her because her expectations about being happy are so absurdly off-kilter that they are impossible to meet. Being unhappy is learned behavior; I don’t believe that its innate. Hope learned unhappiness.

Learned, pervasive unhappiness is a beeotch.  It is a smothering blanket.

I wish it were as easy to encourage her happiness as it is to for Yappy to be happy. This dog’s happiness hardly knows any bounds.

 “Hey boy, wanna go to the PARK????”

 

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Not Yappy, but Yappy-like!

 

“OMG! YES!!!!! I AM SO RIDICULOUSLY HAPPY!!!!”

Ah, but life with humans is so much more complicated and so much more dramatic than life with dogs.

And so, we just go on, trying to make a little progress at a time.

She just made me a grill cheese sandwich, so I guess we’re cool again. #anotherreasonIcantdropweight #apologyfood

Tonight we will host our first sleepover, and tomorrow I’ll drop off Hope and her friend at an amusement park before Yappy and I visit my parents for the day.

Tomorrow things will be happy, happy, joy, joy until the next hiccup that makes the world come histrionically crashing down. And I’ll be ready to have these conversations all over again.


Help is a Dirty Word

Hope has been my daughter for going on 3 years. It’s amazing how time flies.

This summer, we have spent quite a bit of time working on attachment and academic help. I’ve realized that Hope really has blossomed in some ways this summer.

We have some pretty amazing talks these days. She is really opening up. She has been pretty compliant when it comes to going to tutoring. Her compliance in doing chores has improved a lot as well.

Recently, she dropped something on me that really stunned me into silence though.

We were sitting in the car talking. It was kind of heated. I was trying to understand why asking for help was so difficult for her. Why did she also always refuse help? Didn’t she realize I was killing myself trying to help her be successful, to be her personal best, not for me, but for her. Why on earth was it difficult to just say yes sometimes. Why was it hard to just say, “Hey mom, can you help me?”

We’ve had this conversation before.

We’ve had this conversation several times. Her response is always the same: nothing, silence.

The affect was flat; the emotional walls went up and I would eventually just drop it.

Until one day recently, she responded to my inquiry and I was silenced by the disclosure.

In a nutshell, Hope had been in the foster care system so long and been through so many families that even after two years in a forever home, she loathed even having conversations about needing to be helped and being helped. In Hope’s experience so many people in her life have wanted to help her and their “help” resulted in:

  • Experiencing emergency removals and placements.
  • Portraying her parents as horrible people.
  • Long term foster care.
  • Moving her stuff in trash bags to a new foster home that would be in a better position to “help her.”
  • Being made to take Tae Kwan Do because it would “help” her manage her anger even though she hated it.
  • Being medicated.
  • Being told her math skills were bad enough to qualify for a special math program that made her feel dumb.
  • Having to go to daily private tutoring all this summer.

And the list goes on.

Asking for, receiving or being forced to accept help has never made her feel good about herself, never. Why would she ask for help when her self-esteem was already so low? Why would she trust anyone, even me, to help her and that it actually would result in a better quality of life?

In her mind, help was and is associated with the breakup of her family, being shuttled around and not wanted, having no voice in her life and having her low self-esteem validated.

Help is a dirty trigger word for her.

That was a serious lesson for me to learn. It never, ever occurred to me that she would have such negative association with the concept of help. It silenced me. It broke my heart and just underscored how deeply hurt my daughter has been over her life. Efforts to keep her safe and to rebuild her life remain threatening to her.

We didn’t talk about it for a few days. I mean, what could I say to her at first?

We eventually sat in the car one evening and had a good talk about what help is supposed to be; what the potential for “help” could be in her life and how “help” is designed to make Hope the best Hope she can be—not for me, but for her.

I think this is turning point for us.

I am hopeful that her disclosure means she is feeling safer and willing to work with me to take advantage of all the opportunities in her life [note the word I DIDN’T use!].

So, for now, help is a dirty word in our house. It will come back into our vocabulary at some point, but using different language with Hope is an easy fix if it means increasing the likelihood that she will accept the things she needs to improve her life.

 


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