Tag Archives: mental health

Car Time

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I saw this meme on Instagram recently, and it stopped me in my tracks. It made me reflect on the first year Hope was with me.

We had a really difficult adjustment period. I was a bit of a nervous wreck for a while there. I was exhausted. I was always stressed and nervous. I had just finished my doctorate and jumped into parenting. Not only did I not take a break, but I was still writing my dissertation when Hope was placed with me. I was a whole entire mess.

Hope was easily triggered and was prone to moments of high drama.

Sometimes we were a living, breathing disaster.

About 8 months in, I hired a sitter to come hang out with Hope twice a week for 3 hours in the evening. I used this time to try to pull myself together and get a bit of me time. I would get takeout and go to the park. I would read a book sitting by the riverbank. I would sometimes go to happy hour with friends, who only wanted to ask about Hope—the last person I wanted to talk about.

But the thing I spent the most time doing?

Driving to the park, never leaving the car, making sure the doors were locked, reclining my seat, setting an alarm and sleeping in my car. I would be so tired. So very tired.

Eventually, I never even left my own parking lot. I legit grabbed my purse and all the trappings of going “out” for a few hours. I took the elevator to the lobby, walked to my car, got in, cried for 20 minutes, set my alarm and took a nap.

Hope and I finalized our adoption about 5 and half months after placement. It was definitely the right thing for us, but it also meant that things moved very fast. Our whole process moved so quickly that it was a whirlwind—we were matched, placed and finalized inside of 10 months. I don’t think I would change much about our journey, but I acknowledge that that first year was somewhat of a blur.

I look back fondly on those moment of sitting alone in my car now. In those moments I finally had some of the alone time I craved. I could breathe in my car. I could steel myself in my car. I could rest with no demands. I could reflect on my parenting with no immediate pressure. I could come up with plans for the next day of parenting Hope. I. Could. Just. Take. Time. I. Created. Space!

I am still so grateful for the sitters who got us through that time. I provided a frozen pizza for the night,  and they took it from there. Hope adored Camille and Susanne, and they were worth every penny!  (Pro tip: When interviewing sitters, look for those social work majors, those special ed majors, psych majors who actually want to be a mental health professional. Both of the sitters mentioned above had masters in special education and worked with kids with Autism, ADHD, ODD, etc. They were awesome at managing Hope, gaining her trust and encouraging her to enjoy the time they shared on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She still mentions them fondly from time to time.

So if you are new to this journey, make sure you have car time! You will not regret it. It is good for your sanity, and your sanity is good for you kid!


Pandemic Chronicles vol. 1

Today is my 19th day of “social distancing” and my conclusion is, this is rough.

But of course, it’s a small price to pay for my health and the health of everyone else.

But it is rough.

Last week, I made it to about Wednesday before I hit the total wall slide emotionally. Work is draining me. There seem to be expectations that we all genuinely will be as or more productive teleworking…in the middle of an effing pandemic that hasn’t hit its peak yet and we actually don’t know when it will.

Yeah, I’m totally planning on crunching out data reports, launching some studies and being the all around boss chick!

No, I’m not.

I get up, walk and get dressed every morning. I go through my ever growing things to do list. I try to cram in video chats with my parents, my sisters, maybe a friend or two during the course of the day.

I’ve already lost track of how many Zoom calls I’ve been on because no one just wants to call anymore. By the way, I officially hate video chatting for work. It’s useful, but these last 19 days it has been so overutilized that I can barely stand getting on another one. It’s like the text message that should be an email? Zoom is the video conference that really should’ve been a phone call.

Every work day, I’m figuring out what one task is the most essential thing I have to do that day and what other two, maybe three things are light enough to for me to handle on the same day. The fact that I can only accomplish two things a day fills me with guilt and, frankly a heap of self-disappointment. I’m usually a high performer. My personal standard is extraordinarily high. I and my sisters take enormous pride in the fact that our 100% is a lot of people’s 150%.

And now, I really just am frozen in place. Every day is a struggle to remain functional. I have even not exercised like I normally do this week.

It’s bad y’all.

The reality is that I’m anxious as hell.

I’m preoccupied with people who know people who are sick. I’m afraid about getting sick or Hope getting sick. I’m afraid if I get sick then can Hope really take care of me? I’m worried about how long this will last. I’m worried about how I’m going to deal with not being triggered by Hope’s utter refusal to do what I ask her to do when I ask her to do it (It happens so often I’m just…UGH!). I’m freaked that if my parents get sick the most recent video chat might be our last.

I miss normalcy.

I’m not used to being this kind of worrywart. I don’t like it. So then I feel guilty about it. I’m just a mess really.

I don’t mind working at home. Honestly that’s not the thing—it’s why I’m working from home that is so upsetting.

I only watch the news for about 30 minutes a day. I avoid a lot of internet chatter about COVID-19, even though that’s what everyone is posting about. I have switched up my Instagram to follow dogs, lots of dog accounts. I don’t want to hear a lot of toxic positivity. I don’t want to hear about the Super Christians who just believe that they are immune because Jesus. I don’t want to hear that I should do more yoga, eat better and get some exercise. I don’t want to hear that the new found flexibility of full-time telework should allow me to really maximize effort. I don’t want to hear from exes. I don’t want to think about the two who are already on the other side of the veil.

I actually would prefer not to have to think for a few days.

And this is me after a week off from work. Yeah, that happened barely two weeks ago.

I did renew my online yoga membership. I am ordering yarn from Amazon to start a new, as yet identified project. I’m watching Tiger King on Netflix (Weird!). I’m dancing to DJs spinning on Instagram. I’m playing Boggle with Hope—taking no mercy, but seeing her step her game up to try to best me.  I’m talking to Yappy, who looks at me lovingly. He also has given me a window into the secret life he leads when we’re out of the house. That life includes drinking from the toilet. WTH?

I’m grateful that my therapist has transitioned to an online practice. I have an appointment this week. Thank goodness.

I can’t even imagine trying to do homeschooling and such. One of my sisters is a kindergarten teacher. She’s got 4 kids and is now teaching kindergarten online.

Kindergarten.

Really?

Really.

Like it is just maddening. She’s not really able to homeschool her own littles because it is utter chaos.

My other sister works in IT and is working to ensure that our internet doesn’t go down. She’s on the outside of the bubble. I worry about her a lot.

Ok, I’m starting to ramble, and I’m sure you get the point.

I’m not exactly ok.

I will be, but right now I’m not. I see a mental health day coming soon. Definitely.

How are you all holding up?


Anxiety Sucks

I had a huge meeting this weekend that I spent months preparing for. Truth be told it wasn’t that the content was dramatically different than what I had done before. I recruited a team of some of my favorite colleagues to work with me to pull the content off; these folks are among the top notch folks I’ve worked with and I was delighted that they joined up.

For some reason this meeting really affected me in ways I didn’t really like in the weeks leading up to it. Frankly I was an anxiety-ridden nervous wreck. I can’t even say I know why I was so anxious about delivering this program. The group was one I hadn’t worked with before, but many of the people had either heard of my work or maybe even have been to a program somewhere else.

I fretted about who would come, what they would say about the program, whether they felt like I was teaching or shaming, whether they would think I was worth their time. As much as I love my job, it takes an emotional toll to step in front of a bunch of white folks to talk about diversity and inclusion. Not every appreciates me doing my job or even see a need for jobs like mine—and that’s me being polite. For some reason, stepping in front of this group felt particularly challenging. It required a lot of personal and professional vulnerability.

It felt like a lot of pressure to get this right. I couldn’t sleep. I haven’t been able to get back to my disciplined routine of exercise and eating—so I’ve also put on a few pounds. I started having tummy issues. My shoulders started hanging out near my ears. Tension headaches and exhaustion.  I was a functioning panic attack for the last week.

The program came off beautifully. I hit my zone in the first 15 minutes; I love this stuff. I’m good at this job. Not only did it go off well, I had a wonderful time. It was a blast.

And as I exhaled, it dawned on me that some version of this anxiety is how Hope feels all the time.

All the damn time.

I cried.

It feels miserable, just miserable. I don’t know how she gets up every day. I don’t know how she functions. I don’t know how she can focus on school or the few chores she has or anything. I don’t know how she ever has an appetite. I don’t know how she keeps any weight on. I don’t know how she can sleep. I don’t know why she wouldn’t sleep all the time.

I don’t know how she deals with me? How does she internally manage her reaction to my nudging and pushing to do school work? How does she not breakdown when I fuss at her for letting her room get messy?

How the eff does she do anything?

We’ve been really working on Hope’s coping skills a lot these last few months, trying to raise her self-awareness about how anxiety affects her physically. Most of her symptoms are somatic and it’s often hard for Hope to associate the physicality of her anxiety with the fact that it’s actually anxiety. We’re getting better at recognizing it, but after a couple of week so of my own anxiety and how many days went by before I could admit that I was really suffering…I don’t get her.

She is more magical than I even imagined before.

I get why she can spend hours, days even, watching K dramas; the ability to escape is critical to her very survival.

I hated my brush with intense anxiety this month. I hated it, but I’m grateful for the my own raised awareness about what my daughter must experience regularly. It is a reminder that I really do need to be supportive and sometimes extra gentle with her. I also want to be sure to continue helping Hope build her coping skills.

Anxiety sucks.


Parenting Anxiety

When I started my doctoral work years ago, I freaked out. I had trouble sleeping. My stomach was in knots all the time. I was a bit of a mess. I had struggled with depression for years, but anxiety wasn’t something that I had directly dealt with even if it probably lurked in my background. The lifestyle change of working and going to school full time was hard; I was terrified of failing. I really had a hard time, but my doctor helped me get on top of it.

I thought once I ended my program, that the anxiety would subside, but of course, Hope came along and the roller coaster called parenting made sure that anxiety became a long-term companion in my life. Still I have managed.

Everyone’s issue with anxiety is different, so when Hope was formally diagnosed with anxiety a year ago, I realized just how different our experiences with this challenge were. Her diagnosis wasn’t really a shock, but it did give me some context to try to understand what she was experiencing.

My symptoms, which really had a major impact on my life initially, were not what I would call debilitating. Comparatively speaking, I can give myself a pep talk, hit up Pinterest and read some power memes, do some meditation and breathing exercises and a few other things and function.

Hope cannot. Those coping strategies do not work for her. She has more somatic symptoms, meaning she genuinely doesn’t feel physically well. There’s the extraordinary negative, depressive talk that the anxiety triggers that just drags her down. There’s the desire to practice an escapist form of self-care by diving into the K-dramas for hours or days. There’s the unwillingness and/or inability to get out of bed.

It’s just so heavy that it crushes her. It’s sad.

And it’s sometimes hard to parent, super hard.

You want to acknowledge your kid’s limitations. You want to be sensitive and meet them where they are. But you also want to push them to develop some resilience. You want them to “get over it.” You want them to put things behind them and get on with their day.

I find myself sometimes just closing my eyes and taking a big breath to calm my frustration, sadness, anger, anxiety and other emotions so that I can focus. It’s tough because at Hope’s age, her run of the mill teen problems are legit and really issues for her—even if I think many of them are absurd at best. For a teen, these are real problems and real problems for Hope tax her capacity in ways that I have never experienced before. A lot of the times, I just don’t understand. Most of the time I just don’t understand.

I often approach Hope’s mental health challenges as I do like religious faith—either you believe they are real or you don’t. But as a natural contrarian, I have pushed back on my own religious beliefs and understanding of faith, so you can just imagine how I struggle to process things that stop Hope in her tracks. Even though I intellectually understand all of the trauma and drama; I understand the diagnoses, and I get the symptoms, I admit I find myself more often than not thinking, “Oh good grief, here we go again. Can’t you just get over it already?????”

She can’t, and she can’t help that.

I am good about not saying this out loud, but I have no poker face and I’m pretty transparent—Hope already knows I’m thinking it. Sometimes she’ll even say, “I know you don’t believe me.”

I say, “No, I believe you.” I know she isn’t lying; I just can’t wrap my head around why she can’t function anyway.

Yeah, I know, I know, but I’m keeping it real here. It’s tough. I’m tough. I know that my inability to just accept my daughter’s mental health issues is harmful to our relationship. But I also know that sometimes, Hope is shadier than an oak tree. I’m always suspicious. I’m quick to pounce, “Aha!!!!” It doesn’t help, but the reality is that over 3+ years, we’ve typically got a 50/50 ratio of truly affected behavior, and sometimes Hope really is just trying to get over on me, so I feel my suspicions are justified.

I’m on the road again this week. I left before dawn today. Hope was to see herself off to school this morning, but she didn’t. I know this because her school stalked me to tell me that she wasn’t in school. She texted that she didn’t feel good.

And then she ghosted me.

In the 7 hours of silence, while I was touring a facility and taking meetings, I have stewed over this development. I have called; I have texted. I have pondered various scenarios—none of which include Hope having a fever, vomiting, PMS, cramps, or the plague.

By early evening, I started replaying the weekend, searching for Hope’s triggers. I remembered some things that transpired. Would they trigger somatic symptoms such that she would beg off school for the second time in 3 weeks? Yep. Did my absence make it easier to blow it off? Absolutely. Is this an offense that requires a consequence? I don’t know. I just don’t know.

How do I feel about this?

I feel a lot of things…annoyed, frustrated, curious (since she wouldn’t call/text me back). I hate admitting that empathy, compassion, sadness are not at the top of the list of things that I initially feel in these moments. I hate that it takes me a while to get there.

I eventually talked to my daughter today. I could tell she was nervous; she knew I was going to ask some tough questions about skipping school. I did, and she stalled in answering. I shifted gears and asked her about how she was feeling emotionally. Tell me about your stomach ache. Tell me about what’s on your mind. And we got to the place we needed to get to. I got it. I just reminded her about some of our house rules (tell me before the school tells me!); reminded her that I love her.

Will tomorrow be better? I don’t know. Will it be just as hard? Very likely, yes.

Does that make me anxious?

Yeah.


When They Don’t Believe Us

Earlier this month, I sent Hope for private comprehensive testing. I hoped to document a diagnosis that appeared in her disclosure documents, as well as to determine if there were any other conditions that needed to be addressed medically and behaviorally. This week, I met with the psychologist for the preliminary report.

I’d prefer not to specifically disclose her diagnoses, but I would say they are very common findings for foster kids and adoptees.

So, yeah, fun times.

Honestly it explained a lot of what we experience. I definitely intellectually understand why somethings I do work great and some things send us screeching towards disasters. I think I get it now.

I’m finding that most of the folks I talk to regularly are also adoptive or foster parents. At this time in my life, it’s just easier. I never have concerns about being judged. I don’t have fear about my daughter being judged. These relationships are invaluable to me; that said, they don’t completely fill the holes left by my pre-Hope life.

I do still have some friends whom I confide in and of course my family, but sometimes, I find myself being so cagey. My fear, defensiveness and over-sensitivity around feeling judged and being unable to articulate the depth of our issues holds me back from deeply confiding in folks. I am always worried about being able to fully overcome the syrupy sweet adoption narrative that bounces in the echo chamber, “You’ve been a family for two years, what could possibly be wrong?” Or, “Oh that’s not a *real* issue, my kid does that all the time (you just don’t know any better).”

My daughter’s issues are real.

My issues with my daughter’s issues are real.

It takes real effort and strategy to be my daughter’s mom and full-time case manager. It’s real. It’s not that I don’t know what I’m doing, it’s that some folks don’t believe our issues are real.

We hear a lot in the media about the need to destigmatize mental health disorders; I’ve concluded that they don’t mean all disorders. They don’t mean the stuff that actually leads to suicidal or homicidal ideation. They really mean, “let’s wait until you’re actually learning how to tie the noose before we scream, ‘See something, say something!!!”

Those efforts to destigmatize mental health disorders don’t talk about how we need to manage severe disorders in children. Those efforts certainly don’t speak of the challenges of managing neurocognitive disorders that are often along for the ride, making treatments difficult to tease into meaningful chunks for parents.

Those efforts don’t consider the reactions that parents get from friends, colleagues and family members who offer comforting bullshit like, “Oh I think that diagnosis is just an excuse for a kid to act up!” or “Gosh, they are just diagnosing everyone with *that* now; it’s trendy.”

It’s hard to maintain relationships when folks don’t believe science, aren’t willing to listen and insist on unwittingly shutting down conversations with folks who just need to talk about their ish.

As I was sitting talking with the psychologist, I was wondering beyond the “team” of professionals that keep me and Hope duct taped together, who would I share this information with. Not that I would tell a bunch of people, but I found that number of individuals within our closest circle with whom I would confide in hopes of getting support for ME was pretty small. Really, really small.

I’ve been burned too many times. My trust bank is low, and in real life, I often feel really alone when walking/talking/living outside of the foster/adoption community. I’m so blessed to have cultivated some great friendships within the community, but the revelation that sharing my struggles with some people with whom I have a long history and genuine affection isn’t worth my time because I already know it’s not going to end well…well that hurts.

And it just reminds me of loss. Just more loss.

I have been spending a lot more time in recent months working on diversity stuff, and I’m increasingly sensitized to the way that this journey has affected me in ways that make me other myself or make me feel othered. Being Hope’s mom is a beautiful, amazing thing. But it’s definitely not an easy thing, not at all. No parenting is easy, and for me, this journey isn’t either.

I’m the same person as before, but I’m not, I guess.

And folks who expected this journey to turn out differently are also the same people. I’m just seeing them differently, and sometimes it’s really disappointing. Sometimes, it just really hurts.

It would be nice to feel like I could share with people actually believing that my daughter’s mental health issues are a real thing that requires real attention in order to get her healthy and happy in a sustainable way. I don’t ever want to find myself in a situation side-eyeing folks because tragedy befell us and then folks wondered why I never shared.

I won’t be responsible for my response in that scenario.

So if you know someone with a kid who has mental health issues, please don’t be dismissive. There are so few safe outlets for support. Recognize that destigmatizing mental health disorders means supporting folks long before the drama becomes tragic. Listen, learn and believe that this stuff is real and that it is some hard ish to wrestle with and really, really hard to wrestle with in a meaningful way alone.

Please believe us and support us.


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