Tag Archives: Trauma

Dreams of My Daughter

In spite of our recent struggles Hope and I persist. #nevertheless

This weekend I decided to redo my bedroom. I painted and moved the furniture. I hadn’t done this is more than 15 years; it was more than time for me to make this change. Freaked Yappy out, but I’m delighted by the change.

Hope helped me paint my room. I got up early and got started by myself. She joined me a few hours later. It was such a fun experience teaching her how to paint the walls. I’ve been working on getting her to abandon her perfectionist ways, but on this occasion, they came in handy as once she got the hang of things, she insisted on doing the detail work.

We painted. We took breaks and had veggie omelets. We painted and stopped for lunch. We painted and watched a movie. We moved heavy furniture around (#girlpower) and took Advil before bed.

Hope tapped out before everything was totally done; she retreated to her room to catch up on K-dramas. I finished painting some trim and got started on cleaning up. We’d had such a lovely day working together. Hope said she really enjoyed the painting and wondered if this was something she might do in the future…professionally. I told her how much it would’ve been for someone to come in and paint my room professionally and how people make a good living doing painting professionally. She still trying to figure out what she wants to be one day, but the fact that she’s actively trying on ideas is a lovely thing.

Of course, some of this dreaming about her future makes her anxious; actually, a most of it does. Turns out getting hooked up with a nerd mom who loves school, studied school and works with schools puts a lot of pressure out there even if I try not to. I want Hope to find her own way and to take her time doing so. She says she wants to be a linguist, but I also know that she has some natural interest and ability in physics. If she were willing to practice music more, she’s talented, gifted even, there could be a future there. Who knows what she will end up doing; I’m not worried. I know she will find her way.

What’s wonderful to me, even in the midst of her struggle, is that she is dreaming of a future. She’s envisioning herself doing different kinds of things. That’s so cool.

What’s more is Hope also dreams about how she will live. This weekend she regaled me with details about the kind of home she wants and how it would be decorated. She has good tastes.

On more than one occasion this weekend I found myself suppressing a smile of pride as she went on about the kind of life she would live.

It’s taken a long time for Hope to start dreaming about her future…or at least vocalizing the dreams she has for herself. I hold onto these moments tightly since I know we’re still roughing it. It’s reassuring to know that she is thinking about her future. Some days it’s so hard to think about the future; the past crushes us. It hangs around like a bad penny. So whenever Hope mentions the future, a part of me summersaults.

I continue to be optimistic about her healing and her ability to become this amazing woman.

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Battle with a Teacher

I’m an educator. My sister is an educator. I work for educators. My friends are educators.

Educators are my homies, and you can usually find me defending educators—especially K-12 teachers—hard!

My engagements with Hope’s school regarding her academic challenges have been far more positive than not. Of late, it’s been more challenging to get Hope to avail herself of the accommodations designed to help her be successful. Pride is one of the 7 deadly sins for good reason.

In any case, midway through this quarter I continued to monitor Hope’s grades. I didn’t put pressure on her, I just wanted to keep an eye on things. I reached out to several of her teachers; she seemed to be especially struggling in those courses and I wanted to know a bit about how she behaved in class, had she been to visit them about her work and whether she was regularly engaged.

One teacher was outright dismissive. I told her that her response was problematic and what I needed to know moving forward.

Hope managed to pull her grades up, but I knew it would be a long year with this teacher.

Fast forward to this morning when the teacher sends me a lengthy email about Hope’s lackluster performance, the fact that she has given her additional assignments and the fact that I was not holding up my end of the educational social contract.

Oh really?

I quickly wrote her back noting that this might’ve been avoided if she hadn’t been dismissive weeks ago, that Hope would absolutely NOT be doing additional assignments under any circumstances, and that she really had no clue what the details of my social contract were so she might want to get back in her lane.

We scheduled a call for after I arrived at the airport and things didn’t just go left. I was so damn furious after this call that we will be meeting with some administrators in the future.

I no longer disclose that Hope is an adoptee or that she has emotional struggles unless it’s necessary. She is entitled to some privacy; she is entitled to some normalcy. I disclosed a few weeks ago that my daughter struggles with ADHD.

Today, the instructor indicated she knew all about that because her son has it and he even had to go on anti-depressants briefly because he was down and really at his tween age, what could he possibly have to worry about? And what could Hope have to worry about?

I had to close my eyes and take a breath not to verbally stomp this woman.

Now, sometime this quarter the teacher disclosed that she was an adoptee, specifically a Korean adoptee. Hope was drawn to her because of both the adoptee identification and she still loves all things/people Korean. What I didn’t realize was that Hope had chosen not to disclose that she too was an adoptee.

Well, I began to explain that Hope’s struggles with ADHD are not organic; they are trauma based. She is struggling with many adoption-related issues and she is being monitored closely. She’s not “down” and only requiring a brief stint on drugs; medication is a part of her life and helps keeps her functional. And yes, she is an adoptee, an older adoptee who is struggling and who is exceptionally good at masking her struggle outside of our home.

I thought a brief moment of compassion and some level of shared experience might wash over us, but nah. Teacher lady proceeded to tell me that Hope needed to learn responsibility with this ‘punishment’ assignment, and I needed to learn how to properly offer positive reinforcement and incentives.

giphy-downsized

Say what now? Whoooosaaaaahhhhh….

Lady, I done took and told you she’s 👏🏾not 👏🏾doing👏🏾 your👏🏾 effing👏🏾 punishment 👏🏾assignment; you know nothing about Hope’s intrinsic or extrinsic motivation triggers so mind your beeswax and your adoption narrative is not the same as Hope’s so again, get in your lane.

She came again with how she would send me some incentive charts, and I just said, well, look at that, I’m at my airport gate, got to go. *Click*

Making me sing church spirituals, trying to get my mind right dealing with this teacher lady. Imma need the Holy Homeboy to show up and show out…cause for real…I am not the one.

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At home, I told Hope she didn’t need to do any other assignments for this class this week; the grown folks have some stuff we need to work out and I need to to focus on getting her feeling safe, attached and functional.

The ONLY good thing is that I really do not have any more damns to give about Hope’s academic performance right now. My daughter’s well-being is everything. Sure, I want her to do her best, but not at the risk of her mental health.

Meanwhile, I feel like this teacher and I are going to butt heads for a while. She was downright offensive today. I’m hoping that with time she will have a better understanding of Hope’s struggle, but if she keeps pushing and academically punishing I’m going to have to be *that* mom.

She really, really doesn’t want to meet that chick.


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.


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.

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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.


Fear and Thirst

Last week I suffered a serious car accident. My car will be fine, but I sustained a concussion and the standard body blows that come with being rear ended. A trip to the ER suggested really nothing too serious since I wasn’t knocked out, but as the days waned on and I left for a business, my concussion symptoms began to emerge.

I’ve been dizzy, fatigued, headachey, having language and memory problems. For example, I hid my Tito’s vodka before leaving on my work trip (#becauseteenagers) and for the life of me I cannot remember where I put the damn bottle. It’s seriously like a black hole. I work with a lot of data, and so part of my job is crunching numbers. Normally my brain is like a mini computer; I can see data patterns sometimes just looking at a spreadsheet and can predict what SPSS is going to spit out. Presently, I’m not certain I could count to 50 without stopping. This is frustrating and humbling.

This may last a week. It could also last much longer. After ruling out anything more serious, my doc has said it’s just a game of wait and see.

Of course, Hope knows about the accident and was relieved that I was ok. So was I. But as more serious symptoms have emerged and I’ve needed to stop, rest, and take naps, I can see my daughter’s anxiety levels rising. I’ve tried to be low key about the whole thing.

“I’m fine really. I just need to take a little time out.”

I had to have an MRI, which made being low key kind of impossible. We were due to head out to the beach for our summer vacation (um, trip because a kid is involved), but we had to delay departure because of the MRI scheduling.

Soooo, the night before I figured we’d pack the car, assume that all will be fine and just depart directly from the testing center. Hey, I’m thinking positive here! Fortunately, everything turned out as planned but ugh, poor Hope.

Hope asked, “So, what happens if your brain is bleeding?”

Me: “Um, well…I’ll have to go to the hospital and stay for a day or two.”

“What about our trip?”

“Well, we wouldn’t be able to go, but I’m ok if you want to go be with your cousins that we’ll make sure you get there. Either way, I’m going to be ok.”

My daughter put on a brave face, told me she utterly refused to talk about it anymore and proceeded to spiral into thirsting for attention behavior.

“My leg hurts.”

“Do your stretches, and take some ibuprofen,” I reply.

“I think I need to go to that doctor for my leg…” Sure you do, the specialist that was $250 a visit because he didn’t take our insurance. He managed to get her together in two visits (he better had at that price) and he looked great in his khaki pants, so there’s that.

“No, you just need to get a little exercise, stretch and take some Motrin.”

I had a few girlfriends over for a girls’ night to catch up and have a little fun. #grownwomen Hope crashes the gathering and it becomes a replay of Look at Me! I finally send her off to watch TV and to get out of grown folks’ business. As she leaves I take note of the exaggerated limp and audible groans, which of course prompts inquiries and the requisite levels of sympathy from my friends.

Vent alert!

This parenting a kid of trauma is so…ugh! I seriously can’t even have a damn possible brain bleed by my damn self. I can’t just have a moment of respite in a sickbed without Hope practically laying on top of me so that the doctor can see her first.

I mean, I get that this health scare is scary; especially for a kid who isn’t living with her biological family. The feelings of fear of going through that kind of loss must be consuming. I know she is scared. But she is also jealous of any attention I may get as a result of being injured. That is really effed up, even with an explanation, it’s understandable, but effed up. The need to compete for attention and her lack of empathy just drives me up the wall. It’s all complicated, and even worse, I know that she’s not even really conscious of why her behavior is the way it is. And that lack of consciousness just makes my righteous indignation worthless because there is a huge awareness gap between us.

So I’m just left to either stew in my own juices or just find a way to let it go like I always do.

I want to call my own mama to take care of me, but I know that Hope will shoehorn in and make it about her. Sigh. Can I live?

No, really, can I live?

It’s in moments like these that I am forced to remember that my daughter still has so much emotional catching up to do. It’s also moments like these when my patience is a little thinner than normal.

I’ve tried to be upbeat and encouraging of my worried family and friends. The truth is…I’m increasingly hyper aware of my physical limitations. I’m still recovering from the blows my body sustained in the accident. I hurt and I effing can’t count to 50 without stopping. I don’t know how long that’s going to last. There are moments from the last two weeks that are just gone; it’s like a black hole. I’m scared, and I need some time to sit with that, just to figure out my way through it and ponder what I need to do and wrestle with if this takes a long time to resolve or if some parts of me just don’t come all the way back. I’ve got my own bucket of sadness and gief I’m picking through right now.

To balance that and soothe Hope’s fears…ironically, it’s almost more than my brain can handle right now.

So…I’ll just do what I can and figure out how to draw some boundaries with Hope as I recover. I love this kid, I do, but I just wish our collective emotional capacity was a bit bigger so getting through this was a wee bit easier.

 

 

 


The Thing about Grief

It lingers. Grief it doesn’t ever really go away. It just lingers.

I’ve lost all of my grandparents, a few close friends and some colleagues in this life. They are all missed; I think of them often. I remember defining moments big and small in our relationships. I talk to my grandmothers all the time; I often feel their presence too. I’m even fortunate enough to hear them in my head sometimes.

During those moments when I feel them, I smile, and as soon as they pass, I am reminded that they aren’t on this plane and I can’t see them, hug them, smell them, nothing. They aren’t here physically with me. I still grieve that. But I cope; I have learned to cope.

I am raising a child who has experienced grief on levels I didn’t know existed. Saying her grief lingers is an understatement. It’s woven into her like fabric, and now it’s also a part of my own daily life. But Hope’s coping muscle is still under construction. She was so very young when she experienced such profound loss. She barely understood what was happening to her, much less how to deal with it. Now, years later, she’s still figuring it out, and I do my best to help her. It’s hard on both of us.

It’s hard to watch your child hurt at all, and she hurts so deeply. Witnessing this kind of grief is hard; it takes its toll. I feel helpless, and sometimes hopeless. It’s like there is nothing I can do or say to make Hope feel better. I encourage Hope to emote, to cry, hoping that a good cry will be cleansing. She hates that suggestion because she loathes tears. And so…we sit, often quietly, together.

Sometimes I force a hug on her, and she buries her head in the crook of my neck, squeezes me and sighs. We both exhale and close our eyes. The grief just swirls around us. It’s just always there.

I email AburdlyHotTherapist about my observations, and encourage her to talk to him. I try to get her to practice talking to her therapist about her feelings.

I love on her. I love on her as hard as I can, hoping that I can will her strength enough to be able to wrestle with her grief and win.

Grief can take you to such dark, dark places. The desire to give up…the desire to be with folks you’ve lost…it can make you so very vulnerable to the unimaginable pain. I knew that before Hope, but I know it now on a deeper level. It’s one thing to read about it, to hear about it. It’s another thing entirely to live up close and personal with it.

I worry for my daughter. I fret for her. I wonder when her coping skills develop such that the pain that often feels unbearable becomes manageable and compartmentalized. I just want her to be ok.

I’m often afraid for my daughter. Fighting grief is one of the great fights of Hope’s life.

I just wish I knew how to help her; how to lead her to some kind of solace.

The thing about grief is…grief sucks.


Look at Me!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mom, mom, mom!!”

“Yes Hope.”

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

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

WTH?

Dad and I are talking politics.

“Mom, mom, mom!!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I see you, Hope.


Narrow Range of Emotions

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

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

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

My daughter is a marvelous actress.

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

“These reactions aren’t real?”

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

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

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

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

Trauma is such a bitch.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s all so complicated and painful.

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


Here We Go

Sigh.

Sometimes I really don’t know how to respond to Hope’s “stuff.” I often wish I could just ignore it all, but I can’t.

Hope slipped into a funk earlier this week, probably because of school because school is *always* funk triggering. I seemed to pull her out of it one night when I forced her to sit with me and just talk. What I thought would be a painful 10 minutes turned into 90 minutes of good conversation and quality time.

This morning’s routine was smooth, but I could tell just by the way she put her key in the door that we were going to struggle this evening.

“Here we go,” I mumbled to myself.

And go we did.

Complaints about me at the hair salon.

Complaints about her stylist.

Complaints about the hairdryer.

Complaints about the hairstyle.

Heavy sighing about getting something to eat which was always the plan.

Mumble-whisper about the restaurant selection.

Momentary feigned contentment about the selected restaurant.

Cold shoulder over dinner.

Doesn’t eat dinner…at all. It just sits there.

I’m thinking, “ I could have just taken us home, but I’m trying to be a mom of my word. #fail”

Mumble-whisper about something in her random pseudo-language.

“Here we go. Here we are.”

Somedays I just want to grab my keys and run to the car and just keep driving. I know I’ll come back, but oy, she had best be in a better mood when I return.

This trauma-teen thing feels just impossible. And I’m annoyed by the way we present to others. It’s not so much that I care what people think; but it would be so nice to just be…inconspicuous, to blend in, to be everybody-normal and not just our version of normal.

I was incredibly naïve; I thought that being a same race adoptive family would allow us to blend in. It does in many ways; but when we have “here we go’ moments in public we become conspicuous. People notice. They don’t understand, and we stand out in ways that I just don’t want us to. It’s not even like these episodes can be passed off as just surly teen moments; no, it’s pretty obvious that they are different. They are special because Hope is special; because we are special.

Here we go…again.

These moments happen far less frequently than they used to and for that I’m grateful. We’ve worked hard to get better at this family and trauma thing, and so the stretches between the episodes are longer now. And while that’s great, the stretches sometimes give me a false sense of normalcy. It feels like we fell off the wagon when they happen now. We’ve fallen backward into the muck of trauma, and it takes a little bit to get that muck off me. She moves on more quickly, but I still struggle. I don’t anticipate these moments the same way I used to. My guard is down, and in some ways, I am more vulnerable to their emergence. After we recover from each episode I hope desperately that it is the last time.

It hasn’t been the last time yet.

I know one day that it will be.

Until then..here we go…again.


An Anxious Life

I have learned a lot about living with anxiety since Hope came into my life.

I have always been a bit high-strung. I am incredibly self-motivated and will run myself ragged in the quest for achievement. I set goals. I achieve them. I have problems. I solve them. And while I have experienced depression and eating issues, I didn’t really think I had a problem with anxiety. That is, I didn’t until I started my doctoral program. During the first course, I started experiencing some physical symptoms of anxiety (chronic insomnia, IBS, etc) that I just did not understand. My doctor had to explain that I was really anxious about school.

Oh. Ok.

Now what?

He prescribed me something for my anxiety that reminded me of how my grandmother used to carry valium in foil in her purse. I used the medication judiciously, stepped up my exercise and clean eating and tried to get more sleep. I coped and got on top of it.

And then Hope came along and everything I understood about anxiety was completely blown up. I had no real frame of reference for a life with generalized anxiety dominated by somatic symptoms. While I could relate to her insomnia, I was mystified by the constant stomach aches, headaches, chest pains, constipation, diarrhea, the lack of hunger, the ravenous moods, the fear, the drama. We are regulars at the local Patient First clinic since I made a personal commitment to just take her in and let her have the attention she needs. It’s worth the co-pay.

Sometimes I’ll offer her some Tylenol or Advil. Sometimes I’ll make Hope tea or cocoa and we’ll sit together. Sometimes I sit and do some breathing exercises with Hope. I’ve even bought placebo pills to just give her something.

And still, she struggles. And when Hope struggles, I struggle. We all struggle.

During the last few weeks Hope’s anxiety has escalated to levels I saw when she first transitioned to our home. She complains about being ill daily. She swore she had food poisoning a couple of nights ago. She didn’t. She works herself into a frenzy resulting in no sleep, save an hour or so when her body just shuts down in the wee hours of the morning.

I look at her grades; I can practically map the days her anxiety is heightened. It tracks so closely with her performance.

I’ve alerted the team of professionals. We’re trying some strategies; I’m hoping we can help her find better ways of coping and letting some things just go. It’s easier said than done.

And like trauma, anxiety is contagious. There are times when I can’t sleep either, when my worry consumes me; when I can’t figure out my next power move designed to save Hope from herself.

I find myself daily trying to remember to release the stress in my shoulders and let them just hang. I have to remind myself to do some breathing exercises. Throughout the day I use timers to remind myself to do short 5-minute bursts of exercise (youtube videos!) to relieve stress. I try to stick to relaxing an hour before bed to help me wind down. And yet, my shoulders creep up, and my mind races trying to figure the way out of this trauma induced maze that we are stuck in, and I’m often consumed with all the things that need to be done to try to set Hope up for her version of success.

The truth is, that I’m almost always exhausted as a result. Her anxiety is our anxiety. I know that how I feel is only a glimpse of what she feels. I’m certain she’s exhausted too.

Each year for the last 7 years my doctor has re-upped my prescription for my anxiety meds. I usually fill it one time during the course of the year. I save the small white pills. I rarely take them, choosing instead to find other ways of practicing self-care to cope with my anxiety.

This week, I reached into the back of my side table drawer and retrieved the bottle of meds. I took two before bed. And the next day I took two more. I may take them a little more regularly for a while.

Hope left for her 4-day band trip two days ago. I’ve been looking forward to it. I’m so tired. The idea that I’m only available to Yappy for a few days is a weight off of my shoulders. Not that I won’t miss Hope. I know I’ll be eager to see her on Sunday, but not having to remember to make sure she’s up and functional is a nice thing. I hope that her time away will also be meaningful and relaxing.

As for me, I’m focusing on self-care: yummy food, the love of my couch, time at the dog park and maybe, just maybe, I’ll stay awake long enough to get a manicure.

Maybe.


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