Thursday, 21 June 2018

Living in the Question....

I've not felt like writing for quite some time.  When you're knee deep wading through the dark murky stuff it's not always easy to find the words to express yourself.  I just didn't have anything to say because I was stuck in my head and my head was so full of worries and stresses and responsibilities that everything was jumbling around like a non-stop washing machine.  Life has thrown some incredibly difficult challenges our way as a family in the shape of Alzheimer's, caring, bereavement, breakdown, money stresses, anger, and illnesses and I've been desperately trying to find my path through it all mostly chopping away at the undergrowth with what feels like a blunt scythe and hoping for some sunlight to shine on the way ahead.  I have been trying hard to understand what has been happening and find meaning in it all so that I create a plan to carry me forward.

My need to understand things drives me (and other people) crazy, I'll be honest.  It's like my head doesn't feel right if I'm not flowing with some sort of clarity.  That worked fairly well until I became a parent.  Not only did I become a parent but I now parent children who experience the world in a very different way to me.  They process things differently.  They react differently.  So I've done what most parents do, I've tried to make them more like me.  I've grown up following the rules and the universe gave me a daughter who thinks rules are made to be trampled on.  Not following the rules for me is an alien concept and it never really occurred to me to question why I felt that way.  Making sure people feel happy is something I've always done and I've lived a life helping people and finding great validation in that.  I've just accepted all that that as part of my identity.  As a parent though it brings to mind that fab Sinatra line:

"When an irresistible force such as you
Meets and old immovable object like me
You can bet as sure as you live
Something's gotta give, 
something's gotta give, 
something's gotta give"

And give it has.  Me.  Not my daughter!  I have been fit to explode with what feels like everyone around me just doing whatever the hell they want and I'm running about trying to make everything better.  Trying to heal everyone.  Trying to find solutions.  Failing to ask myself what I need and what I'm prepared to accept.  Falling to my knees in total exhaustion as a result.  Hands up other adoptive parents who can relate to this?

One thing that occurred to me a while ago, and I've certainly written about this before, is that as adoptive parents we feel we are handed the responsibility to resolve the deep psychological and trauma based issues for our wonderful tiny people.  If you read any support group for adoptive parents we are always asking "how do I help my child?" and also "why won't any services actually provide an answer or help us?"  We are inundated now with parenting models to help our children heal.  We get up every single day ready to fight the healing fight.  We often forget who we are as people and mould ourselves into therapeutic parents often whilst being verbally abused and punched and kicked and having things thrown at us by the children we are desperate to help.  I don't know about you but I really do feel like I've forgotten who I am as a person and what type of parent I wanted to be and it's very hard remaining therapeutic in a war zone.

I am a Reiki Master, counsellor and holistic practitioner. Helping people heal and be all that they can be is my life's work. Over the past year though I've felt like a real fraud.  In my therapy room I live and breathe the person I truly am.  I am calm and peaceful and living in the flow.  My healing room reflects everything about who I am.  There are singing bowls and crystals and candles and a feeling of peace and tranquility.  Step outside my room and the energy in the house feels like sandpaper.  There is mess and chaos everywhere and is a true reflection of my life.  I have felt like I need to be this parent who is tough and no nonsense with tight boundaries to help my children feel safe.  All they do is spend their lives butting up against those boundaries in every way they can.  I try to be nurturing.  I feel like it's all thrown back at me.  I have spent 8 years trying to find a solution because if I don't then I've failed.  I've failed me and I've failed my children.  My mind would spiral to the future and see all the dead ends and the problems that having a child with FASD might bring.  Everything I read about FASD seems to highlight problems in the penal system and misunderstood children.  Like all news it's fear based and, boy, have I been afraid.  I have worn my fear like a hooded cloak.  My own previous experiences working with teenagers who were disenfranchised and fighting against school supported this fear.  I spend many years in schools trying to help children who were losing their own battle against "the system".  Becoming an adoptive parent has opened my eyes to so much and made me so afraid.  I've written this blog for so many years and immersed myself in a world of confusion and fear and anxiety desperately trying to find a solution.  Our support groups are inundated with people in turmoil and distress.  Parents absorbing all the projected fear from their children and becoming afraid themselves.  So much anxiety that I've had to remove myself from everything just to find myself again.
It occurred to me this morning that the world needs to express truths in many different forms so as many people as possible are able to sit up and take notice.  There is an explosion of information now circling the globe about FASD.  Most of it quite scary I'll be honest.  I now realise that it's needed because we need our schools and police forces and medical community to see how they are impacted by some of the issues some young people with FASD can face.  Issues like stealing and crime and behavioural challenges, processing difficulties are effecting our children in school and in the community and people need to understand how to help our children better.  But what about our children who are growing up in a world that is now expecting all these problems for our children?  Are they reacting as expected?  What about the parents who are trying to make a difference to these projected outcomes and keep themselves on the right side of feeling positive?  What of all the people with FASD who have gone on to have good careers and education and manage their lives well?  We don't hear about them because there is no data yet.  What worries me most is that my expectations of my daughter have become coloured by all this expectation and am I projecting them onto her?  As a parent I am reacting to all the challenges we face but how often do I ask her what she wants and needs or what she feels might help her?  Because we are reacting from a place of fear we automatically close ourselves off from possibility and miss the opportunities being presented in the current moment.

My daughter, some great people and the other challenges over the past few years have helped me strip away some of my views of myself and the world.  I have exhausted myself reacting to all these stresses and trying to find solutions.  I have cried.  I have shouted and screamed.  I have been so scared of the future I couldn't breathe.  I'm starting to break free of all that though.  I am learning not to people please and am wondering if my daughter might actually have something to teach me about breaking the rules.  I've closed myself off from the answers because I was so busy trying to label them myself. The truth is I have no idea what the answers are but what I have realised is that by constantly seeking the answer I have forgotten how to ask the right questions.  I have forgotten who I am as a person and how I wanted to live as a person and be as a parent.  I have made the assumption that I cannot be the parent I want to be because I am parenting adopted children, one of whom (at least - we're still unsure about Pip) has FASD.  Because I have followed the rules I have desperately adopted the parenting models of the various people out there who are offering some answers, feeling like I was racing against time to change the outcomes.

I started to change when we adopted Pip.  Pip came to us as a very overweight little man and the pressure was immediately on to normalise his weight.  I felt ill from all the people around me telling me what I had to do and it spoilt my first year with Pip.  Statistics of the health of overweight children becoming overweight adults blasted into my ear drums.  By the time he had his health check at aged one I was fit to burst so I removed myself from the healthcare professionals around me.  My instinct was he needed to learn to feel hungry, eat healthy food and quite fundamentally learn to walk and run and he would be just fine.  That's what we did and that's what has happened.  He is now a very healthy 5 year old who is a normal weight and a very fast runner (believe me I've tried to catch him!).  What did this teach me?  To challenge those around me and trust myself as a parent.  I didn't learn this same lesson for Katie at the same time though and we've continued to butt heads and Pip has learned all manner of unsavoury behaviour and words and ways of expressing himself.

I found myself crying this morning when I was having a cup of tea and welcoming in the Summer Solstice (not at sunrise because these days I value my sleep too much) and contemplating on some recent experiences and some new people and ways of being that have come into my life.  I have realised that my children are here to teach me as much as I teach them.  They have come bearing valuable lessons and we are missing them because we we are trying so hard to force square pegs into round holes.  The world celebrates neurotypical reactions and we are frowned upon and ostracised if we don't meet those expectations. I've spent my life people pleasing yet also living with quite alternative views and as a parent I've tried to mainstream my children because that's what I did to myself, I mainstreamed myself mostly as self preservation in a very abusive family.  A family I now realise was also about not breaking the rules.  Break the rules = getting hurt.  I have been sent this amazing child who breaks the rules and is also breaking down in me all the barriers I learned as a child.  Who's healing who here?
I watched a video recently that rocked my world.  It was shared to me by a lady I've met who has introduced me to something called Access Consciousness.  This concept sits so well in me because my beliefs are so energy based.  How we give and receive energy from each other and also how we pick up negativity projected out from others and hold it as our own, often without realising it.  When feeling angry or sad or worried I've learned to ask "who does this belong to" and have felt emotions just lift from me when the realisation that it's something I learned as a child but doesn't actually belong to me or it's someone around me who's feeling angry.  I've learned to start living my life in the question and not in the answer.  I had my Bars run and feel like I am starting to see a different person (the real me) morph out of me. Excitement and hope for the future has suddenly bounced into my life.  I'm learning the techniques for my holistic practice but also for my family.  In fact Katie is coming on the Bars training with me because children are very much seen as being a part of their own future and that they know what they need to help themselves.  I suspect she will need to hear it all from someone else to embrace it so know I won't be the initial teacher for her.  I want her to teach me too.

I've got a lot of learning to do and there will be some massive barriers to break down in me around control.  I've been asking the children what they need from me each day to help them grow and the answers they give have been so easy for me to deliver as a parent.  Who knew?  Pip apparently just needs a hug, a kiss and an energetic love heart to feel happy (I suspect a bike is also on the list though!).  This way of being flies in the face of so much that we learn as children and as parents but yet it feels like coming home to me.  Bringing the children into the heart of what they need feels so right.  Asking their higher selves what works for them.  Enabling them to do homework with the TV on if that helps their busy brains focus and be more creative. Trusting their judgement more.  Asking the question "what needs to change to help us be a happier family?" and just letting the answer unfold.  Involving them in saying little mantras and opening themselves up to possibility and a life of adventure.  Since I have been asking the questions and not seeking the answers there has been a real synchronistic flow of people coming into my life and helping me rediscover who I am and how I want to live and not to care quite so much what others think.  I feel like a weight has shifted in me.  I'm not saying my problems are solved, far from it.  There is much that still needs to be worked through in my life and I'm healing from some very hard challenges and some decisions still to make.  There is a lot of anger floating about our house that needs redirection but I feel lighter, brighter and able to see things differently.  I can see possibilities and how I can change and not try to control things so much and live in the now rather than in my fear for 5 years time. I'm trying to find my compassion again in a body that has been exhausted from compassion fatigue mostly absorbed from others.  I'm changing me and trusting that I am the best person for this parenting job but the shift has to come from me first.  I know this way of thinking might not for everyone and that's OK.  I'm only sharing what's going on in my life and how I'm feeling.  That's all I'm doing. I'm asking the question "what needs to change for adoptive parents and their children to live happier and more healing lives together?" and letting that question fly off into the ether for the answers to filter through.  All I do know is that I need to answer the question of who I am now and how I want to live my life and see where I end up.

Here's the video I was sent if you fancy a watch.  I love the enthusiasm and realness of parents.  They still get issues to butt against but manage them so differently.  It's not about becoming some smiling, happy, clappy person or being walked over.  It's keeping it real and in the moment. It's about giving our children some responsibility for their actions and trusting in the long term picture.  I have now asked Katie a few times "what makes you think it's OK to speak to me like that?".  Seeing the concentration on her face as she came to the conclusion "it's not OK".  I then said no more about it.  Yes, I've had to repeat that question a few times but I've noticed a small shift in how she is responding to me.  Small but noticeable.  Last night she even took herself back to bed after coming back downstairs again after I'd already tucked her in twice.  I calmly said I wasn't because I'd already tucked her in twice and that I was now busy.  I reminded her she was responsible for making sure her body had enough sleep and that I'd trust her to do that.  I nearly fell of my chair when she created an excuse to take herself back to bed by picking up a cat to stay with her and off she went.  I'm going to just keep going each day and see where this thing goes and I know I'm doing it for me as much as I'm doing it for them.  What else is possible?

I'd love to hear your comments.

Gem x

Thursday, 28 December 2017

A Long Autumn Term

The fact that this blog has been left abandoned for a long time highlights the intensity of this school term. And it's been intense for a variety of reasons. Pip has started school, which was initially more of a challenge than I might have predicted. Katie is starting to go through puberty,  which is an added layer of icing on the cupcake that is FASD, attachment (and all the other things in adoption world) and I've been busy with getting my holistic and administration business off the ground. By the end of the day I'm usually in an exhausted, emotional puddle on the floor totally unable to string coherent words together. There are times when the emotions are so big that you really can't find the right words or unscramble the jumble that is inside your mind. December is always a tough month in our house, as it is for many parents and most adopters, and every year I'm surprised by just how stressful it is. It's like I forget the level of intensity and stress. We need a break after a very long term but could do without the plethora of intense emotions that Christmas brings. Add another exhausted child into the mix this year and the recipe for disaster is being featured on Masterchef leaving me very at odds with the zen-like business I am trying to build.

My business has been the little light in a very long tunnel this term. Doing something that makes me feel happy is so much more needed than I realised.  It's hard working getting a new business off the ground and it will be a slow process of new clients finding me. Spending my days giving Reiki treatments and Indian Head Massages is incredibly relaxing and and elixir amongst the chaos. I've just signed up to do Diplomas in Aromatherapy and Flower Remedies over the coming months, both things I love so I'm excited about where that will take my business in the coming year. My plan is to then also train as a Reflexologist so I can really offer a full holistic package. I've also dusted off old skills and am doing audio transcribing as well as another side to the business. It's nice to make plans and I realise now how I needed to find my identity again. It's a much needed buffer against family life. 

For Pip this whole term pushed attachment and insecurity buttons. He was very anxious about starting school and the build up last much of the year.  He's settled well in school however after a very shaky and worrying start and I'm proud of him for his bravery and his own emotional insights. The early part of his first term involved a lot of big, scary, emotions and a lot of conversations with his teacher about his behaviour.  He threw chairs on the lower school roof and toys around the garden and generally struggled with his relationships. I met with his teacher and explained about attachment to her and she actually listened. They were concerned that he was following the TA around too much and wanted to discourage this because they were worried about the impact on the other children if he was glued to her side. I explained that he needed that security. I begged asked them to ride it out, to trust my understanding of Pip, and let him build an attachment to her and explained that starting school was triggering massive anxiety and fear and he needed to be able to trust that he was safe there. We discussed a plan of action and kept in constant communication about it and slowly Pip started to settle. One day he announced to me that he was going to be good at school and not throw any more chairs on the roof. From that day he allowed some trust to form and things started to improve. That's not to say that he wouldn't be delighted to stay home if possible but he actually enjoys school and really enjoys learning. He has a curious mind and wants to explore and loves learning to read. He's making lots of friends now he's calmed down and seems to be a fairly popular class member.  He's coping with sharing better as well which has been a massive flash point. It could have been very different if school hadn't listened to me and trusted my judgement though. Pip's teacher said she had no idea that attachment formed in the womb and how a fractured start in life could impact so heavily. As adopters we cannot comprehend how people don't know these things, especially teachers, yet there is much educating to be done. A school willing to listen and learn is so important. 

Katie is generally a walking bag of prebubescent emotions. Pip reacts to her and she reacts to Pip (and I react to everybody). I don't think she knows what she wants from one minute to the next. The early stages of puberty are exacerbating her emotions and she is ridiculously oppositional and unbelievably rude. She's finding her pre-pubescent friends at school complex because their ever changing moods are hard to understand or predict. This is all an added layer on top of her struggled with sensory processing so she must feel so overwhelmed.  Where Pip tells me about what he's learned at school each day, Katie recounts long and complicated stories about arguments amongst the girls. For reasons different to Pip Katie would also love to stay home. School is a daily assault on her fragile sensory system. She fights against the system, not at school, but at home where she feels safer. I'd like to say she's less stimulated at home but the ongoing arguments between Katie and Pip might suggest otherwise. I noted recently that if Katie had no expectations made of her each day then I think she'd be a lot happier, and easier to be around. Her bedroom is more than just a tip. Everything is on the floor and it's a real button pusher for me. Opposition and an underdeveloped executive functioning system make getting her room tidy on her own totally impossible. She can happily make a massive mess but is totally incapable of tidying it up. Her ensuite is being ruined by science experiments, making slime out of contraband shower gels, shampoos and toothpaste stolen from the main bathroom (despite being told that any experiments needs to take place downstairs). Her bed is littered with wrappers, the bin strategically placed next to her bed totally ignored. Toilet tissue discarded everywhere because she has used that to dry her hands rather than the towel provided. My heart sinks when I walk in her bedroom and she can't or won't follow the house rules. There have been some wonderful moments however this term including gymnastics medals and wonderful progress in her drumming which I will write about separately so they can get the attention they deserve.  I have enormous pride for Katie that she does as well as she does despite her challenges. It's fair to say we weather the brunt of the storm that are her emotions though. 

One thing that has really helped is our discovery of some duvets that contain magnets. I read a story on Facebook about a boy with autism who was calmed down in a few moments by being wrapped in a duvet filled with magnets. Intrigued I contacted the lady who had posted the post to ask for more information. She was quite local to me so we met up and she lent me a duvet for six nights to try out. The theory behind the duvets (and the rest of the sleep system) is that the negatively charged magnets and other technology in the system enable the body to return to a natural state, rather like a walk in the woods or beside the sea might do. I could immediately feel the difference as I wrapped myself in the sleeping bag, which is also available. I can only describe it as a sort of tingle that spread over my body and my muscles started to relax.  Both children had a chance to try out the duvet and we noticed that both were able to fall asleep within minutes. Not only that but both slept deeper and through the entire night.  Neither seems to fidget during the night since using the duvets and Pip rarely wakes up during the night now. We were so impressed that we bought the children their own duvets and I have joined the company because I think the sleep system might really offer something for children with sensory processing difficulties and overstimulation issues and I'm keen to spread the word. One thing that I really liked is that the duvets are a bit heavier than a regular duvet so they bring a feeling of being cocooned and safe.  I think this is potentially similar to a weighted blanket but because the duvets aren't as heavy they don't need to be removed after a period of time. They also regulate body temperature leaving you feeling comfortable all night and aren't made with the chemicals that other sleep products are made with. I have bought an additional duvet for lending out but also am benefitting from using it myself. I'm even having dream recall again as my body gets deeper into R.E.M. sleep. I feel more awake in the mornings. I also purchased the sleeping bag which we've opened up and use to snuggle the children (and me) under when watching TV and I've been using the duvet and sleeping bag on my Reiki healing table for my clients. My friend's neurotypical son loves sitting under it as well and described how calm he feels when he snuggles into it. I'd love to invest in the whole sleep system for the children in time. Katie loves her duvet and says that she just feels calm and snuggly under it. The company making them is a Japanese R&D company who has developed the technology and sells the products via word of mouth rather than having showrooms etc. It's still quite new to this country but has a big presence already in Europe. Katie still needs her melatonin to ease her body into sleep mode but she falls asleep much quicker than she used to and bedtime is less of an issue for both children now (well quite honestly there is currently no issue around bedtime for either child aside from the usual resistance to actually go to bed).  I'm really hoping that this might now be a product on the market that offers something really special to help our children. At least I know we're all sleeping well over Christmas and I am encouraging the children to wrap themselves in the bag when they're feeling angry or when watching TV. I'll write more about this when I can observe how they get on with those over the coming weeks. We've only had the duvets for a few weeks so it's still early days. Early experiences though are really positive. I'm planning on buying Katie the shoe magnets to slip inside her shoes to see if they help her during the day at school as well. I think they might just help her regulate a bit better which can only be a good thing. We might even get away with a magnetic bracelet too. 

 I have a feeling that families both adopted and birth can relate to December and the impact on our children. Believe me when I say though that when you have children with anxiety, sensory processing and control issues the constant interruptions to the routine that December brings can be disastrous.  I pulled both my children out of school a day early because they reached overload and couldn't cope with even one more day. Thankfully once Christmas Day arrived and they could shed some of the excitement and anxiety build up things have been significantly calmer. We've kept it quiet with few visitors and lots of down time with iPads and TV and just chilling under our lovely duvets. Late morning starts and very few expectations have lowered the stress levels. The children seem to cope better if they are separate from each other when in this stressful state. They want to play together but explosions are quick to follow as Pip annoys Katie and Katie snaps back. Pip is very explosive in his reactions a lot of the time and throws whatever is closest to him. Katie will then respond. So when I say things are better I'd advise against visions of peace on earth and goodwill to all men and instead imagine a reduction in hostilities with intermittent outbreaks of fire on enemy lines. As adopters our level of normal or calm is very different from non-adoptive families but a reduction in stress is healing for us all. Hopefully another week off school and continued treatment with Bach Flower Remedies and their duvets will continue to help them (and me) calm.  

Roll on 2018.....

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Jolly Holidays....

I've been very quiet on the blog recently.  I will be writing more about that soon when I get time to reflect and find some inspiration but suffice to say the summer term and the start of the holidays have been the annual melting pot of emotion and my inspiration has drifted off to find a quiet beach of white sand with the sound of waves lapping gently on the shore. I've cracked open the Kalms tablets and Rescue Remedy instead and have my head down trying to restore calm and order to the house and to soothe the minds of two very overstimulated and exhausted children who are trapped in the annual cycle of fear of change. 

It's hard to explain to non-adopters just how challenging change is for adopted children. Many people probably see me as a stressy helicopter mum following her children about like a Meerkat, always on alert and trying to pre-empt what might happen next, stamping swiftly on too much fun and judging the current speed of escalation. They can probably understand that the children are worried about the change of teacher. That is a situation that the majority of children, be they adopted or birth children living within totally stable homes, feel at the moment. Children who have a stable background will know that they can trust their parents to be there and that the change will be ok. They can be distracted and calmed. It's a bit like the old biblical song about the wise man who built his house upon the rock. His house was still stood firm after the rain came tumbling down. Adopted children certainly aren't foolish but their houses are built on sand and when the rain comes they are slipping and sliding all over the place. The adoptive parents are standing by with a supply of rocks and are desperately trying to build a new house with new foundations whilst the rain is falling (or maybe just to throw - it depends on how challenging the day becomes).

When stressed my children up the behaviour ante. Katie dives into stealing food and taking anything she fancies, peeing in places I'd rather she didn't and generally being angry, rude and relentlessly obnoxious. I'm regularly screamed at and called names involving her favourite "F" word. She lies about everything and screams when caught out in a lie, she hits and bullies Pip constantly and she's kindly taught Pip that word now so he's added that word into his vocabulary too. She's terrified of anything out of her control, screaming hysterically at spiders and wasps or any creepy crawlies because she can't regulate any stress, even low levels. Her internal barometer is off the scale. She's hyper-vigilant and unable to shift her thoughts off whatever topic she's worrying about. Pip is angry, big time angry. He's throwing stuff around and at me when he explodes and refusing to do most things he's been asked to do. He's had to face leaving pre-school where he was happy and settled and is now in the waiting period to start school. He's very regressed, wetting himself,  poo'ing himself, refusing to listen and mostly talking in Minion language. When bored he will find things to do that he knows are not allowed to do so i have to know where he is and what he is doing constantly. The pair of them are either fighting with each other and screaming at the tops of their voices or playing together but as partners in crime. Fidget spinners have been a great distraction. I literally cannot take my eyes off them for a second. My only respite is giving them their iPads but boredom has definitely forged an alliance with the Devil (continuing the biblical theme) and there is little or no ability to stop and think if the course of action is sensible or not. Both are speaking at 1000mph, not pausing or thinking or waiting for replies. Arguments reach fever pitch within seconds, with very little warning or time for me to change focus. I'm left with a head unable to process more than simple thoughts and that's one step away from exploding through stress, desperately trying to be therapeutic in a hurricane and to hang on to the skills I learned on a recent Adopting Changes parenting course run through my local authority. I'll write more about the course in a future post.

Of course as adopters we understand that change pushes buttons in our children that they cannot understand or even begin to explain. It's a bit like muscle memory that just moves in its own direction. Change can mean your whole life is disrupted for adopted children, irrespective of whether that change was something that ultimately brought you stability, change is scary. Pip was 7 months old when he came to live with us. He has no verbal understanding of his feelings so his reactions are pre-verbal. I watch him expressing now all the feelings he couldn't express then. Katie shows her anxiety by building a "f*ck you" wall and lashing out at everyone in our little family until she feels safe and in control. Sadly her feeling of control disrupts the control everyone else in the family is struggling to hang on to as well. I find I then start pushing for control, tightening the boundaries of acceptable behaviour whilst feeling powerless and anxious about my parenting ability. I feel judged as I manage public temper tantrums. I see the disapproval on the faces of people passing by. People who have no concept of what is going on. I try hard to find the bravery to sit in the chaos and just focus on each moment without allowing the internal pressure to build and to trust my plan. By the end of the day I also feel like a pressure cooker that has run dry and is going to explode. My voice raises as I repeat myself for the hundredth time. The feeling of dread as I wake each morning is hard to shake as I steady myself for the mental barrage that is to come. It's hard to remember that this stage will morph slowly into a calmer place as the children shed some of their anxiety. I have to trust my plan. I use the same plan every year although the weather impacts on the locations and can help or hinder the process. 

So this is my plan....At the moment, for the first week or so of the summer holidays, my parenting aims are simple. Simple food (things I know they like and trust); lots of exercise (rain permitting); as much sleep as I can force on them (early nights, little stimulation, long baths), and just keeping them close. I do little else other than be with them and try and be one step ahead, adjusting the pace as needed. I'm watching them unwind slowly. They are already sleeping better already and enjoying walks to our favourite nature spots in the rain.  I'm letting them run and trusting that nature will help ground and heal them. I'm trying to ignore some of the anti-social behaviour towards me but that isn't always easy, especially as the day builds and tension grows. They are earning points for kind and thoughtful behaviour to earn rewards. There are treats which I know are enjoyed but not appreciated currently but I hope help lift the mood. Katie has lots of gymnastics camps to come to keep her exercised and will help absorb her stress and lift her mood and also to keep her away from Pip whilst he regulates too. Hopefully by Week 3 of the holidays we'll see a massive improvement. 

And just to add to the fun and games we've had an explosion of fleas on the cats due to the hot weather and I now need to fumigate the entire house. This involves cleaning all the skirting boards, re-mopping floors, evacuating rooms for long periods of time, washing just about everything I can wash whilst we try and get on top of it all. If I hadn't been so distracted with the end of term, my new business and some other stuff that is sapping my soul currently I might have realised we had a problem that the very expensive flea treatment we put on the cats wasn't handling and been able to react more quickly. Happy days!

I'll keep you posted.....

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Dancing in the Rain.....

Today I hand the blog over to RB who is a 16 year old adoptee.  She has recently started writing her own blog about her life and living with attachment disorder.  I asked RB if she would like to write for the Life with Katie readers as well because I'm positive you will find her insight into living with AD as insightful, emotional and helpful as I do.  She starts with a very topical piece for the time of year about leaving school.  Endings are something we talk a lot about as adoptive parents and this time of year can be fraught with tension as the waft of change floats in the air.  

RB has also agreed to continue to write some pieces for us too which I am delighted about.  It would be wonderful if you could leave her comments below and share how you feel about her writing.......


I finish school this week! I've spent five years with some lovely people, I've lost friends and gained them and it's shaped who I am now, and while my AD gives me the brain of a 12 year old, I have matured and I have a better mindset. 

I think the whole concept of growing up is scary and I don't want it to happen, however I'm very excited to move on and see what the future holds. I'm worried of how my AD may change me and how I'll respond to situations. This blog has gotten a lot of response and I'm so happy to see it helping many of you with children or friends that struggle with it. 

 As a part of AD my sister will have regressive panic attacks or meltdowns (you may recognise this in your child) Around 2 years ago I started getting panic attacks and while they aren't as full on as my sisters, I can empathise and describe the feeling. As parents reading this you may not have much understanding of it, or you may know a lot! 

There are different ways of comforting a child with AD if they are having a panic attack or regressive one. When I get panic attacks I often look at my brain as one big room with lots of filing cabinets in. Now a normal brain has grey filing cabinets in. All of the files in order, maybe a few disordered files and a couple of draws in the wrong cabinet. However this is fine. I see my brain as filing cabinets, they're grey, with attachment disorder there's always at least 2-3 cabinets which are muddled and wrong and messy. This is a normal AD brain. When children with AD experience regressive panic attacks their brains filing cabinets are always open, the draws are mixed and the files are constantly flying around out of the boxes, when this is happening they are panicking and trying to re-order every filing cabinet and put the files back in however this doesn't always work and they panic even more. It can create a feeling of chaos and unsettling nerves and constant high alert or vigilance or sometimes the feeling of suffocation (I feel this, you can breathe! You just feel a very heavy weight) I use this idea to help me express what it's like and it often works. 

 Now, comforting a child or anyone when they're having one of these is hard as they can't always tell you what they want. It's confusing and can sometimes leave them empty, numb, tired, sad or angry and confused. They cannot communicate straight away, don't assume anything, sit next to them and stay quiet until they speak or move. If they move away or closer they may need comfort or just time alone and some quiet space to re order their brain. 

 When I have a panic attack I sometimes feel better if I'm left alone but the majority of the time having someone hugging me tightly works well as the feeling of closeness is comforting. It's important that you try not to display any negative emotion after they've had a regressive panic attack as it can make them feel like they're in the wrong. Give them chance to calm down and become neutral again before talking things over, it can be frustrating but is best as it assures the child feels happy and the environment can feel calm and safe again. 

You can find RB's blog at 

Definitely one to bookmark!


Sunday, 11 June 2017

People Will Come

I feel like I should start this post with a confession. Forgive me universe for I have sinned. I haven't blogged in several months. Having written this blog no for nigh on seven years with my focus mainly on family life my creativity has been redirected for a little while as I set up my new business doing Reiki and (soon) Indian Head Massage. I've been creating a website and touting my wares on Facebook getting things going and been busy running a group on Facebook as well. It's been fairly intense at home what with one thing and another and I've not had the time or energy to write. The trouble is when you stop writing it gets harder to start again because the flow and continuity is lost and you don't know where to start. I've been so busy and exhausted and mentally overloaded I've not even felt the inclination to write. 

 I've started getting people through my door for Reiki which is fantastic. Even more fantastic is that many of the people who have come are recommending me to others. Rome wasn't built in a day and it takes time to establish a new business so I'm having to find avenues for advertising and keep my dream of offering Reiki at an affordable price to as many people as possible.  I'm hoping and praying that people will come but am very realistic about the time and effort it will take so I'm also typing and transcribing as well. I'm reminded of the saying about the man asking God repeatedly to win the lottery and after six months of listening God asks the man to buy flippin a lottery ticket. You have to be in it to win it and make your own effort to succeed. This has been my dream for years and I have to give it a go otherwise I'll always wonder. 

So, as you can see, life has just been too busy to write. There's been stuff going on as there always is. Some good and some more challenging. Katie is making fantastic progress at school. Her concentration and work output is improving. I'm putting it down in part to a little maturity and also to learning to drum as part of her Rocksteady band. She's quite the little drummer, so much so that she's now doing vocals and drumming at the same time. She's also just been selected for gymnastics squad which involves training three times a week. We couldn't be prouder of her achievement because it took a massive amount of bravery on her part to even try out for squad.  She missed the first deadline because she got so stressed about the decision.  Luckily she had another chance, a big part of that I think is the belief that her coach has in her.  Her coach really gets Katie due to a shared background and supports her a lot.  The results are a much more confident gymnast who has just passed her Bronze Fitness badge!  The training is having a fantastic impact on her sleeping. Last night she slept for 12 hours straight and has her first sore muscles, poor thing. I couldn't do what the squad kids do in their conditioning sessions. I doubt I'd get out of bed ever again!!! We had a panic blip where her low self esteem, FASD anxiety and fixed thinking took hold and mixed itself up with a massive dose of "I can't do it!". We rode the crescendo of her worry and had a change of plan about who was taking her to her second session so she felt secure and a weary smile with pink cheeks was found when I collected her, her enthusiasm and confidence restored. One of the things I find very challenging with Katie is having to force her to ride through her anxiety and out the other side where she realises she can do it. When you're faced with rigid thinking on the matter I feel like I'm the most evil parent in the world for urging her forward. She cannot see for herself the confidence I have in her and, like many of us, fights against the urge to stay where she feels safe.  Most of what she said to me about it was unrepeatable. Holding onto confidence in my parenting strategy is challenging, as is staying calm in the heat of the storm of conflicting emotions thrown at me. We've come through it though and the other side of the storm is happier. 

Pip is emotional in the extreme currently as he prepares to leave pre-school and start big school. Excitement at the step forward is mixed with sadness at leaving and a regression to babyhood and probably revisiting the trauma of being adopted. He's crawling and talking baby talk; screaming and shouting and pretending to be a dog a lot of the time. He's still not entirely dry and stress exacerbates that. Lots of sleep, cuddles, close time and firm boundaries are helping but these are accompanied by a relentless waft of pee and lots of shouting; throwing stuff and hysterical crying. The summer term is rarely easy.

I'm hoping to get back to writing a bit more as I settle into a rhythm of working and attempting housework around that. Once Pip starts school I will have more time to play with and that will be a new era for me.  After a seven year break from working it's an adjustment in many ways. I like the feeling of doing something that is about who I intrinsically am as a person and my dreams though.

In other news keep a watch out because we will have a new feature here on the blog as the lovely RB who is an adoptee soon to start college who will be writing about her experiences of having an attachment disorder and her life as a young adopted person. I'm very excited to be able to share some of her very honest, eloquent and powerful writing. I'm learning so much about my own children from what she writes and I have no doubt that everyone who reads my blog will find her thoughts very beneficial. 

 Well, that's it from me for the moment. The crazy is building here again as Katie is haranguing me over setting up my old phone fir her to use and anyone with a child (and especially a child with FASD) knows that fixed mind thinking is very hard to ignore. This will all be achieved with the background noise of Pip thumping the drums and hollering something Ed Sheeran related at the top of his voice.

 I chose a great time to give up wine and chocolate didn't I?    

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Appointments appointments....


Anyone travelling on the "my child has a difficulty" road will know that accessing support is patchy at best. Parents have to be dedicated and persistent in their accessing services role in order to make any headway. Progress is generally slow, intermittent, confusing and frustrating. As a parent you have to be the expert before you see an expert otherwise you run the risk of being fobbed off or branded as a neurotic parent or, even worse, being labeled the actual problem itself. When, as in our case, your child is able to present themselves well at school it is a challenge to describe the child you see at home when this is the polar opposite of their experience of them. 

This week we've had appointments with our paediatrician and also with the generally illusive CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services). Appointments are like buses it seems, you wait six months and two and a half come along at the same time. Both brought frustrations and meant Katie missed chunks of school for little gain. After trialling both Ritalin and Strattera and discovering that, like many other children with FASD, they had no effect on Katie other than to give her awful mood swings (Strattera) we had the news that there was nothing else our Paediatrician could prescribe for Katie. Don't get me wrong, I'm not some drug hunting wild eyed parent seeking to medicate her child unnecessarily. I've had enormous reservations about giving a young child medication but after the success of the melatonin we wanted to see if we could help Katie just calm down from a sensory perspective.   Nothing is worth the mood swings she experienced though. When she started to refuse to take the Strattera I have to admit I didn't push too hard for her to continue. They took a good while to wear off as well which was perfect timing for Christmas! 

Our next port of call is CAMHS. I had an appointment there about six months ago and was told we would be referred onto a parenting programme for children with ADHD. This is run by a service external to CAMHS so my understanding was we needed referring by an agency. Oh no, it transpires that we could have self referred six months ago and no referral has been made (do CAMHS actually ever do anything?). I re-read the letter I was sent after the appointment which mentions the service but at no point does it say we should refer ourselves or provide referral details. There's another six months wasted then! I've since contacted the agency to discover there's a waiting list of at least six months so effectively it's a wasted year in total. It was an uncomfortable experience at CAMHS, last time I went alone but this time I took Katie. Talking about Katie and her behaviour with her there made us both feel awkward. Katie told me afterwards she doesn't want people knowing about what goes on at home. I explained to her that we can't get help if we don't tell people what's happening. She hates people knowing about her behaviour though. She can be mid rant as we leave our house and will stop the second she steps outside the front door, smiling and pretending nothing has been happening. I suspect other parents reading this will understand her need to fit in and not draw attention to herself. I was as honest as possible with the therapist and watched Katie show her displeasure in the drawings she distracted herself by doing. I felt uncomfortable because, despite being a trained counsellor myself, I still hate the whole listening and not responding schtick of the psychodynamic approach. It pushes my insecurities like an internal nuclear button and I always end up talking too much to fill the silences. I sat there feeling all my anxieties about being a crap parent surfacing and spilling over, feeling as exposed and vulnerable as my daughter clearly was. It's a leap of faith really when you bare your soul. The question is always hanging as to whether it will be worth it. Will the gain outweigh the pain? Will the story be understood? Is help at hand? Is someone actually going to offer us some support? 

When our hour was up the therapist said that she felt we would benefit from going on the afore mentioned parenting course. I'm happy to go but it seems their answer to everything is a parenting course. Katie has specific issues impacted by her ARND that are similar but not exactly like ADHD. Her hyperactivity is caused by external sensory overstimulation not by an inner overstimulation. She suffers from low self esteem and anxiety. Anxiety is common for children under the FASD umbrella. How we manage it is still a mystery to be solved. One thing we have been offered (if we're considered suitable) is a support group that is being set up locally for the parents of anxious children. I'll jump at the chance suspecting that, as always, other parents will probably be more help than anyone wearing a professional cap. Katie has been offered a "few sessions" with the therapist. I'm a little unclear as to what is going to happen in these other than it's to help with her anxiety. Katie is going to see the therapist on her own. This makes me wonder whether this is a good idea. I spent time working with older children on their own but Katie is only 9 and I'm concerned about how she's going to feel and also whether she will be able to talk honestly or even show her insecurities. Her hyperactivity was well displayed in the appointment but her aggressive reactions mostly saved for display at home. I was reading recently that the practice of seeing adopted children on their own was being questioned as to it's efficacy so I might chat to other adoptive parents and contact CAMHS prior to the appointment to ask more about this. I would appreciate any feedback or suggestions from other parents or professionals reading this post.

 The reason for saying two and a half appointments earlier in this post was because after 18 months of chasing we finally have an appointment with the Educational Psychologist in March. I chased the referral up with the Head of Katie's school last week only to discover she thought I was making the referral myself. Oh if it were that easy! Are the budgetary implications really so great that nobody wants to refer? CAMHS wouldn't! GP wouldn't! Adoption Support Fund doesn't fund it yet it is one of the most key pieces of information to gain for a child with any learning challenges. So, finally we have a date in the diary. At the moment I feel like all I'm doing is pushing, pushing, pushing for referrals but I'm so concerned that if we don't get to grips with all these issues now we will lose the moment to act and as quick as the blink of an eye she will no longer be in Year 4 and will start secondary school and get lost in a world where student support is very hit and miss and highly dependent on good internal communication and the willingness for a staffing body to work together in the interests of the child. My pre-adoptive parent professional role was offering student support in secondary and college settings and I know first hand how challenging it can be to coordinate support for a pupil. Trying to explain FASD so far has been 5 years of my voice being unheard because Katie presents so well at school.  It is only in the past few weeks that the gaps in her maths learning and comprehension are finally being understood and explored. I've been beating the maths deficit drum since Year 1 evidently having silencers on my drum sticks. Maybe a pair of size 11 hobnail boots would have been more use. Still we're getting there (I hope). Slow steps but at least they're moving forwards. 

 We're having some success at home with the ongoing zero tolerance policy. I've put house rules up on the wall and any breaking of the rules has a swift, relevant, consequence. No warnings. No opportunities to argue or negotiate terms are given. Katie is on an ongoing iPad ban until she stops swearing and hitting for a month. I'm quite liking this ban as she's going to sleep earlier now. The longest she's managed so far was 6 days. I'm holding on firm and resolute on this one. A week of no swearing earns her a few goes on Slither.I.O as a sweetener and encouragement but that's it. She seems to be watching rather a lot of Sam and Cat and Victorious instead but also she has discovered a love of reading which highlights her new ability to spend time alone and also sit and concentrate for longer periods of time which is a fantastic step forward and highlights more brain development. 

 So all in all we are making some progress. I just hope these appointments are worth it for all of us. 

Thursday, 26 January 2017

A Resilient Onion

Resilience is like an elastic band or a rubber ball. You can stretch so far before it pings you back with a snap to reality. It keeps you from going over the edge. It's an important key to the survival of trauma. The bouncebackability. It's a bit like the story of the tortoise and the hare, the tortoise keeps going and going until he reaches the end of the race. Resilience keeps your feet taking each step, walking towards optimism.    As someone who has experienced trauma and loss and suffered with challenges to her mental health throughout the years as a result I remain ever curious about mental stability and optimism and resilience. I believe that mental stability is tightly intertwined with optimism and resilience, well it certainly has been that way for me.

The other thing that fascinates me is how our layers of mental health peel away throughout our lives. Just when we think we know who we are circumstance peels away another layer bringing more learning and more healing. A period of stability is like a reprieve before the next layer is peeled, or ripped, away leaving you raw and finding ways to smooth the edges again.    Mental health is something we fear in our culture. We talk about it in hushed voices. We brush feelings under the carpet in a desperate attempt to cling hold of normality and stability. We see mental illness as a weakness, something to apologise for, something to hide from other people. The inevitable crash when it comes from hiding all those feelings is often a surprise. What I've learned in my life is that crisis, healing and learning come in waves. Some of the waves are like tsunamis and some are ripples. The important thing is to never delude yourself that you are healed. Being healed implies a journey that is completed, a final destination, an end game.

We are sold an ideal of reaching self actualisation, the pinnacle of self learning but maybe self actualisation comes with acceptance. Being able to accept that we are an onion, ever peeling, ever learning, ever changing and riding those waves with the knowledge that each wave teaches us more about who we are, who we were born to be, what we are here to learn about being human. Not being fully healed doesn't mean you can't still be happy either.    As adoptive parents we live in a world brimming with trauma. Our trauma, our children's trauma. We may be well on the way to healing our own trauma but slowly they intertwine like laced fingers and it's hard to see where one stops and the other one starts. It offers empathy but can also bring out the worst in us all as we react and take on their trauma and come to understand our own triggers. We see our darker side and that of our children more than we care to admit.

Trauma and fear are travelling companions. We fear the future, we fall into the trap as parents of feeling we have to cure our children, heal their trauma as quickly as possible, forgetting that their onion layers will continue to peel throughout their lives as well and that time really is the greatest healer of all.  Their experiences, past, present and future will expose their inner rawness piece by piece and they will heal each layer as it is revealed to them. If we are able to accept this journey takes a long time some of the fear is able to dissipate and we can focus on creating a stronger elastic band to help pull us back from the edge in times of need. That elastic band might include family and friends, support groups and a good therapist. It might include favourite songs, books and movies that help bring perspective and healing and hope. A period of time on antidepressants may be needed. A favourite smell can bring comfort.  It might include the knowledge that experiences are ever flowing, ever changing. Nothing stays the same forever. The sun rises and the sun sets. The tide flows in and out and the beach is never the same two days in a row. That knowledge and understanding is what opens your eyes each morning in times of distress. The hope that the landscape will change and we will see things differently and feel differently about what we see.   

As parents I feel we need to help our children develop resilience. Each of us are born with different amounts in our personality I think. Many of our children have experienced challenges beyond our understanding yet still they are able to smile, to laugh, to open their eyes each day. The trauma they have experienced may bring them daily challenges that seem insurmountable and are slow to heal. Too many layers of that onion were left ripped open when they arrived with us. We worry about how to help them. We live with the reality of leaking trauma. We love them and want to heal their pain. We have high expectations of what we can achieve in a short space of time because we have so much nurturing love to offer. We feel sad and angry when trauma stands in the way of attachment and our own trauma stands in the way of understanding. We feel scared that we cannot help and sometimes sadly we can't in the short term. Our own resilience can become tattered and torn but it's still there. If you look carefully you can see it out of the corner of your eye and it's important to nurture it, to take time to look after yourself so you can share with your children how to help yourself stay strong.  We can be the best teachers of this.

One thing I've learned in my life is that I have resilience in bucket loads. It came as a flash of realisation recently. It's something I've always had. Is it just my personality or is it something more? Personality does play a part but for me it's being able to hang on to the love I experience from my Grandmother. In the never ending storm that was my earlier years she stood there and loved me. She loved with without fanfare or requests for recognition. She gave me the biggest gift a person can give, unconditional love. I didn't know that during the turbulence of my childhood. It is only with the wisdom and clarity age has brought that I can see my life and the experiences that shaped me along the way.  I can see the gift she gave me and how it gave me a layer of protection. I also had the ability to tune everything out. Nowadays we would recognise that as an insecure attachment disorder but don't knock it. That kept me safe throughout my childhood until I was mature enough to peel that layer away. Actually I've discovered there is more than one layer to examine on that subject but I keep that wave in mind and get out my surf board when the waves build up. Becoming a parent to adopted children has ripped a few layers off just at a time in my life when I thought I'd peeled and examined most of them. It turns out I had some big layers still left to deal with and being a parent was necessary to face some of the big ones. I fought them with my armour of optimism. I've been brought to my knees as I've faced some of the darker elements to myself. The ones I swore I'd never be but trauma and fear does that. It sneaks into you and impacts on your reactions. I've had to face the demons my own abusive childhood as my daughter expresses her anger. Unresolved trauma sees fear in many situations. Living with that violent anger taught me I'm still afraid of anger, my anger, her anger so it was time to peel that layer off and get to work in it. Learning to pause and feel and hold my inner child before reacting is an ongoing lesson that I'm really getting to grips with. I thought I'd dealt with that issue but my daughter has taught me that there was more work yet to do. I've had a few light bulb moments and I've also started to learn I have to accept that this never ending personality peel is part of the journey.

I'm learning about myself all the time. I'm learning that I've still a long way to go. I'm trying to accept that I make mistakes and there are parts of me that weren't what I thought they were. Most of all I've realised that parenting isn't a race against time. As adoptive parents we need to be the tortoises. We need to set our children up for the whole of their lives, not just for their childhood. Helping them develop their resilience is a big part of that. As Buffy the Vampire Slayer once said "The hardest thing in this world is to live in it". Once we know that it won't come as a surprise or a disappointment so we can slowly teach our children how to self soothe and nurture, help them find what works for them, and to find perspective amongst the perceived crazy inside their heads and how to take care of that elastic band and whilst we're doing that we'll learn some interesting things about ourselves too.