There were times over the summer holidays when I thought I was actually going to lose myself forever in the torrid of anger and fear and anxiety and frustration that is my current life experience. The interruption in routine and the build up to the start of a new school and whatever else is causing Katie to behave the way she currently has been has been a daily onslaught of rudeness and aggression. It only ceased when we were around other people because Katie would never let other people see how she behaves although we did have a few monumental meltdowns in Asda in full public view. I get up every day with a knot in my stomach anxious about what the day will hold with Katie, our house build and a whole myriad of other things that are currently going on. I still hold onto the fact that some of these issues will eventually reach a conclusion and improve but it's hard to hang onto that when you're in the storm.
The person that I once knew myself to be seems to be a long way from the person that currently exists in my body. She, the sensitive, spiritual, calm and quiet me, has been beaten into submission by the lack of control and aggression that is my home life with Katie primarily but also with Pip who is learning creative new ways to express his toddler anger by copying his older sister. Yet in recent days I am seeing a connection in my current situation and that from many years ago which is leading me to question what the learning here is for me.
If I'm honest, I don't really want a learning experience at the moment. I'm not sure I have the emotional capacity to cope with an inward journey but I suspect the key to moving forward from my current external reality is to revisit my past. The key reason is because I can see a pattern emerging of the way I respond to stressful events, particularly aggression and violence. I have started to realise that the emotions that I am feeling whilst dealing with Katie and Pip's reactions to the world don't belong in this reality, they belong in my own childhood. I can see how I cope by closing down my emotions by using social media to distract myself is reminiscent of the young girl who inwardly sang to herself to tune out a screaming and abusive mother. I can see that the anger and frustration I feel towards Katie particularly whilst managing her endless rages and aggression and generally antisocial behaviour towards me actually is the rage of the child that I was who had to cope with parents who behaved in the same way.
Baz Lurhman says in his song "Sunscreen" that the stuff you really have to worry about is the stuff that blindsides you at 4pm in some idle Tuesday and I think he is right. I didn't really see this coming because it's all so intense that it's impossible to see the woods for the trees. I have experienced a lot of counselling and laid a lot of old emotions to rest. I have reconciled myself with an often unacceptable childhood and live as a well adjusted adult who has learned to open back up again and let people in but this is a new awareness for me. This awareness could only be triggered by re-experiencing a similar scenario to that of my childhood. That is something I, like most sensible people, have avoided, deliberately. No-one in their right mind would put themselves in an environment where they are thumped and kicked and screamed at many times a day for years on end. We have now had 2 years of Katie refusing to go to bed at night on top of all her daytime tantrums. Two years is just too much. Well it is for me on top of everything else.
Dealing with Katie and helping her through her struggles is my job as her parent but it's hard to do that job well if my own responses are skewed by a sort of PTSD reaction to her behaviour. My reactions have been steadily building, exacerbated by an incredibly tough summer holiday period with no break and massive external pressures from the house build and my Mother-in-Law's legal issues. It all feels endless and relentless.
On Sunday night, triggered by Katie yet again refusing to sleep, I broke down. In that moment I could take no more. It scared me how visceral my emotions were. I howled in TCM's arms after shouting at Katie to go back to bed. I just wanted to walk out and leave, to drive as far away from all the intensity of all this stress and anger as I could go. I have never felt so alone as I did in that moment. Yet I still had to console Katie who was shocked to see her mum in such emotional pain. I don't know that she felt much empathy towards me but she was curious as to what what happening and I am actually a pretty good mum so still put my emotions to one side to reassure her that everything would be ok but that I was so angry with her refusal to go to bed that I was crying with frustration. I can't explain how guilty I felt the next day. It's not a scenario anyone wants their child to experience but then again this whole scenario isn't one that a parent wishes to experience either. We go into life as adopters with a vague notion that we might experience "behavioural difficulties" and that our children might express their anger and anxiety in challenging ways but I don't think any adopter goes into adoption realising that this behaviour might go on for years, steadily increasing and not responding to the love and therapeutic parenting that you offer to the child. Regular readers of this blog will know I am always looking for ways to interact and support my children and keen to learn how best to help them. The emotional challenge to myself when all the hard work doesn't pay off is tough to reconcile with though and I am only human.
The next day, exhausted from all the emotion, I took myself out to Costa for a quiet coffee and a few hours away from everything and I was able to think. I questioned why I was in this situation? What was the bigger picture? I pondered whether I needed some medical support to support my emotions. I wondered why this was all getting to me so much. I honestly think that most people would be buckling under the stress and uncertainty I'm currently trying to balance and I'm going to forgive myself for some human reactions. I'm aware that neither TCM or I get much time out. Going grocery shopping is fought over to get some time alone. That's hardly a spa date!
It's fair to accept that the children are responding to the stress about the house that TCM and I are experiencing and exhibiting and this has to be exacerbating everything for them and us. I queried though what the learning here was for me. I do not think anything happens haphazardly. The universe has a great sense of timing, not that I always agree with the timing. There is always some learning and opportunity for emotional and spiritual development but I'm so bogged down in the experience I am unable to even acknowledge my spiritual side currently. Slowly as I sat with my coffee I was able to see that actually I'm dealing with this current situation exactly as I did as a child except I've replaced my childhood inward singing to block out the sound of my mother's voice with social media and my other favourite numbing medication....food. I only have to look at my burgeoning waistline to realise I'm eating too much chocolate and already know I'm struggling to exercise because of this endless exhaustion but I also realised that when I feel angry I open my iPad to scroll through my newsfeed and calm myself down. Except I'm not just calming myself down. I'm suppressing my emotions because, just as they were in my childhood, they are big, scary emotions. They are the cataclysmic rage at the unfairness of my situation, then and now, and my lack of control to prevent what is happening to me in so many areas of my life. As I connected the dots I could see the truth emerging. I am not the child anymore. I am the adult. Unfortunately I am an adult with a damaged response to anger and aggression and way too much anger and aggression in my life. This is hardly surprising considering my early experiences but it is, I believe, the key to my emotions and responses to Katie. This is the learning and until I fix my own faulty response I cannot adequately help Katie deal with hers.
I wish I could say that this awareness will bring an immediate change and solve all my problems. That would be naive. It has brought me some internal calm and realisation however as I see that my reactions to Katie are not just in response to Katie. This shifts the burden of blame away from her a little. I realise that I now have the opportunity to heal something deep inside me that was fractured a long time ago. Only by facing that childhood fear of violence and learning to react with love and not fear can I help my daughter face her own scary emotions. This awareness is a big step in the right direction. Another step is trying hard to leave the technology alone when I'm feeling emotional. I need to stand and feel the emotions in a more mindful way. I need to consciously walk away from Katie to give myself time to think when possible and I think I need some practical help to deal with managing her tantrums. On a practical level we have been to see the GP for help regarding Katie's sleeping difficulties and are using some short term medication whilst we seek help for the bigger issues. This has brought some success, although not an easy fix and it clearly wasn't on Saturday night when we ran out of medication. I have not ruled out some medication support for myself to give myself an emotional prop but I'm loath to suppress my emotions and antidepressants generally leave me feeling numb. Counselling may be a possibility also although timing wise I'm not sure I could find the time to go currently. What I am hoping to do is be a little more aware of my inner child. To hold her hand a little more and nurture her when I can. I also think that until we are back home and the stress of the house build and associated finances alleviated then I have to accept we are not emotionally out of the woods. Another saving grace is that, after a mammoth build up of anxiety about starting her new school, Katie has faced her fear and is settling into school. Her emotional responses over the past few days (within an incredibly tight framework at home regarding expectations and consequences for negative behaviour) are calmer although she is still doing some monumentally silly things that cause much frustration. I think she has fought a personal dragon during the build up to school starting and is also coming out the other side and I'm so proud of her for that. I still feel like I'm walking on eggshells, hers and mine, but I do feel better for a few days apart now she's at school. The knot in my stomach is still very uncomfortable but I can see a glimmer of light through the trees and I'm reminded again that my emotional journey mirrors that of so many adopted children who experience trauma. The steps forwards and backwards, making progress, getting blindsided, understanding it all, building myself up and starting over again.,
Let's hope that light continues to shine ever brighter. Hope is what has always driven me from childhood throughout my entire life. Even when I'm dragged down below the water and pulled out by the undertow I hang on, hopeful that I will rescue myself. I am so grateful to the friends who have helped me hang on over this past year because they help keep my hope inside alive that we will get through all of this and look back one day and see the funny side. I might need a few more solo Costa's before that happens though.
Let's hope that light continues to shine ever brighter. Hope is what has always driven me from childhood throughout my entire life. Even when I'm dragged down below the water and pulled out by the undertow I hang on, hopeful that I will rescue myself. I am so grateful to the friends who have helped me hang on over this past year because they help keep my hope inside alive that we will get through all of this and look back one day and see the funny side. I might need a few more solo Costa's before that happens though. In the meantime I will take Baz Luhrman's advice and wear sunscreen....