adoption

Parenting With Puke: and Other Food Issues

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Our children have some pretty significant food issues. It’s fairly common for children who come from an environment where they often went unfed. To this day we have to explain to doctors why Mary doesn’t know how to drink a beverage. She will hold a bottle or cup to her lips and chug until the entire thing is gone. Then she gasps for air and clutches her stomach, feeling sick. We have to portion out water or give her straws to encourage sipping. Because of the way she attacks drinking, Mary hates liquid and assumes it will make her sick. It’s like pulling teeth to keep her hydrated on a hot day.

When Marcus and Sean lived here they each had to know they had their own food available. For Marcus, we bought him a huge package of Clif bars at Costco. He kept it under his bed and never touched it. It was helpful just to know it was there. Sean, on the other hand, had a mountain of perishable food items under his bed. He had half eaten tubs of frosting, boxes of crackers, uncooked pasta that he ate raw. We found a molding tub of cream cheese with a spoon cemented to the middle. Sean could, and did, throw up at will. He was always eating or holding food in his hand. We never knew how severe the problem was until we cleaned out his room and found the food. Having a box of non-perishables did not make him feel safe.

For Carl, the issue is a bit different. He scarfs food down like a baby velociraptor. He shoves bite after bite into his mouth without stopping to chew or even swallow. His cheeks are puffed out to the max and he eats everything within a few minutes. If you aren’t careful he will try to move on to your plate next! When he is upset it’s impossible to slow him down or stop him. Carl will eat 5 helpings if we let him, and then promptly get sick. And then eat some more.

This is how Carl ended up with a tear in the lining of his stomach. It caused him to vomit everything, even ice chips. We took him to the pediatrician, and later the hospital for tests. I won’t lie, it was really scary. At first we just thought it was his trauma-eating. As it turns out, over time, this kind of eating can do some serious stomach damage. We try to give him small portions a little at a time. We space out snacks, meal courses, etc so he has time to digest. We make a big deal to count his “chews” and encourage him to chew really well. It’s very difficult to re-teach the eating habits a child learns in the first 5 years of life.

So I was home with the little guy all of last week. He’s 11 now, but when he’s sick his emotional age is somewhere around toddler. Because of this he was extra sweet and snuggly. He could only eat soup, jello, tea and other clear fluids. I made him tiny meals and gave him medication throughout the day. The poor guy missed field day, but no way could he go.

Call me a terrible mom, but I loved it. I got the opportunity to take care of my little guy. I wasn’t just providing care, I was providing care that was working! I can’t tell you how good that made me feel, especially with what’s going on with Mary right now. I felt like I was being a good mom. I could see my efforts pay off. And best of all? Carl and I got to hang out stress-free, and without physical danger. I’m not happy Mary is at RTC but I am happy that Carl seems so much more at ease. That’s right. Vomit is not as scary as murder.

Even with all of the vomit, Carl and I had super fun! We played CLUE, and Beat the Parents and Monopoly Deal. Papa came for a playdate and taught Carl to play Yahtzee! We read books and watched the Harry Potter movies. I rubbed his back and kept him hydrated. He is such a neat kid to spend time with. Although I love and miss our daughter, I am truly grateful for this one-on-one time with Carl. I hate the fact that it took puke to get me some individual parenting time with him.

As he grows up he will want to spend more and more time with his friends. But while we are on the cusp of adolescence? I’ll take all the parent-time I can get.

Not even puke could keep me away!!

 

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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adoption, Attachment

What Are We Fighting For?

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You can’t fight a war on all fronts. Or so I’m told. Lately we’ve been fighting that way, though. Everywhere I turn there is something else to confront, another battle to win.

On the one hand, I don’t want to die. I don’t want Carl to die. And I most certainly don’t want to see that haunted look on his face ever again, where he says, “She sounds just like Mom G. (Bio-mom)” Carl is referring to Mary. After her 8th acute psychiatric hospital stay since 2017 began, we installed cameras all over our house. With motion sensors and night vision. We find a dog to be trained as a PTSD service dog. We find a trainor. We spend thousands, thinking “this has to work!”

After the 8th hospitalization, Mary came home with a murder plan. She’d written it down with pictures and words while inpatient. Despite our best efforts to monitor and keep our cupboards locked, she found a weapon. And she planned to find it, planned to use it, all around her father’s work schedule. When Luke wouldn’t be here to protect us. She wasn’t out-of-control. She was casually discussing getting rid of the people who cause her the most emotions. Because love hurts Mary. She fears it. She hates it.

We need more help, we tell providers. We need more help we tell her insurance company. We need more help we tell the Department of Children and Families Voluntary Services program. We need more help we tell the state Office of the Child Advocate. (That last one actually worked.)

We can’t take her home yet, we say to the Emergency Department. She’s too dangerous. We have another child in the home.  Luke cannot work because he stays home to protect the family when she is there. Carl doesn’t sleep. We’ve been putting the service dog in with him at night. “Her violent rages are increasing,” we say. That isn’t the scariest part. The part that terrifies us is when she is smiling and happy, but you find her with a knife.

We fight to get her services. She will be going to a short-term residential treatment facility. (Thank you, child advocate!) The director tells us that they are trauma-informed. They’ve worked on cases of RAD before. I’ve heard that before from providers with little to no experience. “But,”he says, “we can’t cure your daughter. Once we’ve exhausted all of our treatment options, you have to agree to take her home.” Huh?

“She’s not a renovation project,” I find myself defending her, “She’s a traumatized little girl. And, no, you can’t keep her.” But it’s said over and over again. “In cases like this we have to insist that the family agree to take the child home. If not, you may be charged with child abandonment.” What?!

“Do you know how hard we fought to adopt her in the first place? Why is this even a conversation?” So I’m battling again. To show others the good inside of her. To show them that we love her. She’s not a “bad kid.” She’s not a mistake. She’s just very, very dangerous right now. But she’s our daughter, so hands-off!

We fight to show the intensity of our struggle at the same time we fight to show the validity of our family. We fight for services. We’ve had trauma focused, in-home, and partial hospitalization programs galore. She isn’t getting any better. She’s having more intense periods of mania. No more SSRIs. We are fighting about med changes.

In the end we are fighting for her not to return/but then to return home. “What outcome would you like?” says the Residential Center director.

“Less homicidal,” we say, “less dangerous.”

If we can be safe we can handle the rest. I think. At least, we’ve managed so far. It’s probably too much to hope the girl I knew will be coming back anytime soon.

And I’m fighting with Luke. We hardly ever argue. Sure, we get upset sometimes but after a decade together, we work it out. Luke has always been my safe place. It’s just that I can’t seem to conceptualize “safe” anymore. Instead , I’m irrationally fearful. I still want to sleep with the deadbolt on, even while Mary is away. I walk Carl across the road in an empty parking lot. I’m irritable. I don’t like it when she calls Luke from the hospital to calmly argue her points on all of the reasons I should die and that “It was only a little knife.” Why even take the phone calls? So Luke stops taking calls until we can meet with a clinician. They are just too disturbing. And he is too much of a good man to listen if it hurts me.

I feel as though I’m fighting for my life. All the time. I’m fighting for Carl’s life. The hospital thinks we should live apart. Carl and I should take up a separate residence. Luke should stay with Mary and keep her safe. “You’ll have to agree to take her home” they repeat. Why do they keep saying that? Now Luke is fighting.

“I live with my wife! I live with my family!” He is fighting for me. He is fighting for Carl. He loves us. He will not have us separated.

I am fighting to muddle my way through EMDR therapy. It’s supposed to help my stress levels. Help me to cope. “But if I’m still in the same stressful situation, can it really be helped?” I ask the therapist. She has no answer.

Instead she asks, “what would you like the outcome to be? How would you like to respond to these incidents?”

“How would you respond?” I ask, “If someone was planning your death?” The therapist just shakes her head. She doesn’t know. Nobody knows how to do this.

And I’m still fighting back pain. My injury has nothing to do with Mary. It happened at work. And yet, it has everything to do with Mary. She cannot be near me so Luke always has to be home when she is. For safety. The neurosurgeon tells me that I will “probably never be asymptomatic” because my “reaction is very rare.” We won’t know for months. Mary worries that I will die. It’s better if she can control when that happens. That way her grief can’t surprise her like it did with Mom G. So Luke has to fight to keep Mary away from me. We literally can never be alone together. So even if I’m not dying, I’m slipping away from her. This only feeds her fear.

At the same time I fight to help Mary, I’m fighting to regain my own balance. I’m fighting to remember that I’m a good mom, a good wife. Mary is still mad at that other mom. The first one. Her biological mother who hurt her so much. It’s just that, well, why do I always have to pay the price? Why does Carl? Because she assumes I love him more. Because I talk to him and this makes her panic. Therefore I should watch him get hurt. To pay for all the hurts Mom G doled out to Mary.

So I’m fighting. We are all fighting a war. But the question is, what are we really fighting for?

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved. 

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mental illness

Childhood Trauma and Mental Health: Guest Post From a Survivor

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Herding Chickens Guest Post:

One of my readers has agreed to share her experience on Herding Chickens. She has been following the blog for awhile. C always has great insight about my children, particularly Mary. This is because C is a survivor of trauma herself. She also lives with a mental health diagnosis she agreed to share with my readers.Enjoy! I think parents like me have a lot to learn from C. This will be written in an interview format. You may leave questions for C in the comments section.

HC:  Thank you for agreeing to do this. I am hoping you can shine some light on mental health and childhood trauma. Can you share your story with us?

C: First, I’ll give some background. I just turned 30 and I am in a master’s program for clinical counseling. I am a trauma survivor. My earliest memories involve trauma. This trauma involves my parents and maternal grandmother. I was never removed from my home. I did not start receiving treatment until I was 12 years old and it was from a guidance counselor.

I had my first psychotic episode around that time as well and began self-harm. I went impatient around that time. I wasn’t given a correct diagnosis at that time. I was too old for RAD, too young for borderline, and too young for bipolar. So they threw oppositional defiant disorder at me.

My parents were very good at acting perfect while demonizing me. They would call me a “bad little girl.”  I was medicated for depression and later Bipolar Disorder. I was discharged with lots of conditions such as limited contact with my father, family therapy as well as psych evals on my parents. I was supposed to attend a day program, and continued individual therapy. I went to the day program and continued therapy.

That therapist saved my life. He saw through the denials of abuse and sent me to a residential treatment facility. I went when I was 14 almost 15 and spent about a year there. By week two I refused meds and quickly became manic. I stayed that way for months. I did make friends while I was there. There were a few adults I came to trust. I  believed that they would protect me and they did. I got my Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder diagnosis while I was there.

My parents were supposed to go to couples counseling, psychoeducation and parenting classes. They went to the parenting classes my mom went to therapy on her own. They were supposed to decide if they were going to be together to separate. They did not. I was discharged with no aftercare plan. For about 5 years I swung between mania, psychosis and depression. I also developed Agoraphobia. I didn’t go back to therapy until age 19.  I did a lot of talk therapy at first. Eventually I did prolonged exposure and Dialectal Behavior Therapy (DBT), which I think desperately needs to be adapted for children. I wrote a paper and did adapt it somewhat. Then I went back to talk therapy and I still go weekly.

My personal life is depressing. I don’t have many relationships. My fear of abandonment is crippling my need for attention drives people away. Imagine an adult friend having those clingy behaviors Mary is having.  My family can shun me at times. I struggle with attaching to people inappropriately and letting go. I am still intertwined with my parents and am “retraumatized” often. I have no choice right now because I need to keep my medicaid while I’m going to school fulltime. I find strength in my trauma. I am currently in a fight with my previous university for discriminating and stigmatizing me. Since age 15 I have attempted suicide 4 times. It has been 6 years since I injured myself. Self-injury, like cutting, is very much like an addiction. When I was younger I was manic more than depressed, but that pattern has reversed in recent years.

I have always known I am not my diagnoses. I have Bipolar but I am not Bipolar. It’s something I manage. It has both enhanced my life and damaged it. It takes time to develop a very strong understanding of the diagnosis.  Making sure you have the correct diagnosis is so important. Learning how the diagnosis affects my life and not how I affect the diagnosis was important. Also there are many therapists who treat the diagnosis and not the person. That is detrimental. No matter how close a person’s symptoms match a disorder in the DSM, there are always many nuances, differences and uniqueness to each person.

HC: You sound like an incredibly strong person. When did you start reading “Herding Chickens and Other Adventures in Foster and Adoptive Care” What drew you to this blog?

I started reading this blog about 8 months ago. I think another blog I follow had a link to it on her twitter. I kept reading for three reasons (in no particular order): 1) I am still trying to make sense of my life. I thought if I could read about kids who have experienced trauma and what they are like, I might find a group where I fit in. Also, sometimes I still like I caused so many problems for others with my behavior. If it’s from the trauma I can absolve myself of that. 2) Fostering/adoption is something I am considering. 3) The blog is compelling. It took me a very long time to get help. I want to see the turnout for children who get the therapy, meds, and proper parenting.

HC: Thank you! Can you tell our readers a little bit about your diagnosis? How did this affect your childhood? How does it affect you now?

Currently, I am diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder type 1, Borderline Personality disorder, and PTSD. By the time I saw a professional I was in sixth grade and the professional was a guidance counselor. He recognized something was not right with me. I was too old for a RAD diagnosis but still too young for a diagnosis of Bipolar, Borderline Personality Disorder, or PTSD. At that time (1999) Bipolar was not diagnosed in children. Although, all the mental health professionals I’ve seen in my adult life agree that the bipolar came out in 4th grade. I have very few complete memories before age 15. I will get random snippets of things, but there are very few things I can recall at will.

That being said, I know I was well liked by teachers and peers. I just never knew what to do with that. I knew how to be a friend, but not how to have friends. I got into fights a lot, usually when something was happening that I had couldn’t tolerate and had to stop. This could be teasing or one instance a friend was just playing around. She shoved me a couple of times, even after I told her to stop. I nearly broke her jaw. Physical contact has always been a trigger for me. I had many fears. I was paranoid a lot. I was manic a lot. I was very lonely.

As an adult, fear of abandonment and the need for someone to love me rules all. I attach to people instantaneously. It’s like I am a child and I have wrapped myself around mommy’s ankles immediately. I never would have done this with my mother. I don’t know how I choose these people. It just happens. Then I will do almost anything to keep these people in my life. At any sign that they are going to leave, whether it is real or imagined, I become distressed. It’s like experiencing all 7 stages of grief at the same time. It’s like a hole is burned into my soul that can never be filled except by that person. I haven’t had many relationships romantic or otherwise. I feel pathetic. My chronological age and emotional age are so out of sync, that I can’t make it work. Emotionally I am about 18. Chronologically I am 30! Of all my diagnosis the Borderline Personality Disorder is the worst.

HC: I know that you experienced some childhood trauma, which causes you to feel unsafe in relationships. Many foster/adoptive parents want to know one thing. How can we help? What would have helped you in childhood to know you were loved? Is there anything that helps you now?

These are great questions. I will answer them in reverse. What helps me now is simply knowing that someone is thinking of me. My cousin is great for this. He will text or call me because he saw something that reminded him of me. It could be something we did together, or he could just invite me to dinner. Can you believe it’s that freakin’ simple? Yet so very few people do it. Sorry, but it isn’t about you making sure they feel loved. They have to be able to feel loved. I’ve lived so much of my live believing I’m “unlovable.”

I don’t think that belief was shattered until I was 18 and my nephew was born. A big part of feeling love is being chosen. When my nephew was a baby he chose me over other people. The belief that I was “unlovable” started to peal away. I think that in childhood, having friends would have helped in a major way. If you can get your kids to socialize, and make a friend or two, it would be great. I know getting to that point is difficult because their chronological age and emotional age don’t match up. I did read a study that said kids with anxiety often build confidence and social skills, if they are placed in a group that is a year or two younger. That may be helpful here as well. Creative outlets are also important. I know Mary and Carl are musically inclined. So maybe lessons of some type would be beneficial. This can apply to sports as well. Having that talent and knowing there is something great about them is helpful.  Giving them control over when and where to share that talent can balance the inferiority/badness/out-of-control they feel.

HC: That is really helpful advice. Thank you. Have you ever had violent outbursts during a manic episode, or periods of dissociation? What signs or triggers should parents look for? Since we can’t read our children’s minds, what does it feel like to be out of control?

Comments on Bipolar Disorder: Anything can happen during a manic episode. The longer the episode goes on the greater risk for losing control, becoming psychotic, and dissociating. Be aware that mania in children and adults look very different. I was often violent during mania, complete with crazy strength. I once picked up a wooden coffee table with 4 panes of glass measuring about 24×24 inches, and threw it across the room at my brother. He was calling me names and teasing me. I had no other resources to make him stop, because of the mania. I also flipped over a sofa with my dad sleeping on it. I would bang my head on things punch things. This evolved into cutting and burning. The self-injury was almost always an effort to escape the dissociation. It was so scary.

Comments on Trauma: Dissociation is so much more that not being in control. It’s not knowing which way is up. Not knowing what’s real and what is a dream. Who is talking to you and what’s just the hallucinations. Keep in mind that as a child I was not in treatment and my trauma wasn’t over. I ended up in a residential program at age 14-15. My experience was unique. Most kids don’t talk about positive experiences in residential treatment facilities. However, I had one counselor who took care of me a lot she said she always knew I was dissociating/entering psychosis by the way I would look at her. She said it was as though I was looking through her. She also said it was like I was struggling to listen and nothing was getting in. Also I tried any attempt to control things. I had OCD-type behaviors. I wanted to organize having and doing things is a just so manner.

HC: Thank you for sharing that with us. It sounds like that caregiver was very attuned to you. What accomplishment in your life are you most proud of?

During undergrad I was in the Social and Behavioral Sciences Club. We were looking for a cause, and I suggested having an out of the darkness walk. Those are walks that the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has to raise awareness about suicide, suicide prevention, and stigma surrounding mental illness. So another student and I made it happen, and we had our first campus walk. Over the three years I was there we raised about $20,000. We also brought people together to talk about this issue. We remember those who have been lost, the survivors, attempt survivors, and those who are struggling. We also had events leading up to the walk.

HC: That’s quite an accomplishment! If you could have changed anything in your childhood, what would it have been and why?

I wish my mother would have taken my side just once. She chose my father over and over again. She participated in the infliction of pain upon her children. Til this day she doesn’t take my side or acknowledge my pain. However, she will for my brother.

HC: That’s terrible. I’m very sorry about your mother. No one should have a childhood like that.  What would you like parents of children with mental health disorders to know?

It can take a long time for anyone living with a mental illness to come to terms with it. They can feel like there is something inherently wrong with them, especially kids. Keep your kids age appropriately educated and let them have a say in their treatment. Listen to them and make them feel like they have some control. They will have to deal with this on their own one day, so prepare them for that. Also, let your kids see that mom and dad or grandma and grandpa, or insert adult role model here______, are also flawed. Adults make mistakes too. Let your child’s disorder be part of them, but let them know everyone has differences and no one is inferior to anyone else. Beware if they are idolizing and glamorizing someone. Talk them about how there are things that they don’t know about the person they idolize. The danger is in creating an idol that they can never live up to.

Aside from the trauma, I think dealing with the Bipolar Disorder is easier because it’s always been there. I know what to look for, when to call the doctor, and all that jazz.

HC: How is your life different because of your condition? In what ways are you flourishing despite your struggles?

I can’t imagine having a career, a family, responsibilities, and then losing everything. My social life suffers most. I don’t have friends, and I don’t drink or party so that doesn’t help. I drank once. I was of age (23). I didn’t get drunk. I had 2 beers and 2 shots of vodka and I got manic. I even checked with my psychiatrist before I went to the party. She said it should be fine, it would only increase the effects of my Klonopin. Never again! I am trying to start a photography business, and I do great in school. I am pursuing a graduate degree in psychology. I hope to do something to help the community mental health system and eventually go into private practice.

HC: Your story is an amazing one. You are such a survivor. One last question: when are you starting your own blog and where can we find it? Lol

Not sure. Let’s see how this goes first lol.

 

**Our guest poster, C, is open to answering reader questions. You can leave them in the comments section.

 

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family

The Prodigal Son…Graduates! 

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This is a day I never thought I’d be able to see. Don’t misunderstand, I’ve always believed he would finish his high school degree. This is a point I hotly debated with the many social workers, and clinicians involved over the years. “He won’t want to graduate from high school when he is almost 20. He’s missed too many credits. He’ll probably just get his GED,” was something a clinical consultant on his case said to me once. What he meant was “Marcus will surely drop out.” But I knew better. Marcus, our children’s oldest biological brother, never backs down when he’s determined about something.

It’s just that after he decided he didn’t want us to adopt him, he left and swore he’d never return. So I believed that I would have to miss the day he got his diploma. I stupidly tried to comfort myself with thoughts of seeing his pictures on Facebook or being there “in spirit.” Marcus eventually made contact with us and we managed to forge a new kind of relationship. Despite this, I didn’t think he would want his “old parents” at his high school graduation. But he did. He asked us to come when he contacted me to say “Happy Mother’s Day.” Man can that kid make me cry!

For me, he will always and forever be my eldest son. For him I’m probably one of the many “moms” he’s had through his years in the foster care system. He often felt like a throwaway kid.  Marcus felt out of place being loved by a family. So he pushed back. He got suspended, kicked out of schools, sent to a group home, disrupted many foster placements and did a stint in “juvie.”

Social workers cautioned us from the beginning against getting too attached to this “troubled teen.” But attachment was just what he needed. Unconditional love, acceptance, and ultimately the ability to ride out his struggles. No, we never got to adopt him. He aged out of foster care. But eventually Marcus returned to the house of his first foster mom. He wasn’t “in the system” anymore. She had long since retired from fostering kids. But Marcus? He always had a place with her.

Marcus often felt that no one wanted him. He pushed back against love so hard that he tried to drive the people closest to him away however he could. It didn’t work. For this  graduation the vice principal and resource officer (the same one who had to arrest him once) from his former school attended. He had a childhood friend he’d kept in touch with over his years shuffling through foster homes. He had his first foster family. He had an older sister’s ex-husband.  And he had us. One of his older biological sisters came and surprisingly, so did his biological father. We all loved him enough to be there.

When Marcus first started coming to visit us, he reminded me of the little boy Max from the children’s’ book Where the Wild Things Are. For one thing, he would stretch waaay into his 7-year-old sister’s footy pajamas, shirts, and headbands when playing with her. He was just shy of the wolf costume Max wears in the book’s opening illustrations. Like Max, Marcus was always quite fond of “making mischief of one kind or another,” and like Max he was an expert at driving his caregivers crazy.

If ever a child deserved to be made “King of the Wild Things,” it was Marcus.  He would have angry outbursts and tantrums over the smallest things. Then he would put on his headphones and drift away to a place where no one could make contact with him. Marcus would come back at his own pace. So many of his relationships followed this back-and-forth pattern. Like Max, Marcus was a lovable child at heart and needed to know it. I obviously had to read him the book aloud. He loved the experience! At 17, he’d never heard of the story, or even heard of parents reading stories to their children at bedtime. 

When we started his adoption process, I bought him a hardcover copy of the book. I slipped it beneath his pillow after writing on the inside cover “You have finally come home to a place where someone loves you best of all.” We never discussed it. After he left us, he packed everything except that book. It crushed me. Like the beasts Maurice Sendak created, I wanted to roar and gnash my teeth. I wanted to eat him up, I loved him so! But I couldn’t. So I let go. I had been wrong about this story the whole time.

I wasn’t the mother waiting at home with his hot supper. I was one of the many “Wild Things” trying to love him along the journey of foster care. So when Marcus asked us to be at his graduation, I was overwhelmed with emotion. I felt love, pride, and gratitude that we were still family. I cried through the ceremony from the moment he walked in until the moment he crossed the stage.  Luke and I were by far not the only ones there for Marcus. He had the largest group of supporters of any graduate that day. As we stood around wiping tears and snapping pictures, I figured maybe I wasn’t the mother or the “Wild Thing” after all.

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Marcus approached Luke and I last. Without words, he fell into Luke’s arms and pulled me into a tight group hug. He was crying and so was I. In that moment, in that hug? Marcus really was “home.” No matter where he goes in life, that hug was the place where “someone loved him best of all.”

Congratulations, Marcus.

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

*My sincere apologies if I botched the plot with my interpretation of Maurice Sendak’s famous children’s story book Where the Wild Things Are

 

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adoption, mental illness

Mania and Matricide: It’s Not OK

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Installing deadbolts

It’s not OK to hit me. It’s not OK to bite me. It’s not OK that I have a scar on my head from where you split it open with a high heeled shoe three years ago. It’s not OK that our son has to live at my parents house because he isn’t safe here. It’s not OK for you to plan on stabbing me and stabbing your brother. Not with a kitchen knife OR with a bottle opener.

It’s not OK that we’ve installed cameras with motion sensors and night vision in all the public areas of our house. It’s not OK that we have combination locks on the cabinets where we keep all the “sharps.” It’s not OK that we had to install deadbolts on the doors to our bedrooms. It’s not OK that the motion sensor alarm goes off to wake me up at 12:30 AM when you are wandering the house in search of a “stabbing weapon.”

It’s not OK that you told your therapist today that “Mom has to die!” and then threatened to kill yourself and your brother. You’ve been planning this ever since your last few hospitalizations. Last time they called you “depressed” and started a course of SSRI medications. Not OK!

When you came home your depression became a manic state. You became a child with pressured speech so fast that you stopped using consonants. You started your “hyper phase,” which means you never sleep. You laugh harder and harder until you are screaming and then breaking things. It is not OK that we had to “toss” your room and remove all of the hard furniture and sharp objects. It is not Ok that your service dog found a jack-o-lantern carving knife and gave it to us (well, actually it’s very OK with me that the service dog probably saved our lives.) Did you find it during a night of wandering around the house? Your hand was always holding things under your blankie, ever aware of the cameras. This is not OK.

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Dakota Blue, the service dog

You want to know what else is not OK? It’s not OK that the inpatient doctors refused to call your PHP, your psychiatrist, your trauma therapist, or your in-home service team. It’s not OK that they sent you home with an active murder plan and a spiraling state of mania that escalates into more grandiose and diabolical schemes. It is not OK that the state’s voluntary services program we applied for does not consider planning murder to be “clinically acute” enough for a short-term residential placement.

There are some other things that are not OK. It was NEVER ok for you to be neglected as a baby. It wasn’t OK that your pediatrician never reported to anyone that you were in the 12th percentile for weight and selectively mute. It is NOT ok that DCF had been involved with your bio family for 10 years before removing all of you. They were getting hotline calls before you were ever born! It is not OK that any attention you got from your bio mom often became abusive. It is not OK that you lived in terror and learned how to survive the ever-rotating bevy of strange men in your home.

It is NOT OK that I wasn’t able to be your mom in the beginning, when the bad things were happening. It’s not OK and it is not your fault.

Here is what is OK. It is OK that we knew about your mental health concerns when we adopted you. We chose you because you are more than a diagnostic label. You are an amazing girl. You are OUR girl. It is OK that you need to be somewhere safe right now until you stabilize. It is OK to need medication to help you do that. It is OK to grieve the first mother you ever had. God, I wish I could give some of that back to you. The good parts at least.

Our family is going to be OK. It isn’t easy getting there. Yes, we “chose” this life. But I still say we chose the best children. Nothing in life is easy. The best things are hard. I’ve seen parents with profoundly disabled children flourish. I’ve seen severely autistic children learn to read. So yes, we will be OK. It is OK to decide we are not going to try for a biological child. It is OK to stick with the family we have.

it’s OK that it takes an attachment-disordered child a long time to overcome the fear of love. It’s Ok that you inherited some of your bio mom’s mental health concerns. It’s OK because you will never struggle on your own the way she had to. It’s OK as long as we can all stay safe. And I pray that we can. We have done everything in our power. The rest is up to you, sweet girl. Don’t doubt yourself. Mental health can be a manageable illness. Love will always be there for you. No matter what.

ycameran

night vision camera

 

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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adoption, Attachment Disorders

If I Die Before I Wake

I pray the lord my soul to take. I wish these were just the words of a bedtime prayer. In my case, these words are real. If you’ve been following my blog, you know that our children have experienced an intense level of unspeakable trauma. Luke and I know this. We know how to parent therapeutically. We know how to get as many services as possible for our daughter. It doesn’t matter. She is a real danger to me and to her brother right now.

Our daughter has learned to survive. Her current diagnosis are PTSD-dissociative subtype and Reactive Attachment Disorder, with periods of psychosis. There is a lot of chatter about the RAD diagnosis, which I won’t get into here. Because I don’t care. Whether it be Developmental Trauma Disorder  (DTD, which never made it into the DSM-V) or RAD or PTSD or DMDD or any other diagnosis she’s had, it doesn’t matter. She still wants to kill me. A mother’s love is something she craves so badly that it hurts her. It twists her happy feelings into anger and possessiveness.

It all started the month we needed to buy her bras. She’s only 10 but here comes puberty. And so it began. In with the bras. Out with the effectiveness of her medication. She began hearing voices. SHe started to journal about my death. She began to tantrum and scream and fight invisible foes that only she could see. Oh, my dear little Mary, how I wish I could fight them for you.

Her love for me is desperate and all consuming. She needs me every second of every day. If I take a shower, she tantrums, if I leave the room, she explodes in a fit of rage. If I ask an innocuous question such as, “Do you like your new shorts?” She hears, “I hate you. I no longer love you. I am abandoning you.” When I turn to her brother for a momentary comment, she attacks. She will circle me and chase me with her little fists flying. She is trying to hit me in the spine. She will cripple me before allowing me to speak to Carl. So far, it hasn’t worked.

“If I can’t have you, ” she tells me, “no one can. I will stab us both.” In the night or early morning, she will loom over the bed, watching me sleep. “Mama?” she whispers, “Do you love me?” Of course I do. But I can never show her enough to quell her fear of losing me. She will make comments on my facial expressions. Why did my eyebrow twitch? Why did I move my top lip? Am I trying to get away? Have I stopped loving her?!The last 3 years of Trust Based Relational Intervention made all the difference, until now. TF-CBT made all the difference. Until now. Her anti-psychotic medication made all the difference. Until now.

The worst part is that it becomes unpredictable. We play mirroring games, and we snuggle, and I giver her all of my attention. Our time is spent connecting. As close as I stay to her, and as much love as I provide? I can never guess when a momentary glance at another person or thing will invoke her uncontrollable rage. We keep our knives and “sharps” locked up. You need the combination for a screwdriver in this house. Only, she finds other things. She shows me a bottle opener I’ve overlooked.

“You know this is sharp enough?” she casually quips, “I could stab you with this.”

The part that gets to me is how she discusses my murder without any observable emotion at all. Her brother tells me that earlier that she’s tried to figure out the combination for the lock on the knife cupboard. We only use plastic silverware in our house now.

As far as I can tell, nothing has changed. Nothing except the onset of puberty. Her intense violent rages happen every day. She injures herself most frequently.  She rips out her hair or punches herself in the face. She screams about murder. And blood. And the death of everyone on this planet who has ever hurt her. The bio-mother who abandoned her and hurt her. The mother she has now who sometimes needs to shower.

She is being released from the inpatient psychiatric hospital for the 5th or 6th time tomorrow. I’ve lost track. We have in-home services. We have an amazing trauma therapist who has worked with her for 3 years. We have a parent therapist for Luke and I. We have a partial hospitalization program set up that she has used more than I could even count over the last 3 years. There aren’t anymore services, unless the state agrees to help. Her medication no longer works. Today the inpatient hospital program told us they are releasing her tomorrow because there isn’t anything more they can do for her on the unit. Ever.

We’ve called a meeting with all of her providers for safety planning. We have PHP, Trauma team, And IICAPS (Intensive In-home Adolescent and Psychiatric Services) all concerned for safety is she is home. I miss my girl. I want her home. I’d just like to remain alive for her childhood. She hasn’t managed to truly hurt me yet, beyond a few arm and leg bruises. She hasn’t hurt Carl yet. It isn’t for lack of trying. It’s because Carl and I are too quick. We lock ourselves away and call for help.

Luke and I are doing the only things we can do. We are installing security cameras in all of the common areas of the house. Everywhere except for bedrooms and bathrooms. We need to objectively see what is happening. It’s entirely possible that we are unwittingly triggering her in some way. It is entirely true she doesn’t want anyone to see the things she does in the privacy of our home.

It is also highly probable that she’s spent a lot of time talking to “Josie” the “ghost” who orders my death (and possibly that of her brother.) The therapists in our home see her mood fluctuation and dangerous actions. So does her long term trauma therapist. But to most other clinicians? She is the sweetest most charming girl of all. She has always had to be this way, in order to survive her biological home. My Mary is a fighter. A survivor. For this, I am proud. I only wish she didn’t feel the driving need to survive being loved. 

Mary flipped out and began to yell at us and her inpatient therapist in the hospital today. She doesn’t like the cameras. She doesn’t want others to see her violence and destruction. She doesn’t want anyone to see her try to hurt Carl or try to attack me. When we don’t make progress with her on-call crisis team, we call 9-1-1. She will scream at the police and yell at the EMTs, but they never hear her plan my murder. Once we get to the psychiatric ward she is completely calm. Perhaps the video will help us to show what happens. After all, she only threatens or attacks those she loves the most. This kind of deep attachment-related trauma won’t be seen on a psychiatric ward. She simply does not require or crave deep relationships with revolving staff.

What she really needs from me is proof of my unconditional love. I try to give this as much as I can. Is it enough? It never is. What she is getting is 24/7 surveillance. Just in case. Because our daughter is trying to literally love me to death.

So if I never blog another post? Well then, I guess you’ll know why. 

 

yletter3

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved

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adoption, family

Do You Deserve Love? Are You Sure?

ychurcheaster

Why are we able to receive love from others? What  does it do for us in our daily lives? How do we know that we are worthy of love? How do we expect others to love us? Can we and should we reciprocate that love? Is love helpful or is it dangerous to us? Have you ever questioned any of these things?

I haven’t. Each day when I venture into the world I am wrapped an invisible blanket of my husband’s love. It acts as a buffer for me when I face adversity, frustration, or disappointment. Sure, I might get frustrated or make a mistake at work. I might embarrass myself in a social situation. It doesn’t penetrate my protective cloak. None of these negative experiences define me. The upset they cause doesn’t change any core image I have of myself. I still believe in my own innate goodness. After all, I am cherished by someone. I am safe. He knows the real me. He sees me. He hears me.

I do not question my right to be known in this way. We have been married for almost 10 years now. In the first year of our marriage we lived in the tiniest apartment imaginable with little shoebox bedrooms. I remember having to climb over the teeny full sized bed to open the drawers to my dresser. We didn’t have any money. We lived in a bad section of the city where we both worked. Each night we would fit together like puzzle pieces in that narrow bed. Luke and I whispered and laughed quietly long into the night. Bills and city shootings be damned. It was as if we were apart from the rest of the world in our own private cocoon of young love. Somewhere during that time I developed the odd habit of tucking the soles of my feet into the back of his knees while we slept. It reminded me that I wasn’t alone. I was seen. I was heard.

The first year we brought home our little chickens was both the hardest and the best. Being a new mom filled me with a sense of joy and contentment. We were also living in the middle of their intense trauma responses and seemingly chaotic functioning. There were many times that I questioned if our children were happy with us. Were we the right parents to give them what they needed. But I had someone who believed in me just as much as I believed in him. Even though our children weren’t in a place to reciprocate our love yet, I still had that invisible cloak. I was seen. I was heard.

Whenever I would doubt myself all I had to do was tuck my feet into the back of Luke’s Knees. On the couch, in bed, it didn’t matter. This one action reminded me that I belonged somewhere. Physical touch is my primary love language. I read somewhere that the average couple in the U.S. spends only 3 seconds per week kissing. I found this to be ridiculous. I probably spent 3 seconds in the morning kissing Luke before breakfast. Having a physical relationship is probably the most sustaining act of love for me. Dancing in the kitchen with my husband, making love, the feel of his legs on the soles of my feet even though we now sleep in a king sized bed, these things sustain me. They let me know, despite any circumstances we face, I am seen. I am heard.

Please don’t think that I am recommending for all readers to walk around sticking their feet behind their unsuspecting partner’s knees. That would be weird. What I am saying is that we all have our own relational roadmaps. Love sustains us. How do we know that we deserve this? What was it that gave me the map to believe this? How does love, in any form, sustain me?

The answer seems so simple to me.

I am safe to love zombies, because of my mom. She gave me a roadmap  that showed me I am worthy of being seen and heard. She also gave me my favorite book, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. My dad was unreliable throughout my childhood. He always loved me but he was in and out of the picture. He didn’t really see me. He didn’t really know me. From birth, my mother has always been the consistent variable in my life. I love zombies? She hid a stuffed zombie around our house performing various tasks such as making coffee or reading a magazine. I needed spinal surgery? She was there. Twice. Someone noticed me. I was important because she was seeing me in all the glory of my good, bad , and incredibly weird parts. And let’s face it, I was a pretty rotten teenager. Sorry, Mom!

momkid

Mom with baby me.

When I was young my mother wore Bluegrass scented deodorant by Elizabeth Arden. When I needed comfort I would lean against her and just breathe her in. It was the scent of home.When we crossed a busy street I reached for her hand automatically. When I insisted on wearing a pot on my head to preschool, she rolled with it. She survived my painful 14-year-old self torturing an innocent guitar. Her touch kept me safe. Her love kept me safe. To this day, when I pass the Elizabeth Arden counter in a department store I become instantly calm. I smile. Home.

menLuke

Luke and me

That roadmap of love created a template that I now carry with me. It taught me to love others the way I was loved as a child. Well, maybe not the torturing a guitar part. No, Carl CANNOT have an electric guitar.  I’m not that good of a parent. Mom taught  me what kind of love I deserved. Now I feel safe in my relationships. When I married Luke I chose wisely. I knew instinctively that I deserved a partner in this life who would treat me a certain way. I deserved to be seen. I deserved to be heard. Also, he didn’t (attempt to) play an electric guitar. Whew!

My step dad wanted to wear flippers and a cape when he married my mom. It didn’t even give me pause. This fun-loving, zany guy was a good choice for her. It never occurred to me not to love him. Family means safety. I do not question my importance in his life. I do not question his batman footie pajamas.  My kids know him as “Papa.” He provides me (and possibly Gotham City) with a sense of safety. I know beyond a doubt that he sees me. He hears me.

I recently had a scary appointment with my neurosurgeon. After having an extremely rare reaction to the titanium implant in my back, we needed to discuss the possibility of removing it. My fear reaction was visceral. I needed both of my parents. Cape or no cape, Papa had to save the day. I knew he would.

papahat

Papa

I hope to give this roadmap to my children. It’s almost impossible for me to understand why it’s so hard for them to accept love. Their experiences from their biological home shaped a different outlook. I’ve never been through those things. I cannot imagine what they have survived. All I can do now is follow in the footsteps of my parents. I want my children to grow up with their own stuffed zombies. Wear whatever capes or pots they choose. And hopefully, they find their own Luke. Everyone needs a place to tuck their feet in.

ycape1

Mary’s 8th birthday cape, made by Nana.

 

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

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