adoption, family

A Mouthful of Dirty Socks

Why does it always come to sweaty, stinky socks? On the hottest day in the summer of 2014 I was in the back seat of my Honda Pilot with a mouthful of Carl’s dirty, sweaty gym socks. Mary was having an all out meltdown in the parking lot of the first outpatient therapist we took her to. She hadn’t even spoken in session. It was a getting-to-know-you visit. After session she punched me, screamed nonstop and ran into traffic. The other three children and I eventually corralled her into the car. Sean, at 13, was in the driver seat and Carl was next to him. Marcus and I had Mary contained in the third row while she raged, intent on running into the busy street. At one point a well-meaning lady stopped to ask Sean if his “mother had left him in the car.” Mary promptly screamed obscenities at the woman and she backed quickly away.

Her tiny, 7-year-old fists pummeled me with fury. She had ripped out some chunks of my hair, and my chest was bleeding from scratches and bites. Mary hit, kicked, slapped and bit for over 45 minutes. Even with the AC at full blast it must have been over 80 degrees in the car. There was a strong odor akin to cooking armpits wafting from the trunk area. Mary yelled at Marcus to go away. Marcus yelled at Mary to quitting hitting me. I prayed silently to a higher power.  I imagined a cooler place where it was quiet and didn’t stink. Almost every day that summer had been exactly like this.

I couldn’t figure out how to child-lock the hatchback-style trunk, and I couldn’t drive with a raging child. We were stuck trying to hold her safely, as far away from the other two boys as possible. Mary kicked at the windows and screamed, “They’re murdering me!” to passerby. Eventually bystanders called the police. It was around this time that Mary grabbed a pair of extremely ripe socks that Carl had hidden in the trunk, and shoved them into my mouth. My eyes watered and I gagged on putrid Carl foot-funk. This was a maneuver I hadn’t anticipated!

When the police came I had managed to spit out the offending socks, but my mouth was still full of foul sock fibers. Luke had come. He met us in time to answer the officers questions while I picked putrid sock fuzz out of my teeth. Finally, after over an hour of screaming, Mary subsided and cowered behind me. The sight of the officers transformed her rage into fear.

Four years later, and Sean is gone. Our daughter is in a private therapeutic school. It’s a residential school that focuses on complex trauma. They’ve been absolutely amazing with Mary. She hasn’t needed to be restrained in over a month. They continue to stress the importance of family to her. They help her check her own energy level for regulation. She is making a conscious effort to be involved in her care planning and goal setting. I couldn’t be prouder of her.

Meanwhile, Carl is going to intensive outpatient therapy. He has a daily group that focuses on coping skills. He is struggling with uncontrollable bursts of anger. The good thing about Carl is that he doesn’t intentionally attack us. His rage is limited to property damage, mostly in his room. He did try to put his shoes on the other day by chucking them across the kitchen. This technique was unsuccessful, but at least he’s trying new things.

Marcus is homeless and sleeping in his car, in a cemetery. He chafed at living here because he was required to take a class, start a certification, or go to job corps. Essentially, he had to invest in himself in order to be supported by us financially. He chose to quit his job and run off to the next state where all of his friends are. He claimed the only thing he needed to secure his future was this rusted out Honda Civic circa 1995.

I was surprised to see him on Friday morning, fast asleep in his car, in our driveway. I attempted to talk to him but he buried his head under a blanket and then drove off when I walked away. He had a buddy with him, someone I’ve never met before. As far as I can tell they came home to grab some gas from the emergency cans in the basement and then go to grab his final check. We didn’t hear from him for a few more days after this.

Marcus continued to insist that his only goal was his car. The car died in a dangerous city and there he now sleeps. He refused to let me pick him up because, in his words, “No matter what, I’m not leaving without my car. I’m going to stay with my car.” So there he now stays, in a cemetery, with a dead cell phone battery. It’s been three days.

Driving home from Mary’s family session the other day, something odd occurred to me. I asked Luke, “Did you ever think there would be a time when Mary would be our most stable child?”

“No,” he admitted. We sat in shocked silence for a few moments to process this. In the silence I became aware of pungent odor emanating from the back seat. It was a mix of rotting skunk corpse and teenage sweat. Glancing behind me I spied a pair of Pokemon sport socks.

I sighed. “Carl took off his lacrosse socks in the car again.” Luke nodded sympathetically.

It always comes back to the socks.

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

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adoption, family

College For Our Prodigal?

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There were many years where we questioned if Marcus would finish high school. He HATED it. He couldn’t stand the authority, the lack of choices, and the reading. He had an IEP in school and finally graduated through a specialized night program. He now has a full diploma, as opposed to a GED. Marcus is the first one in his biological family to graduate high school. I saw his cognitive testing scores once, when he was a junior. It came as no surprise to me that his IQ was high. He was rather shocked at the time.

Now, Marcus is twenty. He has choices. There used to be four things he despised in life: lack of choices, therapists, police, and hospitals. He would avoid all of those things if possible. As a foster kid “in the system” he had no choices. Marcus was moved wherever and whenever often without much notice.

He was frequently in what is known as “intensive foster care.” This means he was the only child in a specialized foster home as part of a program for troubled youth. He was assigned a number of therapists. He had no choice in this. Some of them dug too deep, too fast. Some of them made what he perceived to be disparaging comments about his biological family. None of them ever got Marcus to talk. Ever.

Recently he started to mention college and my mother and I got really excited. As a retired English teacher (and the best one there ever was!) my mom started to make plans. Marcus is most likely dyslexic so reading is hard, but he has learned strategies to compensate. She suggested a program where he could utilize speech-to-text to write his papers. Nana offered to tutor him through the English classes. I could help him with Psychology. If he chooses this path, he will not walk it alone.

Over the last few months Marcus has hovered around the periphery of our therapy appointments. He has asked a lot of insightful questions about his sister, Mary. He thinks she may be able to find a way to release her anger the way he uses his punching bag. Still, Marcus would never come into the sessions. He just sat in the car until we finished and then went to dinner as a family. Once he actually sat in the waiting room. However, he avoided eye contact with L, our children’s longtime trauma therapist.

Imagine my shock when Marcus approached me last week and asked what he would need to do to become a therapist. Luke assumed he wanted to be a physical therapist at first. When Marcus clarified for us he said, “No, I want to be a therapist to help kids in the system. I want to help kids that are like me.”

Tears. I cannot help it. This kid will make me cry. Every. Single. Time. So we took him to see L. He got dressed up in his brand new purple polo shirt, new purple Nikes embroidered with his name, and his purple sushi socks. I’m pretty sure that it was a professional look despite the ski cap he likes to keep on his head. He announced, “I’m ready for therapy. I’m in my party clothes!”

I went in with him to talk to L about his possible career path. Keeping in mind that he has never spoken to a therapist, I felt that just getting him into the office was a feat! I should have remembered how magical L is with what she does. Somehow her humor and casual demeanor drew him out of his protective shell. As soon as she settled into her chair with her legs tucked under her (I usually take my shoes off in her cozy office) he laughed and started talking. L has this effect on people. In the past he would stare at the ground with his arms crossed and tell the therapist to “f**k off!”

Not this time. He got some great career counseling and advice. L was open and honest about the fact that he would need to go through about six more years of school. She gave some information about the TF-CBT model she practices. L spoke about how trauma responses physically affect the body. To my astonishment Marcus spoke openly about some of his own triggers and some coping skills. L encouraged him and agreed that having a therapist who had experienced foster care and trauma could relate to clients. She also pointedly told him that he would really have to address him own stuff before working with others. If not, it could trigger him.

So he agreed to go back for at least two more sessions to work on his own stuff. Amazing. When I paid the bill he saw what kind of money he could possibly make. I just saw that any amount of money would be worth it for Marcus to finally get some support, or maybe insight, in therapy.

So, will he go to college? Maybe. I don’t know. Marcus has come so very far. The sky is the limit for him.

What I do know is that two therapy sessions is a win. And I am so proud.

 

https://fulltimetired.com/roundup/?vote

 

**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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adoption, mental illness

When It’s Not Enough: Adventures in Getting Help

Yhosp1

It’s not enough. I’m not enough. All of the work we have been doing for the last 3 years is not enough to help our Little Bit. 10-year-old Mary is starting puberty. She is also starting to unravel in terms of her mental health. She is back inpatient again at the psychiatric hospital. So, yes, I feel like I am not enough for our girl right now.

During her last meltdown she locked the door to her room and then jumped out of her window. Barefoot. Mary then got into a fight with our outside garbage bin (she won) while screaming at me. I couldn’t stop her. She ran a mile to a friend’s house in bare feet screaming that she needed the police because her mom was trying to kill her. Of course the police came with the ambulance. But they came to take her back to the psychiatric hospital.

We have used up all of the local resources. We have In-Home Intensive Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Services (IICAPS.) She’s been through trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT,) Family Systems therapy, ongoing trauma work, Intensive Outpatient Treatment (IOP,) Partial Hospitalization Placement (PHP,) medication management, and many inpatient stays. Was that all one sentence? We’ve also read every book, checked all of the research we could find on developmental trauma, and parented therapeutically using the Trust Based Relational Intervention model (TBRI) No matter how many acronyms we throw around, she is still stuck in a downward spiral.

I am helpless to heal the deep wounds she carries from trauma. They will never be entirely healed, let’s be honest. But we want to get her to the point where she is functioning at home, as opposed to being in fight/flight mode most of the time. I think puberty has started to re-trigger some of the trauma that she had already come to terms with.

Our entire goal is to keep her safe. We want her safe at home, not inpatient. I did find a great model for attachment and trauma work done in the home. In-home services are the most effective for our daughter, but most programs are not specifically  trauma-focused. Even if they are, it is not for complex, developmental trauma. Thank goodness I found the Attachment, Regulation, Cooperation model (ARC ) through The Justice Resource Institute (JRI.)

JRI is dedicated to helping children and adolescents mental health. They are one of the leaders in the field of research on developmental, complex trauma. (Often referred to as C-PTSD. More letters, I know!) Unfortunately, they won’t take insurance. They won’t take cash. They only contract through the Department Of Children and Families (DCF.)

So we are asking begging for their help. We are in the process of applying for voluntary services. I’m not sure what will happen, but I’m hopeful. We are in the fight of our lives right now. It isn’t us against our child. It’s us fighting with our child against the trauma of her past. The question is not if we will continue the fight. The question is whether or not the state of Connecticut will join us.

So here I sit, typing away my jumble of letters and acronyms. Since when did the alphabet take over my life?! All that’s left to do is wait. And hope. Will you hope along with us?

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

**If you want information about ARC or JRI you can go to www.JRI.org or www.traumacenter.org to learn more.

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