Nightmares

I think my brain is processing some stuff. I’m not exactly sure why it’s happening now. Either I’m so tired that I can’t defend myself against the nightmares, or the things we’re discussing in therapy are triggering them, or maybe it’s “calm” enough in our house these days that my defenses are lowered. Either way, I’ve woken up three nights in the past week with my heart rate accelerated, my breathing out of control, and sweating profusely. The nightmares are horrid.

I’ve been having nightmares about rages. It’s been awhile since we’ve had one. I think six weeks or so. But we’ve gone through so many rage experiences in the past two years that my body definitely remembers exactly what they feel like. In my dreams, I can’t tell that I’m dreaming. I dream that I’m sleeping, that I wake up, and that my daughter starts screaming at me. For hours. In one of my dreams, I lashed out at her because I couldn’t take it anymore. In all of my other dreams, I’ve just stood there and taken the abuse. Eventually I wake up for real and realize that everything was a nightmare, not my reality. But it feels so real because sometimes it is my reality.

This week I’ll tell my therapist about it. Hopefully she’ll have some suggestions on how I can combat the nightmares. If I can realize it’s just a dream while still asleep, maybe there’s something I can do. I’ve been practicing breathing exercises right before bed but that’s obviously not helping alleviate the nightmares. I’m not sure what to do but I feel more tired than ever. Not even my sleep is restful.

Juggling

Lately it feels like I’m juggling multiple balls and can’t keep them all in the air. Life at home has actually been fairly calm. We’ve only had a couple of meltdowns in the last few weeks and it’s been a month since our last rage. Praise the Lord!!

Despite the calm, I’m struggling. When life calms down enough to give me breathing room, I start thinking. Processing. Daring to dream just a little. And that makes me realize how far from normal we really are.

Awhile ago I posted that my therapist has me trying to identify my core values. Honestly, I’m stuck at two. My second core value is that life can always get better if I work hard. I’ve always been a planner and a dreamer. I worked hard in high school and earned a scholarship to college. (How I lost said scholarship after my freshman year is a long story). I lost a ton of weight in my 20’s. I budgeted, scrimped, saved, and paid off a ton of debt that my husband and I accrued both before marriage and after marriage. I’ve studied Latin, Spanish, Japanese, and Chinese. I read a ton. I truly believe that if I work hard enough, I can improve my mind, my health, my spiritual life, my marriage.

Unfortunately, I cannot force that improvement on my children. I cannot force them to stop raging. I cannot force them to stop melting down. I cannot stop the permanent trauma they’ve so generously shared with me. I cannot force growth so that they no longer rely on me to keep their emotions stable.

This family life and my core belief that I can always make improvements are at odds with each other. I’m trying to determine if it’s possible for me to regain control of the emotional state of our family. When my children melt down, it changes everything. The other day, one of my daughters had an hour long meltdown. I sat near her, offered comfort (she rejected it for awhile), and eventually was able to pull her out of it. But addressing that meltdown was at the expense of my other daughter because I disappeared downstairs to deal with daughter #1. When the meltdown started, I was engaged with daughter #2. So daughter #2 was left behind so that I could deal with daughter #1. And after that hour long meltdown, I no longer had the energy to study Chinese or exercise or do anything that required much of an effort. My energy was completely sapped trying to connect with daughter #1 and help her deal with the huge emotions that caused the meltdown.

How do I learn a language while trying to navigate the emotional minefield in our home? How do I find the energy to exercise on a regular basis? It’s a good sign that I’m once again finding the motivation to do these things. But I cannot control my environment enough to exercise, keep up with my Chinese studies, complete the FlyLady assignments, finish the taxes, declutter, etc. There’s not enough of me to go around.

I was hoping to write a more positive post today but this is what’s been on my mind lately. The challenge – how do I help my girls heal enough that their daily struggles stop sapping every bit of my energy and motivation?

Mother’s Day

Today is Mother’s Day, a day that is often fraught with extremely conflicting emotions for adoptive families.

For my eldest – grief over the loss of her birth mother combined with the love of her adoptive mother, a love she has not yet learned to trust.

For my youngest – grief buried somewhere extremely deep over never knowing her birth mother and probably wondering why she wasn’t wanted. Not even close to letting her adoptive mother into her heart.

For me – occasional moments of hope that raising these two teens will change their lives for the better combined with a whole lot of grieving over the loss of my dreams for my family. Trauma makes it almost impossible for us to be anywhere near “normal.”

I don’t remember last year’s Mother’s Day. I know it was a terrible day but I’ve blocked out the specific memories. So far today has been much better, but the day is still young. I’m at a coffee shop, holed up with my computer and a good book, which is my habit on Sunday mornings. My daughters complained that I was going out on Mother’s Day, but I explained to them that Mother’s Day is supposed to be about making mama happy. What makes mama happy? Some time spent with her family and some time spent in quiet, alone. This morning I’m embracing the quiet. This afternoon and evening will be spent with my family.

I can only pray that we will have some semblance of regulation and calm. My expectations are low but I always hold out hope that this is the holiday that will be low on drama. One can always hope.

Random thoughts

I still want to write more regular blog posts, sharing life in the house of a family with two adopted teens with trauma. I want to share in hopes that other parents will feel more prepared for what life could be like. Neither of our girls have had an easy transition and everyone is struggling. My eldest has been home for 18 months and my youngest home for four.

But it’s hard to find the emotional energy to share. We are no longer living in complete chaos. But life is never easy. Every day holds some type of challenge, some days more stressful than others, but we rarely have a day that I could actually label as “good.”

Recently I started finding solace in my neighborhood coffee shop on Sunday mornings. The first two weeks were really difficult for me. I couldn’t relax. I felt I should be productive but couldn’t find the strength to plan even three days of our menu and consequent shopping list. One Sunday morning, I needed my best friend to talk me off the ledge because I was inches from a panic attack and could not convince myself to go back home.

The last couple Sundays have been better. The coffee house has free Wifi and very comfortable seating. I’ve curled up with tea or a mocha and have actually started to relax just a little. I plan part of a menu, as I still cannot plan more than three or four days at a time. I do something fun on my computer and touch base with a couple of friends. And then I stop by the grocery store on the way home so that I don’t have to leave my house on Monday, other than taking the girls to school and then picking them up.

So far it’s turning into a nice routine. I still have a long way to go. Menu planning is very hard due to budget constraints, the picky-ness of my girls, and my husband’s and my desire to avoid dairy. I want to cook healthy, wholesome meals, but have very little energy when it’s approaching dinner time. Grocery shopping is extremely stressful and I want to look into grocery delivery service but, like everything else, it’s a learning curve and will take time to set up correctly. As a perfectionist, it’s hard for me to haphazardly jump into something without tons of research and triple checking to make sure I’m doing things correctly the first time.

This week my main non-parenting priority is to find my car title. I haven’t seen it in a long time but we need it. Our 2002 Honda died a couple of months ago and we had to buy a new-to-us car. The Honda is still sitting in our driveway as I need the title in order to sell it. So far I’ve gone through an entire foot (no exaggeration!) of paperwork and still have not located it. This week, I have to find that title or order a replacement. Once that is complete, I’ll pick another goal to work on. Getting rid of the car might earn us a couple hundred dollars. If not, at least it’ll remove one car from my insurance policy and lower my monthly premium. Money is tight and every little bit helps.

This is a very random post but just a few thoughts that have been swirling around recently. Life is still rough. We are hanging in there but it’s discouraging to think this may be our new normal. It’s not a fun life, not a good life, and not one I wish to live for years and years. I’ll keep pushing forward in hopes to create and find some moments of joy.

Real vs. fake me

Even though I want to, I don’t blog much these days. There just isn’t time and emotional energy enough to sit down and write. When I do sit down and stare at my screen, I have so many thoughts swirling around that I can’t pinpoint just one. Tonight I’m going to at least try. Hopefully this post will make at least a little bit of sense.

I’m now seeing a personal therapist, as well as the family therapist we’ve been seeing for the past year. My personal therapist is helping me to find my identity again, as well as my confidence and my ability to handle life. Right now I feel like I’m one disaster away from falling apart.

Last week I talked to her about how I feel like I’m two separate people. When I’m at home with my husband (he works from home) and the kids are at school, I feel like myself. My husband is my best friend and we understand each other. We have fun together. I feel like I can be myself and be accepted, something I was looking for until I met him.

When the kids are at home, I feel like a complete fake. My eldest daughter now has a few coping skills at her disposal but she still has a relatively low stress tolerance level. If anything goes wrong, or if she feels like something is wrong (even when everything is fine!), she falls apart. This means she might retreat into herself, or stomp around the house, or start screaming at me, or any other other behaviors that shout “I’m not ok!” For over a year now, I’ve been doing my best to prop her up, to be her frontal lobe for her, to keep her from falling apart. This means that I’ve put on a false personality, as she is an extrovert and loud and a sensory seeker. I am an introvert, fairly quiet (unless I feel comfortable with you and then I can talk your ear off), and a sensory avoider. But to keep my daughter happy and regulated, I’ve been pretending to be an outgoing and cheerful person. I’m not. I’m a relatively serious, quiet, sometimes brooding individual. My daughter can’t handle the real me. If I’m not smiling and laughing, she thinks something is wrong. If she thinks something is wrong, her behavior spirals out of control.

Over the past few months, I’ve been letting myself not be the smiling, laughing person that my eldest thinks I am. My younger daughter has seen more of the real me, since I went to China by myself and refused to fake it for over a week while parenting by myself. My youngest doesn’t like it when I’m serious. She very insistently tells me, “mama, smile!!” But if I continue to be serious around her, she can handle it. My eldest can’t.

What’s the answer? I don’t know. I am trying to allow myself to be me all of the time but it is so hard. When my eldest starts losing control of her emotions or behavior, I have to be silly and playful to get her to laugh. If I can get her to laugh, I can bond with her enough that we can reestablish her regulation. But a silly and playful person I am not. This is so hard for me and feels so fake. But that’s what she responds to.

How do I balance my needs (being myself) with her need for regulation (which requires a personality that I don’t have)? Can she learn to regulate while I maintain my own personality? I don’t know. Do I always have to feel like a fake around my daughters? I don’t know. It doesn’t feel sustainable. It doesn’t feel fair to me or to them. They think their mother is one person but neither of them know the real me.

Christmas with trauma

I used to love Christmas. It was my favorite holiday of the year. When it was just the two of us, my husband and I watched It’s a Wonderful Life on Christmas day for several years in a row. I love Christmas music. I love watching cheesy Christmas movies.

My love language is gifts. I have such fun picking out the perfect gifts for people, paying close attention to things they mention in conversation, gathering clues as to what they would love to receive. Then I hunt for the perfect gift (and finding a good deal is always a plus!). I get such fulfillment out of the entire process. And then receiving a great gift from someone, that they took the time to figure out what I would really like, makes me feel loved.

So Christmas time plus the opportunity to give and receive gifts with my loved ones has long been my favorite time of year. That has all changed.

My birthday in 2015 was terrible. Christmas in 2015 was terrible. My daughter’s birthday in 2016 was terrible. My birthday in 2016 was terrible. This is very obviously a trend! Holidays are triggers for children with trauma. Gifts are triggers.

“What if my sister gets more than me?”
“What if my mom gets more than me?”
“You only bought me five gifts. That means you don’t love me.”
“This is my mom’s birthday, so the attention is not on me. I will rage because I can’t handle it.”
“Is that all??”

My daughter has no filter. If she doesn’t like something, she’ll blurt it out. To someone who spent hours looking for what I thought would be a great gift, this is devastating. I know it’s not personal but it feels that way.

This year I ordered a fake Christmas tree. That way, if the girls can’t handle it, we can take it down and store it until Christmas day or even until next year. The news we weren’t going to the live Christmas tree lot to pick out a tree was met with much resistance.

Buying gifts was incredibly stressful. I know that the gifts will be carefully evaluated by both girls. “Who does mama love more?” Gifts had to be picked out with a lot of forethought. “Can this be easily destroyed in a rage? Do I care if it can be destroyed? Can it be turned into a weapon?” Again, for a person whose love language is gifts, the whole gift buying process was extremely stressful this year. Four mornings in a row, until all the shopping was complete, I woke up and instantly felt panic. This morning, now that all gifts have been purchased, I didn’t wake up in a panic. Instead, I woke up with my normal ball of anxiety in my stomach. I guess that’s an improvement.

Because our family dynamic is so skewed, we have the additional challenge of “what happens if mama buys more gifts for baba than she bought for me? Does that mean she doesn’t love me?” Any perceived preference for my husband means my daughter feels rejection. Rejection = meltdown or rage.

Can this change? I don’t know. I can’t force my daughters to heal. I cannot fix all of the trauma they’ve gone through. All I can do is figure out how to stand strong in the midst of the storm. Right now, I’m very far from strong. I feel like curling up in my closet and only coming out after the girls turn 18 and leave home.

Therapy

I’m putting this out there as a reminder to myself that there is no shame in admitting that you need more help. We’ve been seeing a family therapist for a year now. We saw one therapist for a few months but didn’t feel she was a good fit. We absolutely love the therapist we are seeing now. She’s helping us with parenting issues, adoption issues, and a few other things.

However, my childhood trauma is triggered by my eldest’s extreme behavior. We don’t have time in family therapy to delve into my childhood so it’s not really getting addressed. My husband and I decided it was time for me to ask about a personal therapist as well. Our family therapist agreed it would be a great idea for me to see someone to help with the childhood issues, the anxiety, the depression, and whatever else I’m going through. I reached out to that therapist today. Hopefully she has room in her schedule to see me.

When I was a child, my parents briefly took my brother and I to family therapy. I resented the therapist prodding into our personal lives. I didn’t have a connection with the therapist and saw no reason to spill my feelings to him. As an adult, I didn’t really expect to be at this point in my life, needing both a family therapist and a personal therapist, in addition to medical support from my doctor. But that’s the season of life I’m in. I’m parenting two children with trauma histories and it’s triggering my own trauma. We need help. There’s no shame in seeking help.

Anxiety and depression

This week, I’ve been feeling like I alternate between anxiety and depression. I spend the days anxious about what type of mood my eldest will be in when she gets home from school. I spend my alone time in the evening (about 40 minutes) feeling depressed about how difficult our life is. Our family is not normal and I’ve lost hope that we will ever reach a state of normalcy.

An example of how much we struggle – Today my husband made me a pumpkin mocha. It’s one of my favorite drinks and I really enjoyed it. This evening, my eldest found the mocha cup in the dishwasher and freaked out. She likes making me mochas on Friday evenings and assumed that I wouldn’t want another. A normal, more neurotypical reaction would be to ask if I was going to want another. Our norm is for her to immediately jump to anger mode and scream at me. Or we could have the opposite reaction and she crawls in bed and starts bawling.

So I spend my days wondering what minor thing will tip my child into a rage or a meltdown. I haven’t yet learned how to go with the flow and relax in those times when everything truly is ok. Why? Because it can change in an instant. We could be laughing and talking when all of a sudden she turns on me. And a lot of the time, I have no idea why.

At this point I can’t hope for a normal family life. Instead, I look forward to the day when both of my daughters move out of the house. Then maybe I’ll be able to relax longer than 30 minutes at a time.

Just keeping it real.

Being real

It’s been ages since I’ve blogged. I simply haven’t had the time or the emotional energy. I miss blogging. I miss sharing my thoughts, hoping that my words will reach some potential adoptive family. I miss connecting with others who are considering adoption or have adopted themselves or are homemakers and share some of my homemaking interests.

Life is hard. Really, really hard. Since I last posted, I traveled to China by myself to adopt a 13 year old girl. My husband and I now have two daughters, a 14 year old from Taiwan and a 13 year old from China. Both have documented physical needs but their most pressing need is to overcome all of the trauma they’ve endured.

But they aren’t the only ones who have daily challenges. Both my husband and I have been heartbroken in the past two years. We have emotional scarring, some of which has healed and some of which is still raw and bleeding. We have a family therapist now. I can now claim an acronym of my own – PTSD. Daily life is a huge struggle. In the past few months, I’ve had two panic attacks and have fought off many others. I now have ongoing anxiety and am trying to get medical support from my doctor.

Hopefully I can start sharing some of the struggles I face and lessons I’ve learned as an adoptive parent. This is not easy. I’m sure that some children come home and meld right into the family. Neither of my daughters have had that experience. It has been a rough road and I often lose hope that everyone in the family will heal.

This is life. My life.

Return to posting?

It’s been so long that I don’t even know where to begin. And yet I want to try. I had hoped to blog through our older child adoption in hopes of helping others who are interested in adopting an older child. But our experience has been so difficult that I have not had the energy or time to write. Plus, I struggle with knowing how much to share. I’m very open with my side of our family life but I want to protect my daughter’s privacy.

I have really struggled with parenting. My daughter has a very difficult background and has plenty of scarring to prove it. She does not know how to face life in a healthy way. It’s my job to teach her.

Secondary PTSD? Yup, we’re familiar with it. I now have some of my very own trauma as well. I have been stretched, tested, tried, burned with fire… and am slowly recovering. I will start trying to share some of my story.