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?

A few thoughts

I’ve got a lot going on in my mind these days so I haven’t been able to put together a coherent blog post. So I thought I would just post a few thoughts.

Mother’s Day – calm. I have no idea what happened. Maybe because neither my husband or I reminded the girls it was Mother’s Day. They knew; they both wished me a Happy Mother’s day in the morning. But other than that, we ignored it. I got my favorite meal for dinner because it’s routine to have sushi on Sunday nights. I sat through a Disney Channel Original movie and think that I deserve Mom of the Year for that one. We got through the day with no meltdowns, no rages… fairly calm.

Therapy – My therapist has me working on identifying my core beliefs. I’ve been thinking about it for almost two weeks now and have only come up with two. The first one I identified was a negative view of myself, something I’ve believed since I was little. I came up with the second core belief yesterday. Thankfully, it’s more positive. I might post about them eventually. Maybe. It’s a rather raw topic for me and I’m processing some things in therapy.

Chinese – I have no idea why, but I’ve been motivated lately to return to my Chinese studies. I get frustrated that I can’t understand everything my younger daughter is trying to convey. She doesn’t converse with me much beyond surface level life. But occasionally she’ll try to tell me a story about school. I can understand enough to get the gist but I lose the details. I want to understand her. She’ll probably learn English faster than I learn Chinese, though my Chinese levels far exceed her English levels at this moment. She’s immersed, though, and I am not. I’ve studied almost every day this month, mostly dabbling in flashcards. Tonight I listened to almost half an hour of Chinese podcasts. I’m excited!

That’s most of what’s been on my mind lately. Trying to meditate in the evenings and failing most days. Finally added a daily Bible reading to my routine, mostly while I’m waiting in the pick up line after school. FlyLady efforts have stalled on forward progress but I’m maintaining the gains I’ve made already.

Life goes on. I am very slowly learning to live in the present. Very slowly.

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.

Perfectionism and FlyLady

I am a perfectionist.

There. I admitted it.

In all of life, and in blogging, I want everything to present perfectly. When writing a blog post, I want my writing to flow well. I want pretty pictures. Before and after photos. Links to other resources. A thought worth sharing.

Seasons in life. I just don’t have time or energy for perfectionism anymore. This might be a good thing. I’ll probably have to explore it with my therapist! (Two years ago I wouldn’t even have admitted to having a therapist. I have two, actually! Personal and family).

Anyways, five weeks ago I started dabbling in the FlyLady way of life. She says a couple of things that really resonated with me. First, she says that “you are not behind! I don’t want you to try to catch up; I just want you to jump in where we are. O.K.?” I am not behind! I am not behind! Again, I am not behind! My house doesn’t have to be perfect today. I just read the email, set my timer for 15 minutes, and tackle the daily assignment. I can do that! Even with our crazy life, I can do that!

The FlyLady also says that “even housework done imperfectly blesses our family.” Really? Even if I don’t get the entire assignment done… even if I don’t clean our entire bathroom… even if our laundry isn’t done in full… I am still blessing our family!

Both of those quotes are repeated often in the FlyLady’s emails and they repeatedly remind me that I don’t have to be a perfectionist. In fact, I CAN’T be a perfectionist. Not ever, but especially not right now. My family is made up of a husband who has to work far too much, two teenage girls with lots of trauma and in need of massive healing, and my own PTSD and anxiety. Life is crazy! And so I jump in where I can and, to channel the P90X guy, “do my best and forget the rest.”

Since I’m on week five, I’m now visiting zones a second time. This means I can do deeper cleaning than last month since the basic cleaning is already done. This also means I have time to do things other than cleaning, like my new passion – gardening!

I’m sure this blog post is riddled with mistakes and incomplete thoughts. But I’m letting go of my perfectionism and posting it anyways.

And just because, a picture of my girls.

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.