Therapy Camp

Well, we have had the most amazing time at camp. Exhausting but amazing.

We had gone because the children needed to have SAI (Sensory Attachment Intervention) assessments done. These are assessments which will go beyond a standard Occupational Therapist assessment and tap into specialist attachment knowledge to try and identify which areas flagged are likely to need sensory intervention and which may need physical support etc. We don’t have a report as of yet, but it is obvious from what they are saying that there are several areas which will require attention.

We met several other adoption families, the and due to the group nature of much of the day, I hope you will forgive my reluctance to share much in the way of information from the camp, but I am not sure how much is safe to share.

I will say, besides our individual family sessions we had group Music Therapy, Art Therapy, family and adult group yoga, adult sessions, children’s farm walks and bug hunting. The children had loads of time and opportunity to interact with other adopted children and all the adults had the chance to not care what other people would be saying – adoption and attachment related behavioural issues are just “the norm”: regression, aggression, lack of concentration, fleeing… no matter what, just children, being themselves, and parents doing their best job to parent the trauma they have.


Being “just a mum”: pitfalls of friendships

I find myself, quite often, in this situation where I am “just a mum”. As you have likely already read, I home educate and am a carer to my adopted children. They rely on me 24/7, and in the past 3 years I have perhaps had around 20 breaks. I don’t mean holidays (although considering how much we travel as a family…), I quite literally mean just being able to take time out from being mum. I am counting those times I have been able to have a lie in and my husband has done everything, or I have already done everything and I just go grab myself 5-10 minutes of freedom. I don’t mean breaks like “woo, night out” although there have been a few of those included in that total, not many though. Which even if I totaled up as entire days would still barely scrape 1.8 percent of my life in the last 3 years.

I mean, even when the children were at school I was rushing to and from meetings about their education, health and welfare. Often not even having enough time to shower, or even eat. I was denied basic self care through the needs my children had, and the time I was required to commit to them and the lack of support that was available (I quite genuinely mean required here… I was asking for, and fighting for help, but if I refused a meeting I was being difficult and therefore clearly didn’t need the help).

But I just keep getting told over and over, “being a mum IS hard, we all feel tired”, or “Yeah, I barely get 5 minutes to myself!”, “oh you should just do some exercise, it’ll help you feel more positive”. I don’t feel tired, my body is failing me because of how neglected it has been, and how exhausted I am. I don’t barely get 5 minutes to myself, I quite literally don’t have 5 minutes to myself most days. Exercise is unlikely to help considering that extra trip up the stairs that I didn’t need to do can sometimes wipe me out entirely; or that I am either pushing a wheelchair or carrying a 6 year old with a toddler carrier when I am out shopping or walking anywhere, not just plodding along leisurely.

It’s not that simple. I am not just a mum, doing just the mum thing and then moaning about it. I am a mum, a carer, a therapist, a teacher, a life coach, a student of experience-psychology (by that I mean, being taught by what I experience about the psychology of children who are traumatised). I provide 24 hour care, I barely get any sleep, even if I get a child free bed because I am listening out – the children CAN NOT ask for help at night time. Night time is dangerous. They must take cover and hide and await the safety of morning. If they get too scared, we could have a wet or soiled bed, or worse, we could be dealing with trying to reverse the damage of self harm. I am on high alert 24 hours a day, trying not to transfer that to the children, but also trying to be prepared for everything that’s going to happen, could happen, has happened and is causing consequences.

It’s more exhausting than just parenting. It’s like working 5 different jobs that cover the entirity of your week where you don’t get pay, personal space (not even for toileting mostly, because one child finds it that hard to separate and the other child will cause harm to self or others if out of eyeshot for literally the length of time it takes to race unrination, pull up pants as you flush and wash hands).

But also, it’s lonely. Because everyone just gets fed up of you trying to vent out your frustrations, or because you talk about the kids (when actually that’s the only goddam thing you have done and known for months). Because of isolating yourself from the people who talk you down and make you feel like crap. Of just deciding that, no matter how tired you are, you are just going to do everything you need doing yourself (on the most part) and avoid help from certain people if you can help it because help often comes at the cost of degradation. Being told you most certainly are not ill, that the person helping you is so much worse (because you are on your feet and trying). Being told you are lazy (when your husband has said “no, you have the kids to look after, take care of them, they are anxious, keep them away and let us do the physical tasks here”) so you aren’t helping people move things, dig things, build things.

My job as a mum to these two children is mentally draining, physcially overwhelming and very strenuous. I wouldn’t change it for the world. But I would happily change the people who are supposed to be there for us in a heartbeat. And that thought plays over and makes me feel physically sick, and fills me with guilt for having thought it. But it’s true. People just aren’t there for us, like we have been there for people. Because they don’t understand. They would if they just listened, but they don’t. They talk over me/the children, lessen our problems, minimise our stresses and strains and say it’s normal. I lose faith in humankind almost daily.

And before anyone says I am depressed. No, I don’t really think I am. I may be suffering with compassion fatigue somewhat. I may be overwhelmed with how much is expected of me at times. But I am not depressed. I am reacting to the experiences I am having. If you are treated like rubbish daily, you either fight back, avoid the situations in question or accept feeling like rubbish (I don’t have the energy for the first all of the time, and the latter has never been an option for someone quite as justice fighting as I). So I avoid, not in a depressed manner, but in a self preservation manner; I save my energy for what matters: me, my children, my husband, my household.

Some hope is redeemed though when I see articles, blogs, posts pop up on my news feed of people helping other’s out and changing lives. Not those “oooooo look I tricked a homeless person into giving me their money just to prove they have better morals than the rest of society, I just so happened to record it too look…” If you can’t read it in my tone, I hate those “social experiments”. No I mean, in cases where people have gone out of their way to help someone, but not posted anything for credit – instead the person who has been helped shares their side of the story. One of those I read this morning gave me hope (Scary Mommy’s post about Sheila O’Mally).

That’s what goes on in my head. That’s how I feel.

Aching muscles, processing pain.

It’s hard for Caitlin to understand pain. Well, her and Logan both in all honesty, but her more so. When she first came to live with us I remember her being jabbed with 2 needles and not even knowing if it had happened. She genuinely asked me if they had done it yet. Or when she fell over, she might cry as a shock reaction, or even have a panic attack if it triggered a violent body memory. But she never could express, or recognise the pain.

Slowly through melodrama, lots of plasters and overreactions on her behalf, and lots of sensory input about soft touch. She’s started to recognise these things. So, when she was younger, and her mobility and muscular issues were still an unknown problem, she wasn’t able to alert anyone. However, she’s able to tell us about her aching muscles a little more now. Not always in time for us to be able to prevent her getting too bad, but significantly more than previously.

This weekend, she tested her climbing frame, she had a few falls, she was running back and forth, we have steep stairs. It all adds up. I look at it like someone on a diet – if you have had a fat slab of cheesecake, you can’t really get away with a sneaky glass of wine and a bar of chocolate, hips don’t lie! đŸ˜‰ For her, each activity would be representative of food. Walking on the flat, whilst wearing supportive shoes and her orthotics is relatively low impact. And whilst she cannot walk on the flat indefinitely, it’s not the most taxing. Going up and down stairs is like a having something out if a box of chocolates, in moderation is ok. Rock climbing, soft play, the park… These things are all like the fat slab of cheesecake, you can technically have the other bits with them but “hips don’t lie” (in this case her muscles) and so she’s woken up today on the wrong end of activity binge.

This morning we have had tears, screams, drama. Today is going to be low activity, low impact. Wheelchair restricted when out, sofa/bath restricted at home. These are the days people don’t see. That people say I exaggerate for my “life of luxury”. I’d give up any of the things to not have to see her suffer, to watch her be included at the same level as her peers. But for today, I’ll just give her what she needs. Rest and nurture.

Why won’t you just sleep? Please!!!!

So, one of the children has struggled with sleep from the outset, one of them has issues every now and again. And as they are both children who feel extra vulnerable at night time, due to the way their history has played out, they both find it extra hard to seek the help they need at night time… even if you hand it to them on a plate.

We are in an “enduring” period at the moment with both of them. One is on high alert, and with high alert comes their go to anxious response – self harm. So, that particular child is under supervision, or listened in on, 24/7 during those periods. So, one of us is always sat with them at bed time… The other, just not sleeping, and then by 4:30/5am getting fed up of just laying there, so making lots of fuss, fidgeting and generally refusing to allow anyone else rest (with many dramas in between having gone to bed and this ‘final showdown’).

Well, it reached a boiling point today, and we bascially refused to do anything until they gave in and actually slept for at least 30 minutes. They could sit and do nothing, or they could nap (food and toilet and drink obviously occurred). But I mean, we are a few years into this now, and this is continuous, and we have tried everything (including melatonin). Awaiting a sensory assessment from an Occupational Therapist who specialises in Attachment Trauma and the consequetional attachment related sensory issues that could prevail.

But we haven’t had that yet as social services took 18 months to assess us, to secure funding for the initial specialist assessment. And a further 3 months to get the appointment through, and get a written report published that said we need to have a specialist OT to assess us (don’t even go there). But that means this year’s funding has been allocated. However, we can’t go through NHS because it is the responsibility of the placing local authority to fund this type of assessment (and any following support) for 3 years after the final Adoption Order is processed. So we have to wait for the next financial year to be eligible to even apply for this assessment, let alone attend, get a report and secure any suggested therapy/advice/training.

So assuming other timescales, this could mean a 1+ year wait…  so if our response seems strong, or extreme, ask yourself if a child who’s not sleeping (not even really a solid hour per night) is at more risk by being told to rest for a day, or by running themselves ragged on hyper alert, over tired, over stimulated, under regulated and with exhausted parents and a very grumpy sibling to boot.

Anyhow, late afternoon… a nap was achieved and then low level and calm activity could take place. But not without first having a discussion. One about why today went the way it did. Why Mumma and Daddy want them to have adequate sleep – to rest, to help their brain have more focus, for their health, for growth and development. It didn’t seem to sink in, but then a child that hates themself, thinks they are evil and the cause of all problems really isn’t going to give two hoots about themselves at all really are they?

Some very long discussions later and then the question was asked.

“So, Mumma is not angry. Mumma is concerned. About you. But not just you… about me, Daddy and [sibling]. We all need rest. And we can’t help you until you are willing to accept the help. Don’t feel shame. Don’t cry to try and get out of this. Just tell me, how do you feel whilst you are lying there at night. What is it that is making you feel something that is stopping you from going to sleep?”

After a few tries to emotionally manipulate their way out of the situation and some firm, but reassuring, responses that we really don’t care how bad they think it is, we aren’t angry, or upset… just want to help. Something happened. Something that seemed genuine, and would make sense…

“it feels like part of my brain stops working. Like it is broken”,
“broken how, in what way”
“it just stops working and then I can’t use it. It is switching off.”
“do you mean you can’t respond to things?”
“yes, like if there’s a noise or something.”
“Ok. And is that scaring you?”
“Yes, because then I don’t know what’s happening”
“Ok, I understand. But do you know what? That means your brain is working, it needs to shut off from everything that is happening so that you can truly rest. I know it may not feel familiar and safe because night time used to be scary… but you aren’t broken.”

This provoked many tears. There was some acknowledgement and then some funny demonstrations of being hyper alert and being flat out exhausted (tongue out, drooling type). And then further discussion about being safe now, and not needing to listen anymore, and their body knows this which is why it’s trying to work, but it feels unfamiliar and that’s what’s scary – it’s not broken, just unfamiliar.

We have now put some steps in place: thought processes, self-led conversations etc. and then calling for help, reiteration we don’t care how many times we have to get up if it’s helping etc. Now we are (hopefully) one step further forward, and the fight isn’t “what is happening?” but rather “how do we help engrain the feeling of safety and help recognise there isn’t a danger that needs protecting from?”

We’re going to keep reiterating these steps, and also compliment it with aromatherapy (we have a doTerra emotional aromatherapy diffusing kit we have purchased in the hopes to come to aid our ability to promote moods), make extra sure that bed time routines are fixed and peaceful (and nurturing) and potentially find some soothing sounds to play over a speaker to complete the soothing and safe atmosphere (and hopefully distract from the knocks of the heating and creaks of the house).

Slowly these walls are being taken down, even if it’s one brick at a time and we are removing 6 bricks and adding 2 back on. But it’s moving forward. And as a parent of a traumatised child, that’s a win you not only take, but celebrate!