Adoption: why does it create burnout?

As per my previous post (Burnout) my body is so burnt out that a cold turned into a chest infection. 2 weeks later I’m still getting over it and knowing my body well and how it feels I can see I’m going to be battling chronic fatigue now. This is the result of secondary trauma, compassion fatigue and a support system that doesn’t work. Adoption isn’t hard because of the kids. Adoption is hard because of a system that’s too weak to support the children’s needs.

They are only entitled to basic medical needs on NHS (if they needed A&E through accidental, or if they had a medical problem like anaemia or asthma etc.) Anything mental health, sensory, behavioural and developmental must be done through the Adoption support (because the NHS won’t even look into until they know it’s not ado[tion related). Which means, £5000 is their cap on therapeutic support and specialist equipment. £2500 is the cap for assessing. Meaning they can be assessed once in a year. If one of them needed a specialist car seat (which we are on the border of needing) it costs £2200+. So we’d have the option to self fund that £2200 bill, or to halve our current therapy which is only 8 sessions per year as it is.

Adoption is not hard because of the kids. Adoption is hard because of the fights you have to go through to get their basic needs met. Because of the circles you run in trying to prove whether their needs are medical or adoption related (don’t even go there if the two overlap – dyspraxia/DCD+ attachment related development and sensory issues).By the time you finish the fight, there’s pretty much nothing left for the children who need all of your energy and attention to help them heal. Do you fight, and neglect them whilst you fight? Or do you not fight, and neglect them by not getting them what they need? Either way, they are left neglected in some form. It’s not right.

The children are being removed through experiences of neglect, and in turn they are being setup to be neglected in some way shape or form. Us adopters aren’t robots or machines. We have a finite amount of energy. Things shouldn’t be made so difficult for us to help the children. I made the selfish choice to adopt, to become a mum. But I did it not knowing they’d be refused all they need. It is torture to watch. Exhausting to live. And isolating.

Things need to change. Not just for us as a family, but nationally, as I know we are just one in a picture of thousands of families in similar situations. We didn’t mess our children up, we are trying to pick the pieces up, unsupported. It’s like trying to push toothpaste back into a tube that’s still being squeezed. It’s not working.

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.

Raw, unfiltered, unedited: Sleep deprivation and manipulation.

Another night of no sleep with a child refusing to, in order to manipulate and control. A fear response. They aren’t in control, they are not safe, an adult cannot provide safety.

So manipulate adults in to getting what you want (note, the want and not need there). What they need is sleep… not this strained and stressful rubbish night after night. What they need is a sense of security in the knowledge that it’s safe to hand over control to an adult, not maintaining control and manipulation. What they need is understanding, compassion and time.

How as a human being can you be expected to provide a constant source of nurture and attention, patience and tolerance, empathy and understanding when you are so utterly and completely burnt out?

I don’t know the answer, I search for it daily. I wish I knew it. I want to be that person. But I feel you have to almost be a robot to not get weighed down by the exhaustion of the lack of sleep. The mental exhaustion of having to untangle these levels of trauma daily. The physical exhaustion that comes from the mental exhaustion of the day. Then the exhaustion that comes from other people and lack of understanding or compassion (or even will to understand the situation, or accept your words at face value). You can’t provide that nurture as a robot though. So in short, you can’t provide it. So you are setup to fail surely?

There is a term “good enough parenting” the name of the person it belongs to escapes me, I’m tired and I have no energy to search… This is an “in the moment” post. Raw, unplanned and developing with my thoughts, but the name Winnicott comes to my mind. Effectively you don’t need to be perfect, you can be flawed, be human, and not provide more than they need. But I do question it in our example. I mean, I’m confident that you don’t have to be a perfect parent to be the best type of parent… But it appears that even if we are perfect 99% of the time, the level of trauma our child has experienced means they ignore (or can’t retain) what you HAVE done, just what you haven’t. And it gets stored up and we’re held to ransom over it.

Would have helped if we’d had early intervention with therapy. But the Adoption Support Fund application wasn’t forthcoming, or rather the application process was not only not forthcoming but convoluted and shrouded in politics that it took ages to get approval once we finally did get it underway. I can see how therapy may help. But, it’s quite late in the day to start. I for one need to go in fresh and motivated. I’m barely motivated to poop when I need to, cause “effort”, let alone attend 3-4 hour intensive and exhausting therapy sessions. But hey, that’s the state of Adoption & Mental Health Services these days right?

And self care could help with the motivation I’m told… Well, if so many professionals hadn’t messed up consequently leading my child to see, even though they can’t trust me wholly, I’m definitely the person that understands them the most, so keep them feeling the least vulnerable and the most safe. Perhaps I’d be in a position to separate and go fill my cup up. But, alas, here we are.

In the meantime I’m left like a tyre with a slow puncture, after almost 3 years of deflating I’m more flat than inflated. But I get a little bit of air added now and again, not enough to fill me back up, but enough to just keep rolling a little bit longer, sometimes depleting that top up and a little more before the next lot. Rolling onward, focussed on the destination and ignoring the miles still to go. (Cause I would just explode if I had to think about it).

Anyhow. This is how it is to think and feel when living these moments. My raw, uncut thoughts and feelings. In my exhaustion. Just here trying to provide a little insight (not complain) over what it means to parent a child of complex needs and such trauma.

It’s not a competition!!!

I really struggle with how competetive people seem to think life is.

The whole idea of pitting kids against each ther in school. development and achievements. The competivity between parents/carers of “oh, well ‘x’ was doing that by the age of ‘y’…”. These aren’t anything to do with ensuring your child gets credit for what they are doing. This is about the parents saying “check out my parenting skills”… “this is what I did…”. And this is bad enough, but when someone is struggling, rather than having empathy there seems to be a need to display how their problems aren’t as big as your problems.

We are human, things happen we struggle, we vent, we get down. But is that a reason to be all “well, I don’t know why you’re moaning… everyone has issues and quite frankly mine are worse”?

I don’t think it is. I think it’s about time the parenting community just stop with this idea of better and worse. Not least because it doesn’t example good behaviour to the kids, or consider that everyone is different… but also because really, what does it achieve? Do you feel better putting someone down? Does it make the person feel better? Does it solve any issues? Nope, I can’t say that it does.

When I see people going through it this is my contingency:

  1. Is there anything I can do to help?
    • Yes – offer the help
    • No – go to point 2
    • Perhaps, I  am not sure – tell them you are there and ask if you can do anything to help
  2. Would it feel awkward, like you are just being nosey, if you were to tell them you are there for them?
    • No – well tell them then, don’t downplay their problems, don’t say “it’s normal” or “it’ll pass”, offer them something supportive and tell them you know you can’t help, but you are there if they need you.
    • Yes – just shut up and pass on by…

You can’t help in every circumstance, that’s for sure. But what is certain is that you have a choice to not make someone feel worse.

Even if you think you know what someone is going through, consider that you don’t and be kind. Just remember that suffering and endurance really are relative experiences. And just because you have travelled the same path, doesn’t mean you’re carrying the same weight, experiencing the same weather conditions, fighting with the same energy and motivated with the same levels of support.

Let’s stop this hate. Let’s stop this judgement, this competition, this downplay of suffering, this isolation. And let’s instead spread compassion and unity and empathy and empowerment.

 

Hoop Jumping: Endurance and pitfalls

Things have been intense here, hence silence… but it’s because of an appointment that was sprung on us. One we have been waiting for, but was arranged quite last minute.

 

So we left our house at 7:30 in the morning to go to a private clinic (90 minutes away from our house) for a Theraplay based assessment as a family. The week that led up to the appointment I had to fill out 19 documents to print and fill in, in order to attend the appointment. The appointment I have been thoroughly fighting for, for over a year. But, actually, I’ve been saying was needed for the best part of 18-24 months. It was intensive and lasted for over 5 hours.
The therapists witnessed stuff I have been screaming for two years. Although, we haven’t had an in-depth feedback because, as I have been saying, BOTH CHILDREN have extensive and complex issues. And, it would be too exhausting for us (as parents) to go through it on top of the day’s assessments (which are inherently designed to create stress for both child and parent, to be able to try and get to the most natural stress response from you and child). Plus, there are added sensory issues which need to be screened for and discussed before the feedback can fully take place. And the children were already far too stressed out, tired and about to break (visibly) to stay longer than absolutely essential.

 

They saw that the issues for Caitlin are based in fear and she’s coming out of “withdraw” stage (not to be confused with withdrawal) so she’s learning to go into fight mode rather than freezing and shutting down. She’s not the happy child everyone sees. She’s inherently sad and needs so much attention, support, guidance and love.
Logan – complex, and as close a quote as I can muster “the outward boy people see, the responses and reactions he gives are not reflective to how he feels”. Yes, that means, that when I have said that the compliance, polite manner, hugs, kisses, compliments, agreement/requests to take part in activity, etc. are fake and I was right. And each time people have fed into this and complimented him for it, or talked me down in front of him for it they have fed him the idea that this is somewhat fine to do. It’s fine to be fake and comply even when you don’t want to. Even when you are denying your true self. Even when you are making yourself feel insecure. Because it pacifies other people’s needs. And when you make them happy, they are less likely to hurt you. To shout at you. To intimidate you.

 

Although I don’t have full feedback, I have professionals who have said the major points to me

  • That they both have complex needs
  • That for Logan, this is having a negative impact on the way our relationship is building (which is why I started screaming for the help in the first place, I could see where it was headed)
  • That Logan’s emotions are fake, and almost all of his given actions and reactions are fake too
  • That Caitlin is just as emotionally worn down as he is, and it is just displayed in a different way
  • That both have sensory issues

So just to make it clear, everyone who shut me down and said “it’s normal kid stuff”, “all kids are like this”, “nope, this is how all mum’s feel”… they don’t – this again was talked about briefly today. Most mums aren’t battling sleeping, eating, toiletting, learning, anxiety, attachment, separation and self harming issues, teenage-level-identity-crisis (in children under 8 years old), adult issues (in child friendly format). And to top it all off, having to co sleep, without actually getting sleep, having to home educate as the school system is ill-equipped to deal with the issues, and getting very little respite.
Our life is hard. Our support is very thin on the ground. And yes I am angry. I am angry I had to fight so hard. I am angry that they’ve had to stay “in trauma mode” for longer than necessary. I am angry that I have been put down by so many people that are supposed to be there for us. I am angry that we have reached this point. Angry that I have been made to feel lonely. But most importantly, that we aren’t the only family that are in this situation. I know of at least 3 others primary caregivers (of adopted children) who in a similar emotional state to me. And that’s without prying too hard. And if you don’t believe what I am saying about it being akin to a crisis (and not normality) a national adoption organisation (Adoption UK) are saying the same… see here, over a quarter of adoptive families are in severe difficulty, or bordering on disruption (basically, placement breakdown).

 

That’s not to say we don’t love our children. Hell, if we didn’t I think we’d have chucked in the towel as soon as we got them. Adoption is hard from day 1. It doesn’t need to stay hard with the right support. But with everyone shirking responsibility and chucking you from department to department “nope this child is adopted, placing authority have to pay for this intervention”, “nope, it’s not covered by the adoption support plan AND it’s not something the adoption support fund will pay out for, try your GP”, “Nope, only the community Pediatrician can approve that”, “Nope, Pediatrics can not authorise such things, only CAMHS can do that”, “Nope CAMHS wouldn’t take on this case, it’s for Pediatrics to look at and decide what to do”, “Nope, Pediatrics definitely cannot even talk to you about this, talk to your placing adoption authority, it’s their responsibility”. And so around it goes.

 

People moaning (and saying) that children who aren’t adopted are in the same situation aren’t understanding that an adopted child is in trauma mode – until such time as they are being supported in all essential areas. Until their parents have sufficient respite to keep themselves functioning at a level where they can effectively deliver therapeutic parenting techniques. Until they are in a position where their identity is not just tolerated, but embraced and an open topic. This means that it’s not just an issue of “not getting the appointment” it’s an issue of keeping a child in a prolonged state of vulnerability, prolonging the emotional state and reaffirming their already strong brain patterns of distrust of adults, low self-worth and their inability to belong and be loved.

 

This appointment has brought about positive results. But I am angry. And I am sad. Why should they have waited until now? Why should we, as adoptive parents, have to watch them suffer for so long? Why should we have to fight so hard to get the help? This appointment doesn’t even mean we WILL get help, it just means we’ve jumped through yet another hoop on the way to getting there.

 

Exhausted. Angry. Tired. Lonely.