Those who are the hardest to love need it the most.
So, yeah. This is the second blog post in two days. More than my normal output. But apparently, once you put something out there, you’re in line for a test of your convictions. Yesterday I basically wrote about how important happiness is, where you can and can’t find happiness, and about how you have to be committed to looking for good if you want to have a good life– even when it’s hard. (You can read the full post here if you want the unintended prequel to today’s adventure.) This particular post could be titled Let’s See if Megan Walks Her Talk or Welcome to ‘Even When It’s Hard’. I obviously went with option number two.
I’ve written in a previous post about how we have a daughter with difficult issues. Well, we do. And on a fairly regular basis– let’s call it most days– we have to deal with these issues. Sometimes they are minor. Sometimes they are not. Today was a not-minor day. It’s a day that I just wanted to be done. You know that feeling? The one where you think this can’t actually be my life? But it actually is, and it will continue to be, your life.
My husband and I adopted our kids seven and a half years ago. We adopted a 3 year old girl and a 4 day old baby boy at the same time. They are siblings and are now 10 and 7, respectively. Ari, my daughter, has asthma, a 4th cranial nerve palsy, is blind as a bat, and has the crookedest teeth imaginable. That stuff is all manageable. It’s the “in addition to” all that stuff that is the hard part.
She also has significant mental health issues. The biggie (I’m sure that’s the technical term) we are dealing with is Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). You can read the in-depth description from The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry if you are interested here. But for the purpose of today’s blog, here is basic gist. Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is:
a complex psychiatric illness … characterized by serious problems in emotional attachments to others. Most children with Reactive Attachment Disorder have had severe problems or disruptions in their early relationships [that can include] multiple or traumatic losses or changes in their primary caregiver.
Did you catch that? Traumatic change or loss of the primary caregiver. Adoption at age 3 is a perfect example of this kind of change or loss. Kids with RAD don’t attach emotionally to others, in particular with the new mom (that’s me). They display a range of symptoms/behaviors that can include lying, stealing, aggression, lack of concern for others, lack of emotional understanding or regulation, and defiance. Ari’s face could be next to the definition. Anyway, my point is that she’s hard. Really, really hard. That’s the non-clinical term for it. Hard.
So while yesterday I wrote a blog about the need to actively turn ourselves in the direction we want to go in order to shift our feelings and our experience, today I actually had to do it. And it wasn’t easy. And I’m afraid that, even though I wrote about the fact that it’s hard, I maybe made it out to seem like it is just a matter of changing your mind and you’re good to go. While you do have to change your mind, it’s important to remember that it doesn’t change in an instant. It’s a process. A process that can be really, well, hard. So, in the spirit of full discloser, here is what that process looked like for me– in real life.
Everything was going along fine. She’d had a rough week, but had a better morning. I was hoping it would last, but it didn’t. She needed to go to her room. She didn’t want to go. All hell broke loose. Hell included, but was not limited to, the following: her screaming, slamming the door (repeatedly), physically grabbing at me, more screaming, refusing to go to her room, more screaming, finally going to her room, climbing out her window (for the first time, mind you), running bare-foot out on the roof and around to the back deck, tearing off through the yard to the street, me running barefoot after her, me stepping in dog poop (we need to clean up after Ernie), her out-running me because she is freaking fast, her finally coming back, her calling 911 because I wouldn’t give her a cheese stick, more refusal to go to her room, finally going to her room, screaming until she falls asleep.
By the time things were contained (barely), I was physically shaking so bad because my adrenalin was through the roof. I had called my Austin (my husband) during all of the drama and we decided he needed to come home early and he was on his way. This is about the time I started to cry. I paced around trying to cool down, feeling totally freaked out and scared and angry. I wanted to calm down, so I decided to sit down to meditate. Stupid idea. Well, not stupid. Just not realistic or do-able when you feel like you are coming out of your skin. So I settled for several deep breaths and called it meditation– I can be flexible that way ;o)
I went straight for my journal, at this point. It’s my go-to when I am feeling super stressed out. It’s actually always my go-to. It’s how I process almost everything. And here is what I wrote (unedited): I can’t stand this! I hate this! I can’t take this anymore! She ran away and the past 2 hours have been a nightmare. I just feel so drained and sad and furious. I am totally discouraged, defeated, depressed. All I want to do is give up.
And it was at this point that I remembered what I wrote in the blog yesterday. This was the time to walk my talk. Yesterday I wrote that what we focus on expands. That, even when it’s hard, we can choose to move our focus towards happiness. But I feel like I left out some important info. I sort of skipped over the part about how to get from feeling sucky to not feeling so sucky.
Because in this particular moment of feeling totally sucky, there was no way in hell I was going to leap from defeated and hysterical to peaceful, energized, and expansive just because I decided to feel differently. Feelings don’t work like a light switch. They just don’t. But I did NOT want to continue to feel so horrible. So I went back to my journal and wrote this (again, unedited): How do I want to feel? I feel so far away from how I want to feel. I want to feel spiritually supported, calm(er), strengthened, freedom of surrender. What do I need to do to feel this way?
This is where I had to take some action or nothing would change. And that is often where we get tripped up. We know (basically) what to do, but because we are so upset we don’t do it. We nurse the bad feelings. We hold onto them because we feel we deserve to, we have righteous indignation, because it’s not fair, dammit. But we CAN do something else. We just have to talk ourselves into doing it. And then we have to actually do it. That’s the critical piece.
Again, straight from my journal, here’s the list of ideas I came up with to help myself feel better. It’s not a magic list. It’s a list of stuff I could reasonably mange. And, straight from my actions (and in parenthesis), are the things I talked myself into doing.
- journal (I did that)
- ask for help (I called my dad and talked more to Austin when he got home)
- go to dance class (I went to dance instead of curling up in a ball like I wanted to)
- focus on other things (again, dance class, plus I listened to a podcast on the way home)
- don’t nurse a grudge and take it out on others– that will just make it worse (I nursed a grudge all the way to dance class, but felt better after and was able to do some letting go)
And the result? I felt better. I did. I didn’t feel rainbows-and-unicorns happy. I didn’t feel an overwhelming sense of hope that everything would be all perfect in the end. But I felt calmer. I felt loved and cared for by those I reached out to. I still felt drained, but I didn’t feel depressed or defeated or even very sad. I felt like I would be able to continue to handle things and like I was going to be ok. You see? Better.
Maybe I’ll feel rainbows-and-unicorns happy tomorrow. Just kidding ;o) But really, who knows what tomorrow will bring…?
P.S. I forgot to mention– fresh apples from a friend’s tree and a jar of Nutella are also helpful in situations like these :o)