Wednesday, 27 April 2016

The Adoption Marathon

Every morning on Chris Evans' on Radio 2 he has someone come in to give their two minute Pause for Thought.  Yesterday, the theme was a marathon, coming a couple of days after the London Marathon.

The speaker talked about how many aspects of life could also be seen as a marathon: teaching his daughter to ride her bike, his wife in labour, seeing his son through their teenage years.   Life with Missy is on my list.

I've trained for and completed four marathons so I speak from experience.  I was in awe of the runners on Sunday as we cheered them on down The Embankment, Missy shouting encouragement at the top of her voice, really enjoying herself.  Listening to the Pause for Thought also got me thinking how life with Missy is also a marathon for us.

Those long slow runs that need to be done each week, slowly increasing in mileage up to about 20 miles, are tough.  You run slow, much slower than race pace, in wind, snow, rain, sun.  Every plod gets you nearer to the start of the main race but every plod, for me, is flipping hard.  It hurts, it's draining, I have no energy left after several hours out there.   I'm feeling a bit like that now as Missy hurls yet another "you're not my proper mummy!" at me (reminds of Zoe & Kat in Eastenders).

When training for a marathon, the idea is to do two to three other runs during the week, each at a different pace.   One of these runs is called a tempo run, running faster at a pace you can keep up for 4-6 miles, faster than you would run a marathon. They are fairly comfortable runs (if you're feeling generally ok), but you are using up lactic acid as you get to a point where you can't sustain that pace.  I get to that point with Missy. We have a good run of positive behaviour (it may be days, but it may hours) but then something triggers Missy and, bam! off she goes and if I've used up all my energy then I find it harder to parent therapeutically.

Another type of training run which can help build speed in the legs is called a 'fartlek' (yes, really).  You run fast for, say, a minute or between two lamposts/roads whatever you want, then you slow it right down for a few minutes, then you go fast again.  Up and down, calm and angry, fast and slow, delightful and, well, not delightful.   It's hard to keep up, not knowing her next move.

Often we have days which are like a 'easy' run, sometimes known as a recovery run.  Easy, comfortable, not too far, slower than marathon pace.  Sometimes in Missyland we have several days together where it's easy, where we can get our breath back and recover.

Our whole life feels like we're in training but I'm not sure where the end is.  Sometimes we run uphill and sometimes we run downhill.  I do know that the experience of taking part in and the finish of a marathon is exhilarating and emotional and I'm glad I did all the training to get to the point.  I also know and am proud of the fact that I have never given up during a race, no matter how tough it is. I feel the same with Missy.



Thursday, 7 April 2016

Hello, it's been a while

Well, hello, it's been a while (I'm sure that's a song isn't it?).

The last few months have been rocky ones.   It all ramped up before Christmas, which usually goes ok here, but not last Christmas.   For some reason, Missy had a lot more thoughts about death, she got exhausted by lack of routine and we had too many transitations over the holiday.   And then her anxiety level just continued to rise and rise, which also means her opposition rises and rises.  Its made the previous three years look easy.

In February Missy had a very strange couple of days, very dark and quite scary, lots of regression, didn't want to eat.  If she had a diagnosis of bipolar then this would have been a depressive episode.  
To cut a long story short, things have got worse for Missy in the anxiety stakes.  An illness in the family is probably at the top of the anxiety tree, and it magnifies all her other anxieties, which comes out as fear, intense anger and opposition. Things that Missy sailed through before, or maybe with a few worries, are now unsettling her a lot.  We are back to outlining on a calendar everything she is doing with all the timings etc - although she still asks for clarification over and over.   I've cancelled a few things this holiday and I've seen anxiety written all over her face several times.

Our lovely GP referred us back to CAMHS who this time were understanding and very supportive.  We now have some support in place for Missy and also for Daddy and me.  I've made it clear that the support Missy is getting can only be a starter and I'm sure she will need more as the time goes on.  I hope she doesn't but I suspect she will.

Strangely, with all this going on, I actually feel ok.  I think all the gardening and using the SAD lamp a lot during the winter months really helped, plus the various courses/conferences I attended last November, not to mention the support of other adopters.  To say I'm relieved the longer days are here is an understatement.  I do get exasperated by the behaviour and my therapeutic parenting has been non-existent at times but I can just about cope with it.

School have been brilliant as usual but the wonderful Head has just left so I'm hoping the new one starting in September will be as co-operative.








Wednesday, 16 March 2016

A poem

I've just read this wonderful poem by an adoptee posted on The Adoption Social and wanted to share it with you.


When Things Are Not Fair by Charley Hart, aged 9.
I’m enraged when things are not fair
I get cross with maths and annoyed with tests
I’m enraged when things are not fair
I get displeased when I’m bored
And I get frustrated when I have to do spelling
And you don’t want to see me enraged!  "

Such thoughtful writing from Charley.  I can feel her rage in those few words.  I'm going to show it to Missy tonight as it sums up her too.  

Monday, 7 December 2015

Proud Parent

I am so incredibly proud of Missy today.

She's started piano lessons at school this term and today was the annual piano concert in front of the whole school and parents of the children playing. Missy has done really well in her lessons and I was sure that, if she overcame her nerves, then she'd be fine. This morning before school she was very nervous, understandly, so, for the first time, I gave her Rescue Remedy drops. I had some too.

Sat waiting, she looked cool as a cucumber. Of the 10 students, she was first to play and she played beautifully!  

A tear rolled down my cheek - I can't tell you how proud I am of her. I wanted to shout out to everyone there just how amazing she is, and why this was such as big thing for a little girl who often thinks she is not worth anything. 

Well done my gorgeous girl.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

I'm a bit workshopped out

I'm a bit workshopped and conferenced out. I've been to four in as many weeks. First a workshop about empathy, then the AUK conference with Bryan Post, then a day with Dr Renee Marks (expert in trauma and dissociation) and last week an introduction to Non Violent Resistance (NVR).

Following all this, our home is a picture of loveliness, calm, respect, no tantrums, nothing being thrown and no answering back.  

<cough>

HA! AS IF ............. !!!!

I'll be honest though. I do feel calmer in myself and am filled with more hope than I have done in a while.  

I've already blogged about AUK here, so I'll briefly talk about Dr Renee Marks and NVR.

Dr Renee Marks is the founder of Integrate Families, the National Centre of Trauma & Dissociation. I'd heard about Dr Marks from another adopter and was lucky enough to get a last minute ticket to sit amongst over 100 adopters, foster carers, SWs and other professionals to hear her talk about emotional regulation for children with complex trauma.  Her day was split into sections; talking about the brain and how trauma changes it, talking about emotional regulation in adults (put your oxygen mask on first), about trauma based behaviours in school and at home and finally she gave us some tools and techniques to promote emotional regulation in our children.

I came away feeling inspired.  Some of it I had heard  or read before but Dr Marks explains it all in such an uncomplicated way so there was definitely stuff I 'got' this time.  Like Bryan Post, she believes that parents/carers must take responsibility and it's up to us to use her tools several times daily to help our children.  In a relationship, the child can calm down.

Amongst the many 'aha' and 'ahh ok' moments I had, a question to her about Theraplay stuck out.  Whilst she is a supporter of Theraplay and indeed uses many of the techniques in her clinic, she felt there was a limit to using it as Theraplay cannot process trauma. Interesting.  

One technique that Dr Marks uses a lot is Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR).  Apparently it's a therapy used a lot in helping to process all types of trauma, including secondary trauma.  I've just read a bit about it and I can see a few similarities to Emotional Freedom Technique (or Tapping as some people call it) which I used to do so I think I'll get tapping again and look further into EMDR too.

If you get the chance to hear Dr Marks talk, go for it.

So, NVR.  I'd heard about NVR from a non-adopter who found huge benefits for her family. Having researched it I felt it was appropriate for us although to be honest wasn't entirely sure what it entailed. Turns out we do a few of the techniques anyway, go us!  So the day, run by PAC UK was an introduction day; the full length course is 4 days long. However if you're considering it, I would say that I learnt a lot in just one day.

Very basically NVR is about having 'parental presence' and de-escalation without the need for shouting, yelling, pointing fingers, consequences etc.  Once again, the theme of building relationships and parents/carers taking responsibility was evident.

We got on to the subject of violence which for many is non-negotiable. The message was that we have to break the taboo and bring on board a support network of 3-4 people. These supporters will have different roles but all will know about the violence. It may be a teacher/key worker, a friend, a parent, a Brownie leader, a GP, SW, another adopter, whoever you feel you can trust and give you the required support. One may gently mention that they know about 'hitting mummy' and express their worry for mummy and child, wrapped in either side with positive comments. A shit-sandwich the trainer explained. Several parents questioned shame but the trainer said that it was important that the child knows violence will not be tolerated. Another supporter may be a friend who can come round fairly quickly and just be there for you (and child if they do like and trust this friend).  Friend just being there will help de-escalate the situation.   So one of my support group is going to be Missy's pastoral care worker and it turns out that Missy already tells her when she's hit me and they talk through it.  This is a positive step for Missy. 

I don't feel I need to go on the full course just yet and would highly recommend you attending if you find yourself shouting, yelling and exhausted. Ask your LA to pay as mine did.

Having read through all my course notes before writing this blog, I realise there was A LOT of useful content that came my way over the last few weeks, some of which I'd forgotten already.  I need to go through it, make some concise notes and details on what Daddy and I need to be doing each day to help Missy (and ourselves).  

In other news, Daddy and I got engaged.  Yay!  Only taken 10 years.    In more other news, I took Missy to her first pop concert last week (on a school night!) and she absolutely loved it (well, most of it)  Believe it or not she is a big Nik Kershaw fan.  

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Adoption UK Conference, Bryan Post and Love

Well it was nice while it lasted.  The hush I mean.

The last few weeks have been different.  Lots of back chat, lots of mimicking, rudeness and negative behaviour.

I'm trying (and sometimes failing) to stay calm, exhibit patience.  One morning last week I cried before we'd even left on the school run and then consoled myself in M&S with a large hot chocolate.

One thing Bryan Post talked about at the recent Adoption UK conference was that we should allow expression of attitudes.  If we suppress attitude then the child will show their feelings and if we suppress the feelings the child will exhibit bad behaviour.  So the phrase 'change your attitude' hasn't been uttered from my lips over the last couple of weeks although it's been on the tip of my tongue.  I've attempted to show empathy and wondering out aloud about Missy's feelings although it's usually meant with a very loud "BE QUIET!!".

Bryan Post, for those that don't know, is one of America's foremost experts in adoption, fostering and social work. He is an adoptee and an adopter.  I know some people find his approach too simple, he's been referred to as a 'maverick'.  I liked him, I found him very engaging, although I admit I don't always get how to use his techniques with Missy.  Below I'll mention some of the key points that he talked about at the conference.

The premise of his approach is that  love heals and it is very much down to the relationship between carer and child.  The thing we are healing I guess is 'stress'.  Repair of stress makes the difference and that's where love comes in.

"In times of stress, thinking becomes distorted and suppresses our short term memory" said Bryan.  He reminded us of this several times.  I know exactly how this feels as my short term memory is pants at the moment and I couldn't remember all the quote soon after he said it first.  This, then, is why my daughter can know her 3x table today but not tomorrow.  Something for the teachers to take on board.   In a stressed state, a child is merely surviving/reacting then as they calm they move into responding - although still not thinking.  Gradually as they calm more their brain begins to process and finally they move into the thriving/integration stage. Helping a child move from meltdown to engagement is a process that needs to be handled carefully and with love.  As stress is felt through all senses, when its high we need to calm the stress and step back.  Stop talking, stop eye contact and lower voice.   Feral cat comes to mind again.

"When you stress, you regress" he said.  Which means we ned to meet the child at their developmental age.

Bryan talked about oxytocin, which is often referred to as the love hormone or feel-good hormone. Hugging increases our levels of oxytocin as does giving birth and breast feeding!

A fear based mind doesn't think, it must reacts whereas a love based mind thinks.  So how we show up in any situation is important - not the child.  But we (parents and teachers) often react with actions that are based in fear - such as consequences, time out, yelling - but these just create more stress that cannot healt the brain and the relatiionship.  Interestingly, he said that for many children (without a trauma background) these type of actions do work because actually anytying will work for them.  But not for our children because their traumatised brains cannot handle it.

So the things we need to do to turn on oxytocin in times of stress are things such as time-in, containment, guidance, breathing, patience, affection and discipline.  Yes discipline.  The meaning of disclipline is actually to teach, it's not behaviour modification which is a fear-based action.

Much of what Bryan talked about requires a paradigm shift and quite a big one at that at times.  Daddy and I often find ourselves slipping back into the parenting styles we were brought up with rather than changing permanently to a therapeutic style of parenting.  We need to work on this a lot and listening to Bryan reminded me of this.  I've bitten my lip a few times over the last few weeks to come from a place of love, but it's descalated a potentially volatile situation quite quickly.  Bryan also talked about carers taking responsibility so we can teach responsibility rather than reactivity.  I've found that hard to do on a few occasions but again I have seen positive results.

Breathing conciously is what I've been doing a lot recently.  A technique Bryan showed, but one I've been doing for many years, is the 4, 7, 8 breathing.  If you are feeling stressed, simply breathe in deeply for a count of 4, hold for 7 and exhale for a count of 8.  I've used it recently when lying awake at night, when having an anxiety attack, when taking a moment to stop myself yelling, when trying to avoid a panic attack whilst having an MRI scan (have you ever been in one of those scanners?!) and managed to become calmer. Try it, it works.

Anyway, I hope this has given a brief flavour of the Adoption UK Conference.  If your situation and budget allows it, I highly recommended attending.  You also get to put faces to Twitter names - yes, these fellow tweeters really do exist, @MrsFamilyofFive, @GayAdoptionDad and @CocktailMamaUk to name a few.  Oh, and we got to go to a very lovely indian restaurant afterwards, just the two of us, AND had a long lie in the next day because Missy was staying over with my Mum. #WIN.

In other news, Daddy and I had another night out by ourselves recently (I know, two in one month!) as we were incredibly lucky to see Jeff Lynne's ELO at a very small venue in West London.  Absolutely brilliant!!  And better still, we have found a wonderful babysitter who has lots of experience working with children with special needs.  Hurrah!!









Thursday, 29 October 2015

There's a kind of hush ....

There's a kind of hush, all over the world, sang The Carpenters.  Well, there's a kind of hush in our house at the moment.   There's a distinct lack of meltdowns and major tantrums, no screaming like a banshee, no horrible language, no hitting.  As rollercoasters go, we're in the dip.   We have a chance to take a breather.

It changed a few weeks back after what I affectionately like to call The Big Weekend.  Two events happened that weekend - Missy's birthday and Brownie Camp.

At first we decided that Missy would only attend Brownies during the Saturday daytime.  We felt a sleepover was too soon, particularly one that wasn't at a family members house.  Anyway, we had her birthday as an excuse and told her we had things planned, like grandma coming over.  But then her best friend joined Brownies and best friend was going for the whole shebang, for both nights. Missy begged me to let her stay over. So, we ummed and ahhed and digested and cogitated and decided that, if she really wanted to, Missy could go for one night.  Two nights just wouldn't work anyway, what with her birthday.  She was over the moon.

Then the build up started.  Missy had already been overly excited for her birthday since the beginning of the year.  I'm not joking. She's already talking about what she wants to do next year and who might come along!  Then the meltdowns started, about three weeks before the weekend.  Worry at bedtime, screaming at the top of her voice, meltdowns, trashing her room, anxiety to the nth degree, backchat, threats, hitting, biting, throwing things at me.  You know what, I can't even describe it.  I'm sure other adopters will get the picture.  Maybe think of a feral cat angry at being caged up.   We knew what the anxiety was about - birthday and her first sleepover without us there.  She cried that she wouldn't get a cuddle or hug from us at Camp, we knew she'd be worried about finding the toilets at night, worry about would we miss her.  She even asked if we would have a celebration party when she came home.  We tried our best to be therapeutic, talk about every scenario, talk about what we'd do when she came home.  I had a word with Brown Owl and ensured she was in the same dorm as her best friend.  I spoke to her keyworker and explained how anxious she was.  I apologised to neighbours for the hideous sounds coming from the house every day and, no, nobody was being strangled.  Bless, they were lovely, always are.

We started to think it was a BAD idea suggesting she could go for a night and we should have stuck by our first decision.  I felt guilty that we had put Missy in this position.  We should have just stayed with the original plan of her only going for the day. But we couldn't go back - any suggestion  of not going, of it being fine for her to decide to stay at home was ok by us, just made it worse and she'd be sobbing and begging to go.

So the Big Weekend arrived.  Naturally she couldn't sleep the night before her birthday, or the night before that, or that..  But she had a lovely day.  A quiet day on the whole, we just went out with one friend for tea.  The next day we had to be at Brownie Camp for 10am.  Missy was a little quieter than usual.  We knew she'd be ok during the day, it was just nighttime was the big worry.

We arrived at Camp - a place where the Brownies had been before so at least she knew the layout - and immediately saw her best friend.  We unpacked her stuff, gave her a massive hug, took a deep breath and left.  I kept my mobile phone close all day.

Daddy and I enjoyed a rare night out together, just local though, no more than 10 minutes away.  No calls from Brown Owl thankfully.

When we walked in next day to collect them, Brown Owl tapped me on the shoulder and told me she had been absolutely fine.  And indeed she had.  She LOVED it.  What a MASSIVE RELIEF.   I think the fact she'd missed her group's washing up duty had pleased her from the start.  She'd made lots of arty crafty stuff, ate lots of sweets, made new friends and gone to bed very late after watching Annie (yeah, I know, bet Brown Owl didn't think about that one - luckily Missy loves the film).  She can't wait to go next year for two nights and, you know what, all being well I think she'll be fine.

So since then, there have been no meltdowns, no violence, no piercing screams - just a calmer Missy*.  There are no eggshells to avoid.  Nothing is being thrown or broken.  It's a happier house to be in.






* Missy's 'calm' is of course not a usual 'calm', still a level of anxiety remains.
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