The Key

I've had a really crap few days.

My friends reading this will know that I had a big event last weekend; an event I've spent all year working on, which hundreds of people came to, and something of which I am very proud. I honestly don't know how I got through it - the build up, the preparation, the event itself. I've got a team of amazing people working with me, but I'm the big boss, so the buck stops with me.

It's my favourite weekend of the year, usually, but this year I didn't enjoy it. I mean, I did - I smiled, I laughed, I saw my friends, I felt proud of it all... but it was like I was viewing it through a lens. I didn't feel connected. I could see everyone having a great time, but I couldn't get a hold of that deep down in your stomach happiness. I just felt a bit hollow.

I've been feeling this way for a while. Not all the time, certainly, but I have noticed a definite reluctance to connect with my deep down feelings. Sometimes it's because it's scary to look at them, sometimes it's because I worry that if I start to be honest about what I really feel then I'll start crying and won't be able to stop. I have told myself I had to get on with it; I've got kids to feed, events to organise, work to do, I can't afford to break down, I have to keep going, keep going. I find myself withdrawing from Husband, not wanting to go to the place where he looks after me and I am vulnerable because it's too much, so I go to a hard place where I snap at him a bit, and cuddle myself up in my own duvet because cuddling him is too difficult.

I don't know exactly how long I've been feeling like this - it comes and goes, and occasionally some of it spills out, and I feel a bit better for a while, and then I can feel it building up again, or I just feel nothing. The worst days are the ones where I have to mentally tell the muscles in my face to move in to a smile, or when Fairy cuddles me and I feel itchy all over and can't bear being touched.

After the event was all over, Monday was unpacking, tidying up, bagging up cash to bank, sorting all the equipment.

Tuesday I fell apart.

I don't even know what started it. Nothing happened, really, I just started crying and couldn't stop. After a couple of hours I called for help on Twitter, and my amazing friends - none of whom would even recognise me if they saw me in the street - rallied round and held me. I called Husband, I called my mum. In total I cried for about six hours. Proper, deep down howls, right from my stomach. Not hollow any more; full up and overflowing.

I was crying because I knew that we weren't coping with Tickle. In the last few months I think there have been two days where he hasn't hit one of us. He seems to be focusing in on Fairy much more when he's angry, and he's going for her head. Hitting her, pulling her hair so hard she falls over, throwing things at her head. She had a lump for two weeks from one incident with a whiteboard marker.

We have started seeing a new therapist, and pretty much the first thing she said to us - after we described what our life is like at home - is how *everything* and *everyone* is totally focused on Tickle, and meeting his needs. She said that we do with him at home essentially what she would do in therapy - but 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. With no training, no supervision, no respite. She was amazed and astonished at what we were doing.

Very tactfully, and gently, she suggested that perhaps we ought to be looking after ourselves a little bit as well.

Obviously we know about self-care. About taking time out to go for a walk, to watch Holby City (sooo relieved that Isaac has been given the boot!), to do nice things for yourself. I've always been a bit of a workaholic - staying up with spreadsheets until 2am sort of thing, but I'd knocked all that on the head, so all good, right?

This week, I realised I really hadn't got self-care at all.

Self-care is not an add-on. It is not painting your nails once a month. It is THE KEY. It is EVERYTHING.

Before we adopted Tickle, and I had my 2am spreadsheets, I did used to get stressed, and get ill, and realise I was working too hard, and try and give myself a break. Burning the candle at both ends was my favourite hobby - I've always done it, always thrown myself in to things head on and immersed myself totally. Then every now and then I'd spend a weekend in my pjs with a box set of Spooks, and then off I'd go again.

This is a totally different league.

I approached adoption the same way I approach everything in life, and threw myself in to it wholeheartedly. I researched, I read books, I learned about therapeutic parenting, non-violent resistance, helping children voice their feelings, overcoming trauma. When Tickle arrived I gave him everything I had.

With adoption, everything is focused around the child, and the child's needs. There are many obvious and good reasons for this. However, what - in our case, and perhaps many others - was totally overlooked was the needs of the adoptive parents.

Adoptive parenting is not like normal parenting. Sally Donovan calls it 'elite' parenting, and I'm inclined to agree. When you have a child who doesn't know what 'safe' feels like, who doesn't quite know if you're going to feed him today, who believes that adults hurt children, and that the momentary withdrawal of parental attention (e.g. to go to the toilet) looks the same as hours of neglect... handling that requires something over and above normal parenting.

Tickle needs me. He needs everything I've got, and more. He is going to need it for a really, really long time. Husband and I have given ourselves to him totally, and he has made huge progress since being with us; physically, emotionally, developmentally, educationally.

However, Tickle has to re-learn *everything* he knows about the world. He spent five and a half years learning that the world was one way up, only to be told that was wrong. Black is actually white, up is down, *everything* he knows about *everything* is actually wrong.

It is going to take a lot of work for him to truly understand that the *real* world is the one where adults are kind, and look after you, and meet your needs. And how is he going to learn that?

From ME. And from Husband.

So in that scenario, the most important people in that picture are actually me and Husband, because if you take us away Tickle's tentative new world collapses and he has to start again from scratch, but this time with an added layer of trauma and rejection.

Currently, the only books I've read that place the adoptive parents at the heart of everything are Sally Donovan's books. I wish I'd found them sooner. The truth of the matter is, it doesn't matter how well we meet T's needs, if Husband and I aren't cared for, if our needs aren't met, then this whole thing falls apart.

On Tuesday I thought I was crying because we can't meet Tickle's needs. I thought I would have to admit we can't cope. I thought that I couldn't keep Fairy safe with Tickle in the family. I thought we had failed him.

Looking back, I think I was crying because no one had met *my* needs. I had given all of myself to Tickle; I'd endured physical violence, I'd listened to him recount the abuse he'd suffered at the hands of someone who was supposed to care for him, I'd regulated his emotions for him almost constantly when he was unable to do it himself, I'd kept calm whilst being screamed at, I'd cuddled him after he'd hurt me and hurt my daughter, and told him thank you for saying sorry. I was right that I couldn't cope, but what I had missed was *why* I couldn't.

I have given so much during the last 18 months, that on Tuesday I had nothing left. On Tuesday, I *couldn't* meet Tickle's needs, because I had nothing left to do it with.

Eventually, I have come to realise that on the whole, Tickle's needs are being met very well indeed. But mine are not. And Husband's are not. And this is a problem.

Self care, for me, now, has become the all and the everything.

If I don't get this right, then our family will fall apart. If I don't put myself first, then I can't look after either of the children effectively. Tuesday has opened my eyes to how worn down we have become.

It's not going to be easy, but we're in this for the long haul. And that means that self care has to go to a whole new level. Without it, we will crumble, for sure.


  1. so glad you realised the *real* issue. I think you are amazingly meeting T's needs and you and hubs are doing a fab job! If your cup is empty, you can't pour anything into T's life so it's time to refill your cup first! All the best! :)


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