When we decided it was the right time to pursue adoption, our main concern was that I have a history of mental health illness. A few years back I suffered from Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Depression. We worried that they would think I was unstable, unreliable, weak. We knew that these children would need extra care above and beyond ‘normal’ parenting, and that I would be the stay-at-home parent so a lot of pressure would fall on me. We didn’t want to take something on if it would be damaging for us or for the children. But we felt we were ready, and we knew the social workers would make the right decisions.
As we have gone through the process and learnt more about the things our children will be experiencing, I have become convinced that my mental health isn’t just not a weakness, but that it is a strength.
Hyper-vigilant, trouble sleeping, restless, reliant on structure, distant, short tempered, compulsive behaviours, irrational fears, overeating/unable to eat, emotionally erratic, expecting the worst, unable to trust.
These are all behaviours I’ve been told that children who have been neglected, abused or who have had a significant loss might have. It’s also a good description of me when I was at my lowest point.
I can never understand what these children go through on their way to their forever families. But I do know what it’s like to be on constant high alert. I know how it feels to believe everyone who comes to the front door wants to hurt you. I know the fear of going to sleep in case my loved ones die in the night. I know the utter panic of last minute changes to plan. I know what it’s like to lie awake all night because your mind is so busy that it feels like it might explode. I know the temptation to curl up and shut out the world because it hurts too much to be in it. I know what it’s like to want to reach out for help, but not be able to make the words come out. I know the confusion when your heart starts racing and your ears start burning for no apparent reason. I know how it feels to struggle to breathe as your body goes into panic and seems to implode. I know how much it hurts to really believe the person you love most is lying to you, or trying to harm you.
After two bouts of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and prescriptions of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication, I’m OK. I know my mind much better. I know the signs of an attack and I know how to cope. I know the words to communicate what’s happening to those around me. I know there’s no shame in mental health problems. I know techniques to ‘talk to myself’, to control my mind and my physical reactions to it. I know how important it is to look after your mind. I know that we are stronger than we think. I know that all of this can be overcome, but that it’s not easy.
The things my children struggle with, the reasons why and the ways we deal with it will all be different to my story. But I am convinced that my experiences will help me to be a better mother, to understand just a little bit more what my children are going through.
And so I believe my mental health is a strength. And if going through all of this means I can help my children in just a tiny way to heal, then it will all have been worth it.