This blog is my place to vent and share resources with other parents of children of trauma. I try to be open and honest about my feelings in order to help others know they are not alone. Therapeutic parenting of adopted teenagers with RAD and other severe mental illnesses and issues (plus "neurotypical" teens) , is not easy, and there are time when I say what I feel... at the moment. We're all human!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Seven Years

Hard to believe I started this blog seven years ago. One month after the adoption of our son, Bear (the day before his 15th birthday), and 5 months after adopting Kitty (2 weeks before she turned 13). This blog started out as a way for me to get support and advice from other people who had adopted and a place to vent about the overwhelming drama/ trauma in our home. Blogs were one of the few ways I had to connect to the adoption community.

In our house it's called the "Three Vent Rule." In my need to talk through my problems I discovered I was not only burdening my friends and family with my problems, but I was also "ruminating" and actually making myself feel worse. I eventually came up with the "three vent rule" - which stated that I could only whine/ complain on any one subject to no more than 3 people. I try to spread the love around too so no one person bears the burden of all my whinging (except Hubby - poor baby always has to listen, but that's why I married him - because of his broad shoulders - designed to bear all the weight of my world, and then some). I also had an unwritten rule to try to make the story as entertaining as possible so no one would notice what a total whiner baby I really am.

Another big source of venting for me was the long e-mail (Hubby calls them novels). I would write all about what my children were in to (or more likely up to) and the whole adoption team was FORCED to read them. Now that my children's adoptions are FINALLY final, I no longer have a captive audience. I'm hoping that this blog will allow me to vent without overwhelming my small support group.
So now I begin the journey into blogging.

Over the years, as we muddled through the mayhem of living with teens with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) and severe trauma and mental illnesses, my life and outlook have changed RADically. I no longer need the validation that I'm doing the "right thing." I know that doesn't really exist. It still hurts when people criticize my parenting and my choices, but I feel more confident that I'm doing the best I can.

3 years ago, I discovered that Biomom had been reading my blog. I freaked out decided to shut it down. I knew that over the years, I had made assumptions and criticized Biomom's parenting in a way that would be hurtful to her. I did/ do have empathy for why she made the choices that she did and I regretted damaging our relationship (such as it was).

I chose to write my blog for several reasons:
  1. As a place to vent and get support from other moms who "get it."  When I first started blogging I didn't have access to this amazing community, and the few people I knew who'd adopted, even those who'd adopted RAD kids, had adopted younger children.  
  2. To share and provide support and education for other trauma mamas.  Over the years I've had to acquire a crash course in RAD and trauma and I didn't want others to have to go through what I did and make the same mistakes I made.
  3. To provide information to those in my kids' lives that needed it (like Grandma), without having to repeat myself or chance having the kids over hear it.
  4. To maintain a record of events.
Now that most of my children are (legally) adults, I blog mainly to give back to the adoption community. I moderate some FaceBook groups and comment frequently on others. I maintain this blog primarily as a resource.

I will continue to post resources, and include occasional updates about the kids, but I am no longer actively blogging. I want to thank everyone who has been there for me over the last 7 years.

Family Update:

Bear (22) still in prison, but he's expecting to get out soon. We talk to him weekly(ish) on the phone and send him a small monthly stipend. He changes his mind on a daily basis as to whether or not he will move back to our state to live near us or move in with biofamily. Either way, we'll have to limit our relationship until he gets stable on meds. I will continue to help him and do his case management, but for the sake of the rest of the family, he cannot live in our house again.

Kitty (20) still lives at home. Her therapist (and I) believe she will never be able to live without some support. She just misses the cut-offs for most assisted living/ group home type situations, but that may change as she gets older. Working and school have proven too stressful for her, and we're still working on finding her something she can do all day (besides watching Netflixs, going to therapy, and occasionally hanging out with friends). As she matures, I am hopeful that she will find a way to be happy with what she has, and what she needs.

Bob (19) is starting her second year of college and living in her first apartment. She loves school and has become a confident, amazing young lady. She is so independent, except when she's not! She still calls Hubby and I when she needs to know what to do about a flat tire, how to handle her roommate keeping a dead baby bird in a jar of water on the counter in their dorm room, what to do when her roommates figure out what an incredibly picky eater she is...  I hope she will always need her mama a little bit.

Ponito (16) is a junior in high school this year. He has recently been diagnosed with Depression and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). We're hoping that we can find the right medications to get him back on track at school and start to enjoy doing the things he loved again (like soccer).

Hubby (50!) is still my rock. 21 years of marriage and he still loves me. Yea! We're struggling financially, which stresses him out, but he keeps moving forward.

Me (45) I'm finally working only one job. I'm (mostly) full time in the corporate world, but I telecommute so my schedule is pretty flexible. I am able to go to all the therapies, doctor appointments and do the case management needed by Kitty (and the other kids). We've decided to sell our house in a few years, so I'm trying to squeeze in a lot of remodeling (DIY to save money) in my "spare" time. Another reason to be grateful I don't go to the office every day, I'm usually covered in paint/ stain/ sawdust...

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Handling Child Stress

I wrote this for a fellow Trauma Mama whose children are reacting to school starting. Sorry about all the links!!

When my children acted out, which was always worse around holidays, traumaversaries, starting or ending school..., when I wasn't so frustrated at them I could scream, I pulled them in. I reminded myself that they were terrified. This was life or death to them, and they couldn't really handle change or added stress (this has gotten better as they healed). Even my bio kids reacted this way, just not to this extreme. Some insight into why kids act the way they do. Our kids need a LOT of structure and support, especially when they are overwhelmed.

I reminded myself that they were really so very much younger than they looked, and I was expecting a lot from them. I tried to change my parenting to better match their emotional age.  I tried to remind myself that they were SCARED and punishment for something that was out of their control was not just mean, it was pointless. What they needed was to feel safe and loved. That meant I couldn’t take away all fun stuff (even though I wanted to!!!)

Most of all, I gave them a LOT more structure and support. We went back to line of sight supervision, time ins instead of time outs, removed as many overwhelming events as possible (not just avoiding throngs of hyper children in places like sporting events and the park, but also the grocery store and Sunday School). Yes, there were things I could do nothing about (school/ daycare), but I could talk to the teachers and minimize as much stress as possible.

I tried to find calm, quiet, but still fun, things to do so they wouldn't feel punished (taking a walk, letter parties … ). This wasn't about being in trouble or loss, they'd had enough of that; this was about making their life smaller. So they would feel SAFE.

At home, I did things like strip their room (helping me was overwhelming so I did it when they weren't there, although I let them know ahead of time) to a bed, a book/ quiet toy, and a stuffed animal, at one point I even had my daughter's dresser in her room, and she "checked out" her clothing by bringing me the dirty ones, THIS WAS NOT A PUNISHMENT. I tried to find ways to help them understand that. I pointed out that now cleaning their room would be a lot easier!

When stress was high, my kids’ life was like being in the FAIR Club (our family discipline method  ), but without actually being in the FAIR Club.

I used calming techniques a LOT.

A lot of time I screwed up. I lost my cool. I gave up.  Then I did a lot of Caring for the Caregiver because this is HARD WORK. I forgave myself, which was REALLY HARD. I put on my big girl panties, tried to find the joy, apologized to my child for not keeping them safe, and started over. Being a therapeutic parent SUCKS, but it does get better.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Dealing with Disrespectful Language

This is a tough one. It's been a little while since we've dealt with it.

First, I hate this answer, but... it depends.

I had one child who needed an excuse to vent/ blow off steam. Until we got him on the right meds and in a structured environment where he felt safe, he just needed to explode every now and then.

You could see it building like a volcano. He'd stuff down his feelings, fears, and anxieties until he was full up (about once a month), and then he'd fall apart (which for him was anger). For about 20-30 minutes after the rage/ meltdown, he was able to access his true emotions with us.

For him, the rages were inevitable and necessary and he used the disrespect to give him an excuse for blowing up at us. I used to back off and try to avoid conflict (I HATE conflict), until I realized that he NEEDED someone who would stand up to him and hold him accountable. He still talks about his favorite teacher's aide. She would stand up to him (difficult to do with a 5'9" 210+lb 13yo with no problem with getting physical with people) and tell him to, "Stop acting like a turd," The important part was that he knew she cared about him. Lots of people would tell him off and not care about him or back off and let him walk all over them to avoid conflict. They were scary. Because she provided both structure and support, he respected her and felt safe with her.

Feeling "safe" is HUGE and has nothing to do with reality for our kids. To feel safe, my son needed control of his environment at all times, and can go to extreme measures to get that control. This is not always logical. For example, if Bear is told he can go on a field trip if he has no attendance issues and behaves pleasantly with everyone for a week, but deep down he doesn’t know for sure he can do that, then he might deliberately misbehave so he has control over the outcome. He might also sabotage himself because the trip actually scares him (he doesn’t feel safe in unfamiliar, uncontrollable environments). If a connection is made at all, he will most likely say he didn’t want to go on the “stupid” field trip in the first place (sour grapes).

Safety - People that don't provide the structure and support our kids need, are not "safe." Christine Moers has a fantastic video called from Chaos to Healing: Therapeutic Parenting 101 That helps explain why our kids don't feel safe, which causes them to act out.

Triggers - There are lots of triggers for feeling unsafe that we as rational adults totally miss - food is a huge trigger for my kids. So if he suddenly lashes over a snack, it may have brought up a memory (smell is a BIG memory trigger). A lot of times our kids don't know how to react to big feelings so they get overwhelmed and drop in to fight/ flight/ freeze mode. Triggers to watch for is HALTING US (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, Ill, New - changes are scary!, Guilty, and UnSafe, ).

Help them identify the emotion that's causing the behavior.

My kids chronological/ calendar age is MUCH older than their emotional age. Many of our kids get "stuck" at much younger ages. My 11yo daughter was emotionally stuck at age 4, which was a time of a lot of trauma for her. She was pretty much developmentally on target for THAT age, and unfortunately that meant I had to parent her at that level (really hard to do with a 6yo in a 16yo body or a 12 yo in a 20yo body!). I did find that when I changed my expectations to what was correct for her emotional age, she felt safer and wasn't overwhelmed and dysregulated as often. It also helped her mature. I can't tell you how many times I repeated my mantra, "She's only 6! She's only 6! She's only 6!" And had to explain to my husband why my 16yo daughter's only chores were feeding the dogs and wiping down the countertops (with lots of reminders), when her 12yo NT brother had much more extensive chores.

Even if my child is a total mess, I can't just ignore the behavior - it sends the wrong message to the child (and siblings!).
If my child is dysregulated and/or slipping in to fight/ flight/ freeze - then I try to look at the disrespect as a signal that they need help getting calm and regulated. I might pull the child aside and do some calming techniques.

I don't do anything during fight/ flight/ freeze - the thinking part of their brain is not home. Afterwards, when they're back and regulated, THEN we talk about consequences if needed (a LOT of the time I let it go).

Nothing triggers my kids more than feeling criticized (especially my daughter whose love language is Words of Affirmation). So calling them on disrespectful behavior usually triggers a rage/ meltdown. Instead we try to go about it differently.

My son made the mistake of growling a response at his grandma in front of Hubby (son usually hides this type of behavior toward me and my mom from his dad). My husband called him on it, and my son instantly dropped into fight/ flight/ freeze - it became an hour long shouting match.

If we'd listened to Katharine Leslie (my fav attachment guru - he might have said,
"Hey bud, would you like to try that again? Your response did not match the situation so I know something else is going on with you. This is where you say, 'Grandma, I didn't understand what you're talking about and I'm really tired right now.'" Then, if Bear chooses not to "try again" and continues to argue defensively, then maybe Hubby could have said something like, "I can see you're not able to talk about this right now. That's OK. We can talk about it later." And walk away.

We use, "This is where you say..." a LOT!. We say things like, "And this is where you say, 'Mom, This is not my favorite snack food, but thanks for making it for me. Could I have something else?,' Now you say it." and asking them to repeat the more respectful version. "This is where you say, 'Oops! Someone made a mess. Let me clean that up.'" I remind them that cleaning up a mess is not a confession. It is just helping. Now I don't have to tell them what to say. Sometimes I'll just say, "This is where you say..." or even just give them a "look."

GIGO - If my children start using disrespectful and/or foul language, I explain to them that I'm going to help them, by removing the bad influences that are teaching them that these words are acceptable. We stopped watching Cartoon Network, anything but G-rated movies, switched their MP3 players to all Christian Rock... if they slipped and used a word I didn't find acceptable, I'd say, "Language!" and sometimes there were consequences (usually removing media or going in the FAIR Club).

Another thing I do is define the words for them. I use it as a "teachable moment" for sex ed. Makes my kids crazy! Mom talking about sex is soooo embarrasing. I talk about what "That sucks!" is really referring to, F*ck, B*tch, even 'jacked (it's not all about sex! lol)."

If they're whining, we often pretend we don't understand them, because we don't speak Whinese.

Once we worked through some of the bigger stuff. I moved on to grammar. Makes my daughter crazy when she says, "Me and SoandSo are going to the movies." I pretend I don't understand her. All I have to say is "Who?" and she corrects it to "SoandSo and I are going to the movies." She even gets it right on her own some time.

Honestly if it's going to lead to a rage/ meltdown, sometimes I just let it lead to a rage/ meltdown, document, document, document ( ), do some self-care for me ( ), and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Trauma Healing Goals

Just had to share this!

Thursday, May 7, 2015

How to get some sleep

Some common causes for issues with sleeping:

  • Mental illness - Bipolar disorderADHD...
  • Trauma - PTSDNight Terrors - Sleep terrors differ from nightmares. The dreamer of a nightmare wakes up from the dream and may remember details, but a person who has a sleep terror episode remains asleep. Children usually don't remember anything about their sleep terrors in the morning. Adults may recall a dream fragment they had during the sleep terrors. Also, nightmares generally occur in the last half of the night, while sleep terrors occur in the first half of the night. 
  • Sleep Disorders - Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder - a family of sleep disorders affecting, among other things, the timing of sleep. People with circadian rhythm sleep disorders are unable to sleep and wake at the times required for normal work, school, and social needs.
Some techniques for getting sleep:

  • Bedtime routine. Have a set bedtime routine and stick to it. (Bath, brush teeth, "room time," quiet activity in a dimly lit room, parent reading a book, singing a song or rubbing the child's back...).
  • Room Time. This was for both the kids and the parents. Room time was 1/2 hour before bed or 9pm whichever was earlier. Even my older kids had room time. Especially as teens most of my kids didn't really go to sleep at 8 or 9pm anymore, but if they were up running around, the kids who needed more sleep would want to be up too. Plus, Hubby and I wanted some adult time (Get your mind out of the gutter! We just wanted to watch non-Disney TV shows and talk about our day!). 
  • Avoid stimulating activities between dinner and bedtime. This is not the time for a rousing game of tag or scary movies/ stories.
  • Eating and drinking. Avoid eating a heavy evening meal and caffeinated beverages.
  • Avoid overstimulation - bedrooms should not be playrooms. Our therapist suggests bedrooms should have a bed, a dresser (even this can be too much for some kids!), a stuffed animal or two, a book or two and a quiet activity if the child doesn't read independently. No TV or other electronics with screens belong in a bedroom.
  • Give your child tools to overcome his worries. These can include a flashlight, a spray bottle filled with "monster spray," or a large stuffed animal to "protect" him.
  • Screen time ending 2 hours before bedtime - Screens – found on computers, cellphones and TVs – emit blue light that is found in the light spectrum present during daytime hours. Acting as artificial sunlight, blue light decreases your production of melatonin.
  • Melatonin - a mild herbal supplement available over the counter that helps regulate your sleep and wake cycle. A small does is usually given near dark to signal the body that nighttime is coming (does not really work during the day). 
  • Sleep meds - children taking sleep meds should do so only under a doctor's care. If an adult requires sleep meds more than a few days in a row, it's probably a good idea to discuss it with a doctor.
  • Set bedtime and wake time. No matter what time I went to sleep the night before, I get up every day (even weekends) at the same time. This helps force my body to keep my circadian rhythms more regular. For children past the age of napping. Avoid naps during the day.
  • Sleep time. People generally need 8 hours of sleep a day. Kids and teens usually need closer to 10. Especially when my kids are dysregulated, I move their bedtime earlier.
  • Daylight Savings time and school holidays. Changing your body's sleep schedule takes time. I usually start getting the kids back on schedule 2 weeks prior to school starting again after winter and summer vacations, and avoid letting the kids stay up too late or sleep in too much on weekends and holidays.
  • Biofeedback - Practice biofeedback and other calming techniques at other times of the day. Then you can use them at bedtime.
  • Counting to 100. I use this one a lot. I get comfy, close my eyes, breathe slowly and deeply, and count to 100 in my head - each breath in and out is a count of 1 (deep breath in, deep breath out - "1", deep breath in, deep breath out - "2"... If I move for any reason then I have to start over with 1. If I reach 100 and I'm still awake, then I roll over and try a new position - and restart the count.
  • 4-7-8 Breath. I use this quick and simple breathing every night. It works!
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation - The link gives a good tutorial, but basically PMR teaches you how to relax your muscles through a two-step process. First, you systematically tense particular muscle groups in your body, such as your neck and shoulders. Next, you release the tension and notice how your muscles feel when you relax them. This exercise will help you to lower your overall tension and stress levels, and help you relax when you are feeling anxious. 
  • Sleep Phase Chronotherapy (SPC), which progressively advances sleep time by 1–2 hours per day until you've gone all the way around the clock to your preferred bedtime. The idea is that it's almost impossible to make yourself get sleepy and go to sleep early, but it is possible to stay up a little later every night until you move your bedtime all the way around the clock to the right time.
  • Nightmares - One thing my mother taught me is that we can take control of our dreams and nightmares. When I have a recurring nightmare (such as being chased). I try to think of what's going on in my life that might be making me feel this way. Then I rewrite the dream in my head (might be right when I wake up, might be later in the day). I imagine every detail of what I want to have happen instead. (Turn and confront the person chasing me. Have the ability to fly. Whatever.) Think of defeating a bogart in a Harry Potter movie.
  • How to have good dreams. My "secret trick."
    Kitty wanted to have a good dream, and I told her I knew a secret trick.

    I asked her what she wanted to dream about -"getting married and having kids with Jesse McCartney" (Bleech!). But I decided to ignore the gross factor, so we both could get some sleep seeing as she'd had a tough day.

    So to have a good dream you tell yourself a story or write a play in your head while you're laying comfy in your bed. Your story is about what you want to dream about, but you have to imagine EVERY detail. Where are you? What does your house look like, is it a 2 story or a one story, are you in the living room? Where is Jesse? Is he at work? Do you go with him? Do you work? What do you do? Picture it in your head. What are you wearing when you go to work with Jesse? Are you wearing an evening gown? What color is it? Do your heels hurt your feet? Are you in a crowded club or a private limo? What color are the seats in the limo? Is it moving or are you stopped? Does Jesse take your hand as you get out? What does his cologne smell like? Can you feel his hand in yours?

    All of this was done in a quiet, calm, monotonous voice, and I didn't usually wait for answers for most of the questions. I just wanted her to visualize the picture. I did biofeedback when I was her age so I tried to mimic the method of painting imagery.

    In the morning she said it worked!

Sleep Phase Chronotherapy

Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder - a family of sleep disorders affecting, among other things, the timing of sleep. People with circadian rhythm sleep disorders are unable to sleep and wake at the times required for normal work, school, and social needs. They are generally able to get enough sleep if allowed to sleep and wake at the times dictated by their body clocks.

Anonymous Commenter: Circadian Rhythm disorders are a research interest of mine. Almost everyone's internal, natural circadian rhythms are slightly over 24 hours. These rhythms are kept in check by bright light every morning coming in through a person's eyes. This turns off a person's melatonin production (the sleep signal). She is likely not receiving this signal {commenter was under the mistaken impression that Kitty was blind}. A more effective treatment would be for her to take .3 mg of melatonin every day at 6PM. This very small dose would signal her body that nighttime was coming. This would keep her regular and in phase with the world.

Most of the people I know with bipolar disorder have chronic issues with insomnia. It is probably also an issue with PTSD and the hyper-vigilance that goes with that. Bear often had bouts of horrible flashbacks or night terrors that caused his whole body to react as though he were reliving the trauma (which he probably was). Understandably he fought sleep and while most sleep meds didn't work, the one that helped (also an anti-psychotic) he usually refused to take.

Kitty and I both have the sub-type -
Delayed sleep phase disorder (DSPD), aka delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS), characterized by a much later than normal timing of sleep onset and offset and a period of peak alertness in the middle of the night. Like babies who get night and day mixed up!

When Kitty did a sleep study in April, we realized that sleep medicines just don't work for her, and were told that the only treatment left was Sleep Phase Chronotherapy (SPC), which progressively advances sleep time by 1–2 hours per day until you've gone all the way around the clock to your preferred bedtime. The idea is that it's almost impossible to make yourself get sleepy and go to sleep early, but it is possible to stay up a little later every night until you move your bedtime all the way around the clock to the right time.

The doctor told us that few people attempt this treatment, because it's so disruptive to real life (how many people can miss 3-6 weeks of work?) and of the few of his patients that do attempt it, a substantial portion fail.  Even worse, if something happens to disrupt the process then Kitty's sleep schedule could end up even more horribly distorted.  At the time, we decided that all of Kitty's compliance issues would make this treatment impossible.

When nothing else worked, we did attempt Sleep Chronotherapy. I'm not sure how we ended up deciding that it could be done in 1 week, maybe we were so tired that we misunderstood the doctor.

Kitty and I did it together - for many reasons, but primarily because Kitty doesn't have the ability to do it on her own. If you're going to try this, I highly recommend having a partner to help both of you stay awake.

I wrote out a schedule of sleep and awake times for the entire week. This is important! When your sleep schedule is off, you'd be amazed at how complicated and confusing it all gets trying to remember what time to set the alarm for and when not to make appointments.

If I had to do it again, which I WON'T!, here's some things I would do differently.

  1. Figure out a meal schedule.  I think I lost 2lbs because I never remembered to eat, and I'm guessing Kitty gained quite a bit, because she ate continuously (she tends to turn to food when she's upset and/or bored).
  2. Have planned activities, especially with other people involved (since Kitty and I are both extroverts). For times when others are asleep or busy, try doing something active, like taking a walk.
  3. Extend the time to make the transition (2-3 weeks?). It takes a full month for your body to accept a new circadian rhythm. 
  4. On the first night, be sure your new bedtime is at least an hour after the latest time you tend to fall asleep.  We've both stayed up until 4am many times before.  I didn't schedule it this way, because we had something to do at 1pm, and I wanted to give us a full 8 hours plus some time to wake up and get ready for an appointment. Kitty wasn't able to fall asleep until 5am.
  5. Avoid driving (or operating heavy machinery) and making life altering decisions. 
  6. You might want to avoid deep conversations with people you care about - you will regret a lot of things you say when you're sleep deprived and cranky.
  7. Remember sleep deprivation is a common means of torture and brain washing.

Honestly chronotherapy did not help either of us. We were both back to having chronic insomnia within weeks. If you attempt it, please do so under the supervision of a doctor and take longer than a week to make the transition.