Today I was gifted a snow day by the wonderful English weather- huzzah and hoorah!!
Small child’s school was open so I waved him off and treated myself to some lovely self care. This may have involved hot chocolate, trash tv and snoozing. Laying supine on the couch with the dogs and cats I got to thinking (thanks to the snowy headspace) about how much has changed in the last 18 months…
It was not always thus!
Rewind to September 2017 and my household was in a permanent state of warfare. Despite knowing all the theory about attachment and trauma, living it was painful. We had spiralled into shouty parents, work stressed and with no time for ourselves. I had sunk so far into compassion fatigue that I couldn’t see beyond myself. I was exhausted with caring and fixing.
If you are unsure what compassion fatigue is, here is a definition:
Compassion Fatigue is a state experienced by those helping people or animals in distress; it is an extreme state of tension and preoccupation with the suffering of those being helped to the degree that it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper.Dr. Charles Figley
If you are unsure how it feels, well common symptoms of compassion fatigue include:
- Chronic physical and emotional exhaustion
- Feelings of inequity toward the therapeutic or caregiver relationship
- Feelings of self-contempt
- Difficulty sleeping
- Weight loss
- Poor job satisfaction
For me it was a feeling of chronic exhaustion and detachment and a lack of motivation. I couldn’t see an end to life as it was and it was quite debilitating.
Now this may sound like depression but, unlike depression, recognition of the condition and simple treatments can quickly make a difference. Of course, I didn’t know that compassion fatigue was a ‘thing’ and just assumed I needed to try harder as a parent.
Parenting smarter, not harder
Reading about Therapeutic Parenting, I began to recognise that many of us adopters felt the same. I joined the National Association of Therapeutic Parenting (NATP) and decided to go along to a new Listening Circle group that they were hosting near to home. The rest, they say is history.
At that first meeting the first piece of my jigsaw 🧩 into place. In a local Starbucks, I met a fantastic group of parents just like me, one of whom has gone on to be my emotional compass, cake partner and co-Director of PASH, Evie.
I then learned to recognise compassion fatigue and the concept of self-care (before it was trendy).
Self care is the actions that individuals take for themselves, on behalf of and with others in order to develop, protect, maintain and improve their health, wellbeing or wellness.
To beat compassion fatigue and parent our very challenging children, self care is a necessity not an option (hence why I happily took up residence on the sofa today). Piece 2 of the jigsaw 🧩
You can come out of compassion fatigue
Once the brain fog of compassion fatigue began to subside I had the energy and motivation to deal with professionals and red tape and, with the help of wonderful charity IPSEA, secured an EHCP for Bob and took him out of a school that could and would not meet his needs. Jigsaw 🧩 piece 3.
Around this time, the concept for PASH was born out of the frustration and difficulty of accessing services post adoption. For those with time, energy and motivation it is hard enough to wade through forms, phone calls and referrals- but for some parents that is just not an option – why shouldn’t all adopters have equal access to services? Piece 🧩 4.
Our paediatrician prescribed ADHD meds for Bob. This is a minefield of course. Stories of the evils of Ritalin and drugged up children abound in the pages of the red tops. Of course we did our research, but realised that without help, Bob was never going to fulfil any potential, his brain and body too fizzy and wobbly to think and react logically and safely – and let’s face it, he had enough problems at school, if we could fix one, then we should. The meds were transformative and family life instantly calmed. Jigsaw 🧩 5
I learned that summer holiday activity spreadsheets were our friend, as were pared down celebrations and the acceptance of sensory issues (fireworks). Ear defenders and predictability. Jigsaw 🧩 6
The final pieces of the jigsaw
Two biggies complete my jigsaw 🧩 for the win and I didn’t expect either to happen, let alone make life amazing! The first was for Bob – finding a supportive, happy school with high expectations and a love for our boy has made family life so much calmer. Bob goes happily to school, is filling gaps developmentally, emotionally and academically. He even does homework!
And finally, I plucked up the courage to leave my job of 18 years. Although it was scary and strange, I needed to reduce stress where I could, so I did.
What is the point of this post? Well, I guess sometimes it’s good to stop for a moment and look at the journey you have been on. You need to not get caught up in the daily grind. Step back and reflect on the bigger picture. The me of 18 months ago would not recognise the me of today and I certainly prefer the ‘new’ me. The adoption journey can be both fabulous and tough but one thing is for certain – it’s the ride of a lifetime!!!!!