Every month, I get paid. Within a couple of days, I start using that money to pay bills. Mortgage, phone bill, car insurance… there’s quite a long list! I have to pay these bills in order to survive – to keep a roof over our heads, food in the fridge, clothes on our backs. After all of the necessary things are paid, what’s left is for me. Only it’s not for me. Everybody I come into contact with needs some money from me: the boys need a lot; Mrs S gets some; I have to use some going to work; I use some if I meet up with friends. Before too long, the money runs out and I have a choice, I can either stop spending or I can borrow a little bit and figure out how to pay it back later on down the line.
Now imagine if, instead of money, I was talking about attention, feelings and emotions. Imagine you started with a limited “account”, and every interaction requires you to pay a little bit. There would be the things you absolutely had to do, such as feeding and clothing your children, spending time with your partner and going to work. Then there would be the other demands, things that don’t affect anybody’s survival but contribute to yours and their wellbeing, such as playing with your children, supporting your friends when they need you, swapping shifts at work and so on. Then there would be the things you want to do for nobody other than yourself. Going for a coffee, getting your hair done, treating yourself.
Recently, I’ve been borrowing more and more. My account ran out, all spent on supporting the boys and their needs, putting their big feelings before my own. Maintaining my professional(ish!) attitude at work. Being there for Mrs S when she needed me. On Monday night, I suddenly felt like I just couldn’t borrow any more, couldn’t spend any more, I felt broken. I wanted to give everybody all of the things they needed, I wanted the people I love to have everything they need and want, but I was so empty from trying to give it all that I couldn’t do it anymore. It made me cry, and I don’t like to cry!
Mrs S took charge, which is exactly what I needed, and on Tuesday I went and spoke to the doctor. For the last few months I’ve been taking medicine to help me balance my mood, which helped to begin with but didn’t seem to be working any more. The doctor told me to take some more medicine. I’ve also been talking to a counsellor. It’s been really hard for me to admit these things, to admit that I need some support to refill my account. Mental health is such a prominent issue at the moment, but acknowledging to myself, let alone the wider world, that I was struggling with my mental health, was more of a challenge than I could have imagined. As a nurse and as a parent, I have always felt as though I should be the person fixing rather than being fixed.
Tomorrow is World Mental Health Day. I’m here to tell you that post adoption depression and anxiety are real. Having to really psyche yourself up just to leave the house is very real. Feeling exhausted after the briefest of social interactions is very real. Shutting the world out because you feel like nobody can hear or see you anyway is very real. Feeling like you’re in a room but not really present, rather detached and hollow, is very real. Feeling like you’re on an emotional rollercoaster all day every day is very real. I feel exhausted but struggle to sleep. I want to read, or sew, or knit, but my hands ache, or I can only manage a few pages of a book. Either that or I get completely lost in those things because they give me a tiny bit of relief from my perceived reality. “Perceived reality” because I feel like I’m on a hamster wheel, that nothing has ever changed, that nothing will ever change, that life will continue in this endless circle of emotions, of trauma, of giving, that my boys will never feel their hurt go away and so I will never feel my hurt go away. Realistically of course, I know that things always do move forward, tomorrow becomes today, today becomes yesterday and we keep putting one foot in front of the other.
So if I seem different lately, please know that I’m trying my very best. If I make an excuse not to meet up, know that it’s nothing you’ve done, but just that my account is too empty that day. Please don’t stop asking. I think things will definitely get better, I just don’t know when.
DISCLAIMER (Especially for our mums!): The account and spending are an analogy. We are ok for money… I think! You’ll have to check with Mrs S, she’s the boss!