Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Kherosine Suit - Inviting Flames

Adoption is a traumatic experience for many people. Adoptees and first families tend to bear the brunt of the painful experiences that result directly from the adoption process (adoptive families often have their pain front loaded in dealing with infertility, child loss, et cetera). Amongst some there appears to be a trend toward self diagnosis in the aftermath of adoptions that didn't meet the needs of one or more parties involved. The specific diagnosis I've encountered is P.T.S.D. or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for those unfamiliar with the acronym. This self diagnosis is often used to explain the severity of one's reactions when they seem inappropriate or to steer those considering adoption away from that possibility. It is tempting to say that it is used as a "Get out of Jail Free" card but that isn't entirely fair.

There are many people for whom the adoption experience has been terribly traumatic. It's important to recognize this truth. I still agree with Jim Gritter's notion that pain is at the heart of every adoption decision. It is possible that there are some who have been so traumatized by the pain of adoption that P.T.S.D. is a viable diagnosis.

Unfortunately I think the trend for self diagnosis has diminished the likelihood that these genuine cases are taken seriously. But this isn't the case for P.T.S.D. alone. Self diagnosed depression, A.D.H.D., bipolar, even sociopathy diminishes the gravity of the reality these diagnosise carry. This is especially the case when the claimed mental health condition is used inappropriately to justify otherwise unacceptable behavior. The didactic tale of the boy who cried wolf applies, very tidily, here.

Here I step onto my soapbox.

Mental health difficulties are serious conditions. They deserve to be taken seriously. Just as a person who claims to be diabetic eating a cake, I can't take seriously a person who claims P.T.S.D. that isn't in ongoing therapy. If one takes mental health seriously it isn't a justification for poor behavior. On the contrary it holds that person to a higher degree of accountability. To claim to have P.T.S.D., whether diagnosed by a professional or not, means taking ownership of that experience and the responsibility for recognizing it. If one accepts a diagnosis there is an implicit acceptance of responsibility for taking every reasonable step to ensure the condition in question doesn't unduly effect others.

If I am depressed I am responsible for taking steps to mitigate how that effects my other relationships. That doesn't mean keeping it a secret so no one feels poorly for me. Instead it means finding the help I need to establish coping strategies so my depression cannot get out of control and begin damaging others. Similarly if I suffer from P.T.S.D. I must also accept the responsibility of taking every step possible to normalize my relationships and interactions with others.

So what's the point of all this? Well, the short nasty version is if you have P.T.S.D. and know it you don't get to take it out on other people. No matter who the person is, what s/he thinks, says, or does. Acknowledging trauma prohibits one lashing out from that trauma. To say otherwise is to spit in the eye of every person who has ever struggled with any mental health disorder.

In Response

Silence in the Absence of Conflict

I've been ignoring life in Blog-land for some time as other concerns have taken priority. Those concerns, not surprising to anyone, are my finances. This is bitter-sweet news because it points directly to something very important.

Life as a birth father has become normal life.

Or perhaps I should say this; life after the adoption of a child can feel just as normal as life before the adoption of a child.

In recent months I've been focusing a lot of attention to getting my financial affairs in order, developing plans for some cottage industry style enterprises, strengthening my relationships with my family, and continuing to support Athena as she prepares to re-enter school in yet another step toward her eventual career goals. Athena and I have continued to visit Festus, Prof Plum, and Ms Scarlet. All of those relationships continue to grow. The funny part is that I haven't been thinking about those relationships as much recently as I had the year previous. That's actually very important as it indicates that I'm not working as hard to have those relationships feel successful. At this point they typically feel successful without much effort. It seems stress doesn't enter that sphere unless there are other complicating factors. There have, in fact, been complicating factors but they were handled with compassion, open communication, a bit of mutual confusion, and in the end worked out smoothly. It's really nice to feel like my friendships with Ms Scarlet and Prof Plum are a source of stress relief.

There have been several visits with them that I haven't related here. That has a lot to do with going nuts at work. More than that, however, is a loss of urgency in those visits, conversations, and connections. After more than a year it feels like the foundation for real relationships have been laid and we now get to enjoy some of that hard work. As life continues there also continue to be new complications. I've come to the conclusion that if one waits for life to "calm down" before considering it normal s/he will be waiting until death. That said, I think we've hit as close to "normal" as we're going to get. It feels good. It feels like we've found the light at the end of the tunnel and it wasn't a train after all. All four of us were putting a lot of faith in that faint glimmer. The days when I forget how hard it had been are the days I feel like I'm holding a winning lottery ticket.

It's tempting to say that I've found a good life after adoption but that isn't accurate at all. The growth I had to do getting into adoption in the first place is largely responsible for where I am now. I have found a good life in adoption.