One way or another, this past 7 days has been one hell of a roller coaster. There have been some highs, and corresponding lows and frankly, I am feeling a little travel sick with the change from one to the other. I feel like I have been run over by a steam roller, both physically and emotionally.
Some days I have coped better than others, but as I progressed through the week, a few things became very apparent. I am a very emotional person. I deal with stuff with my emotions leading first, and then I can process the emotion and keep going. Some people might feel (and clearly, from their reactions, some people do feel) that this is a disadvantage. I don’t. I think it is a strength, which I hope will serve me well come the point when I have children to look after. If I can express my emotion and deal with it, then hopefully I can help a damaged child do the same.
Another thing which became apparent, the adoption process is emotionally one of the most bruising things you can ever undertake. I am not about to give up now… but on several occasions this week I was really close to throwing in the towel and going to adopt another dog and some chickens. If it wasn’t for the people close to us who have been so invested in the process with us, I would have resigned myself to being childless forever and got on with being an urban homesteader and craftaholic.
With these two things at the forefront of my mind… it became clear that an essential in the toolkit of survival is to have an emotional first aid kit to hand. You might be thinking “What on earth is she wittering on about?” but bear with me.
Do you remember when we were little, we all wanted to be grown ups? Yeah… that was really dumb, wasn’t it! Adult life comes with stress, hurt and more stress on top. Some people can totally cope with that and keep on gliding through life unaffected. But some of us really can’t. Each bump and scrape we suffer emotionally and mentally leaves a scar. If you did something to yourself physically, you wouldn’t hesitate to reach for a first aid kit to get a band aid… so why don’t we do the same thing for our mental health? I think it is too important for people to ignore. You must look after your mental strength in equal proportion to your physical well being. Or else bits of psyche will fall off and make a mess.
The first thing you need in this first aid kit is to pay attention to the emotional pain that you feel. Recognise it when it happens and work to treat it before it feels like it is all encompassing and you get that drowning feeling. For example, on Saturday, at the Adoption Activity Day we attended, we fell in love with a pair of children. They were delightful and we could have happily become their Mummy and Daddy. Unfortunately… it wasn’t possible due to geographical constraints on their adoption. I was heartbroken. It would have been easier to shrug off and say “Oh well. I only met them for a little time, it isn’t right, move on”. 15 years ago, that is exactly what I would have done. But instead, I acknowledged the raw, painful realisation that it was a loss, an actual emotional wrench for them to say no (again) to us becoming parents, and I dealt with it. It felt overwhelming for the first few days after… but I am still standing now.
The second skill for your emotional first aid kit is the ability to redirect your gut feeling when you fail. This is something I am really, really bad at. I set myself really, really high standards, and if I do not reach them, I will beat myself up something awful. Of course, when you set your standard at perfection, and perfection doesn’t exist, then you will always be disappointed, won’t you? So, I learnt a lesson from the wonderful FlyLady (www.flylady.net) – It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to be done. I tell you, that phrase has revolutionised my life. When I am cleaning the house, when I am gardening, when I am doing a craft project – it doesn’t need to be perfect. It can have faults lying about. That is okay. That is normal. That is life. Redirecting the guilt I feel at not being perfect, means I actually give myself permission to be a normal human being. That is really quite freeing.
Of course, if you are a recovering perfectionist, you will often find your inner critic doing a good job of making your life miserable. In order to tell my inner critic to sit down and shut up, I find myself thinking about what I would say to a friend who was dissing her/himself. I would tell them to stop it and be compassionate to themselves. Cut themselves some slack. It is important that you monitor and protect your self esteem and don’t let your own inner gremlins get you thinking that you are not worthy. This is the next little trick to have in your arsenal. Of course, that compassion needs to take a positive form – unfortunately, I seem to have developed a bit of “self medicate with junk food” habit, so I am trying to break that by giving myself the chance to knit, sew and cross stitch when I need to.
How many of us have a negative thought soundtrack going around in their head? I do. It is only in the past few years that I have made a conscious effort to stop being a negative Nelly and look at the positive of life. I posted something on my personal facebook timeline the other day about how God only gives you what you can cope with, and that apparently God thinks I am a bad ass. That was my way of taking the positive out of a really bad day on Wednesday. It doesn’t matter how you do it… but finding the silver lining in every cloud is a fabulous way to cope.
Sometimes, we have to make a really hard decision and you need to come to terms with loss. I am doing this all the time with the children we have been enquiring about re potential matches (25+ now) and it does not get easier. So, I have started to try and find a meaning in the losses. It is easier on some occasions than it is on others. I have a lot of internal conversations with myself about the needs of the children that we have not pursued and how it is probably the right thing that we have stepped away from the match. Sometimes I even manage to convince myself!! Sometimes, I really don’t. On the latter occasions, I fall back on my faith. God has a plan. There is a reason why we haven’t found our match yet. We just don’t know what it is.
The next emotional first aid skill is something that, as a cradle Catholic, I totally SUCK at. That is to not let excessive guilt linger. Now, if I were a better Catholic I would go to confession a lot more regularly than I do, and actually I suspect if I did, I would have a convenient valve to allow the guilt to escape. Hmmm. Easter is coming up. I need to make some time to head to the confessional and unburden myself. I hope the priest has an armchair and some popcorn!
The final item in our emotional first aid kit is personal knowledge. Learn what treatments for emotional wounds work for you. This is as individual as you are. Although my go-to treatment is junk food, that has some seriously negative consequences, so I need to think of better ways to make myself feel better. Naps have often helped me, so does being creative in some way. I like to sit in a room with some classical music and a really good book. Sitting on the garden bench and looking at the garden, being out in the garden doing some work, a decent old movie and a cup of hot tea also works. Whatever it is… make sure you know what work for you and do it regularly.
You really are worth taking care of.