Saturday, 11 February 2012

Meetings and mental health

Having had 24 hours to think about and reflect on my meeting with the Primary Mental Health Worker, it’s time to share the details. My apologies if it’s a bit disjointed –there was a lot to take in, and lots of explanations of behaviour, and like many conversations we went off at tangents sometimes. I’ve tried to pull it all together into something that makes sense! This post is intended to record what happened, not necessarily provide interesting reading!

I had been getting increasingly nervous and starting to doubt whether I was right or wrong in trying to get help. But the lady (we’ll call her Glenda) put me at ease and reminded me very much of the social worker who did our home study and took us to panel. She wasn’t at all scary, or aggressive or dismissive and was certainly more empathetic than any other professional I’ve approached so far.

She started with wanting a brief description of Mini’s background, which I gave her. Briefly and without telling you the ins and outs of Mini’s story; he was removed within weeks of birth having been on the child protection register since before birth. He should have been removed earlier but a lack of communication between the professionals and birth mum about her due date and his subsequent birth led to a bit of a delay. He was then with the same foster carer until he came to us at just 13months.

Generally we talked and it was felt that Mini realises that he is different to Dollop in terms of background, age, everything. Glenda felt that some of his bad behaviour and copying was to test whether we treat them the same. This is partly because he doesn’t remember how he was treated at Dollop’s current age, and so he’s acting that age so he can see how he’d be treated – would it be the same as Dollop? This is the primary reason for his regression.

Then Glenda asked questions about some of Mini’s behaviours.  The first on my list was wetting and occasional soiling. She asked when it occurred and when I explained that often it was on the way home, she deduced that he was getting scared of what he might find at home. Or not find. This was also part of regression – Mini is regressing back to a place when he wasn’t potty trained.

Since my pregnancy with Dollop, Mini has become a lot more interested in where he came from – whose tummy etc. We spoke about Mini wanting to know more about his birth family, and I mentioned that he has spoken of meeting them. Glenda feels he has rather an advanced understanding of his background for his age, and although this is good, it could also cause us future issues. He’s likely to at some point retort with ‘but you’re not my real mum’, and so Glenda suggested contacting post adoption support now, to prepare ourselves emotionally for this… She also told me that she’d speak to the rest of her team with a view to some theraplay, particularly around life story work. Mini’s good understanding is also leading to his anxieties – his age means he is now able to understand what we’re telling him about his background, but emotionally he is not advanced enough to make sense of the feelings that information evokes – the result is bad behaviour, which is a means of expression. It might also mean he feels some of the things that he felt when he was taken into care, and when he moved here from foster care. These – to him – are strange, horrible, scary, unexplained feelings which don’t have names, but just feel awful, and Mini is not old enough or emotionally articulate enough to deal with them.
This led onto a chat about feelings generally, as Mini has never been able verbalise how he’s feeling. Again, theraplay might help with this, and we need to continue helping him by describing his feelings to him which will give him words to use in future.

Glenda feels Mini is avoidant in his attachment style because he is internally worried (although may not know it, and if he does, can’t verbalise it yet) that we’ll reject him, which is how he sees his birth mother and foster carer…they gave him up so they rejected him. She suggested that when Mini fake hurts himself it’s because he wants affection but doesn’t feel able to ask for it –again for fear of rejection, so this is a way of getting it without asking and without risking that rejection.

It is not unusual for school to not see a problem – it’s us, his family, that he is scared of losing, and so it is us that see the fallout from this. This also explains why he’s increasingly misbehaving and ‘showing his true colours’ with the NC’s parents, as they are the next most important care giving figures in his life, and therefore another set of people to worry about with regards to rejecting him.

We’re doing everything right, and need to continue and be consistent. Clear rules and consequences for screaming etc, time in and cuddles for meltdowns, lots of affection even if it is rejected, and above all, constant reassurance that we love him and we’re his forever family.

I feel reassured that we’re already doing the right thing, but a little frustrated that we’ve been doing this for 4 years and it doesn’t appear to be enough for Mini. I hope that we do get the theraplay arranged soon, and I really hope it helps Mini. We do love him, he is our son, and he will be here forever! Mini came to us 4 years ago, the honeymoon period is well and truly over, now it feels like we’re beginning as a family…


  1. I have just discovered your blog. We are 2 years into our adoption. I have a birth son of 9 and our adopted son, Pickle, is 5. I think I have been struggling recently with the idea (and I'm ashamed to say it) that he has been with us for 2 years and that nuture should 'surely' be taking over. Without a doubt Pickle's behaviour has changed for the better so I know fundamentally we are going in the right direction. The way you describe Mini's behaviour (Pickle mimics many of those) has helped me to understand that a cuddle and a plaster isn't going to be the cure-all. Obviously I have always known that but during the 'ups' and with the more positive behaviours, I have become complacent and as such new behaviours have resulted. This week has been particularly difficult. On 2 occasions, he has been quite vocal in the playground with his 'not-so-nice' words towards me and has subsequently raced off and been affectionate with 'almost-strangers'. I have struggled to deal with that internally (maybe it's jealously). The incident came about because I had forgotten to take a treat when I collected him from school and he screamed at me that I was 'nasty', and he hated me and he wasn't ever coming home with me again. Of course, that drew many glances and I felt a little awkward. I'm usually pretty good at not bothering what people think but I have to say that my sensitivity must have been exceptionally heightened. (Thankfully, it was sunny and I had shades on:) ). I would like to say another thank you for pointing out that teachers can't always fully understand. Pickle's teacher is brilliant, helpful and supportive, but she has never seen any of the overtly negative behaviours (apart from not listening and a small amount of childish aggression). She has pointed out this week that he isn't 'where he should be' in his reading, but I am not sure she understands how much time is spent on behavioural issues at home, which can eat into our education time. That and the fact he is very bloody-minded, so getting him to read is quite a task. He's wiley enough to know what I am doing if I try to make the reading into a game, too :) Sorry, I seem to have gone off on a personal rant there :); it's just nice to put down in words how you're feeling when you know the person reading will understand. Thank you again for your excellent blog.

  2. Hi Claire,
    I'm glad you found the blog. My primary aim in writing is to record our journey, but it's also to help others recognise their own families - and hopefully seek help if they need it, and most selfishly - it's for me to find other people - like you - who are going through to same, so I don't feel so alone...

    Bloody-mindedness is something we encounter very frequently. So I understand how you feel - our behavioural issue time also takes over sometimes and we miss out on homework time. And it's not just that, but I'm getting better at judging whether Mini is in the right mood to do his reading, or whether it'll set him off. I know all kids have to do homework when they don't want to (I remember it well), but with Mini (and Pickle I suspect too?) it's more than that, it's not that Mini doesn't want to do it, but at times, he just can't handle it.
    Have you sought help? Do you think you/Pickle need help? I must say that since I got this referral to the CONNECT service I feel better able to handle things (just got to help the NC understand it too!), and I know they're there if I need support. They might not be able to help in the long-term but for now, whilst I need the support and a few pointers on strategies they are there.

    Feel free to rant on here, tweet me, or email me if you ever want to offload! And keep reading x

  3. Thanks so much for your reply. I did make a tentative call for help when we went through a really sticky patch about 9 months ago. The Post Adoption Support service said the help would cost us £2k. So we decided to just muddle on through. I have never heard of CONNECT. Is this a local support service or something available nationally?
    Most of the time, we handle things pretty well, but every so often I feel that I just need that freedom to have a 'good ol' moan' :). I have very good and well-meaning friends but like you say in one of your blogs, I am often greeted with 'oh, all kids are like that', or 'yes, I know, mine is doing the same'. Somehow, in the back of my mind, I know it isn't quite 'the same'. You mentioned Theraplay somewhere, I am now wondering if this is something we should seek out. Pickle, if left to his own devices, can only 'bash', 'smash', 'shoot', and 'kill' his toys. He has no idea how to play gently. Everyone is tied up and 'going down'. Even when I interact and tried to lead the play, he will watch me but then do his own thing, carrying on smashing his toys into each other, into the skirting boards, people's feet, the name it :) Although he is much less aggressive with us now, he still is heavy-handed with other family members, the close ones. Yet, interestingly not at all with close friends. He is exceptionally affectionate with them, as he is with his teacher. I have to remind him to only use flat, kind hands. He punched my mother-in-law hard in the arm this weekend :0. This all sounds so negative, which is just possibly indicative of my current frame of mind and generally having that feeling of not being 'good enough'. Actually, things are predominantly positive. It's just a very long rollercoaster ride, as you know. I'm very glad to have found you now. x

    1. I don't know if CONNECT is local - certainly here, it's part of CAMHS that deals specifically with LA and ex-LA children. We got the referral to them by going to our GP. I recommend you speak to as many professionals as possible (health visitor, school nurse, doctor) and get as many referrals as possible. Then pick and choose carefully those you make appointments with.
      CONNECT is where we hope to get Theraplay from, they employ the therapists so it's a service they provide.

      Things for us, til the start of this year, were predominantly positive (although we can recognise the point at which they started to decline). Things got very quickly horrid at the start of the year, but are picking up again now, and even on the bad days I feel better able to handle them.

      I've not experienced very much agression from Mini, for which I'm grateful. It must be so hard to see Pickle like that. Are your family supportive? If you're not feeling good enough, then please do seek more help. You are good enough, but sometimes we just need a bit of help, support and a few strategies up our sleeves to make ourselves feel confident about how good we are!

      I have had a few comments on the blog and in real life, from people who think I should never doubt that I'm a real mum, good enough, enough for Mini, and shouldn't blame myself for the issues Mini has, but you can't help how you feel. When all your approaches have so far failed, you do start to doubt yourself and wonder what you've done wrong, or at the very least, how you could do things better. Getting it down 'on paper' is helping me, and my increasing support network too - I've never been very good with rollercoasters! Keep in touch x