As I’ve mentioned in my Facebook group and on Twitter, things have been particularly hard going around here for the last couple of months. I mean, they’re pretty much permanently not great, what with the CPV and everything, but it really ramped up just before Easter and the intensity, frequency and duration of the violence, verbal abuse and destruction of property have remained sky-high. Coupled with poor to non-existent support from the various professionals in our lives, and outright opposition from the SEN department in sorting out the right SEMH school place for Joanna, mine and Pete’s mental health is taking a battering. Here’s what I’m doing to fight back.
The reason why
The reasons for the girls’ difficulties have been a big melting pot of contributing factors. Charlotte’s much-loved teacher went on maternity leave. Joanna was banned from going on a week-long school trip because they thought the risk of her being violent was too high. (Previously they’d said she should definitely take part, then after we’d told her she could go, they changed their minds). We found out that the girls’ birth mum has had a baby, having been settled with a new partner for a while now. Joanna feels that she’s been replaced. That hurts.
Then there have been Charlotte’s diagnoses, which provoked jealousy in Joanna because of the visits to the clinic and the perception that Charlotte has a ‘better excuse’ for her behaviours. How does a 9-year-old evaluate the relative ‘value’ of autism/ADHD/pFAS/ambivalent attachment on one side and PTSD/disorganised attachment on the other and conclude that one is ‘better’? We certainly haven’t presented it that way, and have made it clear to Joanna that she too will be visiting the FASD clinic in due course.
What my self-care looks like right now
As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been taking Citalopram (an antidepressant) for a few months. Recently my GP increased the dose from 20mg to 40mg, which I gather is the maximum recommended dose. I am continuing to function pretty well most of the time, thanks in no small part to the medication. Before I started on it I was really not coping very well at all, and once the violence increased and we found out that SEN were refusing to budge from their choice of an entirely inappropriate school for Joanna, I was back in that place again and my GP put the dose up. Things are still utterly rubbish, but I can at least get out of bed and get the children to school, even on days like today and yesterday, where there is unceasing verbal abuse and I am pelted with sticks for the duration of the journey.
I am in the fortunate position of being able to reduce the amount of work I take on and have a lot of naps. This is my default coping strategy. I often don’t sleep brilliantly at night because I can’t switch my brain off, but oddly it’s much easier in the daytime.
My GP also suggested I increase the amount of exercise I do, to help with the stress. Let’s be honest, I am not a sporty person. I can cope with walking and swimming and occasionally venture into the gym to read my book on an exercise bike, but it all feels a bit of a chore. I’m trying.
Not the pile of parenting books that keeps growing. Escapism. For me this is primarily Sherlock Holmes fanfiction.
I’m keeping a gratitude journal (this one from Paperchase). It means I have to make myself focus on the good bits of every day, even if some days it feels really hard to think of anything.
Taking respite opportunities
Half-term holiday clubs. Sleepovers with grandparents. After school club a couple of times a week. Yes to all the above.
Pete and I are also planning a holiday to Iceland in October (he earns so many air miles with work that we have free flights – hurrah). Something to look forward to is really helping, and I’m enjoying making a personalised Google map of our planned itinerary as I read more about it all.
Asking for help
Our GP is currently leading the charge in advocating for us. She has really got the measure of the depth of need, the impact on me, and the buck-passing by the various other professionals. I’m hopeful that she is going to make a difference. She’s said I can see her as frequently as I like, even making appointments for me outside of her normal surgery hours. I’m grateful for her willingness to help.
We’re also in touch with our local SENDIASS service, who are really good at responding helpfully to emails. We’d like to avoid taking SEN to tribunal unless we have to, but if they continue to refuse to listen to us and children’s services when we say Joanna needs a boarding place, then tribunal it is.
Obviously we’ve been keeping up our usual stream of emails to post-adoption support and the Tier 4 social worker (who seems to have no understanding of trauma), saying that our family is on the verge of breaking up without this school place. PAS seem to be referring everyone to Tier 4, who may be higher up the pecking order but are not adoption-specific, don’t have an existing relationship with our family, and don’t understand what our needs are. Rather than continuing to advocate for us, they’ve just told us that SEN won’t change their minds and suggest Joanna goes to the day school we know isn’t appropriate plus foster care! If they think that’s a good solution, they’re mad. Moving families is the last thing she needs. This is precisely why she needs a residential school place, so she can stay in our family, for the sake of her mental health. We are really baffled about what is difficult to understand here.
Our lovely OT has been working just with me for a few weeks, in recognition that any stress I feel is picked up by the girls, who amplify it further. We’ve done mindful coffee and cake consumption (now you’re talking!), a mindful walk in the woods, and a few other mindful activities such as watching the second hand of the clock go round and synchronising my breathing with it. I’ve also been doing a lot of the breathing technique where you breathe in for a count of 4, hold it for 7, then exhale for 8. Sounds unlikely, but it is helping me stay regulated when under attack.
We’re expecting to have a Team Around the Child (TAC) meeting in the next couple of weeks at which our GP will tell the social workers and SEN to sort themselves out and actually provide proper support. Who knows how they’ll respond. Past experience suggests little will change. This then leaves us choosing between a tribunal and a section 20. We don’t want either, but nor can we continue to be physically attacked every day.Self-care – the practical stuff – really does work. Click To Tweet
Where does this leave my mental health? The self-care is helping. I am holding up much better than I would have thought possible. I’m sure that the Citalopram is playing a major part in this, but the whole package of taking care of my own needs is working pretty well. That’s not to say I want it to go on like this, because it is still extremely stressful and the violence is horrible, but just to say that self-care – the practical stuff – really does work.
If you need help with your own self-care, you have a number of options.
- Talk to your GP/social worker/another professional who is likely to be supportive (yes, I recognise that this assumes there is such a person).
- Join my self-care Facebook group where you can be among others who understand and encourage each other to look after themselves.
- Try a self-care book. I like these ones.
- Check out some of my other posts on self-care. These are the most popular:
If you have other pearls of wisdom to share, be my guest. Comments are open. 😊