The Fear of a Single Word

It’s been a little over a week since Josiah and I announced that we were expecting a baby at the end of September. For the past couple of months, my emotions about pregnancy have been mixed. On the one hand, I’m thrilled to see us become parents. I have a nervous excitement about the opportunity to raise a human with all the qualities that Josiah and I treasure so much.

I’m also scared. This was a total surprise for us. We had planned to really start talking about starting a family after Josiah’s first round of deployments. I selfishly wanted more solo time to get used to having my life partner gone and unavailable to talk for months at a time. I wanted to feel as mentally healthy as possible before adding anything else to our life.

And then last week happened. Last week, I got the official bipolar diagnosis. Bipolar. An intimidating word to be tied to any person, but for someone who is stepping into motherhood for the first time in six months, I’ve been terrified.

Suspicions of this diagnosis first popped up in early 2013, but the therapist I was seeing decided I was struggling with ptsd and major depressive disorder. Bipolar isn’t something that doctors and therapists like to easily diagnose because it can be a word that haunts someone for the rest of their life. But my symptoms have worsened in those four years. Untreated, they’ve started to affect more and more of my life. My depressive cycles have gotten harder to battle through, and my hypomania has left me wondering what kind of person I really am on multiple occasions.

So I’ve started medication. I’ve begun keeping a more dedicated record of my emotions. I have doctors that are helping to monitor my brain and the warning signs I might not think are important. But the fear is lingering. The fear that I won’t be able to be the kind of mother I really want to be because of my mental struggles. The worry that I’ll go through episodes while Josiah is out of the country and I’m the temporary sole caregiver of our child. The very real reality that our children will grow up knowing that sometimes their mother won’t be able to be as mentally present as they need me to be.

I know that both Josiah and I are blessed with families that would do absolutely everything they can to help us be the best parents we can be. Being willing and able to ask for that help is a constant battle for me. There are so many parenting stories I’ve been reading about mothers who struggle with postpartum depression, anxiety, and various other mental conditions. However, I don’t see many moms who struggle with bipolar. I don’t hear many successful parenting stories where a parent with bipolar was still able to provide their children with a healthy, loving, and positive environment. Part of me hopes that I’ll be able to start writing that kind of life story for our new family. Mental health is such a touchy writing subject because it makes so many people uncomfortable, and one of my goals with this blog has always been to change that stigma. But writing about it doesn’t make the fear any less real.

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Eiffel Tower, Paris, France- July 2014
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It’s the Hardest Time of the Year

Many people count down to the holidays every year with baited breath. For most of the world, December is a month of celebrating and happiness. For others, however, it’s a time that reminds them of the bad, the difficult, and the painful. For others, the entire holiday season fills them with dread.

For the past few years, I’ve found myself in the second group. I’ve found myself wanting to avoid everything holiday related as much as possible. I’m not sure if it’s constantly being surrounded by people who insist that it’s the “happiest time of the year”, if it’s the reminder of the holidays formerly being happy memories, or if it’s just that depression seems to be spiked with extra strength steroids at the end of the year. Honestly, it’s probably a combination of all of the above, but no matter the reasoning, I’ve found myself becoming more bitter and less willing to give any holiday celebrating the time of day.

I read an article on the habits of people with concealed depression a couple days ago. I think this is one of the most on-point articles on describing my thoughts and actions in dealing with depression that I’ve ever read. There is nothing more that I hate than feeling like a burden to the people around me…having the thoughts that make you believe that if you fully let someone in to the way you experience the world, there’s no way that they could willingly spend another minute with you. The paralyzing need to just have someone want to be there while you sob, but not being able to trust that someone would be that strong backbone for you. The guilt that floods through you as you sit on the floor, unable to move. The facade, the impenetrable mask of peaceful happiness you’ve created and don’t know how to remove because you’ve feared the abandonment by the people you care for most in this world if they saw that darkness that flows through the truest form of you.

The holiday season is always one when the mask is weakest. When the sense of aloneness becomes stronger than ever and threatens to break down your walls past the point of repair. When the joy around you is almost unbearable because the opposite feeling feels so clear in your life. For me, it always begins on Thanksgiving. That’s the start of the season when I want to go into hibernation, only returning back to the world after the holidays have passed and the harshest part of winter makes the general public want to withdraw into their shells.  So I find ways to avoid celebrating. I work through the holidays. I avoid time with family and friends. I make it a point to stay home.

It’s really a battle between hard and harder. I was sick this Thanksgiving, and while I have been hit with waves of loneliness stronger than I think I’ve ever experienced before, part of me was thankful that I could use that sickness as an excuse to stay home instead of accepting friends’ offers to join their families. There’s a sense that those invitations come from a place of pity that I am alone, even though I know that’s a ridiculous idea to have. There’s the idea that if I were to go and celebrate any holiday with others, that I would be a downer, even though the people that I know are sincere in their friendship wouldn’t actually mind my melancholy. It’s a constant inner battle between my feelings and thoughts and knowing that those feeling and thoughts take over through the power of depression.

I started writing this post as a reflection, as an explanation for some of my actions. However, I think it’s become more of a plea to the people around me, as an attempt to put some of my thoughts into words, and to let the other people I know who struggle through this month know that you aren’t the only one. Even if some of us choose to struggle in silence and solitude, there’s a slight relief knowing others are fighting similar battles.

Austin, Texas - February 2015
Austin, Texas – February 2015

Shared Genes

I think the strangest part of meeting anyone biologically related to you for the first time is noticing small characteristics that you share with them. While I think I look completely different than either one of my adoptive parents for obvious reasons, people tend to tell me my nose looks like my dad or my face shares similar qualities with my mom’s, probably because they think they’re complimenting my parents before they find out I’m adopted. I don’t see it. Maybe it’s a mental thing that prevents me from seeing any physical similarities, but I don’t think we look anything alike.

When I learned about genetics in seventh grade science class, one of our assignments was to take look at a list of physical characteristics that are caused by dominant or recessive genes and decide what traits we inherited from our parents. Small things like ear lobes, hair lines, and even eye and hair color don’t mean much to most people. For me, I hated assignments like that because no matter what I answered, it wouldn’t be accurate because I had no idea what traits I shared with the family I was genetically related to.

The same day I was writing and having slight panic attacks, I was overwhelmingly curious about what my birth mom would look like. I had been told all weekend that I looked very similar to her (even that I smelled like her- if that’s a thing), so I wanted to test those claims for myself. The only picture I had seen of her previously to this meeting was a photo from twenty-six years ago, so I was fully aware she wouldn’t look the same. Then there was her son.

I found out I had a half-brother when I found my birth mom over two years ago. With him being younger and not knowing about me, that was one part of the original story that I left out. I had sent some baby and toddler pictures to my mother when we first got in contact, and she said that he and I looked very much alike when we were young.

It’s always been a peculiar sort of thought- the idea that there are people somewhere out there who look like you. It’s even more peculiar actually coming face-to-face with those people for the first time. During the first meeting that I wrote about a few days ago, I kept searching my birth mom’s face when she wouldn’t notice, looking for any similarities we shared. We have the same cheekbones, and we have the same type of hair even though mine is much lighter. She had already told me that my eyes were very similar to my biological father’s, but I haven’t been able to see that for myself. I was able to notice the shared traits between her son and myself much easier, mostly just because I was able to compare that stage of my life to his twelve-year-old self. We share the same nose, the same lanky pre-teen frame, and similar facial expressions when we’re frustrated or our glasses are giving us trouble. It’s funny, the sense that you’re almost seeing a similar version to yourself moving around. It’s good, but it’s so strange at the same time.

Even though I know that looking like someone doesn’t automatically create a familial bond, I feel more put together having met them. There were so many questions I couldn’t even fully put into words, but they’ve been answered anyway. The sense of peace that’s swelled over me is the best thing that could have come out of this trip, so I’m continuously happy that I was stubborn enough to do this on my own.

Schooner Zodiac in in Bellingham, Washington - June 2015
Schooner Zodiac in in Bellingham, Washington – June 2015

On Biology

I’ve gotten mixed reviews about the idea of travelling to meet my biological family. On one hand, I’ve gotten support and encouragement from close friends because they know the stress I’ve been under and how badly I’ve always wanted this. On the other, I have people that aren’t nearly as close to the situation inserting their opinions. Of course, I realize that by sharing my story on social media, I’m just asking for opinions, both positive and negative, so that’s not the issue. The issue I want to address is the idea that by spending time and money to go visit my biological family, it somehow devalues my adoptive family.

I’ve heard “don’t forget who your real family is” more times than I can count this week. There’s the idea that it’s disrespectful to my parents heading out to meet part of my biological family. I know that even my parents felt a bit insecure with all my interest in my adoption when I was younger, probably because they were a bit worried that I might be more interested in my biological family than them.

I feel this is a huge issue with many adoptive families. They’re worried that they may not be good enough, that their child might feel more loving toward their birth family. To combat that, they shut down at questions about the child’s origin. For most of the adopted people I know, they don’t wish to be back with their biological family. Even for someone like me, who had incredibly difficult issues with my parents growing up, that’s not the case.

There are many people who know enough about their biological family to know that reuniting with them would be an emotionally unhealthy move. There was a history of abuse, they were stuck in the foster system, something negative to discourage any sort of reunion. But my story isn’t like that. My birth mother wasn’t some strung out addict. She wasn’t forced to give me up. Simply put, she loved me and was mature enough to realize that she couldn’t give me the life she wanted me to live. She was 24, at an age where many people are choosing to start having children, but she was still in college and my biological father wasn’t interested in parenthood. Someone who is that strong and cared that much about me is someone I very much want to meet.

So for those who know me personally, and for those who might have somehow stumbled upon this blog and have a similar story, I am not doing this to find another family. I’m not traveling halfway across the country to spite my family and make them feel like they weren’t good enough. I’m doing this because I want to get to know my birth family. I want to build a friendship with them. I’m doing this because of burning curiosity and questions I’ve experienced my entire life. I haven’t come across many people who are remotely as curious and constantly in my head as I am. Mostly, I’m doing this to thank my birth mother. Giving a child up has to be one of the most difficult things any person can do, and sacrificing any selfish desires she may have felt in order to provide me with a better life is an incredible gift.

Beluga Point, Alaska - August 2014
Beluga Point, Alaska – August 2014

Less Than Seven Days

I found out I was adopted when I was about the age of a preschooler. According to my mom, I had a friend whose mom was pregnant, and I had learned all about how “babies live in their mommy’s tummies.” My mom sat me down and explained that even though some other lady had carried me around in her stomach, she and my dad were my parents. Apparently, this idea that some other lady was the one that carried me around intrigued me, because I began to see women on the tv and around town and would ask my mom if that was the lady she had told me about (Aretha Franklin was even discussed at one point).

As I grew up, I dreamed that my biological family was royalty or somehow famous. I dreamed of the day that they’d find me, saying it was all a mistake, and wanting to integrate me into their wonderful lives. I think that’s probably a very common fantasy for children of adoption, reinforced by stories like Anastasia and The Princess Diaries, that there’s a possibility of a secret royal family. One of my favorite books in late elementary school was called The Face on the Milk Carton, a story about a girl who finds out she wasn’t the adopted granddaughter that her parents believed her to be, but a girl who was kidnapped. She eventually goes on to meet and get to know her biological family in the following books in the series, but that was the first time I really thought about the fact that there might be people out in the world who actually looked similarly to myself.

At 18, when I finally saw a picture of my biological mother and read her first words to me, I became fixated on my hands. My hands apparently looked like her hands when I was an infant, and I constantly wondered what other similarities we might have. In her photo, she was wearing a facial expression incredibly similar to one I make on a regular basis. Until that moment, I had dreamed about finding someone who I looked like, and there I was, staring at a lady who shared the same half-smile I made all the time. That was a moment of clarity that I think will always stick with me. I can still close my eyes and visualize the entire thing. It happened in a matter of moments, but it feels like it could go on forever.

From 18 to 23, I used the birth information I got from the state of Alaska to search for my birth mother at least once every six months. I don’t think there’s a single database used for finding people that I didn’t use. I even toyed around with the idea of hiring a private investigator, but what 23-year-old can really afford that? Four months before I turned 24, when I finally found some of my biological family, I thought I would find some sort of inner peace. A rest. Something that felt like the search was over. I emailed back and forth with my birth mom, got to know the family a bit better, but there was so much left unanswered. When I went to Alaska last year, I thought I might get to do a little more research into my history, but things didn’t work out quite as planned.

This week, it all comes to a head. This week, I meet them. I meet my mother, her family, and some of my aunts and uncles. This is what I’ve been wondering about and searching for for almost 22 years. But the last few days have been almost overwhelming. I’m caught between excitement and nervousness. I’ve wanted this for so long, but I don’t want to build up all these ideas in my head. I feel like I already know some of them pretty well, thanks to the magic of social media, but there’s just something about meeting people face to face for the first time. There’s a fine line between expecting too little and expecting too much. I keep trying not to get overwhelmed, but this is just something I’ve made up scenarios in my head about for years, so it’s incredibly difficult to clear out those expectations.

As my flight creeps closer and closer, I’m trying to prepare myself for “just another trip”. It’s just another adventure. I’ve had tons of these in the last year or so. I’ve gone places and seen things I wouldn’t have believed possible two years ago. And if it’s one thing I’ve learned from this family so far, they love each other fiercely. That’s the start to something good.

Niederrad, Germany- October 2014
Niederrad, Germany- October 2014

listening to: Portugal. The Man