So day 4 of high school didn’t go well. Texts from our boy telling me that he is annoyed and needs to come home. I empathise & tell him to speak to his support teacher about whatever is bothering him. He quickly tells me it’s her that’s bothering him. In addition to that everyone is p!ssing him off and he wants to come home. I reassure him and explain that we’re not at home just now, and that I knew it was difficult, but that I would see him at 3 o’clock & I’d have a wee snack ready for him.
Truth is that secondary school holds, for him, everything that scares, challenges and terrifies him. Lots of new people, lots of bigger (scary) boys, lots of moving from class to class, lots of noise, lots of transitions, classes starting and ending. In the first week, so far he’s attended on day 1 and day 4. Day 1 he came home after what seemed (on the face of it) a good day, and erupted into chaos at home when the cat seemed to take her affection from him and give it, momentarily to another human. This act confirmed, at least in his mind, that she loved them more than she loved him, instead of viewing it as the typical cat-like behaviour. He had contained all his worry, fear, anxiety and fear of failure throughout the 6 hour school day and it had nowhere to go except out. And so it all came spilling out when he arrived home. Then came day 2 and complete refusal and so Day2 became a day for him to recover from the emotional exhaustion of day 1.
Day 3 is a story for another day !
Day 4 and the texts start after an hour & a half of the school day. The texts suggested that he was struggling. Reading them filled me with worry that he actually might arrive home soon. Truth was, the thought of him arriving home from school before 3pm was just too much for me to contemplate!!
A wee bit of backstory we have just came to the end of a long long summer school holidays, which involved a holiday abroad that could have easily featured as an episode of “Family Holiday Nightmares” ( also a story for another day). And when the day arrived that the schools returned it was a huge sigh of relief. You know that feeling when you work in a regular job and you’ve got holidays coming up and you genuinely feel that you have no more “days” in you, and you only have enough energy in your tank to get to that day, and you’ll fall exhausted into your holiday. Yeah that’s how I felt about the day the schools returned !!
So anyway, I fell into a sense of false security after he attended all day on Monday, as then came a complete refusal to attend on day 2. And I fell deeper into compassion fatigue, secondary trauma, vicarious trauma, it doesn’t really matter what we want to call it here, it all feels horrendous. It makes you feel like a failure as a carer & parent, as a trauma informed person it’s awful when your empathy starts to deplete or dry up completely. It feels like walking every day through deep thick quicksand in your wellies. Of course I know his trauma history, I know his pain, I know how hard he is trying to manage his worst nightmare, I know he doesn’t mean it , it’s not intentional, he genuinely can’t help himself. But….. My physical tiredness and emotional exhaustion make it difficult to remember this. I have to “try” to be empathic. I need to dig deep into the very bottom of my bucket to find empathy, which adds more tiredness on top of what was there.
Luckily, I am able to see it exactly for what it is…. A normal reaction to the very demanding situation of caring for a traumatised child. A normal reaction to caring for a child with such a horrendous trauma history. Blocked care / compassion fatigue / secondary trauma is not something that “might” happen to foster carers / adopters and parents of traumatised children. I believe it’s an occupational hazard. Just like hitting your fingers with a hammer is an occupational hazard for a joiner. It will happen to most, if not all carers, and possibly more than once too. It needs to be ok to say the words and to reach out for help & support. Agencies and local authorities need to be understanding and accepting of this fact, and create a safe space to be able to say … this is all a bit shite just now! We love him, we don’t want him to leave, we’re still 100% fully committed, We’re not thinking of “giving up”, We know we are the right family for him, that we can give him what he needs to thrive and grow, I just need it to be ok to say that at the moment it’s exhausting, it’s awful.
So what can we do when we find ourselves in this deep river of mud in our wellies … well, what I did was sent out a distress call, I fired my SOS out there to a few people who I knew would get it. And they responded (as I knew they would) …thank you… You know who you are. They responded not with words of encouragement that “it’ll get better” or “you can do this” but with agreement that yes indeed it was absolutely shite and with humour to make me smile and laugh. I also requested additional support from those who can provide it, without fear of looking weak, or incapable.
And when my adorable, funny, loving, challenging, emotionally demanding, struggling, sensory overloaded child returned home from another 6 hours of his nightmare, I dug deep and responded with sensory repair, that involved a foot spa to soothe his sore feet that had been in his new shoes all day, a kitten to soothe his tired emotions and some Ben & Jerry’s…. everything needed to soothe an emotionally overwhelming day.
And as part of my own self care, this will all be repeated for me later tonight once he’s in bed. And we will go again tomorrow. Yes it’s all a bit shite just now… but this too shall pass… and until it does there’s always foot spa’s, kittens, Ben & Jerry’s & good friends.