Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thin Lines

It's insanity-inducing to try to understand something that will never be clarified, never be straightforward.

I read the stories of the transracial adoptees, or the international adoptees, most of whom were abducted, or stolen.

I read the stories of first mothers: some who loved their babies more than anything and were too young to keep them. Some who were single in the 60's and were pressured, either by self or family, into relinquishing. I see the fighting between mothers who insist that they are victims, and adoptees be damned, and those mothers willing to stand by our sides, by contrast. I constantly read, "stolen, stolen, stolen, stolen, coerced, coerced, coerced."

This was not my story. I am the outlier, as always.

I read the stories of the new(ish) first mothers, and some of their stories break my heart. They write of their own feeling that they wanted the baby, but NOT LIKE THIS. As in not being married, not having the man there. So heartbreaking. It takes a *man* by your side to raise a baby still, for some people. And reading those words make me both furious and deeply sad. I am furious that a woman in her late 20's cannot keep a child. Or an engaged woman. Or a forty-year-old woman with other children. Their reasons all seem so flimsy to me, mostly about protecting themselves and THEIR images, not about the child at all. Maybe their children will forgive them. Maybe not. Those are their stories. We shall read them in twenty plus years. There are some stories where I feel like it might be okay for the child, who is my main interest, after all. Isn't adoption supposed to be about finding homes for the *children* and making sure that they're okay? Not about starting over? What bullshit.

I have a friend who got pregnant and had a child at 19. Kept her. KEPT HER. In 1997. Went on public assistance, got help: even when her parents weren't thrilled. She was NOT giving up her daughter. When I asked why adoption wasn't an option for her, she told me that the thought never entered her mind, even though she was white and middle-class. Now my friend is married and employed and has two other children. She has two degrees. She works a high-powered job. I cannot tell you how much I respect her, and how much I love her daughter, who has never had to suffer with "I don't know where I come from."


I read stories of adoptees who are loved by and have amazing connections with their nfamilies. This was not my experience.

I look like my families, but I am not like them. I am an alien among them. For some of my relatives my difference is a liability; others are proud of me. As someone wrote recently in one of my support groups, many adoptees end up feeling neither fish nor fowl. Who knows what I am? I never will. That was the path I, and all adoptees, were damned to follow. Some of us love our paths, others find them rockier, some negotiate them with ease. I saw Man of Steel last night, and I feel like Clark did, when overwhelmed as a child with too much information. TOO MUCH. I want to know, don't get me wrong. It's just that I haven't come to terms yet with being thrown on this path, and being pretty much alone.

Then there are the lies. Some mothers tell their children right away who their fathers were, and about the circumstances of their conception. No, not my story, either.

Truthfully, I feel like a huge science experiment. Nature, nurture. Certainly some parts of me are nurture; my experiences and education have made a large part of who I am. On the other hand, my temperament, and my anxieties, and my depression, and my clotting: that's nature. I look like my father, but he was taken from the Earth long ago. From what I understand, a large part of me came from him, but I am clawing at an impenetrable wall. I will never get through to him, only around him, to memories, and only so far as others give me access.

My dear friend Katie told me the other day that part of my problems are that my wounds are so deep. She witnessed me let the MDs have it on rounds at the hospital, and she said it was powerful, but the emotion behind it was volcanic. I was triggered and felt out of control. She told me that my brain works so fast, and that I am a perfectionist. That the world rubs me the wrong way most of the time, which is true. I get extremely frustrated when people don't live up to my high expectations (which I hold myself to, as well). It doesn't matter when it's small things, but when it's big things (such as being in the hospital, or being ignored by rude people, or trying to take care of a patient at work who is being ignored), it is painful. Beyond painful.

I am privileged, I know. I found my families.

I am not a love child. Fine. I dealt with that already, at least sort of.

But the sensitivity I have: when I witness emotional carelessness, a cavalier way of treating others and their feelings, especially when it feels like life and death (which the heparin was to me in the hospital), it releases all the pain from deep, deep, deep inside. It is a power, but also a liability.

I wept for my father-in-law, who wasn't invited to my brother-in-law's home for any part of Christmas, even though he lives 40 minutes away from him. My father-in-law is 89 years old, and while he says off-the-wall things sometimes, he is family. I was furious to hear this. He was abandoned. We are inviting him here. I am sure he'll refuse, but I want him to know he's wanted. Feeling that you don't belong is terribly hurtful. I vowed not to return to Germany, but I will go to protect him. And that's saying something.

I am looking forward to working on why I feel like being ignored or left is like death. It's not rocket science to figure out *why* I have this visceral reaction, but I need to work through it.

Too many people who don't matter have too much power over my happiness, when I can plainly see how dysfunctional the situations are, and that rationally I don't even want to engage.

I have to learn to LIVE MY OWN STORY. What do I want it to be?

Sunday, November 24, 2013


I am healing so quickly that it's hard to believe. That is a relief.

On the other hand, tears are falling more often and more quickly. Perhaps it's a positive sign that I am once again allowing myself to plumb the depths of many sorrows. I had been on autopilot for several years; I had little choice, or felt that way.

Nalini told me that this is the time, now, to do my emotional work: my journey to find my parents is finished.

I was rejected quite brutally by my mother several times; one doesn't quickly forget being told "I wish I had aborted you!" in a first conversation. We met several years later. I know we both tried. But apparently some differences are too troublesome to discuss. I accept that we are all on our own timelines for our own journeys, but this pattern of being ignored roundly after airing concerns, after being lied to again, is stale. I apologized, and explained why I had to take some space after being told that my name, as pronounced, was for someone of a different race. Don't ask. But it takes two to have a relationship, and it would seem I am on my own again. As in there is me, calling into a void. I am turning away now.

Some broken things cannot be put together again, and I refuse to be pointed at or ridiculed, and this last part about my father, whether it was hurtful or not, was a house of cards of lies that defies explanation. I don't know how many revisions or backtracks there can be, really. I say, "Take responsibility, and just tell the bloody truth." Be done with it. The truth does set you free. I am not even angry anymore. I feel sad for someone who has to imagine that such lies are necessary and sustainable in the first place. Oh yes, it goes back to what my aunt said, nearly two years ago: "C, you gave up the wrong kid." This one doesn't stop.

When I did find my father against enormously grim odds, I encountered a new family, new concerns, and another set of difficulties, including mourning a parent I never knew. I did know, or I had been told anyway, that he didn't know about me. It would appear that was among the truths that were told; apparently there were other contretemps that marred whatever did happen between my parents. One parent is deceased, and the other isn't speaking. I must make do with other sources. My father was a handsome man with lots of girlfriends, never was serious with my mother, and swanned off to Hawaii when my mother was about 8-10 weeks pregnant with me. But he loved kids. It's a tragedy he never knew his own though, and knew he was a father.

I was thinking about this particular opacity after reading a controversial post about healing over at Adoption Voices, and then Deanna Shrodes' follow up post at Adoptee Restoration. I agree that all humans, ALL of us, are responsible of taking care of our wounds so that we don't continue to hurt others. I know the past five years have been brutal on my young sons. I know my depression and anxiety take a huge toll on them. Enough already. I have to do some work.

In that spirit, I was preparing for my first session with Dr. Yalom by reading his enormously insightful The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients. He is warm and flawed. And clearly brilliant. In the first several pages, he referred to Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, which I just happened to have been reading. I showed Mark, who laughed at the serendipity of it all. He said, "Yes, this man will understand you." I found myself agreeing with Dr. Yalom over and over as I turned the pages eagerly: work on yourself, repeatedly at different life stages, so that your relationships do not suffer. If there is a dysfunctional pattern, he will help you find it and give you the tools to cope or reframe your point of view. It's about finding your blind spots, but his incisiveness seems to go beyond that. He is a proponent of existential therapy, and there were thus requisite references to Sartre, including one of my favorites: "All introspection is retrospection," which is doomed to emptiness. Nostalgia will bring no fruit. It will trap you. It's worthwhile as a means to an end, but we must live, not dream life away. I am stuck. I need someone to help me see the signposts out of that illusory place. We shall see what Dr. Yalom thinks about adoption, although he did say he was supportive of a patient's New Age-y requests. I am hopeful that he will see it as a trauma and not pooh-pooh my anxieties.

With his help, I plan to study these cards in my hand, reshuffle them, perhaps learn to value some friendships that I haven't, and see what I *can* change so that my sensitivities/anxieties may be put to an active use that makes me proud, a use that leverages my full potential. I am beginning to see that I can be loved, despite so many rejections, so many lies: people leave me, hurt me, and always because "You are so much different." I am loved, but not enough: six months later, years later people pop by to say they think I am wonderful, but they're not there when I need them. Maybe I need them too much, or I am asking the wrong people to be with me in the trenches. I do know I push some people away while being very demanding of others, and it depends very strongly on how connected I feel to them at the level of the heart. Odd, I know. It's immediate: either I know we will be friends for life, or I won't ever let them in. And if those friends I trust screw me over, I feel almost physically wounded and will try to mend things far past the mending stage. Past the point of their abusing me. It's better, but not all there, yet...

I am hoping that Dr. Yalom will help me unpack the notion, repeatedly thrown at me, in vulgar and less vulgar ways, that I am intimidating. If you hang out with my college friends, if you went through my experiences, you'd see that I am actually quite pedestrian on some counts. Try spending a day in lectures at Cambridge University, and you'll see I'm not that special. And if I *am* exceptional, so what? Maybe Dr. Yalom can help me write that book that I've started and stopped fifty times.

But yes, responsibility is the name of the day. Every day. I am living, knowing that I have to try.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Taking offense, weight of the world, and caryatids

Recently, I was reading somewhere about someone being offended by something, which to me means taking great personal insult. Merriam Webster's definition of offend: "to cause a person or group to feel hurt, angry, or upset by something said or done."

I understand being offended by word or action, but not particularly by facts. In this case, a person was offended by adoptees being shown to be more susceptible to mental illness. It wouldn't even occur to me to be offended by this because I live with adoption and mental illness (with overlap between the two) and have seen too many adoptees affected by mental illness. Being offended about facts is a waste of time, in my opinion. Those are the same people who generally don't like me around because at dinner (since my childhood) we talk about the Middle Ages and how people were decapitated for state crimes and had their heads placed on stakes outside places of power. Just fact. My family finds history fascinating, and I don't bubble-wrap my kids, or fart rainbows. I love that my eight-year-old wanted to discuss Picasso's Guernica (which he came across in a book about Picasso for kids), and I didn't tell him "No, that's too dark, war is too dark, suffering is too dark." No, it's just life. The Spanish Civil War happened, WWII happened, and yes, Opa was a Nazi. Not a circus clown. Fact.

I am excited about a new chapter about to start in my life. Having at last fired that useless therapist, I am going to start seeing Dr. Irvin Yalom, the famous psychiatrist and novelist, in December. Now I will have someone to give me a run for my money intellectually, someone to push me, someone to stop me from diagnosing myself. Someone who won't let me hide in the sunny meadows of "I'm all right for now," someone who won't annoy me with useless textbook checklists (or call my brother a one-night-stand--yes, I hold grudges for years). I wrote to Dr. Yalom with a description of my problems, including adoption, and my current existential crisis (mourning the death of a father I never met; society tells me I have very little no right to mourn him), and Dr. Yalom was both solicitous and kind. I told him that I feel like a protagonist who has wandered been chucked meandered inadvertently out of her own novel and, being lost, has functioned far too long as a supporting character in other people's short stories or novellas. I need to find my way home. I need to stop defining myself by other people's narratives and to write myself back into my own. He thought that seemed like an excellent place to start discussion.

I am working with a psychiatrist! Who is interested in *me*! Who understands my health issues and my history, and who can listen! Who will be my therapist! Amazing. I won't have to draw him pictures (unless I want to), and when I make cultural references, I know he'll know them and raise me.

I've had the leisure time to read while recovering, and I've appreciated it no end. I took Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters with me to the hospital. While Hughes isn't my all-time favorite poet, I do feel warmed by his words in certain circumstances, and the tale Birthday Letters tells of his romance/life with Sylvia Plath is seductive. To be honest, I prefer his version to hers. Her poems have never spoken to my soul. There is one in Birthday Letters, close to the beginning, called

Caryatids (I)

What were those caryatids bearing?
It was the first poem of yours I had seen.
It was the only poem you ever wrote
That I disliked through the eyes of a stranger.
It seemed thin and brittle, the lines cold.
Like the theorem of a trap, a deadfall--set.
I saw that. And the trap unsprung, empty.
I felt no interest. No stirring
Of omen. In those days I coerced
Oracular assurance 
In my favour out of every sign.
So missed everything 
In the white, blindfolded, rigid faces
Of those women. I felt their frailty, yes:
Friable, burnt aluminium.
Fragile, like the mantle of a gas-lamp.
But made nothing
Of that massive, starless, mid-fall, falling
Heaven of granite
                             stopped, as if in a snapshot.
By their hair.

I remember learning about caryatids, or being a student of Brunilde Ridgway, karyatids spelled with proper Greek transliteration, in the spring of 1988: those impassive women carved in marble on the porch of the Erechtheion, tall, columnar, holding the weight of the entablature on their heads. Powerful, female. Showing a foot here, their 5th-century drapery deceptively like fluting. I found them enchanting. In 1990 I found the one that the British pilfered and displayed at the British Museum; I spent hours in front of her, examining each of her perfections and imperfections. Then in 1992 I visited Athens and saw the rest of her cohort.

I truly fell in love, however, in graduate school, in the fall of 1992, while taking a sculpture course on Rodin with the inimitable Jacques de Caso. Rodin's Fallen Caryatids were not tall, strong, columnar. No. They were sitting or crouching, nude. They acknowledged the weight on their heads or shoulders. They were psychological portraits. Not about physical strength, but of power despite it all. Of ambiguity. Of a bad day, even. Of not necessarily wanting the job of carrying whatever was on their shoulders: these are not tall, unbendable women symbolic of the polis. I could identify with Rodin's caryatids in a way I'd never identified with a statue before. I never asked to bear the weight of the secrets placed on me since birth, of the depression I struggle with, of the sadness of repeated rejections, of whatever life threw at me...and Rodin knew how to convey that weariness, that interiority, that inversion of the expected. Why is the caryatid crouching? There is beauty in the battle to stay yourself under the weight of life, under the expectations of others. Not in being "offended" by what I encountered, but in acknowledging what had to be my path, for so long.

I know my place isn't with people who cannot, or won't, go down the difficult roads with me. Those who would pat me on the head, or say, "Well, *my* experience wasn't like that, and I've moved on, I'm tired of negativity. Peace be with you." There will always be difficulty in the world, and the beauty lies in those who help you in the times when *you* need it most, when the weight is most crushing: not punishing you for asking for help, or retreating from you, or telling you at your moment of need that you have hurt *them*. Deflection, much? I am willing to have conversations about difficult topics, always, but somehow it ends up being me taking care of the hurts of others, making amends, and then no work on the other side. But demanding expressions of regret all the time, and then not reciprocating, is too much. As Nalini said to me other day, "You're not that woman anymore, to extend yourself for nothing. Let those people go."

We would all be better served by listening to others, with far less judgment, far less expression of those times we *are* offended. Take a moment, sit with your emotions when someone says you've hurt them, and see what happens. Perhaps they will transform you. Demanding mildness from all is not fair, either.

I have an article coming out in a national magazine in the spring, about adoptees, identity, health history, and DNA. The magazine did a formal photo shoot at my house the day before my surgery: it was great fun! And the interview--lasting three hours--helped me to clarify my ideas about myself and what I have been through. I am excited to speak out about my story, and potentially to help others. I am honored to think that perhaps my suffering may prevent someone else's. I will keep you posted!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

What hurts, what doesn't

I came home last night from the hospital. I survived the surgery. Flew through it, in fact.

They had me prepared for the worst. Two IVs: one 16 gauge, one 14 gauge fire hose. They were convinced I'd bleed out. I didn't. My total estimated blood loss was a completely unimpressive 5 mL. Although my gallbladder was swollen to three times the normal size thanks to portal hypertension, it came out easily, and when the collaterals were nicked, they clotted off appropriately.

The problems came afterward, when they took forever to start my heparin drip. They were supposed to get it going 8-12 hours post-op, but with poor communication and dilly-dallying and RNs expecting me to take a shit immediately post-op (no one does that, btw), I had to beg them. They finally got it going 12 hours after surgery, right at the cusp. I was about to call my hematologist and have him get serious. The Charge RN said she would do it "against protocol" since "it seemed so important to me." "Seemed so important"? Fuck yes. It was necessary. Read my chart, lady? How many clots do I have to throw before you think it's important?

Then to complicate things, they sent me to the floor with no orders for pain meds. WTF? Apparently my surgeon thought I was somewhat obtunded in the PACU on my 0.6mL of IV Dilaudid and told his resident to go easy on pain meds, but not to give me NOTHING. I went apeshit on them.

Six hours later, they gave me one Norco 5 PO, which with my history wasn't going to do much. Then 1mg PO Dilaudid, which helped some, and finally I got orders for IV pain meds. I was writing e-mail to my primary care MD and going crazy. It was a nightmare of sweaty writhing. I did have a great RN doing her best for me with a surgery service refusing to return pages.

At rounds the next morning, I let the residents have it. Of course, they wrote me off as crazy lady. They said that they had reasons not to give me pain meds (see above about the miscommunication). I said that if they'd decided to give a post-op patient no pain meds, the least they could do was come to bedside and explain why. They agreed. I was pissed off. I told them that there were other options, such as Toradol (which they may not have liked because of the GI bleeding) or IV acetaminophen (which they may not have liked because of it being processed through the liver) but that they had to discuss a PLAN with me.

I was a pain-in-the-ass patient. But you know, I was suffering. And I am tired of being treated like I don't know anything. I do. I felt so upset, so reminded of being patted on the head. My friend Katie  was with me and told them to give me Ativan, which was good and bad. Good in that it calmed me down, but bad in that it suggested that I didn't have a right to be upset, that my reaction was abnormal. Looking back, I was right, not hysterical. They did come up with a plan, but the plan kept changing without them telling me. It was horrible. Apparently transplant surgeons really hate giving out pain medications. Why could they not use critical thinking skills? I was on the transplant service because of my risks, but I am otherwise young and healthy. They saw that my liver was healthy. My enzymes were really pretty good (slightly elevated after surgery, but no big deal: they'd been moving it around!). The surgeon said my liver looked great; it's just the vasculature that's problematic.

Which then made me feel like I was fighting the same battle over again, with people who don't want to listen to me. CRITICAL THINKING. Where was it?

I am tired, so tired, of being around dysfunctional people who pretend that they're not dysfunctional, who blame me for their own bullshit. I have reached out and tried to have a relationship with people who are stunted. Tried and tried. Explained, apologized, admitted to being human, having made mistakes. I will meet them halfway, but if they want to be dysfunctional to such a degree, they are on their own. I refuse their labels and scapegoating. And now I refuse their silence. It's pathetic. Hiding in holes is pathetic. If you cannot communicate, you're not human. You're not dealing with anything. SAY it.

When you run out on me, when you tell me that my name is shit, when you dump me again and again and don't have the balls to admit you're wrong, or you've lied: you've lost all the high ground. And my respect. I can love you, but I sure don't like you.

You can be as important as you want in your own big picture. Have fun with it.

I am who I am, and fuck, I love myself. I'm a mess, I'm crazy, but I'm loyal and decent. I don't sell people down river, and I say what I mean. I am not lukewarm. I hate fake, lukewarm people: they're untrustworthy. Be in life to play and to love for real, or fuck off. If I scare you, then yeah, you'd better stay away. But that's on you, not me.

I have a great group of people around me who love me and accept me for who I am. My family is the family I've made. It's not the way I ever thought it would be; it may not be what I had dreamed or hoped for, but it's much more rewarding than chasing after unfriendly chimerae. The people who want to be with me are with me. My aunts told me that my father hated two kinds of people most of all: cheaters and liars. Go figure: like father, like daughter.

And for once, I am happy. Funny how when you find the right people, they don't tell you shitty things to make themselves feel better, or hide, or speak out of both sides of their mouth. They accept your difference, and love you.

Monday, November 04, 2013

Risks and Masks

It's November. Of course I am feeling empty, a shell of something that used to be human.

Why is it, though, that each year I come back to this month with a little less? That instead of being more resilient, I am more angry, more suspicious, more disappointed.

Possibility #1:

People lie to me about very important things. Over and over.

Why do people lie to me, set me up? People who supposedly love me? I don't think many people have integrity, I truly do not.

When I was younger, I used to believe that I had "sucker" tattoed in invisible ink on my forehead. I don't, I know. But seriously. WTF? Do you think I don't see what you're doing?

I found out that you lied. Not that you apparently care, but who are you? You should worry about your immortal souls, since you claim to believe in such things.

Possibility #2:

Other people want me to be perfect. I am not.

Why am I not lovable even when I ask for things that might be for me and not for them, just once? It's conditional, always conditional. Don't play games.

I was not a Cabbage Patch doll. I tried to do everything as well as I could. I got the best grades I could. I almost never got into trouble. I was the kid no one complained about.

Well, now I am doing things my way. Sorry. If your friends don't like it, fuck them. It's not about appearances, it's about trying to find happiness and some semblance of peace.

Possibility #3:

The surgeon told me that I could die next week. Not just as, "There's a small risk." No. As in, "There's a significant risk, and I am worried."

I couldn't just have surgery. No. It's not routine, it's never routine.

And because I didn't have my full medical history, everything was fucked up on August 10, 2008.

I will not stop speaking out about how secrets and lies kill adoptees.

I will stop protecting people, mighty soon. It's way past time to tell the truth.

Don't promise things you never intend to deliver. Don't say things you don't mean. Don't hide under rocks to make life easier for yourself. Most important, don't lie.

End of sermon.