What is the most difficult thing of all for my adopted son who is riven with anxiety and depression as a result of his traumatic past? It is his loneliness.
My son is often depressed, with waves of depression hitting him for no apparent or obvious reason that leave both of us feeling pretty helpless. At the route of his depression, according to him, is an aching loneliness and need for friendship that neither of us can resolve – at least not in the short term. His social anxieties and fears around meeting people leave him in a state of social paralysis. All my suggestions about meeting others are thrown back at me – as if I tell a depressed person to cheer up and get on with it (I am absolutely not saying this but this is what is heard/experienced), and my attempts at empathy are also rebuffed. “I don’t want your sympathy mum – I want friends”. Who can blame him? Not me. I can’t imagine how I would cope without my friends. There are real problems here and they are not resolvable – although the path that led us/him to this lonely place could have been so very different had there been the understanding and support that was needed. It is possible we would be in the same place – I know many adopters who are – but I like to think we would be further along if my son had recieved the right sort of therapy – and we had been treated with kindness and consideration,
My son’s trauma, which included being removed from his birth family – including his siblings – from school, prevented him from being able to cope with school, when child protection professionals were allocated to assess us – instead of post adoption support professionals. These misguided professionals did not understand that they had inadvertently triggered his separation trauma, and taking a parental blame/ fault seeking approach, they believed the answer was to remove him into foster care (instead of adoption), and when this was refused by him, and no foster carers could be found – an institution. Moving the child doesn’t resolve their problems – it just creates more trauma – but they had power, and legal thresholds that leave families like ours far too vulnerable. It turned out it was much too easy to look at the behaviour of a troubled and traumatised child and imagine the problems lie with the parent or caregiver. It took me a long time, and several suicide attempts on the part of my child, to achieve the understanding that was needed – with no legal aid – and the Bar Pro Bono Unit too overstretched to assist. I had to fight the legal professionals of the adversarial parties in court alone – and the emotional strain of having so many against me as a mother in court was almost unbearable. It was, honestly speaking, the stuff of nightmares. I hope change can come. Mothers like me are not the enemies of our children and we should not be treated as if we might be when we ask for help. I know that many parents of children with autism have had similar ordeals and seen children removed to foster care or institutions. In our case the approach used was not adoption sensitive at all – and it has taken its toll on us both, leaving huge anxiety issues for my son, and leaving me secondarily traumatised as I was so powerless to help him. I adopted a nine year old who no one else wanted to adopt. Eleven of my son’s eighteen years were spent in care, or in a terrible and frightening home where he was beaten and starved – with him being old enough to remember the abuse and neglect when he was removed. His time with me is short in comparison – and I imagine it will be many years before he is able to survive on his own. Missing out on so much he enjoys spending his time playing games now on his computer. In this virtual world he is safe and in control. But it is no substitute for friendships and he knows this.
What is the answer? I don’t know. I tell him he is not alone and that many young people are struggling, even those with apparently happy lives and families. This doesn’t help. He tells me he can’t cope with people who are depressed or struggling because he feels a need to help them and doesn’t know what to do. He is so kind and caring. My heart aches for him in this lonely place.
What are we to do with the problem of loneliness when our young ones feel anxious and depressed – and start to build a safe world around themselves, which does not give them what they need?
I have no answers.