Wednesday, October 26, 2016

On Stereotyping Natives as Costume & Privilege

In the last 24 hours, I've seen dozens of arguments about the costume issues, mostly from people simply wanting to exercise their privilege, and do whatever they want without care for the consequences to others--which is fine, if that's your deal, but be honest about it.

 I will be honest in saying that I have not read all the messages or threads that have been sent to me, in the last couple days. But I have something to say, as a Native woman and a community advocate that is actively working toward the betterment of our communities.

 It's easy for folks to sit around and argue these issues and justify why it is a "minor" issue or that it's "innocent" because no harm is intended, particularly when it has no real bearing on their lives. But the reality is that there are living, breathing people who are grappling with the fallout of these things every single day.

 I send my children out the door, every morning, and then I pray they come back unharmed because I know that they just walked out into a world whose ideas about them are based on lies told by Disney and horrible stereotypes formulated by Hollywood and history. I know my sons are in the group most likely, per capita, to be killed by police; my daughters 2.5x more likely than many of their peers to be raped. These realities aren't formed in a vacuum.

 Think inaccurate histories, mascots, TV shows, and, yes, even costumes don't matter? Of course they do. It all matters.

It matters because it teaches those kids something. It reinforces stereotypes, which continues structural inequality, which makes it difficult to address any of the social issues we have in Native communities. From suicide, to violence, to pipeline wars. It's all interconnected.

 When we teach them false histories like with Pocahontas, or let them dress in stereotypical costumes, it tells them that it's ok to marginalize groups; that it's acceptable to disregard them; that none of our serious issues matter. That is a message that they receive in many ways, from many sources, from the time they are born. And that is something we need to address if we ever want to progress as a society.


Sunday, September 4, 2016

Bitter Sweet Symphony

Recently, Beautiful did a photo shoot for an annual model search. She had such a blast & is really a natural in front of the camera.

It's hard to teach people to be aware of their face, much less have control over it on the level required to be a good model, but she has it. I postulate that it's because she spent so much time non-verbal, and had to find other ways to communicate. The challenges of our lives shape us, just as much as the triumphs (if not more), it seems.

The moment when I first saw her raw photos on the screen hit like a truck. I was simultaneously struck by how talented and gorgeous she is, as well as the renewed realization of how far she has come.

Before my eyes, she has gone from a toddler that was selectively mute & whose case worker was concerned would never be able to form healthy attachments; to a kind, compassionate, wonderfully artistic, and expressive young woman. 

I remember so vividly, holding her hand for hours, to help her feel safe, so she could sleep, when she wasn't even two. I can still taste the tears that I cried, as I held her tiny toddler body through seizures & prayed, like I had never prayed for anything, that she would be ok. So many hours poured into research, to figure out ways to help her & to get her services that she needs. 

Advocating for not just her, but realizing the toll on her biological family & advocating for them during times I felt they were being discarded by the system, fundamentally changed who I am. It made me more empathetic & compassionate, more human. 

So, in that moment, while I looked at her face light up in pride, seeing herself the way we all see her, I was both awe struck at the strength of this young woman and so unbelievably sad for her biological family.

I'd love nothing more than to share these photos with her mother. That was something we used to do. I remember how happy is made her to see the photos of our daughter, in her costumes for dance recital. And I know that a few years ago she found photos of our girls online & posted them to her Facebook. So, she obviously still cares and enjoys seeing them. Yet she hasn't opened the door back up to receive updates or anything else, since her release from prison. 

I can only assume it means she feels she's not able to handle that, which is understandable. It must cause a lot of pain to know you're children are out there but to not be able to care for them. It has been suggested that I contact her, but I have decided against that because substance abuse & mental health Issues are difficult enough to navigate without someone introducing additional pain and upset at a time when you aren't prepared for it.

So, I shall continue on, as I have, focusing on raising her two oldest girls, and trying with all my abilities to help them be the best version of themselves that they can be. If she ever feels ready, she can find me, as I told both her & her mother, many times over. But I will always carry a metaphorical burden for her, and will pray for her (there's nothing else I can do), because I am fully aware that each wonderful moment & milestone is one that she missed, and that they have many unresolved questions that make their puzzle somewhat incomplete.

Endless work, with mixed rewards and a constant balancing act. Finding yourself connected to & caring about people you barely know, some of whom may have even done things that break your heart & outrage your senses; but, still, recognizing the humanity & the connection they have to the child you love more than life, and honoring that in and way possible. THAT is the reality of foster-adoption, done right. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Thoughts from my day...

Social work means seeing the best & the worst of humanity. 

It means the horrors of it human depravity, and rejoicing when people overcome adversity and achieve success, no matter how small.

It also means bearing the burdens of others, some of whom we help, and others that we will never meet. 

And professional confidentiality, which we protect for the best interests of all those we help, costs us greatly, as individuals, because it often means that we are unable to purge ourselves of the sometimes overwhelming painful emotions connected with this journey. 

Today my heart is heavy. So many thoughts. So much pain out there. Services are inadequate & often there are no real answers to the problems faced by so many. 

Hurting people, hurt people. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Timeline of an Anxiety Attack

***Trigger warning

I’ve mentioned anxiety attacks & PTSD trigger, before, but many people don’t know what they really looks like. A couple months ago, I began talking my way through them by messaging my friend a play by play, of sorts. It helps me to stay more self-aware & feel more in control while I work through the anxiety attack. She has suggested to me that I might share one of these episodes so that others can have a better understanding of what happens. 

 Today, while at work, I was triggered. At first, I thought I could manage & pull it together, if I took a few minutes alone. This normally works but, not this time. Once I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to, I decided to take sick leave or the remainder of the day, so that I could get home, where I could fall apart without people staring at me.

12:43: Triggered. Find quiet place to focus & deep breath. 

12:45: Feelings of uncontrollable panic rising. Heart rate is increasing. Recognize that my breaths are shallow, so start focusing on breath control. 

12:58: Chest pains begin. Realize that anxiety attack is inevitable. Must hold it together long enough to get permission to leave work. Compartmentalization still working, but is very laborious. Physically shaking, trying to hide the signs of emotions & stay in control so I can speak.

1:04: As I’m shutting down my workstation, the Director comes to check on me. She’s worried. I compartmentalize well enough that no one ever really knows when I’m struggling with anxiety. In my two years there, I’ve never had an attack bad enough that I had to leave work. My voice cracks while I talk to her. I tell myself: “NO…hold it together. No tears. You’re a professional. No breaking down until you’re out of here.”

1:11: Drive out of parking lot.

1:14: Tears involuntarily fall. Not the type of crying like when you’re sad. It feels more like the tears of frustration. They’re from having to work so hard to keep it together until a more appropriate time. Only a few falls, then my body starts shaking.

1:19: Depersonalization/disassociation begins. It feels like being detached from yourself. I don’t actively feel the panic anymore. My body still has the physical reaction, so the process is still happening, on some level, but I’m no longer consciously aware of it. I always describe it as being in a mental fog. Everything feels a bit 1 dimensional, and not quite real. So, I consciously focus on breathing & making sure I’m extra careful in my driving, because my reflexes will be slower than usual.

1:24: Still consistently telling myself to stay clear headed and drive safely. Mentally talking myself through where other cars are on the road, my speed, every maneuver, etc. because the fog makes reaction times slower. Plus, talking myself through that helps me focus on something other than the anxiety attack that is causing horrendous chest pains, shortness of breath, etc.

1:33: Pull into my driveway. My neighbor is outside & wants to say “hi”. I wave, as I rush into the house. There is no way I can speak to anyone right now.

1:34: Lock the doors, not just to the house, but also my bedroom, so that I have somewhere I can feel safe.

1:35: Set alarm for time for after school kid arrival.

1:36: Turn off lights & lay in fetal position.

1:37: Concentrate on controlling breathing. Must not hyperventilate.

2:02: Breathing is more under control. Chest pains persist. Text a friend who deals with same struggle, to help refocus.

2:12: Order pizza, to be delivered later, because I know I won’t feel like cooking dinner. Thank god that can be done quickly, from a phone app.

2:37: Lying in the dark. TV is on, to drown out all outside sounds. Chest pains are gone, but heart rate remains elevated. Muscles at base of neck are so tense it’s painful. Somatic symptoms, also called body memories, begin. I won’t go into what mine are, specifically, but it’s painful & triggering. Lie in fetal position, focused on breathing.

2:43: Having to focus so intently on controlling breath, to keep from hyperventilating, is starting to feel like work. Feeling twinges of anger that I cannot fully control PTSD, or make it go away, just manage symptoms.

2:46: Body memories seem to have subsided, mostly. Still lots of overall tension. Still focusing on breath control but getting easier. Mild chest tightness. Tension headache starting. Taking ibuprofen.

2:50: Breathing not yet normal, but no longer having to consciously control. Heart rate still elevated but returning to normal. Fog clearing. Starting to really become more consciously aware of the muscle tension & stressed feeling. Going to close my eyes.

2:57: Throat feels like it’s trying to close up. It’s like a crushing feeling, from the tension. Head hurts. Chest tightness gone. Base of neck still in spasm but rest of body starting to relax. Muscles are aching from being tense for so long.

3:03: Feel completely drained. Eyes feel heavy. Lethargic. Like my body wants to shut down. Going to try to take a nap.

3:04: Text from a coworker, about work. Really don’t feel like I can do this right now. I need to take care of me. Don’t people know how hard this is? When you’re in the middle of this, your brain tells you that you may very well be dying, so asking me to answer questions about anything that isn’t life or death seems rather…well, I don’t have words right now. The worst part: I answered, because I feel obligated to help people, even when I should prioritize self-care.

3:07 Almost dozed off. Child’s voice startles me through the bedroom door, asking for a cookie. Heart rate elevated, again, from the startle reflex.

3:10: Adrenaline rush has passed. Eyes heavy, again. Want to shut down for a while.

3:11: Another text from coworker. Answer quickly & back to nap.

3:17: Startled awake by text message. Work again. Quick answer, eyes back closed.

3:47: Once again awakened by text about work, but notice that, this time, it woke but did not startle me. Heart rate normal. Anxiety attack officially over, just emotional frustration left from not being able to stop it. Headache is still quite painful and I still feel drained of all energy.

4:19: Pizza delivered. First time lights have been on. Sign receipt quickly so delivery man will go away.

4:20: Give pizza to kids (only one kid at home for a few days) & tell her I’ going to lie back down because I don’t feel well.

4:22: Normal energy level has resumed & attack is over. Mild headache remains. Proceed to eat my feelings.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Canceled visit

My kids' scheduled visits, this past weekend, with their dads were cancelled. It was nice to be able to have the weekend with them.

I'm always happy to take them, because they want to see their dads but visit weekends consist of a minimum of 8 hours of driving, split into two days. This, of course, means almost nothing else can be accomplished during those weekends and limits our family time to only two weekends a month. Naturally, since I'm the only adult supporting these kids, often I have things that have to be done on at least one weekend per month, just to make the juggle, which limits out time further. 

Weekdays, naturally, are consumed by school and the evening by homework & prep for the next school day. Which means, on an average month, we are generally left with only about one day per month where we are all together and can have family time, just doing something enjoyable. 

So, it was nice to have an unexpected extra weekend thrown in for us to hang out, together, and even check out the local medieval fair. The kids noticed, too, that having the extra weekend made a huge difference in our family time, because a few of them commented how nice it was; which made me feel good because they've all complained about us not having enough time.

The Bigs took the visit cancellation rather well. Wasband called and told them he had to work, so they understood. 

Relations between he & them have been improving, somewhat, lately. The last couple visits they've had, the kids have come back genuinely happy rather than stressed. When I asked what the difference was, they told me the gf wasn't home during the last visit and, the previous, they said she stayed locked in her room away from them. 

Honestly, I was a bit surprised to hear them express so clearly to be relieved she wasn't around, since they try so hard to please their dad. But, it does make sense.

I'm not really sure what's going on with Wasband, since we don't talk. All I know is the gf announced online that she left him & now he says he's gone on a job. So, hopefully this means he'll start working steady, again, like the responsible adult that he used to be. Not that there is any guarantee of benefit to me, if he does, but it will at least set a better example for our kids. 

I'm fighting a constant battle, right now, with the oldest because he no longer sees the value of education because "dad doesn't have a job, I'll be fine without one". It makes me cry & scream because I've raised him better than to just throw away his opportunities & settle for less than his potential. So, to watch him considering following such a poor example is hard enough. To realize it's coming from his father, the one person who was supposed to help me push him towards better, is devastating. Though, it does remind me that I made the right choice in leaving. Just got to keep this kid moving in the right direction, as much as I can. That's what I keep telling myself. ..

Monday, February 29, 2016

A Message to Wasband

Yes, I am aware that you read my blog and/or have someone else who reads it tell you what it says. While it's a boundary issue, particularly if it's someone other than you (because 3rd party interference has been an ongoing issue) stalking my blog isn't a crime, as it's open to the public. So, continue to enjoy.

However, if you have concerns about what you see, you should address them with me. I take great care to make sure that everything written here is accurate &, because I'm a respectful person, unnecessary details are spared. Though, the fact that I'm having to communicate this through a public post should confirm for the entire world that our communication needs work. 

I'm not sure what your particular concerns or outrage are, at this moment, as there is very little that has been published here that you wouldn't have known. After all, you're party to the case with our children, so you already know all those details & you've long had knowledge of my history as a survivor & that it has never interfered with my parenting. 

I'm sure reading about what I found out about someone I had dated was a jolt, but take note that as soon as I became aware of a potential future threat, I eliminated him from the equation. I didn't even wait for an actual threat to materialize. My children's safety comes before me (and, yes, my relationships) and I was willing to risk everything to keep them safe. 

Fortunately, I was able to work it out and avert disaster, but I had no way to predict & I could never allow anyone who had violated boundaries, or shown the potential to do so, around my children. That is how I think a parent's priorities should be & the standard that I believe we consent to when we choose to become parents, and even more so when we make the choice to adopt another's child. Because they are already having to overcome adversity & should not have that compounded by adults who are supposed to put them first.

So, there you are. A post just for you. Now, please...if you have concerns, please email me and let me know so that we can make actual progress and, hopefully, co-parent again, like we did in the past.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Be Kind

I often say that being a social worker is to have your heart broken daily. We see people who are in pain and who are struggling for things that most people take for granted. You learn to value even the small triumphs and, if you have empathy, you share the pain of individuals that are essentially strangers.

Having an overly developed ability to compartmentalize, I tend to be able to snap back pretty quickly, and carry on, even after having a woman cry to me about horrific abuse that she'd kept hidden for decades, but is finally reaching out for help, or whatever other scenario arises at that moment. Sometimes, though, there are cases that are familiar pain. Situations where you don't have to empathize to understand the pain, you just have to remember. Those are difficult.

Don't get me wrong, having endured the struggle means being better equipped to help, but those cases stay with you longer. Those are the tears you never forget, the people you continue to think about and pray for months, and even years, later.

Last week, I had one of those heartbreaking cases. Obviously, I can't disclose the details, but it certainly reminded me that some losses are felt forever, at least in some form.

If that had been the only hurdle, last week, it would've been manageable. Naturally, my life isn't that simple, and it was combined with an overly extended schedule (more so than usual) and some pretty significant stresses. The primary of which being meeting with my daughters' therapist to review Beautiful's treatment plan.

Due to the way things have progressed with visits with Wasband, and her increased anxiety, she had done an anxiety and depression assessment. Keep in mind, this had been done, previously, with no cause for concern. This time, though, she is officially getting an anxiety diagnosis and is showing as moderately depressed. This is sudden, and has only developed in recent months. When discussing all of these things, with her therapist, it always seems to come back to her dad (which is, of course, why he's now ordered to complete counseling but has so far not even scheduled it).

I cannot overstate how devastating it was to see that my previously well adjusted, happy daughter now reports that she "often" wishes she were dead. My heart hurts for her. I'm angry at her father for his contribution to this, and the fact that he doesn't seem to care. I believe that, if he can't prioritize the needs of his kids, when needed, he should just leave them alone; because they felt much more stable and were better adjusted when he was staying away. But I try not to think about that, because I don't want to invest energy into being angry.

In any event, I kept it together, all week, and saved my meltdown for Friday night. I let the kids fall asleep in front of a movie so that they wouldn't know I was crying in my room. When friends texted to chat, I politely told them that I didn't want to talk and they left me alone.

The next morning, I woke to a text that said, "Hope you're alive". I was still feeling some way, so I just said "I'm alive" before closing my eyes again. Then came the response "Good. I have had many a dark night. It's good to survive those." Wow. I hadn't even realized my response the previous night would cause concern, despite how out of character it is for me. I guess it never occurred to me that people worry about me.

I thanked my friend for checking on me, as I really hadn't realized how "not myself" I had been. In fact, I thought I had hid the pain pretty well, so I was surprised when it was seen as a red flag.

Don't get me wrong, I was not suicidal by any means, but my friend couldn't be sure so reached out. I remember sending that exact "hope you're alive" message to this same friend a couple years ago, after more than a couple sleepless nights, trying to talk through it, after my friend expressing to me the hopelessness that those who've struggled with suicidal ideations are all too familiar with. Thankfully, my friend has survived all those nights, and was still around to check on me. I am grateful for the existence of each person in my life. You ALL matter, and your life IS important.

It made me think of all the times, over the years that I'd done the same thing for friends, and even people I barely know. And I'm eternally grateful for the times people have been there for me, when j desperately needed it. Because, when you see someone drowning, you throw the life preserver that's sitting there, on deck. Maybe you won't be able to save them...but there's a much better chance than if you don't try at all.

So I made this post on my personal FaceBook, Saturday morning:
There have been many times I've wished I could drop everything & travel across the state or country, to be with a friend who needed somebody. Usually, I cannot, so I do what I can & listen.

There have been many sleepless nights, over the years, spent on phone calls or texting folks who were struggling, but I always wonder if I helped at all. But, this morning, I got a text from one of those friends, checking on Me & I realize how much it can matter just to have someone be grateful for your existence.

So I want to remind people that you can make a difference in the lives of other. Everyone has struggles, but the world is a much better place when we look for ways to help others with their burdens.

Even if you don't know how to help someone with whatever they're going through, just listen. Be there. Without judgement. Without religious guilt/advice. Just listen & let them know that they matter.

Honestly, I didn't expect anyone to read such a long social media post, but I wanted to put it out there, just in case.

As it turned out, I had multiple people thank me, and one tell me that it led to the mending of a previously estranged relationship. So, I'm glad I put it out there.

And now I will make the same request of everyone who reads this. Please, take time to check on those you care about. If you see a red flag, say something. Look for ways to help others in any way possible, even if it's only by being there to listen.

**In case you're worried, I am fine. I followed the advice I once got from a wise friend. Take one night to feel sorry for yourself and meltdown. The next day, though, get up and figure out which direction to go, to move forward. And, so I did. I feel better, now, thanks to the kindness of my friends, and feel like I can, once again, give strength to others.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Family update

I've been promising updates for a while, and have been frustratingly vague when folks ask me questions about the kids. For that, I apologize, but have been in court over my children's visitations with their fathers, and didn't want to jeopardize things. Likewise, I will be short on details in this update because I believe it's in the best interest of the children not to release any information that isn't already in the public records.

The Big Kids began visitation with their Dad in February of last year, after an extended period of him being absent from their lives, by his own choice. We were all hoping that it would go well and the kids were very excited about him reentering their lives.

Unfortunately, things didn't go as we had hoped. From the beginning, there were red flags, but it took a couple months for the kids to bring their concerns to me. The short version is, his live in girlfriend was engaging in inappropriate physical contact with our daughter, in his presence, as well as both adults saying things to her that would be out of line for any kid, but are particularly harmful to one who struggles with attachment issues.

My sons, who have been educated about abuse since they were small, recognized the grooming behaviors and one of them brought the concern to me. After talking to the children, and the therapist addressing the issue in multiple sessions, it seems that, to the best of our knowledge, that the conduct had not yet escalated to a criminal level, but was absolutely causing harm to her, and clearly inappropriate.

Discussing the matter with Wasband did no good and, unwilling to leave my child to be victimized, I had to file for some resolution in court. Once that happened, not surprisingly, the negative behavior during visits escalated, and therapy had to be increased to attempt to assist my daughter in processing things. There have been attempts to attack my character in that community, and many awful things have been said about me. But I accept that, because my first priority is to protect my children, so that is all that matters.

In any event, last week, I left court with an agreed and ordered safety plan for when the children have visitation. Wasband is to comply with all recommendations from the therapist, which will include therapy about appropriate boundaries and contact, as well as attachment therapy with our daughter. 

The offending girlfriend, who I recently learned has previously been accused of making sexual advances on a young teen boy, is not allowed to be unsupervised with any of my children. She is also not to have physical contact with the children. We will have a status hearing in 6 months, to see how things are going.

While it's not the best, it puts some protections in place. Unfortunately, our laws are extremely reactionary and won't actually limit his "right" to visitation with his children unless or until the offenses have become criminal, or if the court tires of him violating their orders. So, this is really the best outcome that we could hope for, at this point (other than him actually prioritizing the needs of the children and being a responsible parent, of course). 

At the advice of the therapist, I have gone over safety parameters with all the kids & the fact that they are all to stay together, at all times, while at visits. It's awful to have to put such weight onto children but, when the adults responsible for their safety blatantly states that he sees no reason for a safety plan and has no intention of following through, (which begs the question of why he agreed to it, but I suspect his attorney advised him to because he was gambling with the possibility of supervised visitation), there's no other real choice. So, for now, I will just continue to hope and pray they are safe each time they visit him.

As the first paragraph eludes to, I'm also in court with the youngest's dad, but that hearing isn't for several days, and I'm too emotionally exhausted with that situation, at the moment, to discuss it. So, I will see about an update once it's over.