Monday, February 7, 2011

The Beast Has a Name, Part II

At the end of my last post in this series I shared that when my former Social Worker suggested that  the constellation of anxieties many of us experience during our adoption waits was a form of situational anxiety, my friends and I were skeptical. Situational Anxiety is a normal part of the human experience. We know that because we have all experienced it:
  • feeling nervous before the first day of class at a new school
  • butterflies in the stomach before a job interview
  • lying awake the night before our driver's license exam wondering if we will be able to parallel park
  • the sinking feeling in the pit of the stomach when we see the lights of a police car in our rear view mirror 
  • compulsively cleaning before our first home study interview

We also have all experienced the hallmark characteristic of Situational Anxiety: typically, it passes.
  • We find the new school isn't hard to navigate and we begin making new friends.
  • The job interview either goes well, or it doesn't and we move on to the next one. 
  • We successfully parallel park and get our drivers license.
  • The police car passes us in pursuit of somebody else.
  • Our four year old shows the social worker the "junk" closet and she laughs that she has one of those at her house, too.

We were skeptical that "Situational Anxiety" accurately named our experience because SA is so normal. In contrast, what we were feeling was so abnormal that we wondered if we were literally going crazy. Yet, my friends and I agreed that the feelings we experienced while waiting were transient:
  • The referral call came and we bounced from anxious to elated in the five seconds it took for it to sink in that this was THAT! call.
  • The favorable report from the International Adoption Clinic cut off the fear that we might not be able to accept a referral.
  • The long-awaited update reassured us that our child was developing as expected.
  • The National Visa Center computers confirmed action on our case at the Embassy.
  • The travel call came, our child came home, and our deepest fears vanished like steam hitting dry air.
In the end, we concluded the diagnosis of Situational Anxiety was accurate if we readjusted our definition of "normal."  If "normal" is defined as the state that most people spend most of their time in, then adoption is not normal. Adoption is exceptional. The situational anxiety we experience when adopting is unique, but normal to this exceptional experience.

Our sense of self and our sense of self-competence are often based on things we do routinely and do well. We each have also developed coping mechanisms perfectly suited for stresses with which we routinely cope. The adoption  process can catapult us into a completely foreign place: a place where the competencies we've developed in our everyday world not only may be useless, but may in fact get us in trouble. Adoption can force us to cope with things we've never before had to cope with even if we have adopted before because each adoption is a unique experience.

That's why situational anxiety is normative in adoption. It is to be expected when we are temporarily transplanted out of our comfort zone, out of our realm of competence to a new, strange place where we have little control and little experience coping.

In the next two posts, I'll tell you a story to show how knowledge (or the lack of it) about SAA  affects two different moms embarking on the adoption journey.

*To navigate the posts in this series is to click on the "Situational Anxiety in Adoption" tag in the label cloud on the right side bar. To start reading from the beginning, scroll to the end and read from the bottom up.

1 comment:

dorothy said...

Yep - I agree. I have put it under another catagory in my 'adoption understanding' experience but the anxiety and stress that adoption bings is almost universal (even after 8 adoptions I still expereince it.) I have equated the adoption anxiety and stresses as equal to those experienced in pregnancy...the tension of the pregancy test, passing the first trimester withour miscarrying, PTL, labor and delivery complications. And just like with pregnancy - that list of things we can't control are the things that make us anxious and a little bit wacky in our behaviors. The good news is that if we 'expect' it in both pregnancy and adoption we can manage it better.