Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Chicken and the Egg

This series of posts on situational anxiety in adoption (SAA) needs to take a turn toward the practical: how to recognize SAA and how to cope with it. But before I get too far away from my posts developing the things that contribute to SAA, I want to register my opinion on the question, "Do Internet forums foster SAA?"

That's the nice way of asking the question. The not-so-nice way is to say: "Can't you take a perfectly sane waiting mom and make her insane by feeding her a steady diet of other people's paranoia? Don't you make people worry about things they otherwise would not know might be of concern?"

I can speak to that from personal experience. My earliest wait was eight years ago in what we now call, "the dark ages." Before Internet forums existed. Back then, my agency's mantra was: "No news is good news." Roughly translated that meant: "If you don't hear from us, your case is proceeding as expected. We'll call you if something changes."

Much later I learned that a Yahoo ListServ for Korean adoptive families existed at the time. My agency also had an IRL support group for waiting families (International and domestic combined). It met monthly and I attended once out of curiosity. But really felt on top of the wait and didn't go back.

The first wait didn't bother me much because my expectations about the process of adoption were just right: zero. I didn't know enough to have expectations. My naivete kept me comfortable. As the saying goes, what I didn't know couldn't hurt me.

That's the general idea behind the supposition that Internet forums induce situational anxiety: in the absence of information, clients must be blissfully ignorant.

But ignorance is not bliss. The form of situational anxiety that is ubiquitous to adoption is triggered by the process, not the support group.  It is a little like thinking that a recovering alcoholic would struggle less if she never attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings because there, others might give her the idea that recovery is challenging.

Which is better, to have an ignorant client (one unconnected to other adopting families) quietly despairing that she has lost her grip on reality, feeling doubly alone because she is too paranoid to tell her social worker? Or a client in similar circumstances who is connected enough to have someone with whom they can confide, "I think I'm going crazy. Literally," and hear back, "I know. I felt the same way."

So no: Internet forums are not the shell that incubates the chick called situational anxiety. However I believe that clients who are more prone to experiencing higher levels of situational anxiety are more likely to seek out Internet forums because such forums are one tool people use to manage the anxiety they are already experiencing --before they ever sign on for the first time.

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