The day had a rough start. I could hardly get out of bed. The urge to hold onto the pillows was just so strong.
It started to emerge that I was really, really sad. I think I cried. I felt like I just wanted to go home. I didn’t know the reason. Sounds like foster care stuff though, doesn’t it? Sounds like removal and return.
I started thinking too that Veroushka’s loss seems to have been in June. I might have been in foster care all through spring and summer—that seems like the right time of year to me, although I was very young and I don’t exactly know how long it was or when it happened. But Veroushka’s surrender to adoption would have echoed my own return from care.
I am starting to understand how return from care would have been devastating to me. Attachment occurs in relation to attunement. The greater the degree of attunement, the stronger the attachment would feel. There is a time factor as well, but a foster parent absent mental illness would have been much more capable of attunement. If I had been in foster care for six months, the extent of the attachment might well have outstripped the attachment to my parents I had developed in the two or so years before.
And going back to my parents, I couldn’t express any of that loss or grief or separation distress. I wasn’t supported through it.
It got worse on the train going to school. I can’t even remember what happened inside me, but I know I felt really weird, really bad. At school, I eventually checked my email, and I got an email from the NGO working with foreign teachers. The head of the office there had said the board would vote on whether to send foreign teachers to Country X on the 24th. It’s been pushed back a couple of times.
Well, the email said the current need in Country X is for coaches of Country X teachers, rather than classroom teachers. So there would be another round of interviews all of us as candidates would need to go through, and then we might be selected to serve as coaches for varying lengths of time—up to a year. Nothing about the option to renew, but my thought is if I am there in Country X, I can organize a job in a private school for the following year. I’ll be in a better position to make the contacts. Also, I will know where C will be in school in 2020. In 2019, it depends on her 10th grade exam scores. It’s all up in the air right now.
I got the email, and I was okay.
I hadn’t been conscious of being so aware of this email hanging over me, the uncertainty it indicated, and it seems to me now the wait for it had struck me very hard.
I got a second book by Brene Brown: Daring Greatly. I know it wouldn’t have helped me that much before I got a handle on emotional regulation, but now it makes a lot of sense to me what she’s saying. She poses the question, “What do you do when you feel vulnerable?” And her answer is that she (and other people) commonly react with anger, aggression, blame, attempting to control or to find certainty. Doesn’t that sound right? Those sound like things I have done or that I have seen other people do. When the people around you lack empathy for vulnerability, you get hurt in these moments.
I feel like I can process what is going on right now a lot better, and situations where I feel vulnerable don’t escalate. It’s kind of amazing.
But to return to this morning, I felt vulnerable not knowing what might happen with next year—not having heard back. What I might have done in my past is to try to gain certainty, and I might have debated with myself the odds of being sent to Country X as a classroom teacher. This would have gotten me exactly nowhere because the fact was simply I didn’t know. I didn’t have enough information. It wasn’t possible to get that information until the NGO got back to me. They did, and the answer was something that hadn’t even crossed my mind, although it makes sense to me now.
Something else: I have felt really ashamed about C changing the direction of my life. Before three years ago, I had never heard of Country X. I might have wanted to teach abroad—I had thought of it. At the end of 2014, I thought of renewing another year because it seemed to be benefiting me personally and one more year away from the US seemed minor in terms of the change to my life overall. I stayed for 2016 because of C, and I am going back because of C. Without her, it would make a lot more sense to stay in the US, get a regular teaching job again, save for retirement and generally be prudent.
I feel like I’m diving into enmeshment in every way I’ve been warned about. I was thinking about the email, that I would love to be a lead teacher in Country X. I loved helping the other teachers in Country X. It felt like I was using my talents when I did that and it felt to me that I was doing very valuable work. I loved being able to help the education system in Country X by gently influencing instruction so that it was more responsive to the actual learning needs of children. It felt great. I like being a classroom teacher, but there is a ton of stuff I don’t feel great at. I am not great at the enormous amount of paperwork involved. I get no satisfaction out of a stack of papers I need to check. I like the relationships with students. I like when things click in for them. I like planning engaging lessons.
The thing is this isn’t just about C. it’s about choosing an authentic life. An authentic life involves some level of risk. I can’t really know if all of this will work out well for me. I can’t know I won’t die of typhoid or become seriously ill or disabled. I can’t know really if my chances at creating a decent retirement for myself are going to permanently disappear if I spend the next year or several in Country X. But what I am taking away from this is that, when I can make my brain work right and get emotion and thought to coordinate smoothly, I make decisions I feel more like I can trust. They seem sensible enough.
The other thing I noticed about my thinking is that one good thing happened, so there is this kind of halo effect. This worked out so it feels like everything will work out. I am sure the reverse happens too. One thing falls flat, and it feels like everything will fall flat. My mind automatically adopts a bias towards marshalling facts to support what I currently thing (life is good, for example, or things fall flat). It’s just something to be aware of. Something if I know about ahead of time and notice might help me take the emotional sharp edges off life.