The word “bipolar” has called my attention twice in recent years. The first was during the time Roger and I were waiting to adopt our second child (“Meaghan’s Baby“), and the second was this past winter when I read Laura Dennis’ memoir, Adopted Reality. Knowing her story makes me wonder how accurate were the ideas I had about bipolar disorder all those years ago.
I again present my friend Laura, a mom to two small children, a trained dancer, an adoptee-in-reunion, and an author. Laura is a busy busy person. Besides revising her first book, writing at her own blog, Expat (Adoptee) Mommy, and at Lost Daughters, she has also been compiling and editing the soon-to-be-released book, Adoption Reunion Conclusions (to which I am a contributor), which will be available later this year.
Laura has generously answered a bunch of questions about being an adoptee, about mental illness, about writing. Read on, and see information at the bottom about a giveaway of her book.
You know now that your parents meant well when they told you “Your birth mother loved you enough to give you up. And now we love you.” How did that well-intentioned phrase come across to a small child, and what effects did it have?
The subtext was apparent from an early age: Yes, my adoptive parents love me, but they, too, could give me up. And so I resigned myself to be the perfect adoptee, the one who “has no issues with being adopted.” I was overcompensating to make 100% sure I was loveable.
The second edition of your memoir is about to be released. What changes have you made?
The second edition of Adopted Reality includes more insights about my recovery. It’s funny, Lori. I am still processing, even as I outline, write and publish. I thought I was “over” my breakdown; normal enough to write a book about it, even.
The reality is that in the first edition I glossed over the gory details of my recovery. It’s hard to think about, even 10+ years later. It’s hard to remember being out of the mental hospital and not completely sane, barely functioning and yet completely determined to prove my lucidity.
Sense of Self
In various parts of your book, you show how disconnected you were from your body. You could go with little food or sleep for long periods. You didn’t miss a dance performance despite the pain of putting on your costume over second degree burns. When your birth mother asked you, at first meeting, what you felt like eating, you couldn’t grasp that concept of feeling like something. What causes may be at the root of this non-bodiment you experienced?
Wow. I love this question. And it especially resonates with me because I know how deeply you yourself have connected your physicality with your emotional and psychological well-being. So I’m going to get a little philosophical here …
Disembodiment or feelings of “non-bodiment,” are often connected in psychological terms with disassociation. Disassociating, or detaching from real-life experiences can be a coping mechanism. On one hand it allowed me to “dance through” excruciating pain, set it aside and detach from it.
But that’s the rub with denial and disassociation, and coping mechanisms in general, isn’t it? Unless you recognize them as such, they tend to come back to bite you. Later, in my delusional state (which I did not realize I was delusional–likely the biggest problem), I took this non-bodiment much, much further. I believed I was bionic — not human after all. In that state, I was inadvertently led to self-harm. I was so detached; I didn’t even feel physical pain, and I wasn’t aware that I’d hurt myself.
Freud and Jung would have a field day with this — connecting my divided sense-of-self with my tendency towards dissociation. In fact, I talk more about the root causes of my breakdown, and specifically this feeling of disembodiment in the second edition.
In many ways, the coping mechanism of “non-bodiment” went into overdrive. Accompanying the guilt I had over searching and having this amazing reunion, I felt I wasn’t grateful enough to my adoptive parents. My divided sense-of-self — adoptive vs. biological person — combined with the not eating and not sleeping. It was a perfect storm, leading my mind to kind of collapse in on itself and enter a paranoid delusion.
Recovery and post-adoption issues
Have there been any adoption issues that have impacted your marriage or the way you parent your children?
I wrote about my recovery in Adopted Reality, but the memoir pretty much ends in the year 2003. In the ensuing ten years, I’ve done a lot and maintained my sanity. The funny thing is, throughout the therapy I received following my bipolar episode, no one … no one asked me about having been adopted. Potentially unaddressed post-adoption issues did not come into play.
Having said that, I’m still working through my post-adoption issues. That’s not to say that every adoptee goes through the same things. It’s just that so many seemingly mild “issues” were not examined in my childhood and young adulthood. It compounded, and now, sorting it all out is an arduous task.
So, to answer your question, yes, my post-adoption issues do impact my marriage and my children. Attachment, fear of rejection, those are big ones in my marriage. Projecting my own fears onto my non-adopted children … these are things I’m still sorting out. I actually wrote about how I recently explained my adoptedness to my five-year-old.
Laura Dennis was adopted in New Jersey, raised in Maryland, and learned how to be a (sane) person in California. A professionally trained dancer, Laura also worked as sales director for a biotech startup. With two children under the age of three, in 2010 she and her husband sought to simplify their lifestyle and escaped to his hometown, Belgrade, Serbia. While the children learned Serbian in their cozy preschool, Laura recovered from sleep deprivation and wrote Adopted Reality, a Memoir, available on Amazon. She currently blogs at Expat (Adoptee) Mommy. Connect with her on twitter @LauraDennisCA, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Laura is giving away an ebook of Adopted Reality to a random commenter. Leave a comment by May 9, 2013 and make sure I’m able to reach you. The winner will be announced here and Laura will attempt to contact that person by May 12.