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The Dark Side of Situational Anxiety

August 5, 2011

This is one of those posts that will only make sense to some of you. To the rest of you: I’m sorry. But this is a public blog.

In my eight years in the adoption world there has never been a season like the one we’re experiencing when it comes to situational anxiety (SA). SA is typically a lonely experience because it is linked to personal experience –experience that differs from waiting family to waiting family. So while it is normal to have friends who are all over the SA map, it a new thing to observe SA operating in a crowd.

It is a scary thing to watch how SA behaves in a crowd.

Think of a gravity-propelled rollercoaster. A single car predictably cruises up the track’s hills and down into its valleys. But a train with dozens of cars coupled together hurdles down slopes, careens on curves. Right now, we’re on a monster coaster. There has never before been a slope this long and steep. There have never been so many cars coupled together by circumstance.

This week, I have been painfully reminded of one of the most challenging manifestations of situational anxiety in adoption: paranoia so extreme that it turns vicious.

I am not God. I can’t know other people’s hearts. I can’t guess if there is vicious intent –to eliminate others from what may be perceived as competition for a limited commodity. Or if, perhaps, possessed by manic paranoia and a proportional sense of entitlement, a person is so blinded to all but her own concerns that she loses any ability to consider the consequences of her actions.

Blessedly, most people do not experience SA in adoption to this extreme. It is rare. But it is real. And really dangerous. The targeted victims are usually other waiters already doing their best to bear up under the weight of their own SA. These are not people who easily rebound when kicked while down.

It is also dangerous because those experiencing this level of paranoia keep it under wraps. (Why would you share with anyone when everyone is out to get you and no one believes it?) It only becomes visible when it becomes so extreme that it runs amok in other people’s lives.

It is doubly invisible because the person who experiences this extreme form of SA is not a newbie. She’s BTDT and seems to have weathered her first or second adoption experience. But the effects of SA are cumulative. So she tends to go there faster and further each time. In the process she has gained experience with and expectations for the system and now uses her knowledge to try to manipulate the system to relieve her unbearable levels of anxiety.

I sense a soap-box moment coming; bear with me. This is why it is critical to be real with each other. To know and be known so others can offer perspective and help us bear the load.

SA is not limited to what you experience inside your own head or even to what you experience in your relationship with your spouse. You are likely oblivious to how it is affecting others around you and unless you’ve experienced PADS (Post Adoption Depression) before, you have no idea where SA may be leading you.

SA in adoption can be managed, It doesn’t have to control your life. But if you are not aware and vigilant –especially if you have no one around who knows what you are going through –SA can do more than make you feel miserable. You may begin towing others under in the wake of your anxieties.

Please fight back. Use all the tools you’ve been given and if those don’t feel adequate, please reach out for more help.

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