Teddy Bear

I always knew I was adopted. My parents told me when I was small.

They created a story book, on the advice of their social worker, from folded pieces of cardboard and scrap coloured paper, all stuck together with lashings of PVA glue. They were instructed to tell the story regularly, so I expect my bottom was perched upon stiff knees and warm laps consistently, spoon fed tales of myth and fantasy, strangely in which I featured very little at all. Although I fail to remember the book, the story didn’t stop when the pages fell apart or were lost or misplaced, the tale continued and the most recognisable part, the defining feature was who took centre stage.

‘You are special’ they told me – ‘we chose you’ – they exclaimed – ‘we saved you’ they insisted. It’s particularly difficult to be told ‘you are special’ when you don’t feel significant at all. I always thought my parents picked me out in a shop. I imagined them traipsing quiet, narrow aisles which smelt of warm tin cans and cheap air freshener, looking at half-price instant coffee, boxes of washing powder, thick white bread and bottles of bleach until they arrived at the fruit and veg section. Maybe they discovered me sat in a crate piled high with cool green cucumbers or stuffed in a sack of potatoes, or sat between crooked parsnips and florets of broccoli. If I had been purchased, the assumption would be I came with a receipt, one now stuffed in mother’s thick leather purse, kept safe until the day I would be unceremoniously returned and deposited with a thump on a wooden counter.

You cannot be special if your biological mother thought you not precious enough to keep. The very act of rejection, the sheer brutality of it emotionally, the realization you were not wanted, perhaps even before you were born, cannot be conveniently glossed over by syrupy platitudes and mawkish over-sentimentality. My parents would often say ‘but she did a wonderful thing, she gave you away so we could have you’ which made me feel as if I were a prize at a fair. A wonky soft toy won after a few rounds of Hook A Duck. Although I had never met my birth mother, I felt strangely protective of her – my mother, the young, poor Dickensian waif and when people, whoever they were, implied things or said things that reflected badly on her or muttered things which felt selfish or heartless or mean, I would find it intolerable. She was not there to defend herself so it became my job, after all, she gave me life; hugged me inside of her for seven months and we shared something, something beyond language, logic and rational comprehension; beyond prosaic conscious understanding; an innate connection, primal and transcendent, more akin to a cellular imprint carried within us, there but hidden and unknown.

Most people know their parents. They know their siblings, cousins, other extended family and have some semblance of a structured narrative from which to understand their place in the world. As an adoptee I simply had an empty space where a story should be and a litany of unanswered questions. These questions, perfectly natural questions, often felt like an angry scab I could not stop picking, needing to know so many things, every day normal things but finding all the possible openings around me shut tight, answers concealed behind a hefty closed door.

One of the biggest questions I had as I reached my teens surrounded mental illness. At age fourteen, I began suffering with, what was then termed, Clinical Depression. Later in my life, I would go on to struggle with Bipolar Disorder (including a psychosis component), severe anxiety, social phobia and later periods of agoraphobia. Unlike many people, who know their mix of family and genetics, and can say, with clarity that their granddad had depressive tendencies or their great aunt appeared to be the anxious sort, or their brother could be a little obsessive, I didn’t know why I began to struggle. I simply did. It’s a strange phenomenon, disconcerting, when one does not know their own story, cannot fathom who they are and how they came to be but finds new stories emerging all of the time, stories with a clear beginning, a middle and an end.

As an adopted child, I’ve lived with the experience of being adopted for many years – felt its pain, been perpetually suckered by its loss. The lack of identity, the ruptured sense of self – (and the false-self we create to prevent more rejection), the feeling of being lost and without roots, the terror of abandonment and rejection which weaves its way through everything we do, the need for answers, the right to hear our story from those able to tell it – all these things can be difficult and complex to navigate, especially if we’re on our own dealing with the secrets of our pasts and coping with the wounds of our present. I hope I can bring some light to these areas, shake them out and put them back together in a way that makes sense of them, hopefully help them seem less scary and overwhelming. Share how I personally coped (and still cope) with the intricacies of the adoptee experience and later coped with mental illness, and finally, share how, over many years, I have been able to stitch together a new narrative for myself, created a new story and give you hope that things can be different for you, too.

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