Many people struggle to fall asleep.
As someone who lives a busy life, I consider myself like many people. Sleep often evades me because I’m running through my list of tasks for the week. Either that or my brain has decided to replay that embarrassing memory from first grade—one or the other.
Sleep didn’t start evading me for darker reasons until I moved away from my family.
I suppose there were always signs that I might have issues. Most children who are adopted do, and again, I frequently consider myself in the majority (of both adopted people and people in general).
My parents can testify that I was a clingy kid (I prefer “overly-affectionate,” but we’ll call it what it is). When they arrived at the Chinese orphanage to meet me, I was six months old and visibly terrified. There are pictures from that day of my parents, with the brightest smiles, holding me, a baby who looked more like a pouting fish—my frown was that deep.
By the end of the week, though, I had latched onto my mother. I wouldn’t let her go to the bathroom without crawling after her. I wouldn’t let her out of my sight.
We have a home video from when I was fourteen months old that shows me sobbing, screaming at the top of my tiny lungs. My mom had put me down to grab a snack from the other side of the room. I couldn’t fathom why she would let go of me, so naturally, I made that known. My grandma couldn’t satisfy me. Not even my dad. Only my mom. I only stopped crying when I was in her arms again.
I was pretty overly-affectionate.
Even though I was adopted as an infant, I have felt the effects of my adoption my entire life. When I was younger, I felt it in obvious ways, being a Chinese girl walking around with white parents. As I’ve grown up, I have internalized these effects, and sometimes, I even trick myself into believing that I am completely past dealing with my adoption. I must have encountered every possible difficulty by now.
But living with the aftermath of adoption is an interminable journey.
Adoption has affected my life in ways I never could have anticipated.
A little over a year ago, I moved out of my parent’s house. The first night in my new apartment, I attempted to sleep. My usual weekly tasks evaded me. Not even embarrassing moments from childhood made an appearance. The only thoughts that flooded my brain were, This isn’t my bed. My parents aren’t a short walk down the hall. I’ll never live there again. I wish I was with my family. What if something happens to them, and I’m not there? My dad works at the Pentagon—what if there is another 9/11? What if my mom goes to the mall tomorrow, and there is an active shooter? What if someone kidnaps my brother or sister on their walk home from school?
My mind reeled uncontrollably. I was crying at the thought of living without my family. The logical part of my brain tried to bring me back and convince me that this was irrational, and I was in no present danger. I attempted to dispel these scenarios, but I quickly lost that battle. The thought of living without my family felt so catastrophic and real that I began to fear for my own parents’ mortality. How would I handle that when they inevitably passed away?
At that point, I was having trouble breathing. My chest felt like it was collapsing on itself. My vision clouded with stars, and my mind felt like it was being consumed by an overpowering black hole of my own making. A black hole that overflowed with the fear of being alone. The fear of losing my loved ones. The fear of being without a family.
Eventually, I must have tired myself out, and my body just went into shut down mode to save itself.
The next morning, in a much clearer headspace, I convinced myself that this was a natural reaction to moving out. I made frequent visits home, reasoning that spending more time with my family would make me feel better. Instead, it seemed to make me more cognizant of the fear. Sometimes, I would even start crying the second I pulled out of my parents’ driveway.
The fits at night grew worse. Sometimes, I would work myself up so much that I would hyperventilate, which would spark fear of being in physical danger. Which, as you can imagine, didn’t help. More nights than I cared to count culminated with my boyfriend holding me and slowly counting to three as I tried to inhale through my nose and exhale through my mouth.
During the day, I felt that this was all so irrational. I was angry and frustrated and tired. I am a well-adjusted adult. I have a job. I have friends and a healthy relationship. I desperately wanted to understand why I wasn’t strong enough to shake this.
The only thing I could do was learn. I learned about attachment issues that adopted children may have. I learned that I had symptoms of separation anxiety.
I took an interpersonal communication class where I met another adopted girl who had the opposite problem as mine. She was adopted when she was older and grew up without close bonds. Today, she finds it challenging to invest in friendships and romantic relationships. Whereas, I bond very quickly and throw too much of myself into the people I care about.
Even children adopted as infants can be instilled with deeply-rooted fears of abandonment. When I was four months old, my birth parents—who had taken care of me for the first few months of my life—abandoned me on the side of a bridge. I never saw them again.
When I was ten months old, I left the nannies who had taken care of me at the orphanage forever. Within the first year of my life, I was growing and changing, and the instability of who was there for me was constantly changing too.
I latched onto my mom because even as a child, I was afraid that she would leave. Even as I write this, I find myself suppressing emotion. The world ending couldn’t make my mom leave me. Amidst fire and brimstone, she would be right there to ask about my day and nag me to stop procrastinating on my taxes.
My family is my world. Experiencing separation anxiety makes me feel like my overwhelming love for them is what is wrong with me. In reality, it is the deeply-engrained belief that they might abandon me that is wrong.
Two months ago, I moved across the country for my career. Some nights are still hard. Some days, I cry when my boyfriend leaves for work, which is embarrassing to admit. Deep down, I feel that I can’t help it. I just worry that one day, he might not come back. Even though he always does.
I get frustrated with myself because I thought I was more resilient than this. But adoption leaves none unscathed.
My entire life, I thought that adoption was a gift, and it can be. I have a family who loves me, and I live a privileged life because of my birth parents’ decision. It was a rude awakening to learn that this “gift” may also be the reason why I have panic attacks.
Adoption is a source of loss, even for people who don’t consciously understand why they are grieving. Adoption is a lifelong journey, and pieces of my past that I would rather forget will always remain with me.
I didn’t write this to invoke sympathy. I have a job that I love. I have friends and a healthy relationship. I am also fortunate to have the resources to tackle this. Sitting around and wallowing in self-pity is a waste of time for someone who lives a busy life. I want to address the problem, reflect, learn, and take action.
I chose to share this to increase solidarity. Everyone struggles with issues unseen by others. It is so easy to feel alone and isolated and that no one cares. Even though they do. And they want to help.
The fear is still here, but I work through it a day at a time, which is all you can do. Every day, I call my mom, and she picks up within the first few rings. Every day, my boyfriend comes home from work when he says he will.
Every night, I am sleeping a little easier.
Kira Omans is an actor, martial artist, dancer, and adoptee advocate in Los Angeles. She is a third-degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do and works in action films. Kira is a full-time audiobook narrator and has completed 30+ novels, including work by USA Today Best-Selling authors. Additionally, she is the first adoptee to be crowned Pacific Miss Asian American, and she won the accolade of Best Talent for her Chinese ribbon dance. To learn more about Kira, visit her website: www.kiraomans.com.