The Shape of Emptiness

When was the first time you felt empty? When did you notice a void in your life? I think these attributes – emptiness, meaninglessness, void – they can be feelings too. I remember the first time I felt meaningless. I had gotten in trouble for something and was sent to my room. I felt so badly that I took a belt down in my closet and tried to hit myself with it. I want to say that this memory was about the age of eight, but I fear it may have been even younger.

Emptiness came later. I was in at least eighth grade. I sat desperately reading  my Bible, devotional journals. I was looking to God to fill a hole in my heart. I wish my faith, my devotion had filled that hole, but there was a problem with that pursuit.

The hole wasn’t God-shaped.

There is a saying I’ve heard at some point in my life (not sure when or where). It goes, “Everyone has a God-shaped hole inside of them.” Perhaps that is why I devoted so much time and energy to pursuing him early on.

I thought God would fix me.

Now, in my head, I hear an angelic chorus singing, “God didn’t fix you, because you didn’t need fixing.” Okay, not an actual chorus, but it is what I imagine a good Christian would say or think while reading this story. I really wish that they would be right – that I don’t need fixing. I really do.

Some Things Remain Broken

If there is anything that I have learned from adulthood, then it is that some things can’t be repaired. I have seen it with our son’s autism, my mental health and our finances. I imagine a lot of people would simply say that I’ve lost hope. I don’t think that is true, because, believe me, I really dream of waking up to my son’s words and songs. I dream of a year in which depression does not affect me 330 days out of 365. I dream of a world in which we have a home to live in with a mortgage we are able to pay.

Oh yes, I hope.

Yet, I would be stupid not to prepare for a future in which my son needs full-time care. Facts are facts. If he hasn’t spoken by the age of nine, then things aren’t looking good for independent living. My depression? They say that the first time you have a season of depression that you should remain on medication for at least a year. The second bout of depression should be met with 3-5 years of medication. The third time? You should remain on medication for life. They also classify your depression as MAJOR and a legit DISORDER. I qualify for lifetime medication. I.E. This is thing is MAJOR and DISORDERED.

Some things remain broken. My friend has a dead plant in the landscaping at her new house. Initially, she thought to pull the ugly sucker out and replace it with something pretty. Then, she texted me a picture of it and said, “I’m keeping it”. You see, for her (and me) the dead plant reminds us that ugly and beautiful coexist, pain and joy coexist. Perhaps broken and whole can coexist too.

Sitting with Emptiness

In my life, I’m learning to sit with emptiness. You see, I’ve realized that I’ve been trying to fill it for years and years. I’ve tried relationships, careers and jobs, schooling, children, religion, success, popularity, leadership, etc. The truth is that I’ve been trying to fill the empty space with a square puzzle piece.

I’m guessing my emptiness is upwards of a dodecahedron. That’s the largest 3D shape I can recall.

**Excuse me, I just looked up the spelling for dodecahedron and discovered it is actually a polyhedron. Are polyhedrons different than 3D shapes? What is a polyhedron? More than one face, my search tells me. Well, I’ve concluded that most, if not all, 3D shapes are polyhedrons. Geometry has never been my strong suit. Is this geometry? God, I hope so. End digression.**

You can’t fill your emptiness until you understand it, know its dimensions. In order to know those things, you can’t be trying to solve for ‘X’ or running back and forth with objects to randomly fill the space. You have to stop. Be present.

Experience emptiness.

And all I have to say about experiencing emptiness is this….

Damn it! Pain is coming, confusion is coming. This is going to hurt like hell!

Panic aside…

Pain is a teacher. Confusion isn’t a crucifix. And Hell was made for rebels.

Candidly,

Ash

P.S. I wrote this post while listening to “Hold On” by Sarah McLachlan.

 

Mental Illness is not Contagious

It was my second day in the mental hospital. I had anticipated being exhausted, isolated, scared. Instead, I woke up refreshed at 6:00 AM, even without an alarm. It was mostly because they had given me a sleeping pill the night before. I had agreed largely because I was slightly panicked about having a roommate in the mental hospital. I mean, what if they were really off their rocker and strangled me in my sleep? Additionally, the doors didn’t lock. 

(The irony of fearing death via murder was not lost on me. How was it that I was cool offing myself, but if someone else tried? Well, hell no!)

I took a shower that morning. Breakfast wasn’t for another two hours. Again, no lock on the bathroom door was sort of a turn off. Showering at 6:00 AM before anyone else was awake seemed like the ideal situation. I didn’t want any weirdos walking in on me naked!

 I walked down the hallway afterwards and smiled at the nurses sitting around a single computer. They looked up at me and stared. I tried to think of something to say. I turned to my mom status for a rescue comment.

“I’m used to waking up early and getting the kids ready for school.” I said, shrugging. 

In retrospect, it must have seemed super odd to them that I woke up so early, showered, got dressed. Aren’t depressed people sluggish and struggling to handle the day-to-day of life? Sometimes. Trust me, I have been sluggish and I have not showered for at least 10 days, multiple times in a row. 

Later that day, I sat with a psychiatrist. He quizzed me about symptoms and thoughts. I replied with one word answers. Then, he said I had atypical depression. I think I sniggered. Of course, my mental illness would be “atypical”. Figures. I added this to the growing list of things that made me odd or a black sheep. 

After that I went to a group session in which they compared mental illness to diabetes. If you had diabetes, then would you just stop taking your medicine when you felt good? No, you would check your blood sugar and keep track of yourself. This was how we should treat mental illness – as a health condition. 

At the time, this really helped me to accept what was happening to me, as well as take my treatment seriously. 

I made friends while I was there. For the most part, I stopped worrying about being murdered in my sleep or raped in the bathroom. They were good people, experiencing things like me. I could see the ways in which they were unhealthy, just as they could see the way that I was unhealthy. We even talked about first impressions of each other. People said they thought I worked there for the first 24 hours, because I had regular clothes on. I said I had a really good husband who brought me clothes and books. 

On my third day, the mood on the floor shifted drastically. It was visitor’s day, which only happened once a week. Many of my new friends had been there for almost a week or more than a week. Basically, every one was super high strung and anxious – myself included. I would be so happy to see my husband, but I would also be seeing my parents. You know, because they love me and wouldn’t miss an opportunity to see me – hospital or no hospital. 

Except seeing my parents…in the mental hospital….it made things real. I had a problem. I had a condition. I would be handled with care. 

The truth is, sometimes, the people who love us the most can’t help us. If they could, then they would have done it long ago. Both parties hurt, because both parties know. 

“This isn’t something I can fix. I don’t know what to do.” We all say to ourselves. 

Leaving the hospital, I was determined to treat my mental illness as a health problem. I quit caffeine, forced myself to exercise, shower and do the things that “helped” depression. For the next week, I was a task master driving myself through slavery. Then, my therapist drew my attention to something. 

 I frequently said, “It does no good to dwell on things. You just have to keep going.” I stared at him, clueless. Then, he said, “Generally, when people wake up with thoughts of harming themselves, then their day doesn’t proceed as normal.”

Huh? Umm….things still have to get done. I wasn’t sure what he meant

It took a really. really long time for me to realize that I could cut myself some slack. First, I had to actually open up to people and tell them what was behind my smile. Then, I had to sit with what I told them, because I had acknowledged it existed. Suddenly, I wasn’t the girl waking up at 6:00 AM, getting a shower and going on with the day. I was the girl lying in bed, crying and feeling so many, many things. 

About nine months later, I quit everything I had been doing for the last two years – every obligation, every responsibility. I left it all behind (except for being a wife and a mom). We even moved to a different city. Everything started over.

 This is when I finally started to feel free. I was still depressed. I was even more anxious. Yet, I felt free.

 You see, I had a lot of loved ones and friends. People, good people, cared about my family and I. Loving, kind, generous people. We all sat in a room awkwardly with each other, just like the night my parents visited me in the mental hospital. Except, this time it wasn’t just a room – it was our lives. My mental illness wasn’t something they could fix. They didn’t know what to do.

And I didn’t know what to do either.

Sadly, people largely don’t know how to respond to mental illness. I wish they wouldn’t call it mental illness. I wish I wasn’t referred to as the mentally ill.

I’m just Ash.

If people could just respond to me as Ash, then this wouldn’t be so hard.

 There is so much stigma around mental illness, that I’ve come to hate the word stigma itself. People have said to me, “Thanks for being vulnerable. Thanks for ending the stigma!” and even “I don’t know how you are so honest.” I can tell you how I have done it. I’ve come to know my truth.

I cannot live any other way.

I must be honest. I must be vulnerable or I will break again. Their is elasticity in vulnerability. It allows me to come back from the falls.

The Vulnerable, Mentally Ill Person Wants to Say This…

Ending the stigma of mental illness shouldn’t be the burden of the mentally ill. Social justice and responsibility mean speaking up for the speechless. Unfortunately, this has never once been the way the of the world. I learned it first with autism and the church. Evan was almost four before anyone addressed his autism at church. The church that addressed it was one of the best ones, but we had sought them. We had come to their church because he had autism.

I learned then that I would always be the one advocating for our family as a special needs family. No one else would do it for me. Now, I know this to be true for mental illness. No one else will advocate for me and my dear friends. They will pretend not to see me so I must make myself visible, even at times a spectacle.

I am willing.

It isn’t fair. It will never be fair. Do I fear that one day I may take my life and make all of these words null? Yes, yes, I do. Do I fear how my words will reflect and affect my children? Yes, yes, I do.

But I fear far more what saying nothing will do to the world and what it will do to me.

For this reason, I cannot keep silent.

I am an abolitionist of stigma. And I wish to find a new name for the mentally ill.

Candidly,

Ash

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sadness Moves On

I’m not overly enthused about writing here today. I’d much prefer to sit at some fiction and dream. I also know that this type of writing – the kind that causes me to delve deeper, it is probably the most important writing I do. I grow from it. Sometimes things which make us grow are not fun or exciting, but rather fairly difficult.

In our house, the theme of late is that sadness moves on. From the toddler to the nearing-forty daddy, everyone in our little house has been dealing with sadness. And so, as we talk to each other, we remind one another that feelings pass and shift and move. The eclipsing pain is not going to stay for every moment of the rest of our lives. It is temporary.

For the toddler, this looks like us singing a Daniel Tiger song (Thank you, Mr. Rodgers!). “It’s okay to feel sad sometimes. Little by little you’ll feel better.” For a little while, he would get upset about anything and just haul off and hit one of us. First, we would move away from him and say no, but this didn’t seem to be working after several months. Instead, I got closer to him and patted his back while using words to describe that he was sad and why he was sad. This started working immediately and we’ve had much less hitting. Of course, then he might cry and cry and cry and cry. So we added the Daniel Tiger song in. I think he’s mostly distracted by us singing and that’s what helps, but I’m hoping someday that he’ll actually get the full message.

Then, there is the 8 year old. She likes to do this sort of the rage-screaming thing when something upsets her. Again, I’ve been using the tactic of drawing close and comforting, acknowledging the feeling. It’s amazing how much closer we are becoming, because of this.

Evan’s been having a hard time at school. He’s having hours long behavioral episodes in which he bites himself, hits his head and attacks others. He does NOT do this at home. So I’ve been coaching his teachers on acknowledging his emotions and comforting him. Frankly, I don’t think they believe me that this works! We are going to schedule a day where I could come in and demonstrate. Although, I’m fairly certain that he’ll be so happy I am there that I may not get the opportunity!

I just want to acknowledge that his teachers are awesome and caring, loving people. As a teacher, it is so hard to watch out for the interests of ALL children in your classroom. Additionally, an authoritative voice is recommended to them in training. **Side note: Authoritarian is the volatile, commanding voice. Authoritative is the respectful, no-nonsense voice.**

Evan doesn’t respond well to either Authoritarian or Authoritative communication. He is at a three year old developmental level. Three year olds need soothing, calming presences in their lives. People often describe the terrible twos and threes. What is really happening in those situations (in my opinion) is that these children aren’t able to communicate the things they think and feel. We must teach them to do this in a caring way by acknowledging their thoughts and feelings verbally. Often this requires removing our agenda and even calming our own emotions. For instance, with Rhese we sing “It’s okay to feel sad….” Whereas, the alternate model would be to say, “You are okay. Go pick up the blocks now.” Or even more horribly…”What is your problem? Go pick up those blocks NOW!”

I can’t tell you how much changing our approach to the feelings of small people has helped!

Alright, back to our family. I was on a tangent…

The oldest is doing a stellar job at the sadness thing. She can identify that she is sad and communicate it. Our new thing is teaching her to communicate what she needs and wants in those moments. She will say, “Mom, I feel sad about not having my old friends nearby.” Then, I will respond, “Okay, what can I do to help?” or “What do you need?” Just this weekend she walked up to me and said, “Mom, I’m sad. Can I have a hug?” Really, she’s magnificent. I’m not sure I’m even able to do that most of the time. (more on that in a bit)

Hubby is dealing with a job that is atrociously stressful and does not compensate for overtime or education and experience. In other words, his job stresses him out and lack of money stress him out. Not to mention, this has been par for the course going on ten years. There is an ongoing drudgery in his day-to-day.

I’ve been wanting to rescue him. Take a job and fix this financial situation. I’ve offered. We’ve even bought and then returned interview clothes for me. Yet, my truth is that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing – writing, teaching the kids how to deal with sadness and dealing with my own sadness. Its about all I can handle. I wouldn’t return to work for anything – except to alleviate my husband’s pain. It is so tempting to give up what I need to help others. I’ve done it in the past so, so, so many times.

The truth? It is his responsibility to create a life he doesn’t want to hide from. Just as it is my responsibility to create a life I don’t want to hide from. We have to do that individually before we can achieve a collective relationship or family we don’t want to hide from.

Life is hard. It’s hard to get what we need. It’s painful to not have what we need. It’s discouraging to not get what we want. Its difficult to communicate to others our sadness and pain. It’s even difficult to acknowledge sadness and pain to ourselves, let alone others.

I came here to write with not much to say. I thought I would describe how, lately, our family lesson is “Sadness moves on.” I didn’t want to write here. I didn’t want to say much about me. What is my sadness? Yes, I want to help my husband, but I can’t. That is sad, but its not the low-grade fever that is consuming me.

My low-grade fever pain is not being able to heal Evan, not being able to fix things for him. Though I will NEVER give up on Evan, sometimes it feels like I’m so close to it. This song speaks to my heart so deeply. I’m so in over my head with this little boy. Sometimes, I just wish God would just give him one sentence to tell us something, anything. My son is lost to me in ways that were never meant to be. I just wish he and I could…I wish we weren’t broken. I truly love him the way he is, just as he loves me the way I am. Yet for us, because of autism, something is missing.

And this life feels hollow.

Candidly,

Ash

Talking to Myself Makes Me Less Crazy

We like to ratchet up the stress here. You know, as soon as one problem is solved then another appears. I’m using a tongue and cheek tone, because I honestly don’t want to connect with the way I feel about our latest turn of events.  Alas, the cathartic writing forces me to the keyboard and screen to bleed. y

Today, Evan is home from school because he was suspended for biting the teacher’s assistant. So far he has pulled out three of the floor vents, destroyed 5-6 crayons, climbed on top of the entertainment center (yes, by the TV!), destroyed our soap wand for the kitchen sink by tearing off the sponge pad and then pouring all of the soap all over the counter and opened the oven numerous times to play with the glass on the inside. Yay, an oven obsession! Because that’s not dangerous or anything.

It’s 10:00 AM.

So far I have moved a load of laundry, cleaned our shower, signed up for a fitness challenge with friends and now I’m sitting down to write. The truth is that a day with him, though he is delightful, is exhausting. Add in that he is suspended and that after 10 suspensions he can be expelled? Well, I’m surprised I’ve managed to do much of anything.

Very rarely am I at a lose for words to type, but on this issue I have so much apathy. I’ve shutdown so magnificently. Sometimes, I think that is a good thing, because things still get done and I’m not overwhelmed by my emotions. And yet, I know there will be a fall out.

Repressed emotions = Negative Self-talk

I used to think my inner critic was evil, a virtual gestapo in my head. I mean, if she wanted, that critical voice could convince me I don’t know how to read. She’s that potent.

Then, my therapist suggested that the negative self-talk was really just a giant clue – a clue to what was bothering me. This morning I woke up and went about getting breakfast to the tune of “I hate myself.” Literally, the thought was on repeat. It’s not a new thought and one that I am (unfortunately) accustomed to.

I didn’t really acknowledge it and went about my business. Then, the task “write” popped up on my phone and suddenly I just feel a blank void. I didn’t  have anything to write about. How strange (I always have things to write about)!

What is going on with me?

Oh, that’s right! I hate myself has been the background music for this day. I sit with a  blank stare, looking at the shattered screen of my laptop. I know its time to delve. I begin asking myself a serious of questions.

“Why do I hate myself today?”

The reply comes.

“You are terrible at entertaining Evan and keeping him out of things. You suck as a mother.”

“Geez, don’t hold back or anything.” I say to the negative committee in my head.

“Well, you asked! I answered.” The mean voice in my head says, folding her arms across her chest.

“Great job, self! Way to inner dialogue.” I say sarcastically to her.

I pause. I’m supposed to consider what feelings those thoughts bring up instead of having a sarcasm war with myself. Let’s see…

“When the mean voice in my head says mean things about my mothering abilities, it hurts.” I say.

“Yeah, no shit! I’m trying to get you to do better. The kid can’t even talk, doesn’t know how to play, dress himself, read… Geez, we’re lucky he shits in the pot most of the time!” The angry voice says to me.

“It’s just that…even if I do better, work harder…he might not learn. He probably won’t learn. I’ve tried before. It didn’t work.” I say in defeat.

“Yeah, precisely. We need to get this show on the road, muscle up! Let’s go lazy ass!” Angry voice counters.

“No, I don’t think you are hearing me. Look at all I’ve done this morning, while also cleaning up all his messes and managing not to be angry or cruel to him.” I defend. “I can’t do better than this.”

“Really?” She says skeptically. “Because if you can’t do better, then this really sucks. It really sucks that THIS is life.”

“Yeah, I know. It sucks. This life sucks.” I say softly.

“I was just trying to get you motivated, to make it better for you.” The angry voice softens and turns into a good friend.

“I know.” I say.

“He’s really not going to get better, huh?” She says.

“No – I don’t know. Maybe.” I say resignedly. “At least, there is nothing I can do to make him better. We’ve tried all of the *things* that *they* suggest. Seven years of ABA therapy and he still can’t attend school without the threat of expulsion. He still can’t talk. He has no more skills today than he did at three years old, except the potty training, of course.” I shrug.

“Well, there’s that.” She says knowingly.

“Yeah, he shits in the pot. Go us!” I say half-heartedly.

“You know, I’m proud of you for trying to do stuff today – to be productive. For cleaning up the messes and not losing your shit with him.” My new friend says.

“Yeah? You don’t hate me.” I say to myself in surprise.

“No, I don’t hate you.” Former gestapo girl shakes her head. “I was just out-of-tune with . what was really going on. So we’re just going to be sad today?”

“Yeah,” I reply. “Sometimes it passes – the sadness.”

“You don’t say! Huh,” She shakes her head. “I thought it was forever.”

“I know. Me too.”

And so I go about my day, not thinking I hate myself anymore, but feeling really, really sad. Luckily, it passes when I accidently put the hot dogs in the filing cabinet while making lunch. Evan’s sensory toy ended up in the refrigerator.

Life as a mom – sad, happy, tiring and, as always, hilarious.

Candidly,

Ash

 

Truth is an Evolution

It’s another one of those days. I feel like I have nothing to say, but I’ve learned too well that its actually the opposite. I know to keep going, keep trying, because chances are this empty feeling is related to repressing my emotions. I flip through my last few days like it is a catalog, searching for the point in time where I didn’t give myself enough freedom.

I find it, that moment. I was writing about Evan, trying to create a book for special needs mamas. I shared all of the things – the dark things, the very intensive trial and error with more error than anything else. Most of the time, I find that when I’m repressing emotion, its largely the emotions swirling around my little boy.

He’s getting big so very fast. Writing the section for my book titled “Our Story” is the essence of draining. Our story now spans seven years and there is much to say. This first round through it, I figured I would just do highlights of the story as I wrote and come back in the second draft with more detail.

I’m not sure there is going to be a second draft.

My brain wants to tell me that I’m a wimp. This is too hard. Its not worth it. The agony of reliving so many moments, so many hopes to be ended in complete letdown. My brain doesn’t want me to go into those depths and feel. My brain wants to preserve equilibrium. It knows this area is the epicenter of the quake coming to claim me.

I’ve been learning something lately – something that helps me open the conflict and pain in my soul.

Just because I’m hurting, doesn’t mean I am hurt. Just because I grieve, doesn’t mean I am bereaved. Just because I cry, doesn’t mean I am broken. Just because something is hard, doesn’t mean it won’t soften.

Absolutes are the death trap of my mind. They bind me up and twist me in knots. I don’t want to be riddled with conflict so I have to loosen my grip on those absolutes.

I used to believe in absolute truth. I was taught to believe in absolute truth. Literally, I sat in a small Christian school learning how to “defend” absolute truth.

I don’t believe in absolute truth anymore.

I believe truth is an evolution.

People say, “Nothing changes.” Others say, “Everything changes.” I think they are all correct. In this moment, there are some things that have been the same forever and somethings that have changed drastically. The only thing absolute is that there are no absolutes – a contradictive statement in itself.

I think the scary thing about our world is that contradiction is not accepted. It is vilified, personified, dramatized. Yet, what if contradiction was a bastion, a beacon for peace? Perhaps the beacon for peace would say to those arriving, “Here lie two truths, neither incorrect. They are apparently contradicting, but at second glance comprehensive. Stay awhile until you can see how a pattern forms and weaves itself into a tapestry.”

Later today, as I am writing our little story about autism, this is what I want to remember – that while the memory hurts, I am not presently hurting. I am well and coming from a place of strength to write this story. I can write this story and be well, at peace. Just because I paused, doesn’t mean I will stop.

Candidly,

Ash

Overcoming Survival Mode

Sometimes victory seems hollow. For the last few months, I have been in survival mode. Our recent move proved to be more of a challenge than I had anticipated. I mean, no one expected the school system here to refuse full day classes to my son with autism. No one expected the bus to randomly not pick him up or not wait for him to make his slow progress up the driveway. They were common ordinary things basic student rights for which we fought.

Being at home with Evan is simultaneously enriching and exhausting. Just imagine all of the things your third grader might do when you are not at home and had no internal safety alarms. Things that toddlers might not be able to do, but would if they had the ability. Right now, I’m struggling to put into words the constant energy, the constant vigilance that goes into caring for Evan.

Nothing is Autism-Proof

Our home is “child-proofed”- locks on doors and cabinets, refrigerator and stove. Really, they should call it “toddler-proofed”, because that is the only age group those locks and latches protect against. Despite all of these efforts, I constantly worry that my son will eat something poisonous/harmful or escape from my home while I’m moving the laundry. He’s a nine-year-old. You can’t child-proof for that ability. They can figure out locks and mechanisms just as quickly as any adult. Our only saving grace are alarms that we mounted above all exterior doors. Literally, it sounds like a bank has been robbed every time I open the door. (Note to self: Video tape our safety measures so other parents can see what we’ve done. Also, how freaking ridiculous that alarm sounds.)

I’m still not sure I’ve given a glimpse into the taxation of daily living with Evan. I love him so, so dearly and sweetly. Yet, the three hours I was getting each day of the week was not enough to care for myself or the needs of my family.

I was in survival mode.

Today, I get to emerge from survival mode as Evan starts his first full day of school.  Yes, I need this desperately. (Mostly, I need it because later today he has a dentist appointment – no picnic, I assure you.) For weeks, I’ve been wondering, considering what I will do with this prolific freedom. Yoga, exercise, bake homemade bread, actually mop the floors (Swiffer can only do so much), file our taxes, go to the doctor, find a therapist, take the babe to the park, grocery shop, run errands, write fiction (that sounds fun), finally watch that last episode of Scandal…

I mean, really, the list is endless. Time has opened up before me like a cool, spring morning. Refreshed, relieved – those are things I might feel.

Overcoming Survival Mode

Instead, I slump around like a sloth in pajamas, fixing copious amounts of coffee and scrolling Facebook. As usual, my mind starts the barrage of insults about my productivity, my ungratefulness at finally being offered that precious diamond called time. I shake my head at my perceived awfulness.

Then, a voice pops into my head (metaphorically speaking, of course). It’s the voice of my very best friend in the whole universe. She says it’s okay to stare at your phone for as long as you need, to play candy crush for hours, to ignore that giant to-do list. This is only day one. Recovery from survival mode takes time.

Here is the lesson I have been learning for the past seven years:

When your basic needs haven’t been met for a long, long time, then you forget what they even are. Coming back into myself, learning to recognize what I need? It doesn’t happen overnight. Remembrance is a tricky thing, because you can’t control it. Its pace and path are valleys and oceans sprinkled with twilight.

All I know is that today, I don’t know what I need. I do know that my pajamas feel really, really good and that the coffee feels very, very warm. I start there and honor those feelings. Perhaps tomorrow or in three weeks or five months, I’ll emerge from pajama kingdom and remember that makeup exists and hair dryers are for straight-haired people. Husbands are for loving and laughing and dating. Children are breathtaking when they try something new. Spring unfolds like fresh wind on dry, packed earth.

This is just one season – overcoming survival mode. There are other seasons coming too. Hopefully, summer, but one never knows….

Until the season changes, I’ll be here, remembering….remembering what is I need.

Candidly,

Ash

And this is Love.

He wailed from inside his small bedroom, screaming kicking, biting no doubt. It had been going on for 45 minutes. When would the child stop to breathe? When would we get peace?

My husband paced back and forth, letting out a mammoth sigh.

“I’m sorry.” I said from my perch on the couch. Then, I realized that I had no idea why I was apologizing. I do that. I apologize for existing. It’s subconscious, but I’m working on it and starting to recognize it. So I re-phrased.

“I’m sorry that something made you sigh.” God, that sounded stupid, but I tried. I tried to come to the moment as an uninjured person.

“It’s just that I get so frustrated with him sometimes!”

Him. The nine-year-old boy wailing and screaming, hitting and biting. Oh yes, frustration made sense.

“I think that’s only natural. Normal.” I responded.

“Sometimes – and I don’t ever – but it comes to my mind to spank him.” Yes, yes, spouse, I fully understand. I have those moments too. I let silence reign though. I knew there was more, because I had felt more.

“He shoved his little brother today and it was all I could do to make him sit in the chair for timeout.” Wow, impressive, spouse! I would have sent him to his room, banishing him from my line of vision. Silence, again.

There is nothing to say in these times. There is no fixing this situation. We have no answers. I have no answers.

When I Have Nothing Left

All I can do is hold space. Hold space for myself, for my spouse, for our son. Fifteen minutes of our silence passed, as our son continued his assault in the next room. We moved on for the night after that. Started a show briefly, until I couldn’t take it anymore.

I went to the medicine cabinet and grabbed some Tylenol. Maybe this nine-year-old, our son, was in pain. Maybe that was why he had been screaming so long? We had tried everything else – food, water, milk, singing, hugging, shoulder massage, head squeezes, making him a burrito with a blanket. Nothing had worked so we had taken a break. Talked a bit. Held the space away from him – for ourselves, because we were at our limit.

Yes. Perhaps this is pain? An earache, headache, toothache of some sort. A simple problem made mammoth by the muteness of my son’s voice.

I opened his door, hoping this would work. I spent fifteen minutes trying to get him to chew the grape flavored Tylenol, as well as keep him in the room. I maneuvered in his way to prevent escape. I knew if he left the room, then he would get to the other side of the house and wake up his siblings.

It didn’t work. Nothing worked. Sometimes nothing works.

Most times, nothing works.

He slipped past me and out through the doors, a useless barrier to the living areas. My husband stopped him before he got too far. Trying to gently, but authoritatively guide him back to his room. I watched in awe as my son mostly complied.

Oh to be stronger than my nine-year-old, to have some command of the situation! I envied my husband.

I stayed in the living room then. Holding my space, attempting to ignore the wild screams of my son as my husband repeatedly redirected him to his bed. Finally, gathering my strength, I returned to the room.

My husband, as I had expected, continuously picking him up and taking him to his bed, murmured  softly, “It’s time to sleep, Evan.”

I crouched low beside the mattress on the floor. We removed hard objects from his room long ago – too dangerous. I shoved the thought aside – the though of what a nice room with decorations and toys would be like – what a typical boy’s room held. The sadness cauterizing my heart, I swallowed and breathed it in and out.

Trying Again

“Evan, it is time to sleep. You must stay in your bed to rest. What do you need to rest?” No response, just screaming and rushing for escape. My husband’s strong arms returning him to the bed.

“Evan, I see that you are upset. We hear you. You are upset.” A slight calming, a glance at me and then wailing again. This time he flopped to the mattress instead of trying to escape.

“Evan, I see that you are upset. I hear you.” Screaming and wailing, a glance in my direction. He laid down, crying still. His bottom lip turning out.

“I see that you are upset. What will help you rest?” Crying only, no more screaming. Avoiding my eyes, he signed ‘eat’.

“Okay, I will go to get you some food.” Wailing again. “Daddy, will stay here to help you be safe in bed.” He was up and screaming, trying to escape with me.

Walking into the kitchen, I hurried to pour milk in a glass. Thinking again, I dumped it into a plastic water bottle. Glass is not safe if he rejects this. Grabbing a granola bar, I walk back to the room, my breath a prayer. “God, this is NOT okay.”

I entered to see that my husband had kept him in the bed, but I knew I could not give him his food – what he wanted, until he was calm.

“Evan, you need to be calm before I can give you anything.” The cry began to dissipate. I dropped to my knees. “I can give you this food when you are calm.” He stopped crying then, his breath shuttering in and out as he tried to calm. I handed him the granola bar. He twirled it in his fingers and began to cry again.

“I hear you. Do you not want food? Drink?” He signed his version of “drink”.

“Okay, you need to sit up for a drink.” My husband gently raised his back to let him know it was okay. We handed him the milk, guiding his shaking hands and the water bottle to his mouth. He tried to drink, but didn’t tilt the bottle far enough to get anything and then began to cry, thrusting the water bottle at my husband.

“It’s okay, Evan. It’s milk. You like milk.” I said. We tried again. He drank this time, gulping.

“Good, buddy, good.” I soothed. He had better control of the water bottle now so I let go.

His breath was still shuttering in and out. I started stroking his leg, thinking of how hard it is. I noticed he was holding his breath again.

“Keep breathing, buddy.” I said and demonstrated a big breath in and blowing it out. “Breathe it all out.” Amazingly, he does. My husband glances at me the way I looked at him earlier – in awe.

We are two pieces of this puzzle.

Moments to Hold On

We sat in silence, the three of us, breathing. Evan twirling the granola bar, nibbling and sipping. Breathing. Calm.

Five more minutes passed. He was still calm.

“We love you, buddy. You are special to us. We want you to be safe and calm and happy – to have what you need.” I said, knowing we all needed to hear it. More silence. And then, he signed something I had not seen in over six months.

Hug.

My husband and I both desperately jumped at the chance, our eyes meeting on the other side of our son, as we clung together – the three of us.

Three pieces in this puzzle.

He wanted a hug – not a squeeze, not sensory pressure – a real hug.

Love.

He loves us. We love him.

We gently eased away the water bottle after giving him a last swig. We left the granola bar, even though I knew it would mean vacuuming and washing his bedding, yet again, in the morning.

As we returned to the kitchen and the house was silent. I looked at the clock.

11:35 pm.

We spent three hours putting our son to bed tonight.

And this is love.

Candidly,

Ash