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

 

Ordinary Kingdoms

I know I’m not the only one. Descending into mom martyrdom is inevitable. What am I talking about? Those moments when I take out the trash, because no one else has or will. Of course, then it breaks open all over the floor that I just mopped, spilling litter box contents and all manner of disgusting filth. Then, the baby walks over and tries to eat said cat litter. Suddenly, everything goes into slow motion as I visualize the child being admitted to the hospital for some rare form of sepsis caused by cat feces. In the span of only seconds, I am irate at all of the people in my little “kingdom”.

Suddenly, every moment in which I have been patient, held space for small people’s emotions and cooked meals when it was the last thing I wanted to do…they are unappreciated, desecrated and wasted. I recall every complaint from the small people about chores, the menace building internally. How many hours a day – no, minutes actually – have they spent cleaning? Three? Five? Ten?Compared to the hours I spend?

Yes, I am a full martyr now, dying for this little “kingdom” called family daily.

When it comes to cleaning and upkeep, I like to think of it that way – as a kingdom. When things are going well, the kingdom is Arthurian and epic. There are knights in shining armor washing dishes and princes and princesses not afraid to get dirty in the knitty gritty. Sifting a litter box, taking out trash, scrubbing a toilet? They become paramount tasks on par with dragon slaying.

On the bad days, the kingdom has descended into chaos. Every member of the court is riding off into a delusional sunset, thinking the dragon is slain. Meanwhile, I am actually fighting the dragon on spindly fumes of energy, giving my life for the great chivalrous art of domesticity. The worst part? Domesticity is the last art I would waste my life on – given the choice.

I mean, what would happen if I dropped the sword and followed the court into the delusional sunset that is domestic bliss without effort? When will it be my turn to complain and throw a fit about scrubbing the dried cereal off the bowl?

Thus, the martyrdom begins. Perhaps a temporary boycott is in order, a silent manifestation of my angst, a cleaning hunger strike of massive proportions. I refuse to pursue the art of domesticity and abdicate my throne to the princes and princesses. Let them partner with the king and see how well things go!

Of course, then they return home from school. One of them actually hugs me and says something about love. Another hands me a picture from art, in which I am stick figure (hallelujah!) with a giant glowing heart encircling me. Suddenly, I’m so glad this is my kingdom.

Instead of the rant, I simply remind them of their teeny-tiny chores. When the complaining starts, I offer to hold their little crowns while they scrub the toilet, wash the dishes and slay the dragons. After all, they’ll be kings and queens someday too.

Perhaps chivalry and domesticity are not dying arts after all – even if they will always be second rate to jousting, bard singing and dragon slaying. Before I set my heart on martyrdom again, I’ll try to remember this.

Provided no one is admitted to the hospital for a cat feces infection…

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

The Magnifying Glass

There are times in life when the ache is surreal. The mind can’t possibly fathom how life could be this way – one thing after another, no stopping or pausing for the heart. Sometimes, these moments seem amplified, because of the grief or the fear that is being carried.

When I became a parent, I never imagined that at nine-years-old my son would not talk or communicate his needs. When I dreamed of the future, there was no non-verbal child riding next to me. Then, slowly, I realized that his words, sentences, phrases, writing or even singing would never happen (though I still hold out desperate hope). Suddenly, every ache, every pain was held under a magnifying glass called autism.

It Happens to Everyone

Like many normal families, we always timed our Chick-fil-a dinner slightly before or after the dinner rush. It was worth it to have the playground to ourselves or just a few others. We had three small ones at that time, all under four-years-old. Having the playground to ourselves was of prime importance and worth every hangry child by which we were accompanied.

We sat in our booth next to the glass windows overlooking the playroom, waiting for our food. He shrieked and cried with the best of wailing. “Please, Lord, let the food come soon!” I prayed, knowing it was the only thing that could make him happy.

Except it didn’t.

He grew louder and more angry by the second, until he started knocking his head against the glass window. I rushed from across the table, blocking his head from hitting the fragile frame, but not before the glass panes bounced and resounded from the force. Everyone was looking at us. The “control-your-child” stares induced my shame.

Like my father and probably his father before him, my husband took him to the car. Once he was calm, he brought our son back into the restaurant, at which point the screaming and crying began again. This time though, he thrust his wrist into his mouth and bit down. The shrieks were louder now, his flailing body in pain. When I finally pulled his arm away it was bleeding profusely in the shape of his own teeth.

We exited the restaurant then.

As we sat in the car, I turned to my husband and said, “I think there is something going on with our son.” Putting the car in reverse and looking over his shoulder, he said, “Yes, I think so.”

Magnify [mag-nuh-fahy] v. to increase the apparent size; attribute too much importance; exaggerate

A simple trip with hangry children, every parent has been there. Everyone has been stared at for one reason or another. The shame and the pain are familiar. Yet, the real sadness of that story isn’t in the familiar tale. The real sadness comes from a lens held up to the scene. This particular magnifying lens helps me to scrutinize the scene like a detective – amplifying the evidence.

This is just one lens.

We all have lenses. Some of mine include depression, anxiety, grief, loneliness. A day off appears to be a colossal waste of time and existence under the lens of depression. A day off plays out as laziness under the lens of anxiety . A day off becomes a day of mourning under the lens of grief . A day off under the lens of loneliness? Solitary confinement.

In life, I want to be careful to step back from my lenses every now and then. At times, I need to be a bystander of my pain, reflecting on it without the distortion of magnification. Only then can I see the pain for what it is. In this way, a demon becomes a teacher, forever becomes a day, and tomorrow a ray of hope.

Let the Pain Move through You

I didn’t know adulthood would be this way.  I didn’t know there would be so much pain, so much less for which to live. Sure, there ARE so many beauties to behold, so many paths to walk, so many dreams to dream. Yet, there are just so many bills and crying children and lots of holding the space for people, for myself.

It’s a challenge – the holding of space. When I dreamed of homeschooling, I followed a lovely mother who had so much knowledge about “teach-moming”. She talked about holding the space like it was a sacred thing. Her idea appealed to me so much that I bought every printable, curriculum, book thingy she could possibly create.

The idea of “holding the space” was that sometimes the small people simply need people to be quiet. They need adults to be calm. They need others to pause. The instinct, when the shrill screaming of a small one rents the atmosphere, is to rush to them and say words, to instruct. I am instantly in their face and fixing/breaking things. I mean to fix things, but most of the time I break things instead. I break small spirits. I crush opportunities for growth and decimate plains of open feeling.

I found this principle, combined with assertiveness and observation, to be the most altering of any parenting technique. When I stopped and held the space, the small people could do all that they needed to do and so could I. The pause, the observance, the stillness allowed them to calm themselves. Sometimes they didn’t, but the holding of space also allowed me to calm myself. I always responded better when I was calm and still do today.

I found the idea of holding space to be similar to holding the note at the end of a song. In choir or band, we would look to the conductor and just hold the note, waiting for her to signal the stop. Similarly, in parenting a climax or crescendo might erupt from the small people and I would be the conductor to whom they were looking. If I cut the note short, then everyone was less satisfied. If I let it resonate, echo and dissipate, then the satisfaction of an ending could occur.

Pain is like a small child too. It needs me to hold the space – to pause, observe, resonate and diminish. It needs the process, the movement, the freedom to be the place where time and meaning great each other. The problem is that I didn’t have enough people holding the space for me while I was growing up. The eruption of pain was a geyser of uncontrollable proportions.

IMG_5388

Like a geyser with hot steaming water shooting into the air, my pain shot into the atmosphere spreading its deluge of scalding energy. It makes me imagine the person who discovered geysers. Frantically, they must have sought cover, desperately trying to reshape a world where water poured endlessly from the ground. Water from the ground – mind boggling.

This is the way I viewed pain my whole life, because the space was so rarely held for me. I needed someone to pause and watch, noticing the diminishing of the onslaught of scalding water from the ground. To show me that the geyser would come and go. Pausing to watch the magnificent spectacle was all that I needed. Watching it rise higher and higher, then temper to a small spray easing itself into a trickle that I could touch without being harmed.

This is the process of pain.

I need only let it move through me. Maybe through deep breaths or tears, perhaps pounding pillows or squeezing them tight, stepping into the heat or the cold and closing my eyes, walking the path in a nearby park, standing or dancing in the rain, listening to the music or holding the pregnant pause – these are things pain needs from me. These are the things I need from myself

“Surrender to the grief, despair, fear, loneliness, or whatever form the suffering takes. Witness it without labeling it mentally. Allow it to be there. Embrace it. Then see how the miracle of surrender transmutes deep suffering into deep peace.” Eckhart Tolle

 

Revisiting Neck Lumps

After a round of antibiotics, the lumps in my daughter’s neck were still their humongous size. I waited and waited, just hoping they would disappear. Then she woke up cranky as hell and complaining that she was too tired for anything.

Helicopter parent descending.

We found ourselves at the urgent care this time, because my daytime vehicle is down for the count so an evening doctor visit was in order. The really kind doctor lady with great makeup and blond hair said that she really didn’t think it was anything to be concerned about. She then offered to run a CBC to rule anything out, speaking in code so the child would not panic. To my horror, I said, “Yeah, I think if we are here, then we should just rule anything out.”

The really kind doctor lady nodded and said she would let me break the news to the small one. Thanks, really kind doctor lady. Thanks…

I then told my daughter that she would be stuck with needles. She responded with the appropriate level of screaming and crying, “Why, God?!?! Why?!?!”

I said that we just needed to be sure that everything was okay. In my mind, I felt insanely guilty. The truth was that the CBC was for mommy, to alleviate all worry and concern.

What kind of horrible, terrible, no good, very bad mothering is this?

I mean, what kind of parent subjects their child to needles simply to relieve niggling anxiety? God, that is f***ed up.

The whole thing is over now. On the way home she wisely said, “I’m just going to remember the frosted lemonade and not the blood drewing.”

Yes, forget the blood drewing. Please.

In recounting the story to her older sister, she said it was “no bid deal” and “not that bad”. Older sister, God love her, had the appropriate amount of awe and respect, offering her a piece of candy out of deference. She was proclaimed a superhero and donned her band aid like it was a cape and mask, smiling with pride.

I still feel guilty, but mostly I feel relieved. Relieved, because the blood work came back normal, but also because the child is clearly not scarred for life by the experience. Will she still need therapy later on in life? Absolutely. Will this incident be the worst thing she recounts to her therapist? Probably not.

And then, the familiar anxiety besets me again.

“Hello, old frenemy.” I say to her. “What do you have for me today?”

“Someday, your precious daughter will need therapy or, at the very least, a monumentally awesome friend. Someday, bad things will happen to her. In fact, maybe they already have. Maybe those bad things are you. Maybe they are your family….”

I let the anxiety drone on for awhile, but then I remind it of something.

“Maybe pain isn’t the enemy. Maybe it’s a teacher, a mentor, a guide, a shepherd.”

Maybe, the best word in existence.

 

The Proverbial Boogeyman

We were in the emergency room after my son had several seizures at school that were new, different than past ones. As most things go with autism, we were struggling to find any answers or even move forward towards answers. He was fighting an IV as though it were the dawn of the apocalypse. After five tries, they said as they left the room, “We’ll see what the doctor says.”

I sighed.

I knew what was happening. No imaging today, which was probably fine. It wouldn’t have told us much of anything. Yet, it felt very “not okay” all of the way through me. If this were my other children, then this would be a piece of cake. I mean, not easy or anything, just that they would have gotten the IV and had the CAT Scan. And doesn’t Evan deserve the same treatment? Absolutely, we all say, nodding our head. Yet, he doesn’t.

At the time, it felt like a grave injustice. He was being discriminated against! I messaged my four people, “Isn’t this so unfair!?!?” Yes, they said.

All but one.

All but one, who said that it might be unfair or it might not be. And those words gave me enough space to breathe and think. And I thought.

Why do I assume everyone is out to get us?

I knew I had touched something in my life that was foundational and deeply engrained. So I did what everyone does. Okay, maybe not everyone….

I avoided it.

In my defense, I do think that was an appropriate response at the time. I mean, the emergency room isn’t really the place for pondering our world perspectives. Perhaps it should be though? Either way, I wasn’t really capable of addressing my victim-mindset at that moment.

Today, it’s Monday. Five days have passed. It’s time to confront this bad boy head on.

Yippee.

Sarcasm noted.

When did I become a victim? Was it when my sister and I confessed that an abnormally large amount of bad things happened on our side of the family while our husband’s families seemed to be hunky-dory? Or was it all of the years listening to my mom play the martyr? (By the way, all moms have the right to martyrdom.) Or was it just when autism emerged as a fact of life?

I wonder if it really matters where it came from or when it emerged.

Maybe, all that matters is looking at it and saying, “I am no victim.” Maybe, all I need is to recognize that the boogeyman is not lurking around every corner, waiting to attack. Maybe there is no boogeyman or if there is, he’s just a friendly teacher. Maybe pain and suffering aren’t the end of the story, but only the beginning.

Maybe the discouragement in the emergency room isn’t all consuming. Maybe it’s just one moment in time. Moments in time pass. Nothing is forever.

Maybe.

That word is the key. When it feels like the end or a grave injustice has occurred, then all we need is to say “Maybe…” And follow it up with another possibility.

Perhaps flexibility in our thinking is the way forward, the end to finite trials and the beginning of evolution.