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

 

Broken Hearts

I play the violin. It frequently, if not always, sounds awful. I’m okay with this. It’s just something I enjoy learning and maybe someday, if I don’t quit, I will sound not half bad. I said these words to my best friend in a text. Then, I referenced that singing is not at all this way for me.

Singing is like a bad ex-boyfriend.

Those were the words I used and they described perfectly how I felt about singing. It has been a twisted, volatile love affair. At times, I have been abused by it and at times I’ve been the abuser.

It is easier not to sing.

I’ve put significant distance between myself and that relationship. No looking back has been my motto. Relapse is not allowed.

A Dream in the Night

The very night after I sent my friend that text, I slept fitfully. I awoke to a strangling feeling in my chest, my heart racing, sweating. A panic attack at 5:15 AM. Sometimes this happens and I have no idea why. Other times, I remember that I was dreaming something intensely. I remembered the dream this time.

A fictional ex-boyfriend was following me around while I waited tables at a restaurant. He was telling me how awful I was at this job. I floundered under the scrutiny and emotional distress, fleeing from the restaurant. Then, as can only happen in a dream, I was suddenly out in an open field, collapsed from running hard.

He came to me then – the ex-boyfriend. He was comforting and said he wanted me back. I should come with him and just tell the restaurant owner I was bad at the job. I didn’t need to quit. I just needed to communicate. The restaurant owner would find something for me, teach me, help me. The ex-boyfriend would stay with me, if I stayed with him.

Lovers Reunited

Maybe it meant nothing, but I think it’s no coincidence that my dream was about a fictional ex-boyfriend. I think my mind was probably trying to deal with the wording I had used to describe singing. Greatly disturbed, I tried many things to comfort myself. After an hour, nothing had helped so I climbed into a bath, turned on soft music and began to read from Thomas Moore, who seemingly always has an answer.

Sure enough, like a sacred echo, he was talking about how we assign values to things – things from our soul. For instance, he shared about a woman entering therapy who wanted to get rid of her dependence. He questioned her about the topic. What does dependency look like to you? How do you feel when you are dependent?

After a lengthy conversation, he shrugged his shoulders at the woman and shared about intimacy. A man’s wife always brought him lunch when he had forgotten it. Sometimes she even brought it before he knew he had forgotten it. Each time, they would hug or kiss and affirm their love for one another.

Then, he shared that the man was dependent on the woman, but perhaps it was not the worst thing in the world. The woman sitting acrossed from him who wanted to get rid of dependence? She was dumbfounded saying, “That’s dependence?!?!” She learned much over the next few years. Once she began to reframe dependence as something besides an enemy, she was able to learn. Instead of getting rid of dependence, she learned when it was appropriate and meaningful.

This is how we can care for ourselves. Perhaps the dark things, the bad things that follow us, are only pointing us to where are souls need care.

Oh yes, Thomas Moore nailed it on the head. Perhaps this vicious ex-boyfriend haunting me, the one I refer to as singing? Perhaps it isn’t vicious at all. Perhaps it simply wants reconciliation, to be reunited.

I’m just not certain that I’m ready to take it’s hand again. For now, I’ll listen though. I will be open to what it is saying. Perhaps I can learn to love it again after all.

Perhaps.

Candidly,

Ash

 

Musings…

I am fairly certain that my level of introversion could be considered reclusiveness. I leave my house all of four times all week – grocery shopping, trip to the park, possibly church and eating out. On the rare occasion I do any of these things without small people in tow, I find it to be the most liberating feeling.

Today, I went to the doctor. Just a routine check up to get my medications refilled. I felt like a grown up. While out, I intermittently desired to keep doing grown up things like getting a haircut or manicure, visiting the eye doctor or going to a hardware store. I have no idea why the hardware store always makes me feel grown up, but it does. DIY does that to you, I suppose.

I’m not really sure what my point here is, but I wanted to share my experience. It felt so good!  Maybe that’s the merit of routine breaking – it feels good. I want to search for this more in my life, this feeling that is interlaced with freedom. Of course, routine breaking also requires having a routine.

There is much work to be done.

Also, how do you schedule routine breaking? Isn’t that simply routine making?

Maybe it’s a need for adventure more than a need for routine breaking, though I’d hardly call visiting my family doctor an adventure. Just getting out and doing something out of the ordinary can be an adventure though. Visiting a new-to-me park, trying a new-to-me ethnic food, going to an art museum or a concert – these are some of the things that make my daily routine grounding instead of suffocating. My home cooking becomes comforting instead of bland.

For me, a natural recluse, too much of my life is spent in the routine. I wonder, though, if it is this way for other people. I see people on social media post amazing things that they’ve done or tried and I think, “Wow, that looks amazing!” Meanwhile, I’m posting about my cat or my baby’s new found ability to color on walls. Comparison is the thief of joy.

I think, though, that comparison could also be the thing that triggers our expansion. I think I need to be careful when I find myself comparing. It’s important to really dig deep and discover if, perhaps, my reaction to the comparison isn’t telling me far more than, “I’m not good enough.” I have this niggling feeling that sometimes comparison might just be desire. I see in someone an adventurous spirit or sense of creativity. As I hold it up to the portrait of myself, I discover my reflection is different – not less. Perhaps, I want different. Perhaps, I want change for myself.

Different – not less.

Its the hallmark quote from many parents with kids who have disabilities. I hear it non-stop in my autism mother’s support group.

It actually annoys me quite a bit.

Probably because sometimes different feels like less. When I hear your nine year old boy reading or working on his multiplication facts, I turn and look at my son who is nigh to mute and trying to learn to place the letter’s of his name in the correct order. It is easy to feel less when knowledge and growth are the metric.

Perhaps metrics are exactly the problem.

I define myself as  introverted to the point of reclusion, but that is only a subjective metric I’ve established somewhere in the reaches of my consciousness. I define new and different experiences as adventurous. Maybe if I did something new or different everyday, then my definition of adventure would need to change.

Maybe when I find myself comparing or assigning attributes to things, it’s a sign to pause, as I said before. Investigate the metric, determine the desire and then decide if change is in the future.

Today, I felt grown up, because I went to the doctor and got out of the house. Perhaps its very simple. I want more feelings of control and responsibility. What can I do to make that happen? And maybe all of the internal dialogue about comparison and “different not less” are things which need to go.

But not necessarily.

Because I’m trying something new these days, which is abandoning the absolutes, embracing flexibility. Perhaps all that is needed to gain more control?

Is to let go.

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

A Bit of Drama

When I arrived in the group therapy program, I was a smiley person. I’m still a smiley person. Smiley is a default setting in my programing. In therapy, I discovered that I could say things like, “My heart is breaking” without  the dimming of my smile. I’m pretty sure that it is actually very creepy.

Growing up, people always commented on my smile. Literally, I remember chasing other kids around old people at church to the tune of “Just look at that smile”. My smile has served me well. It has been my personal rescue operation in front of the parental firing squad, as well as my political stance during confrontational “discussions”.

My smile also deceived me. I thought I was okay. I thought I had joy and an undaunted optimism. What I really had were 30 years of emotion stuffed inside a body, heart and mind that were bursting. All of it covered by the bandaid of a bright smile.

I’ll never forget the day that changed. I will never forget the day that I wept in front of people. People I had only known for two weeks.

Psychodrama

It started as a simple role-playing exercise that they called psychodrama . In this exercise, I played myself, while one of my therapists played the angry voice in my head. Meanwhile, another therapist sat next to me and helped me not run from the room wailing….errr…he helped me cope.

It started relatively simple. We sat in chairs facing each other – me facing the therapist who was to play my angry voice. I shared a time when I had some very angry thoughts toward myself. I described some of the thoughts I had so that the angry voice therapist could get an idea of what role she was playing.

Then, we began. The angry voice said something terrible, “You are awful and…” I sat there nodding my head. My helpful coping therapist nudged me. This is where I was supposed to respond apparently.

“Yeah, I do really suck.” I said.

I just accepted what the angry voice said! I didn’t try to argue with her. I didn’t try to negotiate. I didn’t even become emotional.

I smiled.

My helpful, coping therapist intervened. “Do you see how you just accepted and agreed that you are awful and terrible? Do you see that you are still smiling after that? THAT is a sign that you are shutting down your emotions.”

Oh yeah, that’s right! I turned the smile off, trying for appropriate severity. Helpful, coping therapist prompted me to say something back to the angry voice. Literally, I sat in front of my therapy group at a total loss for words. I had no idea what to say to the angry voice other than, “You’re right” with a glowing smile. I had no idea what to do!

They let me struggle for awhile, but then my therapist made a suggestion. Tell the angry voice how you felt about those angry words.

“Not good.” I said grinning, ear to ear, my vocabulary utterly absent.

“Maybe with more description, like is it scary or sad?”

“Ummm….sad?” I questioned

“Good,” Helpful, coping therapist said. “You could say, ‘I feel sad about those words.'”

And so I did. We did this sort of back and forth for several minutes, as I desperately tried to connect with some emotion – any emotion! Then, something strange happened as I said that I felt sad.

I actually felt sad.

For the first time in my life, I felt for myself. Not for the perfectionist version of myself, not for the angry version of myself, not even for the shameful version of myself. I felt for the child within myself. No matter how bad she messed up, she didn’t deserve to be belittled.

We continued on in this way, except my helpful, coping therapist didn’t have to help as much. I had found my own voice, my own words. Back and forth I went with the angry voice. I held it together for awhile – until I told the angry voice that I had given up, quit on all of my dreams, just so that I didn’t have to hear her belittle me anymore.

And then something broke open within me. I started to cry, but it was small crying. Crying for something small like a bad week, not crying for lost dreams and regret. It was monumental to me.

But not quite good enough for helpful, coping therapist. He said, “It’s okay to let it out. Look over at your new friends. Look them in the eye. Are they laughing? Are they criticizing? Are they angry?”

Through my tears, I looked at one face. His face and his eyes were the most kind things I had ever seen. His name was Chad. Even now, today, when I think of it, I am reminded of that iconic picture of Jesus with the kind eyes. Except this was real. This was real love, real concern. I dared to look at another person, Holly. She smiled at me. She nodded.

Yes, it was okay to let go.

After that I cried for a really long time. Helpful, coping therapist reminded me to breath. He patted me on the back. Angry voice therapist leaned forward and touched my knee.

“I think you get it now.” She said meaningfully, dropping her façade.

And I did.

I got it. I understood.

Afterwards, they turned on the lights and each of the people in my therapy group shared what they learned from my story or what was significant to them. It was really sacred to me – not what they said, but that they had actually heard. Someone had heard the real me.

And then it was time for lunch and we all walked out to the kitchenette. As I was serving myself a plate full of nasty hospital food, another therapist, who wasn’t in psychodrama, said he had heard about it. He asked me how I was doing.

And I smiled anew. Not because all of the sadness had passed. It didn’t and still hasn’t. I smiled because I knew. I understood.

People aren’t always looking for the truthful answer and that’s okay. I could give them a truthful answer in my own way.

“I am here.” I said, fully present to all that the day had brought – sadness, freedom, relief, grief and, yes, even the joy of being heard.

 

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 Soul as a Bridge

For several years, I have been reading a book that I love. I read it and re-read it. I return to it moments of despair and confusion. “Care of the Soul” by Thomas Moore is probably, hands down, my favorite book there is. I always get something new out of it.

He talks about what Soul is and how we can nurture it. Yet, I can never seem to find a concrete definition for what he thinks it is. I think that is intentional on his part. He doesn’t want there to be a definition for soul, because it isn’t something with boundaries. It is whatever we think and feel and know it to be. We can find in anything – a leaf, a friend, a job, a past-time, a place, a meal… There is no limit to this thing called Soul.

{I like that.}

But among his writings on Soul, I have not found this particular idea that I have right now.

Soul, as a bridge.

Recently, I have had so many thoughts and ideas about my mind and my heart. They are so very different and, in some ways, they seem fractured. If the two could be a complete circle, then mine have divided into hemispheres. I feel a struggle, an urge, to draw them back together. I want to reconcile them, but they have their own agendas. I wouldn’t say they are at war exactly. That idea seems extreme. Yet, the emotional fallout and turmoil? That feels somewhat reminiscent of war to me. Rather, it is much like the time following war.

Soldiers return home to find they are welcome or unwelcome. While they were gone, time was passing, but in their minds, while sitting at the battle front, the idea of home was standing still. Home became a refuge in their minds. They grasped it and held on for dear life as a coping mechanism for all the turmoil in front of them. All the while their home was evolving and changing, designing itself to be a world without them.

The is the disconnection I feel between my heart and my mind. My mind has been off fighting battles only to return and find that my heart has a much different landscape than it did before. The two had once loved each other – inseparable, a perfect circle. Now, they awkwardly fumble to co-exist, dancing side-by-side.

Somehow, there needs to be a bridge where they can meet and sort it out. I think that bridge is Soul. My soul speaks the language of both entities. It is the common ground. Yet, it is a weak muscle I have rarely exercised in my life. Like a small child, it desperately wants to reunite its parents, but has no idea how.

My soul needs to grow, to mature. It must be tended, pruned, prodded and watered. What does this process look like and how can use this muscle to pull the various hemispheres into alignment?

My soul is the place where both things can be true. It is the place where logic and feeling meet. It is both/and. Contradicting elements can dwell without harm. Yet, I wonder how.

My mind holds fiercely to hardwiring from my youth. I cannot let it go. My soul says this is acceptable, instead of infantile.

My heart evolves and expands to hold all of the differences and dynamics I have seen in life. My soul says this is peaceful and loving, instead of false and devoid of absolute-truth.

My mind believes there is a god. My heart says he cannot be or he is cruel. These two things, they stand on the bridge of my soul, side-by-side. Both/And.

A beautiful scene – two post-war lovers.