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

Pressing Pause

aThere are so many days that I come here to write and have nothing to say. At least, that is what I think to myself. Then, I come to the page (err…screen) and discover that I am not an endless void after all. Today is one of those days.

Today, I pressed pause on my routine. I woke up with a headache and sore throat. Once I had solved those problems, I started to go about my day except that in picking up the toddler, I discovered that my lower back was not well. I sat with ice on it for an hour, added pain medication. Then, the toddler went down for his nap. Still in pain, I collapsed into my bed, laying yet another ice pack under my back.

I awoke with a groan of fatigue, but no back pain. It felt like a very, very, very small victory. With no excuses left, I returned to my daily routine and felt the crashing weight of a daily rhythm four hours behind schedule. I really don’t have words for this feeling, but its something like…

Ugggh!

I think I may be a productivity fiend. What I mean is that I am sort of detrimentally obsessed with it. For instance, I am one of those people with tons of lists. I am always writing list, daily. Literally, I daily write down my quarterly goals and that is not even the start of it. I mean, there are grocery lists, Evan’s various to-do lists (foods to try, sensory items to buy, sensory items to make, applications for assistance, insurance claims to review, bills to pay, etc. Seriously, managing a special needs child’s lists…Well, it is a small military operation), business to-do lists, household cleaning lists, household maintenance lists, financial lists. I’m obsessed with lists and here is why.

I get to cross things off.

It’s a wonderful feeling, a high to which I am addicted.

Except, I also have major depression, along with a mood disorder. My life doesn’t quite flow like the average person. The morning I described above – pain, fatigue? Well, that is my morning 4-5 days a week. Incidentally, my list making obsession and productivity addiction become inner casualties to the ongoing battle of living with depression and a mood disorder.

Now, finally, I have arrived at what I actually wanted to say.

You are not your lists. You are not your struggles. You are not your depression. You are not your diagnosis. If there is something with which you measure yourself or your day, then pressing pause for rest also means pressing pause on arbitrary measures.

I know it is not easy. In fact, our brains are wired to detect abnormalities, make comparisons, decisions and judgements. In truth, the ugly thoughts I have, the judgements I make about my productivity – they never stop coming to mind. I’m  guessing, if you have read this far already, then you may understand that a bit too.

When I say to press pause on the measures and judgements, I am not actually talking about the thoughts or the comparisons. I want to let you know that you can’t actually get rid of those. You can, however, choose not to accept them. Moment by moment, I must rise up and observe those thoughts. Acknowledge that on some days they are the very thing that helps me move forward. Today? Not so much. In fact, if I let those thoughts run the show today, then I would never have sat down to write these words. I would have laid in bed bemoaning my awfulness instead, which helps absolutely no one.

So here’s to pressing pause which really means rising up and observing our thoughts for what is helpful and what is not. Stay strong, folks!

Candidly,

Ash