Break, then--that's what crazy glue is for

Several years ago, I was told by my therapist, who was trying to be helpful, that if I hadn't broken yet, I wouldn't in the future, in response to my concern that I would face the same mental health issues some family members had, that I would, in fact, at some point break.

That's stuck with me, but not because it made me feel better about the several challenges I was facing, but because it made me feel pressured to continue to be the one that kept on going, didn't make major foul ups, to keep being the responsible one.

That one sentence from my well-meaning therapist, meant to console and empower me instead made me often feel worse about myself and the challenges I was dealing with.

If I could go back three years and offer myself an answer to that question, based on my in-depth awareness of just how much I mask of my internal states, I'd say something completely different than the therapist did: what I needed to hear then, what I still need to hear.

Breaking is okay. It happens. It's not the end of the world. It doesn't make you a failure. If you break, you are not alone and we will pick up all the pieces and put them back together and you will be stronger yet softer for it. You will be more compassionate, kinder. You will know that we all need to be taught to bend, to change, to ask for help, to speak our story aloud, and that when we are true to ourselves, those broken pieces will fit back together so much better.

You also need to know that you will live experiences that will shatter you. You will think you'll never be able to get past it, that part of you will remain there, in those shattered moments and that's okay, too, if you remember to stop and love yourself, all of yourselves, the ones that are shattered, the ones that are bending so far you are certain breakage is inevitable, and the ones who have risen, stood back up and prepared to battle yet another day. We contain multitudes, after all, and the sooner we learn that truth, the easier it will be to love all of ourselves, even our contradictory and difficult selves.

I have broken in the last three years, several times. Some of those shatterings I hid until I couldn't any more. I am a work in progress, and part of that progress is learning to admit aloud to others when I'm struggling and when I need help. And then to follow through to get that help.

And to keep telling myself that breaking is just part of life. Break, pick up the pieces, and see what kraggle* and duct tape can do to get me on my way again.

There are worse things than breaking. Breaking leads to change and growth. 

There ARE worse things than admitting I don't have this, that I need support. That's what I would have told me three years ago, if I'd been my therapist. But she didn't, and I stopped seeing her because I couldn't be honest about the depth of my despair or what all I was struggling with. The facade of having it together was more important than telling her she was wrong, that I was broken in innumerable ways. 

Admitting I'm chipped and scuffed and missing some of my polish, that's actually not so hard, not so bad. It's a good thing to teach my girls, to be honest about ourselves with our loved ones. They still love me. Rick, who knows all of me, has never wavered in his love or support. Sometimes he's missed that I've shattered, but that was my fault for hiding it from him.

So maybe I come out the other side of these confessionals like the Velveteen rabbit, real if tattered. I honestly don't know, but I do know I have to tell it, own it, embrace the lessons and move forward, always ready to look back and reach out a helping hand to the me's who are struggling to find their way.

*kraggle--Lego movie


Mixed, with a chance of serious storms

Not the weather, me.

Not the weather. ME.

I hate admitting to struggling.

I hate feeling the storm brewing in me, the internal tornado...the sense that I'm about to fly off, scatter into pieces, shatter beyond repair.

Even more, I hate that to a degree I can contain that tornado so that most people are unaware that anything is amiss.

I feel like it's unfair, not to me, necessarily, but to those around me, so I bottle it up, let it trickle out in the purchase of things I don't need, animals I shouldn't take in, books I may never read, shoes I may never wear.

And so on.

The biggest issue is the crippling anxiety, the certainty that I am in over my head, that I simply can not do another single day. And yet, I've survived every day prior, so I know I will get through today too.

The obsessions distract from the anxiety, from that slow, sure sucking away at my soul's reserves, the strength I keep having to find. It costs, this continuing, in ways that people who have not lived with all day every day anxiety cannot imagine.

Oh, sure, we all worry. Yeah. True. But every single second of your waking hours is spent replaying every possible scenario in your head? All the possible harm, all the possible damage, all the bad things that can happen?

I know I'm in trouble when the cutting images come. I once, when stuck at basic training for six agonizing, brutal and abusive months, cut. It was the only thing I had control over. There was no escaping the drill sergeants and their total control over my body and my life. My profile buddy and I would steal the keys to the building we lived in on the nights the worst drill sergeants had overnight duty. It was our way of saying no and making sure we were safe. They never told on us, so they knew what they were trying to do was wrong.

It was a victory of sorts, to hold those keys over night, listening to the door handle rattle and know they weren't getting in, at least not that night.

We'd pay for it in other ways, but it was worth it.

That's 27 years ago and it feels like now.

I don't think we escape our pasts. I think we can hold it hostage, lock it away, but it can outsmart us and steal the master keys when we least expect it.

And this wasn't even the  issue this morning--the news with the young college student hauling her mattress around everywhere simply added a fun dimension to a day I was already struggling with...

At some point, even the most navel-gazing writer realizes telling his or her story involves other people's stories, too, and then we realize maybe we shouldn't, maybe it's not okay.

That happens for a lot of us when our kids are teens and we realize we aren't the main character in that scenario any more.

And when it comes to autism and adult children on the spectrum who are entirely dependent on you, it's a betrayal at a fundamental level to talk about that relationship outside of the wins.

It's not always wins, though. And being multiply challenged and disabled as my adult son is means a fair amount of difficulties he faces each day, and that we as his family face with him. Those aren't mine to talk about. It's not the end of the world, nor are things bad. They are just challenging, for all of us, as we work to accommodate and facilitate a life based on what he wants for himself.

It's not all bad, either...Most of it's good. And so when I struggle, in part, over the hurdles, I feel like I'm not honoring him and everything he overcomes every single day.

And here's the kicker...my issues take up and make up more of the challenges I deal with than my children's challenges do. I'm not perfect--I'm incredibly flawed and dealing with the depression, the anxiety, the obssessive behavior, the apparent need to save every body else...well, that causes far more difficulties than autism ever has in our house.

And if I don't own that, speak that truth, I deny myself, my husband and my children the chance to leave some of my baggage behind.

Except I don't honestly believe it can be left behind. I can rationalize all I want. I can go into therapy repeatedly and have, but this is as close to touching the issues as anybody is ever going to hear or read.

I'm not sure what value there's been in writing this other than the images of engaging in self-harm have retreated, so I know I've boxed some of the garbage up again and I can walk out of my office and no one, short of those who have read this, will have any idea what's going on behind my eyes.

So, just remember, just because someone is functional, funny, and caring and to all appearances okay--that doesn't mean anything other than the mask is on securely for the time being. That's all that means. Nothing more.

*Here I would do a disclaimer and say I'm fine, blah, blah...but seriously...I can honestly say I am in no danger of self-harm, that I see my primary caregiver tomorrow and will discuss this, and that your reading this has made it easier for today for me. And that, Rose, I'm tugging the red string and feeling better knowing you're at the other end.


Two decades in: What autism means in our house

This is Bobby, our oldest, wearing our cat Hammy, as you do, naturally. In December Bobby will turn 25. A quarter of a century old. 1/4 of his way to 100, although fractions are not his strong suit, so he probably, almost certainly, wouldn't be able to describe it in those terms to you.

Bobby is autistic and intellectually disabled. That's what the government, both local and national, focuses on. His impairments. His not-able to's. Every year I fill out guardianship papers and SSI paperwork to show how Rick and I have cared for Bobby, how we have managed his time, made sure he socializes and we account for how we spend his money. 

None of the paperwork asks the important questions: what does he enjoy doing, what is he good at, is he happy, does he have the life he wants. 

Two times a year I am asked to focus on only his inabilities. Truthfully, each day he and we have to face the realities of an impaired working memory, damages from a stroke affecting his left thalamus, and a very low 1st percentile verbal performance. The truth is, none of us ever forgets his challenges because constant accommodations are made each and every day to take advantage of his strengths and to minimize the effect his disabilities have in his life.

It is, in many ways, a carefully constructed environment, catering to making his life and the lives of his sisters, who are also autistic, good lives that focus on their well-being, their happiness, and on focusing on what it means to live a meaningful life. We don't shy away from the world in all its glory and horror. We work on how to live in the world while not being of the world, on how to honor our individuality while learning how to navigate the world, on how to create meaning when we can't find it, on how to be kind and giving despite the opportunities and expectations to engage in casual cruelty.

We work to find our own style and to embrace who we are.

Even if that means we are on our way to our very own clowder of cats since there are always animals in need of a loving home. 

Autism and autistic are not words of shame and regret in our house. They are nouns and adjectives--descriptors of uniquely wired minds that process the world in profoundly different ways. Finding another person who is autistic or who has some of the traits means finding instant friends, instant recognition of one's own tribe.

The world, at the end of the day, will still be there in all its majestic horror. We can always peek out at it and choose how we will react to what is happening, where we can give aid, where we can be kind, when we need to stand and be counted, but it will never define who we are.

I wish that I had known this at my kids' ages. I wish I had had their wisdom, their confidence, their exuberant delight in themselves and in each other when I was their ages.

The truth is that who I am, embracing and loving and honoring that truth, I learned from them.
And part of that is the importance of play and dress up and silliness. And pink boas, especially pink boas.


Drama-free, or nearly so

It's been interesting, this summer, and it's flown by. Two weeks left and back to work I go. I took the summer off from teaching, but was lucky enough to watch the sweetest baby this summer, and the change she's brought has been a godsend. I've been moping a bit the last year or so over the lack of grand babies and the probability that I won't have them unless the girls change their minds some day.

Let me tell you that holding a baby and loving on her for hours several days a week is absolutely absorbing and joyous. Moping gone. She has been a wonder at keeping me busy while still leaving time to join the kids in watching movies and anime and sitting and reading manga and novels with them. The kids have delighted in the baby and have become attached to her and now initiate contact with her. They went from holding her facing away from them to facing them. The girls have become just as attached to the baby's mom, a lovely woman who accepts and enjoys them as much as I enjoy her sweet girl.

It's been good for us. It's kept me busy and home and happy.

In addition to the change that loving on a baby has brought, we've had the addition of a chiweenie we adopted from the shelter. Three days after adopting her she became very ill and was diagnosed with parvo. We were able to get her help quick enough that she survived. She is my Sweetie. 

(Sweetie and baby) 

At the end of June we accepted a four year old cat named Mia into our lives. She has some adjustment issues, having always been an only cat with a single person. She's made a lot of progress, although I'm not able to touch her yet. That's okay, though, as I'm patient and her home here isn't contingent on her being a lap cat. We'll work with her where she is.

So this has been a bit of an unexpected summer. New critters, babysitting, among other changes weren't in my mental agenda. It's worked out in ways, though, that I could not have predicted. It's also been a relatively drama free summer. Thank heavens. 

Here's hoping the last two weeks are just as drama free! 

And then there's yesterday's adventure to an orphan kitten rescue...

Yup, this happened. Say hello to Tootie the Ginger girl, Alex (Lily's), and Klingon (Rosie's). Tootie is over three months old and the only one of her litter to survive. The blonde kittens are brother and sister and are six weeks old. They are happily adjusting to their new home. Mia and Hammy are not thrilled, but Mabel and Lucy took it in stride. We will introduce the kittens to the other critters slowly. 


A Family Tradition

Each summer, the kids and I eagerly await the yearly library book sale. We go at least two of the four days, and we spend hours jockeying for position and searching for goodies. And then we come home and lay the books out on the floor and take stock of our booty. This year, we weren't able to lay the goodies out on the floor--six cats and four dogs plus the rearrangement of our living room made that task unwise at best. This is the first year I didn't tally the number of books we got (although we did count the manga Bobby scooped up: 33) and we didn't go back on Sunday for the $6 bag sale. 

We're saturated with books, as regular readers and friends know, so you're probably wondering where the tableful of books went since the bookcases are exploding. Let's just say I've taken artful stacking to a new level and that we've maxed that out if I don't want to get to hoarder status. 

The sale this year coincided with my 46th birthday, so it made for a special birthday. It was the first birthday in many years that we didn't make my grandmother's traditional meal for me: meatloaf, scalloped potatoes, strawberry cake and strawberry ice cream.  Maximum spending money for books took priority and I forgot about it till the afternoon. Oh well. Payday will be here tomorrow and I'll get the ingredients then. My grandmother has been gone for 19 years now, and it feels a little unreal. I had a complicated relationship with her, in part because she was bipolar, and in part because she was a difficult woman, but her birthday dinners for me were her way of displaying her love for me and my upholding of that tradition is my way of honoring her. The books are in part my way of connecting with my other grandmother, who loved to read and would race me to see who could finish first. 

I'm not much into tradition, but these I hope I can continue. Feeling connected to those who are gone, sharing our fondest memories with those who will be here long after we are gone...that kind of personal tradition makes sense to me. And I hope to my children.