Wednesday, April 13, 2005

something I want to share

Ya'll are well versed in the story of my life by now, so no need to explain much, but obviously I have been under tremendous pressure the last year, well truthfully since the girls' birth. Frankly, my emotional state was under attack well before that, but the tension, stress, and grief has been sometimes creeping and at other times rapidly ascending in the last few years.
When I went away for thirty days in late August of '03 I was on the brink of suicide. I was desparately bent on self-destruction and every morning when I awoke I was more than just vaguely disappointed. After the hospitalization, I emerged rested for the first time in YEARS (literally) and free from the self-imposed assignment of being able to do everything by myself. In other words, I was no longer bound to the pride that had separated me from God and crippled me in every other relationship in my life. No more room for pretending, all my dirty laundry had been hung out. Was I embarrassed? Not really. More by my stubborn refusal to admit that I was insufficient than anything else. That I was prepared to sacrifice everything that really matters to maintain the illusion that I had my act together. Not that I was fooling many by the end anyway.
It was not too long after that when Abby was dx'd with ASD and ya'll are all familiar with that ride, but what I wasn't entirely open about, mostly out of uncertainty this time, was the tremendous toll the last 15 months plus has taken on me emotionally and psychologically. After she was dx'd people kept hounding me about my grief.
"You need to grieve."
"Have you grieved?"
"Where are you with the grieving?"
I poked around my heart and psyche and couldn't find it, so I figured that God's grace had spared me from all that business. He knew I had stuff to take care of so I got a pass. That's what I thought anyway. Well life got better, but also a whole lot more complicated and demanding. Financial pressure, time constraints, all that driving, and the work load of two difficult children, all the therapies and the meetings and "homework" involved with those, and then also the constant reading and learning and discussing. And the never-ending watchfulness. Also, came the responsibility to educate our family and friends. Some of them were supportive, but most of our local family required me to be on the defense for a long time and that was very hard on me and on Jimmy, since most of the denial and blame came from his side. That added another dimension of difficulty. Thank the Lord for loving us through that and bringing us closer to one another and to Him. He is so amazing. Our difficulties are only opportunities for His awesome power to shape our character and make someting beautiful out of a mess. But that is another thread.
All around me, people kept at it:
"Are you depressed?"
"Have you gotten counseling?"
"Have you spoken to your doctor about the weightloss?"
"What about meds?"
It was beginning to get tiresome. Couldn't they see how great things were going? I must need to talk about God's awesome blessings despite our circumstances more. And there were always people to remind me of how fortunate we were that Abby was doing so well. So many were not so lucky. And all of this was true.
Anyway, even though He did all his awesome stuff, the pressure still continued to build. Now Emma Jean's development was being called into question. More assesments, evaluations, decisions, driving, time and money.
I just kept thinking, "Well, sure you have your challenges, but everyone does and many have it much, much harder. Look at all of God's provision! Aren't our financial requirements being met for Abby's therapies? I need to praise him more. Look at how my family has rallied 'round! And all the amazing people He's brought to us? And what about Abby's progress? Honestly, Susan, just trust Him more. Thank Him more. Don't even think about complaining. You have been BLESSED!!!"
So I just kept on going like some kind of dutiful Christian energizer bunny. Finally though, around the girls' b-day, Abby's transition out of BI, scratching the surface of Emma Jean's deficiencies, Christmas and Jimmy's subsequent departure for Aspen, the thin veneer of competence and "gratitude in all things" began to crack.
I muddled through the holidays and festivities, Jimmy's travel, and the girls' new school transition, then ultimately Emma Jean's ABA placement, but I was beginning to unravel from the inside out. I was irritable, angry, overwhelmed, and tearful. In my obstinancy and obtuseness, I did not recognize it though, and if I did catch a glimpse or even a full on ugly look at the state of my mental health, I quickly dismissed it and ran like hell. Yup, the denial was getting undeniable. I travailed on however, determined to "get it together."
"For heaven's sake Susan. Things are getting better! Why on earth would you feel worse? You must be a real drama queen. Some kind of misery junkie. How obnoxious. Snap out of it!"
Finally, after Valentine's Day, I came clean to Jimmy about how miserable and scared I was. He said some magic words to me, "No one has any idea what the last year has been like for us. No one has any idea how hard it has been. No one." And the floodgates finally opened up. It was like his empathy and kindness gave me permission to be honest and weak and NOT self-sufficient and what I imagined to be appropriately grateful for all that had happened. It was such a relief. Until then, I had felt this unspoken, and unasked for, need to protect him from how difficult it all was everyday while he was at work. And even when he wasn't. And as ASININE as this is, I even felt compelled to protect God from it too. Anyway, I felt some temporary relief, but I couldn't seem to cry enough or "get it all out of my system." I could not rally my mental troops anymore. They had deserted me, gone AWOL.
Left with no other choice, I prayed some more and got honest with God about my feelings. I was sometimes mad at him and disappointed and even felt put upon at times, despite all his blessings and mercy. And you know what? He's a big enough God for that. He could handle me telling him like it was.
When I was finished, I got as quiet as I could and listened.
Then I talked to Jimmy. Then I went to my doctor. And then I got on some medication.
I've been on it for almost four weeks now and I cannot tell you the tremendous difference it has made in my life. No, I am not happy Holly Golightly high, but I have some perspective now. The big things are still big, but the small things are appropriately small. The tunnel that I was living in has open up and I am inhabiting the wide open spaces again. I still experience the full range of emotions, but my responses are in keeping with the situation. I am back in control of myself, as far as that goes. I am not being controlled by some unpredictable inner reactionary.
I am so much the better for this decision. And so is my whole family.
I am not saying that drugs are the answer for everyone in all situations, but there is a bona fide chemical reaction that helps us with our emotional well-being and many things can affect it and send it out of whack: stress, hormones, illness, and just plain growing older. If you are suffering and cannot find relief from all the other ways to help with the daily grind of this crazy life we live as parents, spouses, caregivers, daughters, employees/employers, and simply as women, then please talk to whoever it is in your life that you trust and then go see your doctor. Don't wait. There is no great achievement in unecessary long-suffering. It is not edifying or character building. It is not virtuous at all.
And it is not a defeat to get some help.
That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

hit a rough patch

And I have been reluctant to talk about it too much. I think I am trying to minimze it, hoping that it will all smooth over and life will carry onward and upward, and if I don't give the negative free-rent in my head then it's like it never happened. KWIM?
Anyway, it isn't really going away. Abby has been very difficult for the past month or so now. Every inch of ground won has been so hard fought...that even a little hint of regression is scary and just about paralyzes me.
There was an incident at preschool on Friday and general bizarre behavior the rest of the day/night that have forced me to make some painful realizations. These are things that intellectually, I should have understood all along, but had not internalized them for whatever reason. Grief, I suppose and denial.
1) Abby will never really be "indistinguishable" from her peers. She is different. And as much as I want to, I will not be able to protect her from the challenges she will face on the playground and in the world at large because of her differentness. I am not sad for me. I had to let go about my parenting or myself being judged by how my children behaved or appeared to misbehave. And that was a huge relief to me. The anxiety I carried around! It does however make me sad for her, because I can't compensate for it. Nothing I can do will remediate it. And because she is so HF (High-Functioning), I think that somewhere in her she is aware of it, her difference. But because of her particular disability, she is not now and is unlikely to ever be entirely able to overcome it. And it breaks my heart.
2) We may be able to teach her how to respond with empathy, but I am very doubtful that she will ever really feel most feelings, certainly not in relationship to others. That makes me very sad and a little alienated from her too. I have no idea what "I love you," from her really means or if she really feels it. She can emote because we have taught her how, but it is not natural and sometimes that is more obvious than others. Sometimes it is easily discernable and other times it more of "something is missing, but I can't put my finger on it." A piece that is supposed to be there between mother and child is either missing or mishapen and there is a break in the chain. I am not articulating it well. I feel connected to her sometimes, but there are a lot of times I do not and who knows what she feels.
3) Emma Jean has some pretty serious issues too and much of what I typed in 1) applies to her too, only it is worse for her because she desparately wants to be a part of everything, but just doesn't quite "get it." She misses the mark. However, she feels everything just fine, maybe even too much. She is very tender and very approval oriented. That scares me too.
I know that everything is uncertain for everyone, but it seems like the uncertainty of what the future holds for our girls is so much more so.
I've taken steps to set up a lot more structure for Abby here in the next few weeks. When I assessed the situation and thought about when she was the happiest and the most productive as an individual, I realized that it was when her time was the most rigidly structured. She thrives on structure. She needs it like the rest of us need air. And our days are structured by anyone else's standard, but not so much if compared to her days at BI. Her ability to deal with the world when things are outside of her set of "norms" depends greatly on her ability to depend on predictability within her routine. She is better equipped to deal with curve balls when there has been plenty of continuity prior to what she perceives as a new experience. I have also realized just how sensitive she is to transitions and change. What does not even register as a transition to me, requires a great deal of effort on her part to tolerate.
Anyway, I am working with her ABA therapist and we have a game plan. Thank God for those people at BI. This setback has been discouraging, but not completely earth shattering because I feel pretty confident that she has not really regressed, or lost any skills, but rather that she was unable to keep track of the thread once too many variables had been introduced. I think we can make some modifications and smooth out this rough patch. It was probably even good for me to get a smallish reality check anyway. It's not that I live in a fantasy world or even try to fool myself exactly, but I feel like I have to keep reality at arm's length most of the time or I would be completely overcome by grief and fear. That said though, I need to peek around the blinders occasionally to keep some kind of grip on the real world.
On a totally up note, Emma Jean has made awesome strides since we began ABA with her in January. Pragmatic issues that we have been struggling with for months in Speech Therapy were mastered within weeks of implemeting the ABA programs. :wow: And I think she is really, really smart. Like the genius kind. It will be a big challenge to help her performance match her intellect. She is really a complex little girl, more so than Abby. With Abby, it is pretty cut and dry how best to deal with her, but Emma Jean requires a lot more finesse and really being tuned in to her needs. It has become more apparent to us that Emma Jean definately falls on the spectrum too. Possibly Asperger's or a relatively new classification called NLD (Nonverbal Learning Disorder). I am still in limbo about seeking a formal dx for her at this time. It seems like poor use of our ever-dwindling resources if the main purpose is for me to have a tidy explanation of her challenges. So time shall tell. I have been angling for a free evaluation...trying to use the twin thing to peak some doctor's interest at UT Southwestern/Children's. No takers yet, but I am still hopeful.
So that's it. The ugly truth. Still recovery bound, but a little off track. As with much in life, there are aparently no sure things and no short-cuts to achieving greatness in life on the spectrum.
I want to thank all of you for your unrelenting support and encouragement in the last 15 months. You cannot imagine what a source of endurance you have been for me and consequently my whole family.
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
  • International Day of Prayer for Autism & Asperger's Syndrome