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Monday, October 31, 2016

Stepping Away

Stepping away from my life is imperative to my sanity. There needs to be some distance between me and my reality to take perspective.

It's impossible to look at the big picture of your life when you are immersed in it. It's just like you can't see the entire beauty of an ocean while you're swimming in it. When you're swimming, you can only see the parts closest to you. You can only think about what you need to do to survive. There is no time for figuring out how to make things better. There's no time reflect or set goals for the future. You are just living from one moment to the next, and maybe, just maybe, you may get some rest in between.

You have to get back in your boat and sail away. You may not need to go far. Just far enough, so that you can take it all in from a distance. Feel the breeze and the sun on your skin.

When you step away, the good stuff happens.
This is where you gain insight...
~in the quiet.
~in the stillness.

That's what I am doing this weekend ...stepping away, having some fun, sitting still, and looking back on my life.

The last several months have been taxing. I haven't even been able to write about everything that has taken place because of my son's privacy. Also, there's the fact that when something heavily emotional happens in my life, I usually have to get some distance from it before I can write about it.

I'm learning a little from my early days of blogging, where I would totally let it all hang out, un-edited, as I was living through it.  This blog was my only release. It was my life preserver.  Now, I have a real therapist, besides my community here and on Facebook. Since the kids are older, I think more carefully about what I am willing to disclose here on the blog.

What is really funny, is when someone reads and makes assumptions about our lives, in an obvious attempt to read between the lines. And then they decide to offer unsolicited advice. I just laugh. Sometimes, I roll my eyes and give them the finger.  As I've said so many times before, you can not know the story in it's entirety unless you've lived it.  I realize that receiving critique and having people feel they have the right to weigh-in on your life, is all a part of the package that comes along with putting yourself out there. The benefits I receive and that I give to this community far outweigh the comments from the peanut gallery.

I write for parents, just like me who are struggling, and maybe afraid to say it out loud. Everyone else, I hope you get some form of education or entertainment from reading, but you can keep your advice. Actually, you know what you can do with it...

I digress. 

If you follow regularly, you know that I've written about the anxiety of my 17-year-old recently. He is now a Senior in high school.  It's difficult to begin to describe anxiety and the way it shows it's ugly face.  To the naked eye, a written description probably doesn't come close t0 describing it in totality. There is nothing about anxiety that is rational or makes any sense.

So today, I am a couple of hundred miles away from my life, visiting my best friend and her family. I left on Friday afternoon. I wasn't sure exactly how long I would be gone when I left. Maybe I would come back on Sunday. Maybe, I would come back on Monday morning, preferably the latter. All depending, on how well I sleep while not in my own bed, and what activities I would participate in, while I'm here.

What I didn't anticipate was how difficult the drive would be this time. I was in a pretty traumatic car accident several weeks ago. So, I wasn't as comfortable with driving at high speeds, being surrounded by large trucks, and being pinned in between both, with no outlet, on a two-lane highway.

Normally when I drive here, I zone out with my music, singing, and car dancing. (Have I told you what a fabulous car dancer I am?)  But this time, I couldn't just relax and enjoy the time alone in my car, listening to my music, with no one to ask me to turn it down or change the station.  This time, I was pretty tense. So I'm not looking forward to hitting the road again to head back home.

The amount of discussion that I had to go through just to get out the door was enough to make my blood pressure rise (and I'm not talking about my children). It was my mother. "Why are you leaving this early? Why would you stay that long?

Since I've been here, there have been phone calls from both my husband and my mother with little digs built-in about my point of return. It makes my heart rate go up just thinking about going home.

My everyday life is boring...busy, but boring. The highlight of my day is usually, my first cup of coffee in the morning and my first cocktail in the evening. Oh! Yes. Let me not forget, climbing in to bed everynight. That's my absolute favorite! In between is busy work, taking care of the details of our lives, the house, and the meeting the needs of it's inhabitants. There really aren't any days off from my job where I get to totally decompress. I have to take them, or they will not be given.

The biggest, most heart wrenching and exhausting part of my job is being a listener.
I listen to my son attempt to get a few of the many thousands of things, that are running through his head at any given moment.
I listen to him try to make sense of a world, that doesn't make any sense.
I am the live-in, on-call therapist, constantly walking a line between active listener, and advice giver.
The fine line that I walk is like a tightrope.
I'm trying to allow him to grow up and be independent...
at the same time, he is begging me for advice that he doesn't really want.

Sometimes, that rope feels like a noose around my neck that I'd like to hang myself with. Most days I feel like  running away leaving it all behind for a while, letting them all sink or swim.  They are lucky that this runway trip is only for 3 days. I could use three months!

The truth is, they all actually function better when I'm out of the picture. Which makes me think, I need to be out of the picture more often.

For example, there has been a meltdown every.single.weekend, for the past several weeks. This weekend, I'm away, there has not been one-single-meltdown. In fact...he made it to Kung Fu for the first time in weeks, and he actually earned his yellow belt!

Hmm...maybe I should get an apartment here. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

My Invisible Job

This morning I woke up tired. Once I got my head on half-way straight, I realized that I was pissed off. This weekend sucked, royally. Saturday morning I woke up and thought to myself, Shit! It's meltdown day. I got that sinking, queasy feeling in my stomach.

There has been a meltdown over homework, or time-management, in general, every.single.weekend. Like clockwork over the past few weeks.

Anxiety is a nasty bitch. It can't be explained. It doesn't make sense. There is no magic formula or protocol to follow to get  rid of it.
We are tweaking and attempting to manage it, with meds and therapy but it's slippery like a soapy, wet dog during bath time.
 
He melts down about being late, or not making it at all to Tai Chi and Kung Fu class. The irony here is that the meltdown either makes him later, or it completely depletes him of energy to go at all. 

Does he really want to go? He says he does, but he keeps sabotaging himself. 

He has managed to fall behind in Kung Fu. He should have tested for a yellow belt weeks ago. This is really no big deal, but to him, it leads to more feelings of failure. It's just one more thing that he isn't completing.

The meltdowns are not as severe as they were over the summer. He is more measured. He knows the lines not to cross. However, they are still disturbing, disruptive, and emotionally draining for him and for me. They effect the whole household.

The concerted amount of patience that I give him leaves me with nothing leftover with the adults who live here, my husband and my mother. The tension in the house is thick and mucky. It's definitely not exactly conducive to romance. We can barely tolerate each other.

There is little energy even for myself. Yoga hasn't seen me in the studio in months. I absolutely will not miss my therapy. It's the one thing I make sure I reserve for me.

I am trying to give Blue every support possible. He's seeing an excellent therapist who is working with him on strategies, time and anger management.  Last week we had a Person Centered Planning meeting, where his Facilitator helped him with time-management brainstorming. He has a personal mentor who is also working with him on breaking down assignments, time chunking, and coping skills.

His anxiety...his black and white, all or nothing thinking, seems to keep getting in the way of the application of these skills in heat of the moment.  If there is a plan, and something happens to throw it off by 5 minutes, it's over! Can't do it! Can't fix it. Can't change it. Can't move forward or even sideways.

I try to coax him into the mindset that the plan is more of a guide. There has to be a degree of flexibility in order to use it.

He is blessed with a teacher in his Advanced Placement Calculus class who has been more than accommodating and willing to work with him after school. She is even willing to break down assignments. He does fine at school,  but at home...nada! Nothing seems to help.

He won't consider dropping the class. In fact, he was highly insulted when I brought up the possibility. That would mean that he failed. Mind you, his counselor told me that he doesn't need this class for college unless he plans on being a math major.

I usually give him the benefit of the doubt. I am always trying to find the bright side of a situation. My first instinct is optimism.

I look at autism and anxiety. I study it. I turn it inside out, trying to figure out answers.
What is the motivation behind this behavior? 
How can we help him? 
What is this mental block that's in his head? 
What has him so traumatized that he is almost immobile? 

Yesterday, my optimism flew out the window. Fatigue can do that to you.  I found myself doubting the authenticity of his meltdowns. I started feeling like he is doing this on purpose.
He is trying to drive me up a fucking wall! 
He is being lazy! 
He doesn't really want answers. He wants to just sit there on his god damned phone, texting and watching videos!
He is avoiding responsibility! 
He begs for solutions, only to meet each of them with objections! 

This morning as I drove him to school, I wanted so much to just lay into him.
What is your problem? 
Everyone is willing to help you. 
Why are you unwilling to help yourself?  
This is bullshit! 
I need to take away your phone and your privileges! 
I need to drop you off at the library and not pick you up until your work is done! 

Last year, the library totally worked. If not, then he went to Starbucks or Panera. Why isn't any of this working now? 

I'm a grown up. I didn't say of any of the vile things that were in my head. It would only upset him more and start his day at school off in a downward spiral. I kept my thoughts to myself. After I dropped him off, I drove to Starbucks to buy a cup of energy to help me face the day.

Once again, I stifled my anger, which I know isn't healthy. But, what choice do I have? There is no one's ass that I can kick, legally. And if there were, I would probably be too tired to do it.

It was bad enough yesterday when he told me that I was embarrassing him by walking outside the house during his meltdown, because I didn't want to give him an audience.  I actually said, "I don't really give a shit that you're embarrassed! I'm tired of listening to you scream!" 

I have moments when I feel like a failure.  I've never had to ground him or take his phone away.  I start thinking, I did it all wrong. I should have disciplined him more. I start to question everything I'm doing and have ever done.

Then again, he has always handled his business. If he didn't, he dealt with the natural consequences without completely falling apart. Now, it just seems stupid to have to resort to taking things from him. He is seventeen. He wants to go to college. He is going to have to learn to discipline himself.

I won't be in college with him, telling him to put his phone away so he can get his work done. He has to do this if he wants to be successful.  The best way to learn is to fail a few times, to feel the sting of your choices. It's a painful process for a mother to watch.

At this point, any way that I insert myself into the process of helping or teaching him these life lessons, only seems to create more of a power struggle. He has to take ownnership of his life.

So, he works with his therapist,  his teachers, counselors and mentors. He wants to be seen as a mature, serious student to them. He can be a baby with me. There is no need to impress.

There comes a time when as a young adult, you have to remove your own mental blocks. You have to take the advice of the professionals and peers that you respect. Your mama knows nothing anyway, right?

Once upon a time, he was fully capable handling his schoolwork and even managing a great part of his daily living skills. I don't know what happened. I don't know if it's fear of becoming an adult, or fear of leaving high school and transitioning to college. It could be unconcious, self-sabotage. Lots of seniors in high school go through that when they are afraid of the new life they are facing.

I don't know what else to do for him, or even if there is anything for me to do.

I just know that I'm exhausted. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Senior Year Hell

I've done this before.
I should know what I'm doing by now, right?
How come it doesn't feel like it?
Why does it all feel brand new?

One would think a mother of three, just might have shit figured out by the time her last child reaches his senior year of high school. Nope! Not when autism is involved.  You just never know what will be waiting for you when you turn a corner.

One thing my boys have in common, is they are both exhausting to parent.

Someone who knows my life intimately observed, "It's like you are raising 5 or 6 children."

I was surprised to hear someone else verbalize what I have felt for years. And frankly, I am tired. Burnout.
Spent, like an old dollar bill.

I was so relaxed for a while there when Red moved out. I wrote about feeling like I was ready to ready to retire. I felt like I had already done a lifetime of work. It was like a new era. I could breathe again. I could watch a television show live, not recorded weeks earlier on my DVR. There was less bickering and fighting in the house with the two brothers living in different places. It was sweet, juicy, savory, peace and quiet.

Apparently, God laughed at my retirement plan.

The peace is over.

We are swimming in Senior Year Hell without a life preserver, and no swimming lessons.

Blue has always been the most independent of all of my children. He was the toddler who climbed out of the crib, over the safety fence, down the stairs, up to the top shelf of the pantry, to get his cereal before I woke up. He then climbed back up the stairs and over the fence. He came strolling into my room with the box of Froot Loops, like a boss!

He has kept up with his grades and school work since he was in middle school. By the time he reached high school, he had become his own advocate. I never have to follow up to make sure homework is complete. He is self-motivated. He usually chooses the kind of classes that will be a challenge, where he knows he will have to work hard. He doesn't need constant prodding and reminders. Up until recently, he has just done what needs to be done.

I have always considered him to be my "easy" child, even though some of his teen years were difficult. He diligently asserted the fact that he didn't need parents.  This 17th year, however, has been exceptionally difficult.

The night school let out for the summer last June, also happened to be the night before he was to take the SAT for the second time. He had a major meltdown. It was awfu1! He was more enraged than I think I had ever seen him before. He ended up walking home a couple of miles in the rain, at night, because he just couldn't bare to be in the same car with me a moment longer.


The meltdowns over the rest of the summer would go downhill from there.

Why this sudden change in persona?
Change.
Transition.
He was leaving his carefully built support system at school, the teachers, and mentors who he talked to every day.
He would be stuck at home with us. Yuck! Who wants to be around their idiot parents all day, every day for the summer?  
There would be no daily routine.
He would not be able to see his friends as often.
He couldn't stop thinking about the fact that everything is going to change next summer, after graduation. 
All of the things he was missing this summer, in his mind, he will lose permanently, next year.
How is life going to look?
How is he supposed to be able to figure out how to get there?
Becoming an adult and college student will require a lot of work.
What if he can't do it all?

The unknown is a pretty daunting place.

Senior year is a freaky thing for the average student. For a kid with autism and intense emotions, it can be even more overwhelming.

Well, we made it through the summer on a wing and a prayer. The saving grace was the Job Coach we hired to work with him, one on one. She was a life saver! She gave him back a sense of structure. The two of them worked together fluidly.

He took his first college class on the community college campus, which gave him back a little bit of a "social vibe," as he put it.
He met a new friend of the female persuasion, who seemed to like him a lot. He had a friendship connection with her, which he found comforting.

Then, all of that was over.
His Job Coach moved away to further her education. We vowed to stay in touch, but it was gut-wrenching to say goodbye.
The job that she helped him find ended, with a bang.
 (And by bang, I mean another pretty awesome meltdown.)
Then his summer college class ended.

The day before his senior year was to begin; he had the most epic meltdown yet.

So here we are now, at the beginning of senior year, and nothing is how I anticipated it would look. I don't think he pictured any of this either.

He is having trouble sleeping. His anxiety is higher than it has been since the beginning of freshmen year in high school.  He is managing his classes by a very, thin thread. Miraculously, he is still making good grades, but the amount of energy he has to put out to make them is draining.

Things that came easy to him a year ago are a struggle today.  The intensity of his emotions has taken out a huge hit on his executive functioning and planning.  It's like he's a different person.

He is still in the top 25% of his class, and the top 25% of SAT scores, in the country. This does not mean that his path will be immediately going to a university.

The excellent SAT scores and all of the colleges knocking at our door are a painful reminder that even though he has the ability and the academic resume, that would get him into most any university...he is simply, not fully prepared. We are facing the reality that right now, during college application season, he is not mentally ready to add the task to his plate. 

With his current level of anxiety, he is doing well just to make it to school and last through the entire day. Doing homework, has suddenly become overwhelming for him. When it's time to get started, he starts listing ten million reasons why it will be impossible to get it done. Everything that he used to do, will now, not work. He winds himself up to the point where most of the time, he can't even get started.

And so the dream changes, again. He will most likely start community college next year.  Perhaps all of this is happening now to show us, that a university experience right now, would probably make him unravel completely. There is more growth needed in other areas of his life.

I am having to regroup, and look at parenting him at this stage, in a whole, new light. I thought he would be so much easier than his brother was. He isn't. He is just at a different place than what I expected at this point.

I  have to watch my words and actions meticulously. I tape my mouth shut, to keep from offering advice. I quell my natural instinct to help --to be the fixer of all things.

Instead, I try to listen actively. I  ask questions that help him find his own answers. It is NOT easy for me to change my mom-to-the-rescue mentality. Sometimes, I crack under pressure.

I am working to consciously keep boundaries, and not just for him, but for myself. I work to stay in my lane and not cross over into doing things for him. It's a constant battle I fight with myself.

For example, suddenly he is struggling to get to school on time. So a few days ago, I found myself making breakfast for him ...something that he has done for himself for years. When he sat down to eat, without a thank you, and still had an attitude on the way to school, in the car. Immediately, I felt like an idiot for doing it.

Making things easier for him is not helping him. Making it through the struggle is where he will grow and learn. I have to allow him to do things for himself, even when I see him struggling, even if it kills me. My job is to promote independence, even during a time when he is vulnerable and afraid.

I am a continual work progress. I made the mistake of running to Red's rescue automatically, for so long. He didn't want to let go. He's been out of my house for almost a year, and we are still working on him letting go of his dependence on me.

I know that Blue has it in him to make it through this.
He will become independent.
He will make it through this transition.
He will rise.
He will grow.
And hopefully, so will I.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Wanted -Mom Replacement

Wanted:

Mom replacement for teenager. Only one child left in this family of difficult children, to finish raising through his senior year and transition into adulthood.

This teenager comes with autism and anxiety. You may be called upon at any time, to do research on doctors, medication, various therapies, individual education plans, and coping strategies both for yourself, and the teenager. You will become an expert in all of these fields because you must stay a step ahead of the professionals that you pay to do these jobs.  (Look ...you will basically earn an honorary doctorate in the field of pharmacology, nursing, education and therapy.) The maid and cook duties are just an added bonus of skills that you can add to your resume, to show that you are great at mult-tasking.

The pay is non-existent for a shit ton of work, none of which will be appreciated. You must have infinite patience, the ability to smile and act like you love every minute of the job, while being told that you are in fact, incompetent and can't do anything right.

You will spend the majority of your time driving, mostly in circles within a 20-mile radius of your home.  Your ungrateful passenger will likely be angry,  (maybe not at you, but that doesn't matter) so use your words very carefully.  Do not, I repeat, DO NOT engage in debate with your passenger.  Do not offer any advice (even when he asks). It's a trick. You will be sorry!

You may often find yourself often operating your vehicle on auto-pilot, because of sheer exhaustion.   Drink plenty of coffee to help you stay awake.  *Do not add Bailey's unless you are staying at home. Bailey's can nullify the caffiene effect, plus the whole illegal to drink and drive thing. (In fact, definitely keep it in stock in your liquor cabinet, along with plenty of vodka and wine. Buy the gallon-size bottles so that you don't have to go to the store as often. Never let your supply run-out! NEVER!)

When going into a grocery store (which is also a major part of your job)  take a picture of your vehicle with your cell-phone before parking, with markers of exactly where you are, so that you can find your car when you come out of the store. Not only, will you often forget where you parked, you may also forget what your car actually looks like.

The original mother lost her ever lovin mind, but don't let that scare you. He will probably be an angel for you since you did not actually carry him inside of your body for 9 months, while getting fat, your feet growing a size and a half, and your boobs left hanging on the ground.

This could be considered to be a community/societal service project, earning you a permanent place in heaven, which is ultimately the best pay ever.

Bonus:  You will not be blamed for everything that ever goes wrong in his life. He will continue blaming the woman who gave birth to him for all of that.

Sincerely,

I-Can't-Do-This-Shit-Anymore

p.s. I will not be available for questions after you're hired. I am moving to a non-disclosed location.
p.s. s. Your face will have this expression most of the time.

In this momlife there is either laughter or tears.
Sometimes both within minutes of each other