Friday, May 4, 2018

Reclaiming My Time

Going on vacation is a wonderful thing. Anytime you have the privilege of getting away from day to day life to see something different in the world should be a cause for celebration and hopefully, an opportunity for relaxation.

In my life, however there are a lot of ironies. Things that other people celebrate and enjoy can be complicated for me. In fact, many things that average families would normally celebrate, can be an additional source of stress and anxiety for an autism family. If you are a parent of a child with any kind of special needs, you know exactly what I’m talking about. 

Over the years of raising these children, travel has been a dual between fun and overwhelming. There are so many details to put into place before I can think about going anywhere with or without my children. I also have to add my mom to the mix since she has lived with us for the past eight years.

Before I can travel, I have to make sure that everyone will be taken care of while I’m away. This means arranging for most of the things that I do for them, to be done by someone else. All bases must be covered. Oh yes! Let's not forget about Harry, our dog. I don't like to put him in a kennel. He is used to having someone to sit next to. He's a lap dog. And, Yes. I am a spoiler of all of my children.

I have anxiety from years in this autism life. My anxiety is real and at this point and time, requires medication to keep me functioning without taking someone's head off. The thing about authentic anxiety is that it doesn't have to make any sense to anyone else. It's real inside my head and in my physical reaction to stress. I have worried about every single trip that I have planned since my children were born. 

Will the plane crash? 
I can’t die. They need me! 
If I am leaving them at home... did I take care of every last detail before I left?
Did I write all of the operating instructions for whoever is taking over? 
Did I remember the special foods, the wine for my mom, the projects for school that need to be turned in on time? 
Did I fill prescriptions? 
Did I pack meds? 
Does anyone know what to do if I die?
Yes. I have a will. But still…the details of everyday life. The things that only I know. Most of the time, their father didn't even know the name of their teachers, or their doctors. 

Is there any wonder when my husband or my friends say, “hey let’s take a trip,” I hesitate?

I hesitated when my husband said let’s go to Italy in 2007. I was dying to go to Italy, but what would we do with the kids for ten days? I had never been away from them for that long. How would I get along with my husband for ten days? Would we kill each other? Would we still be married when we came back home?

When we planned our trip to France in the summer of 2016, I freaked out. There was a terrorist attack right before we left in Nice. We were going to Nice! Again, what if I die?

I finally settled on, I'm going. I may die on this trip, but at least I will die having seen France.  I have just about gotten these boys through to adulthood. I’ve already done a lifetime of work. If it's my time, so be it. 

A couple of weeks ago my husband planned a trip to Las Vegas with my best friend and her husband for my birthday. Spectacular, right? Vegas is one big adult playground. He planned everything perfectly. He bought tickets to the best shows, “Michael Jackson One.” He even bought awesome seats to see Justin Timberlake in concert! We had gorgeous adult dinners at gourmet restaurants and stayed in lovely accommodations. 

It's a good thing he planned it because I never would have done it. I would find every excuse not to go. Why? Because of anxiety —that’s why. Like I said, there’s nothing about anxiety that has to make any sense. In my case, it sort of does, because over the years so many things have hit the fan when we traveled. 

Hubby works for a global IT Corporation so he goes to Las Vegas every year for his sales conference. Sometimes, he goes twice a year if there is a Regional Meeting there. The first time I joined him in Vegas for one of his business trips, Blue was in the 6th grade. He was still freaked out by thunderstorms back then.

I left on a Friday morning. The sun was shining brightly I felt so happy and free to be getting on an airplane alone. I made arrangements for Blue to spend part of the weekend with one of his best friends. I can't remember where Kendal was, but he wasn't home. My mom was at the house with Blue. When his friend's mom came to pick him up that Friday afternoon, he would not leave the house because of his anxiety. In fact, he ended up spending the entire weekend hiding out in the bathroom because there was a threat of storms. 

How free and easy breezy can one feel knowing that your child is hunkered down, camping in the bathroom with pillows, blankets, music and a fan to drown out the sound possible storms?

This is just one example of the things that play on a highlight reel in my head every time someone talks to me about traveling. My body  goes into fight or flight tension from all of the years when things have gone wrong in my absence

I usually work through the anxiety. I go on the trip despite the anxiety, but no one can tell me not to freak out. It’s just like when you tell someone who’s having a meltdown to just “calm down.” Yeah. That goes over perfectly. I am working on getting over some of this with my therapist. Hoever, it takes time. I have a lot of crap to work through. 

Our most recent trip was to Washington D.C. We took the entire family (my mom, Blue, me and Alan). Kendal just moved to San Antonio to live with his older brother. Preparing for his move was a whole other source of stress that went in conjunction with the planning of this trip. I won’t even go into the details of that.   

Our family trip was a total of five days. We rented a lovely AirBnB, two-bedroom apartment so that my mother would have accessible accommodations. An apartment, as opposed to hotel rooms, would mean a lot of family togetherness. There would be no quick and easy escapes.

We were also meeting my siblings in D.C. to go to the Smithsonian African American History Museum. No pressure, right?
My peeps

There are extra details to traveling with my mother. Her arthritic knees keep her from being as mobile as she used to be. Wheelchairs were arranged at the airports to get her on, and between, flights. Sitting all together in a row on the plane where I was smushed in-between my mother and my husband was lots of fun for a woman in peri-menopause.

I reserved a scooter with a medical equipment company in D.C. because of the extensive walking that would be required at the museum. The night before we left, she informs me that she refuses to even try the scooter. It was too late for cancellations, so I ended up paying full-price for the motor-scooter rental, while we got an old crappy wheelchair that was hard as hell to push her around in. 

Overall, it was a great trip. The museum was powerful and I'm so glad we were all able to see it. 

Per my therapist's suggestion, I decided to take one day to get some time to myself. Self-care is pertinent when you need to have extra patience. Years ago, I would never have considered gifting time to myself. I would be too worried about what others would think. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone. Ever. I would just do all of the things whether I wanted to or not.

My mother and my husband were not happy when I told them that I would not accompany them to church and to visit with some of his family. I told them that it wasn’t up for discussion. I know what I need. No one will speak up for me, except me. 

I am “reclaiming my time!” Like Auntie Maxine Waters! The people who were used to me not having boundaries will find themselves disappointed at times. However, they will benefit from the happier person I am after refilling my cup. 

I was ecstatic as soon as they all walked out the door. 

Here’s the video of my favorite moment of our adventure. I highly recommend taking time for yourself whenever possible.

May self-care and self-love carry you through your stressful situations.