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Posts Tagged ‘ADHD’

I suppose everyone is reeling, trying to wrap their brains around the massacre in Connecticut – I almost typed “Tragedy at Sandy Hook” like the neon graphic television headline. I’m sick and freaking tired of murder and mayhem having their own theme music and logos.

Everyone has identified with this horrific act – everyone who has children, knows children, was a child… what can you do? How do you process something of this magnitude with a healthy heart and brain? What if you’re already struggling to get through the day with mental illness? What if your minute to minute existence during the stress of the holidays and children’s vacation is focused on just. getting. by…

I’m furious about the attention Asperger’s is getting in the media coverage and social discussion of this act of rage and misery. I feel like Asperger’s has as much to do with it as him being male, entitled, human, American… Dammit. I’ve spent the last 14 years raising a child with Asperger’s and almost 20 years supporting the efforts of my best friend doing the same with her boy. Yes, it is extremely difficult. Yes, there is a wide range of symptoms. Yes, there were moments when both of us felt exhausted, overwhelmed and feared for our children’s future. Yes. Some days it was awful. Some days it was wonderful. Just like with any child.

I’m not an expert on child development. I *am* an expert on the development of my children… I’ve been here every step of the way. I’ve fought teachers, special ed directors and doctors to get thorough testing. I’ve been a passionate (sometimes miserable bitch) advocate for getting my boys’ needs met in school. It is no easy task.

High intelligence is a bit of a curse when it comes to mental disorders. A smart parent who did my research, I challenged professionals to have at least as much information as I was able to discover. That challenge was rarely met with enthusiasm.

Smart children with ADHD and Asperger’s are expected to just muddle through – their intelligence should give them greater insight, their capacity to process information quickly should make up for the fact that they are literally banging their head on the desk in frustration doing their homework. I can’t describe how many times I’ve slapped my own head to keep from punching a teacher or administrator who couldn’t understand that I refused to accept a child pulling his hair out to get his homework done just because he was getting A’s… Seriously. It is not acceptable. I’ve gone through weeks of fear, afraid to leave him alone because the depression and self-loathing was so acute I thought he’d take his own life. The bullying never stopped. The judgement, the hatred, the sheer meanness of children boggles the mind and breaks the heart. It very nearly broke my child.

I don’t have the answers, but I know that early intervention works. I’ve seen children with similar symptoms as toddlers turn out very, very differently. Working with children in preschool, giving them tools to understand their reactions, to be aware of how they respond to sensory input. To love them. Every day. To love them and let them know that their brain is an amazing and unique creature that allows them the gift of understanding things others may never perceive. Their brain frustrates and confuses them, but it is the same brain that allows them to master complex problems at lightning speed.

I understand that Anarchist Soccer Mom needed to identify with Adam Lanza’s Mom. I appreciate what she wrote about her fear and helplessness. I know just how insane her days can be. I’m also deeply saddened at how distant and cold her descriptions are – how the situation has pushed her to harden her heart.

I know one thing. We need to be patient with one another. I need everyone to be patient with me. This shit is crazy and hard and hurtful and stressful and scary. It’s been a long freaking weekend. May there be more sanity forthcoming this week.

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Or when your mom is broke, depressed and overwhelmed.

I really wanted to come back to this blog in triumph. I planned to detail all the terrific progress I’ve made in the past couple years. I’ve become active daily, lost over 60 pounds, dealt with some chronic health concerns I’d avoided for years and continue to manage my depression and anxiety without medication. I continue to strive to be more mindful and have found that acceptance is my single greatest tool in recognizing what I’m feeling and avoiding wallowing in those emotions… sometimes. On the good days. When things are better.

Problem is things aren’t better right now. Right now I’m struggling to remember the progress I’ve made because it feels like it is always the same bullshit, year after year. I’m still broke, living on a paltry income from disability and the exceedingly rare child support check. I’m teetering on the edge of foreclosure, being sued by my ex, my head gaskets are leaking in my Subaru and I’m miles away from a catastrophic engine failure that I can’t afford to repair. My therapist is away until late next week.

Waaahhh… yeah, yeah, I know. Everyone has problems.  Sometimes I just need to rant.

What about the bright side? I shower more. I like myself better. I feel better about my body. My health has improved by leaps and bounds, my blood pressure is normal, I have fewer headaches and colds. I climb the 5 flights of stairs to therapy without having to stop anymore. My dog is happier getting more exercise. I was able to send my brilliant son away to college 1,000 miles away… it was hard, but I did it and I’m so very proud of him. My younger son is thriving socially and has found his niche performing in theater. I have gained some ground in my financial chaos, working with a case manager to get on top of the paperwork. I’ve been a tireless advocate for myself to get child support collected by the state – even if that office is finding me pretty tiresome. But I’m tired.

I’m tired of being poor. I’m tired of not being ready to work. I’m ever so freaking tired of people assuming I’m just being lazy and feeling like I have to justify my disability. I’m tired of giving my kids underwear for Christmas because it is all I can afford…

I’m grateful that my kids are awesome and will behave as though they are the greatest boxers ever.

I’m tired of people telling me how to solve my problems. Tired of folks thinking it is just a matter of making a phone call or filling out some paperwork – people who don’t understand just how daunting and overwhelming such seemingly benign tasks can become to someone in my position. I’m so exhausted with people being tired of me. People heaving a big sigh and trying to be understanding but feeling like it is really just a question of me being lazy or sorry for myself.

They don’t know. They’re not here when I make a list, set an alarm, vow to accomplish a task only to find my self literally turning in circles trying to figure out where to start and collapsing in tears that I can’t just take care of these simple things everyone else seems to do without thinking. They don’t know what it is like to obsess about an issue until every waking thought is consumed with the agony and fear of not being able to cope with it. They don’t know how I shake to my very core with panic. They don’t know, but they feel so free to judge. They feel so confident in their conviction that it should be just. that. easy.

I’m better. I’m so much better than I was. I’m building relationships, isolating less, successfully advocating for children in my volunteer work, being more present and available to my children and friends… I’ve been taking care of so many things I’ve avoided in the past. I’ve been taking care of me.

The holidays suck. Right now is hard, brutal even, but I’ll be better soon. I know that I have to strength to come out of this low and keep moving forward. I know that the anger and fear will not consume me. I have resources I haven’t been able to access in years. I’m stronger now, even if I’m so very, very weak today.

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To my best friend’s children, I am “Auntie”.  After taking the boys to the playground several times a few weeks ago, apparently I’ve been associated with that place.  Now, when anyone says “Auntie” at my friend’s house, her two year old looks up, eyes wide and hopeful and exclaims “paygwound!”  He is presently parading around my living room with a Nerf sword as long as he is tall and I am remembering just how much more energy toddlers require.  I remember calling my friend when my boys were small.  I’d call her in the morning and she’d still be asleep.  She’d smile and laugh and tell me “someday your kids will be big enough to get their own breakfast and you can sleep in again!”  Now I’m the one with older kids and she has a second round of little ones waking her up at the ass-crack of dawn.

Strangely, though, I miss my kids needing me more.  There was never any question about being bored or not knowing what to do.  Each moment required me to do something.  I had to keep the house clean for their safety, I had to prepare endless meals, snacks and drinks, I was constantly doing laundry or changing someone and if they were sleeping, there was a long list of things I had to accomplish before they woke.  Now I sit, lost in my thoughts and confusion.  Wasting the day clicking and reading and plaing games on the computer – sometimes curled up with a book.  They occupy themselves and I only prepare meals once or twice a day.  I need to be busier.  I just don’t know what to do.

Lately I’ve been craving extremes.  I want to feel something big.  I’ve worked overtime the past few weeks to suppress the intensity of feeling released by the EMDR.  I’ve been angry about my fears with therapy possibly ending and overwhelmed about finances and car repairs.  I can’t let myself be really angry, though.  There was something that felt so dangerous and vulnerable about how I cried that day that terrified me.  My therapists office has shifted into the category of places where Bad Things Happen.  I’ve been irritable and sullen.  My body is sore and tired all the time.  I’m being pretty productive, but almost on auto-pilot.  I feel like somethings gotta give.  I’m going to explode or implode.  I feel like I just need to keep it together until my little one goes to camp and his brother goes to his grandfather’s, then maybe I can let my hair down.  Maybe I can find some way to let loose.  I don’ know.  I feel reckless and dangerous.  I feel tired and scared.  I feel lost and confused.  But I keep on keepin on.  I’ve got to put on a bra and take the kids to the beach.

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I was pretty vague in my post yesterday about the EMDR session.  I got a phone call on the way home from the school that my older boy had been in trouble on the bus again, so I was pretty distracted, but just wanted to jot down what happened to keep it fresh in my memory.  I’d like to take some time to process what I think the significance and common theme is.

It was a different session than the first time, but it was not less successful.  We started with the same target memory of sitting in my bathrobe looking out the window unable to get up and get in the shower.  The overwhelming feeling is helplessness and sadness.  I feel so stuck.  I know that I should get in the shower for all the most reasonable reasons, but I just don’t.  It is like there is something bigger than me holding me back from taking care of myself.

I told my therapist how intense the campaign was in my mind to suppress the memories and discredit myself, so we anticipated that it would affect the treatment.  When I closed my eyes and began this time, it was different.  It was less like I was experiencing memories and more like I was viewing images as if on a screen – step one in distancing myself, I guess.  There was no sound to the images, the soundtrack came from the propaganda campaign telling me with each successive image that there was  no significance, I was just making stuff up, I was doing it wrong, it was stupid.  I was stupid.  I  was drawn to the first image of the kind woman’s profile.  Her paper thin cheek drooped softly onto some vibrant wrap, framed by her wavy, light hair.  Her profile was similar to the well-known optical illusion of an old lady who can also be seen as a young lady.  There was something very familiar about her and I felt that she had something important to say, but the propaganda campaign (PC) kept pulling my away and degrading me for searching for meaning where there was none.  The space around her was also familiar, but nothing was really clear but the wrinkles on her cheek and the kindness in her eye as she turned to me.  I felt like I should try to draw her.

I subsequently flipped to a painting that a dear friend painted for me in the psych hospital.  Meeting him was like being introduced to part of my soul in a male body.  He *knew* me instantly.  We sang opera together, painted and exchanged snarky comments about our surroundings.  He painted a fun young woman in a hat, strolling down a street with echoes of a turn of the century French movie poster.  It felt like me as I wanted to be.

That image changed to a large square, divided diagonally in black and white which slowly became illuminated from the bottom left corner with red light.  The red light grew stronger and morphed into an angel.  The wings grew together to become a vivid red flower in the style of Georgia O’Keefe.  (I’ll leave you to imagine the derisive comments the PC made about how absurd I was to be having vagina imagery… oooh, this must be deep!  angels and flowers and bloody vaginas… I felt like such a fool.)  This shifted quickly to the moment of my younger son’s birth which I described yesterday.  This is where the images gain recognizable significance.

I was bombarded with intense, bloody images.  The first was an old woman’s face, wreathed in blood – bleeding from the neck.  It was not an image I recognize or remember.  Images followed of two situations where I helped injured strangers.

The first was an older man who appeared to be homeless.  I can’t remember exactly when or where this happened.  In my memories, the street looks like Boston, but for that to be the case, I would have had to be very young – at the most 14 years old.  I know it was a city and in the US, so it had to be either Boston or Pittsburgh when I was in college, but I’m leaning toward Boston.  I know it was before cell phones.  The man had fallen on the corner and was near a light post, partly in the street.  He was bleeding from the face and nose.  He was disoriented and smelled like alcohol.  People were just walking past him, averting their gazes.  I know that I stopped and spoke to him.  I tried to help him sit up, but he was big and confused.  A young man stopped, then and helped me.  We got him to sit on the curb and asked him if he was okay, where he was hurt, etc.  He wasn’t very coherent, but it was clear that he needed medical attention.  A policeman arrived then.  We told him the man needed an ambulance.  He scoffed.  He tried to explain to me that the man was a drunk and he was just going to fall down again.  There wasn’t any sense in helping him.  I was appalled.  I feel so sad remembering it.  So what if he was drunk?  He was injured.  He was bleeding.  He needed someone to help.  The officer finally agreed to call for help and I went on my merry way.

The next memory was from a few years ago.  I was on my way to work with my ex, S.  We saw a woman coming down the hill opposite us on a bicycle, then as she approached the metal bridge, she just disappeared from view.  We rounded the curve and stopped to find her sprawled on the bridge.  It was an old bridge, the surface was a metal grid, with holes about two inches square.  She had slipped and was thrown from the bike.  She was lying on her side with her long dark hair covering her face.  I spoke to her and touched her shoulder.  She rolled to her back and I saw her face as her hair fell away.  Her cheek and lip were cut in a perfect angle, like a cookie cutter had been pressed into her face.  I could see the fat and muscle under the skin.  There was a lot of blood.  She was mumbling in Spanish.  I could understand something about a child, something about a phone.  She wanted me to call someone.  She was saying numbers.  She said no hospital.  No police.  There is a big seasonal migrant worker community here – I wondered if she might be undocumented.  She was scared.  I tried to comfort her and keep her from moving while S. called for help.  He blocked the lane of traffic with his truck and another man stopped in the other direction and they kept cars moving.  She would shake and cry when cars went past – just feet away on the narrow little bridge.  It made a terrifying noise.  We call them singing bridges for the hum they make when cars go over them, but crouching there with her, it sounded more like a scream.  I asked S. for a cloth, something clean and he brought me a pile of paper napkins.  I pressed them to her face carefully to keep the wound together.  I hoped it would be better than nothing.  I was calm.  I just kept talking to her.  Telling her it was going to be okay.  I told her she would be taken care of.  I don’t know if she understood me, but I don’t think she believed me.  She was terrified.  She felt helpless and hopeless.  She moaned.  The ambulance came after an eternity.  They didn’t really want to hear what I had to say.  They said they’d figure it all out at the hospital.  I tried to tell them she was scared.

My knees were bruised from kneeling on the rough metal bridge.  I had blood on my clothes.  I stood up, lit a cigarette, got back in the truck and went to work.  I spent the day deadheading day lilies for a rich old lady because old ladies don’t like dead things.

I wanted to help those people.  I don’t know if I really did.  They still seemed helpless.  They still seemed like victims.  Like there were bigger things than them that were beyond their control.  I think that is the underlying theme.

Even the image of birth – it was a moment of powerlessness and inevitability.  I was there, I wanted to make a difference, but I couldn’t really change anything.  There were forces bigger than me that would keep things moving in a direction I couldn’t shift.  When I am depressed, resignation overwhelms me.  I drown in the feeling that I can’t change anything – that things are moving forward whether I want them to or not.

I feel good right now.  I have for a couple of weeks.  My body is lighter, I sit straighter, my head is clear.  I still feel upset and overwhelmed at times, but it doesn’t envelop me like a fog – it just is.  I feel such disdain for the person I was a few weeks back.  I don’t understand how I could *let* myself be paralyzed like that.  It feels like it was a different person.  At the same time, I know what that feeling is and I know I could sooner order a paraplegic to just walk out of her chair than to tell myself to just snap out of it when I am that bad.  I can’t imagine feeling so low, but I can’t shake the fear that it could hit again at any time.  It feels like something bigger than me that I can’t control that will keep moving forward no matter what I try to do to help.

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No one wants to smell like garlic – in America, “garlic eaters” is a long-standing insult with implications of poverty, lack of sophistication and people who are not *normal*.  But I love garlic.  I eat garlic all the time.  I don’t think it reflects on my social standing, financial status or education.  I just like garlic.  I’m typing away with fingers that carry the lingering smell of garlic having prepared spaghetti sauce to simmer.  The smell is wafting through the house with echoes of comfort and warmth – not judgment and shame.

As a side note – I went to the grocery store the other day, armed with my mother’s gift card.  I decided to indulge myself.  I bought a set of bamboo cooking spoons and spatulas to replace those that the dog has managed to find and chew up, I picked up some expensive moisturizer, brand-name Q-tips, and a very special indulgence… a $12.99 garlic press.  It is magnificent.  It has heavy red-rubber gripped handles on a shiny steel body.  Best of all, on the reverse side, there is a red plastic prickly pad that reminds me of those funny building blocks I had when I was a kid.  You flip the press backwards, and the little prongs fit neatly into all the holes to push out any remaining garlic!  For readers who don’t use a garlic press – there is little more annoying than trying to gouge dried garlic out of those little holes to clean it…  So I have a fancy-schmancy new garlic press, and I love it!

But I still have smelly garlic fingers.  Should I be ashamed?  Does this make me a “garlic eater”?  What if I said I was mentally ill?  Should I be ashamed of that.  What if I said I was a victim of child abuse?  or worse, a victim of incest.

Yep.  That’s not one you want to put on a badge and wear proudly.  I was able to “come-out” about my mental illness.  I decided to challenge the stigma and deny the shame.  Let my friends carry the discomfort if they couldn’t avoid it, but I wanted to shed the heavy shell of shame I wore, hiding my situation.  While mental illness carries more than its share of stigma, there are public efforts to change that.  There has been a lot of advocacy to change the cultural views of mental illness over the years.  That can’t really be said for incest.

I cringe just writing the word.  This is the part of the PTSD that I really struggle to admit to – even to myself.  I know that I need to address it in therapy, but it absolutely terrifies me.  The feelings around child sexual abuse are SO complicated, conflicting and complex (and maybe a touch redundant 😉 that I can barely wrap my brain around them enough to think about it, never mind start talking about it in therapy.

I might encourage others to bare their scars, but I recognize that scars can be deep and strange and represent so many things.   Sometimes they say “Hey, I’m a freak!”,  sometimes they say “Don’t ask, you don’t want to know”, sometimes, they are best left covered.  For me, baring my scars says that this shame is not mine to carry.  I have mental illness, but I am not mentally ill.  I was a victim of sexual abuse – I am not a sexual abuser.  I am who I am with all my warts and scars – a complicated, confused and creative individual who loves and hurts and breathes.  Just like you *normal* folks.

I was feeling pretty sunny and optimistic this morning when I commented on Gemma’s post – but it got me thinking that scars are more complicated than I thought.

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The more I think about dealing with childhood trauma, the more the propaganda campaign grows in my mind.  I always have plenty going on in my head to argue with – constant refrains about my inadequacy, craziness or laziness, random intrusive thoughts that are vivid and violent and sexual and embarrassing, or just busy talk of random things that make it hard for me to focus.  This is different.  There is suddenly a massive coordinated, unrelenting campaign of propaganda in my mind telling me that I am a liar, that I wasn’t really hurt badly, that I exaggerate everything, that bad things never really happened, that I’m just being dramatic.  All the while extolling the virtues of those who abused me, painting them as good-hearted, kind people who never wanted to harm me.  It is exhausting.

I don’t really know how to defend myself.  My memory is so foggy and I have distanced myself so completely from some of the events that I can’t produce them on cue as proof or justification.  I keep thinking about cutting my head and the blood in the bath tub.  When I had the memory in the therapist’s office, one of the things I described afterward didn’t really happen.  I thought I remembered our tenant talking to my mother, telling her that she was over-reacting, but she couldn’t have been there, because my mother hadn’t even renovated the basement yet – there was no apartment there yet.  The propaganda campaign keeps trumpeting this as proof that I’m a liar and can’t be trusted and I’m obviously making this all up.

I have to qualify this – I might de-personalize the “propaganda” to write about it, but I am fully aware that it is my own consciousness creating these thoughts.  I know that it is me, and my thoughts are conflicted, but sometimes the conflict takes on bigger proportions.

I told my therapist yesterday that it is really critical to me to filter through these jumbled memories and put things in time and space so that I can trust what is real.  If I can’t be sure that I can trust my memory, the propaganda proves right and I am everything my mother said that I was – a liar, dramatic, a hypochondriac, etc.

It is hard.  We’re going to continue the EMDR next week, I had too much to process yesterday…  I just want so much to be well.  I want to be able to function again.  I don’t feel like it is enough to pat myself on the back for doing the dishes or shaving my legs – I want to be able to do more.

On the brighter side, I went to my 12 year old’s school curriculum fair last night.  It wasn’t easy, being shoulder to shoulder with the radiant, Abercrombie-clad, former cheerleader crew – that always brings back horrible memories of how they treated me in school…  A couple of students in his class stood up to give oral reports which they read in monotone from a shaking piece of paper without even looking up.  Then my son – the Aspie-ADD’er who is awkward and younger and a social outcast – stood to present his.  (As he stood in front of the room, two of his biggest tormentors looked at each other and whispered and laughed, catching my eye as they looked up.  I glared at them so hard I hope they wet their pants.)  He introduced himself, looking around the room and proceeded to give a full three minute presentation about students who had raised money to install a wind turbine in their high-school.  He glanced at his paper occasionally, but by and large, he shared a very knowledgeable, conversational report that was very engaging and interesting.  It was head and shoulders above the others and just made me so very proud.

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My therapist was freaked out about my son setting a fire.  She challenged me not to minimize it and take it very seriously.  I thought I was taking it seriously, but she’s very concerned that this is a demonstration of his anger and that it could get worse if I don’t do something.  Problem is, I’m just not sure what to do.  I talk.  I talk about everything, all the time, way too much.  He doesn’t talk.  He has no interest in talking, he doesn’t want to talk, he can’t be bothered to talk.  Talking annoys him.  All the time.

I was driving him home from a track meet last night and asked him about the fire and being angry.  He said he was angry about being grounded.  He said he just really wanted to see the model house he built burn.  He said that he was in control the whole time and had a plan to be safe – I’m not sure I agree with that.  I explained to him why I was worried and he thinks I worry too much – that it isn’t a big deal.  I asked him if he could promise me that he wouldn’t start a fire again without it being in the stove or outside with a permit in controlled circumstances.  He said no.  He said he’s trying to be honest with me, and the reality is that at some point, he’s probably going to set something on fire, so he can’t make a promise he can’t keep.

I’m torn between freaking out and lauding his pragmatic honesty.  I pushed him to explain to me what kind of circumstances he might light something on fire – he said a piece of paper, he likes to roll up a piece of paper and watch it burn in the snow, that he’s done it plenty of times.  He really likes to watch things burn.  He says he’s not going to be a serial killer just because he like to burn stuff.

Part (most) of me wants to normalize this.  We live in the country – we have wood stoves, we make bonfires, we burn yard debris, we have fires on the beach…  There is a wood stove in the garage that he is very responsible with, using it in the winter to keep warm when he’s playing pool or darts.

Then there is part of me that is freaking out.  He’s angry because he has so much responsibility and so little control.  He hates having a crazy mother, being poor, living in a messy house.  He’s lashing out because he doesn’t have anyone to talk to – or wouldn’t talk to anyone anyway.  He’s acting out because I am doing better and he finally feels like he can be a kid.

I don’t know.  I just don’t know.  Teenagers are hard.

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