Snowbell and The Phantom Ferret

It seems that every member of our family including the pets has an important need of some kind.  Snowbell, however, is just speshul.  She must have been the runt of the litter.  It’s the only explanation I can find to explain her behaviors.

She is utterly obsessed with her food dish.  When she’s up and about she checks it about every ten minutes.  If it’s not full to the brim she panics and finds me.  She cries and cries until I move the food around in her dish to cover up the clearly displayed bottom.  That’s it.  She becomes very upset if she can see the bottom of her dish.

She also compulsively scratches at smooth surfaces all over the house–doors, windows, floors, and tables.  My least favorite habit? She gets bored and lonely around 5:30 AM and decides that my husband and I should get up.  She, therefore, puts all her energy into waking us up by any means necessary.  It’s very, very annoying.  The most annoying thing about this particular feline compulsion is that if I do get up to try to figure out what she wants, she crawls into my spot on the bed and stretches out.  The damn cat steals my spot on the bed because it’s warm while I’m up trying to figure out why she is waking me up.  I can’t decide if she’s cognitively impaired or bloody brilliant!

Suffice it to say, our speshul Snowbell and I have a rather interesting relationship.  She’s a terribly needy cat but, at the same time, she’s my torturer.  I’ve often told her in the wee hours of the morning that one day she would get hers.  Well, in a way, she has.

Doireann attended a graduation party on Saturday.  The guy hosting it had two ferrets, and Doireann is an animal lover.  There was no way that she was going to be able to stay away from ferrets.  She let them climb all over her.  She even walked one of them on a leash in the neighborhood.  I’m still trying to imagine that.  Sadly, all I can see in my mind’s eye is Marc Singer as The Beastmaster plotting with one of his ferret companions…

beastmaster

I just dated myself.

Doireann came home covered in ferret hair.  She picked up Snowbell to cuddle her, and Snowbell took one smell of Doireann and freaked out.  She puffed up, her tail becoming that of a raccoon’s, clawed her way out of Doireann’s arms, and vanished under the couch.  Doireann was shocked.  She had no idea what had just happened.  We looked for Snowbell under the couch, and there she was.  Her pupils were dilated.  She was panting, and she looked to be doubled in size what with her fur puffed up.

“Do you think it’s because of the ferrets?” Doireann asked sounding confused.  “Do you think I smell weird?”

Ferrets are musky creatures, and they are predators.  I suggested that we find Ginger in order to gauge her response.  Ginger, of course, is an unusual cat.  She’s one of the most tolerant animals I’ve ever known.  She finds people who are stressed or upset and sits with them.  She even likes dogs.  As I suspected, Ginger had no response to Doireann’s l’eau de ferret.  Snowbell was another story.

Snowbell hid in the basement.  She hid in our room.  She hid under the dining room table.  She was suspicious of Doireann.  She slinked around the house looking under furniture.  She sat in our bedroom craning her neck trying to see what might come around the corner.  Her pupils remained dilated for hours.  She looked terrified.

She must have believed that there was a ferret somewhere in the house.  A phantom ferret.

She is skittish, nervous, anxious and unsure.  She jumps at every noise.  She is hypervigilant.  She appears to be stalking something, but there is nothing to stalk.  In her feline mind, however, she smells a ferret.  Still.  So, the damn thing must be here somewhere!

Poor Snowbell is still not right.  She is still hiding, running, and searching the house for the phantom ferret when she finds her courage although she has settled down enough to come sit next to me.  I don’t think it would be our family without someone experiencing some unusual neediness every day.  Even our dog had a brain tumor.  Maybe if I called phantom animal control they might get rid of the phantom ferret, and Snowbell could finally relax.

Why does it really matter? Grace keeps following Snowbell around full of concern, “Snowbell, are you okay? Come out, Snowbell! Mom! Snowbell is afraid!” After 48 hours of this, I’m ready to catch the phantom ferret and release it back into wild.

ScaredSnowbell

“I think I see it! It’s right there!”

 

Jack Donaghy Goes Bra Shopping

My long-time readers will recall the last time I took Doireann bra shopping.  She was utterly disgusted at the fulsome display of femininity and “gender stereotyping”.  There are women in the world who have no desire to wear lace, satin, and flowers dammit! She made me promise never to tell anyone that she owned a bra with flowers on it, and I bought her superhero underwear to compromise.  At least she was wearing a bra.

Well, last Saturday I told Doireann that she needed some new clothes.  She denied it.  “I’m fine!”  I have an unusual daughter.  I know this.  Most girls would jump at the chance to go out shopping for new clothes, but Doireann is ridiculously pragmatic.  She has the personality and Myers-Briggs type of Jack Donaghy of “30 Rock” and the attitude of a grouchy hedgehog.  She is perfectly happy to wear her skinny jeans, DMs, and fan girl t-shirts, but, I’ll admit it, I’m tired of looking at Sam and Dean Winchester, Doctor Who, and Sherlock pasted to Doireann’s chest.  I, henceforth, dragged Doireann to a local mall and straight into Journey’s where I knew she would be surrounded by her Kryptonite–new Converse.

Her hemming and hawing came to a stop when she saw all those brand-new Chuck T’s.  I just stood back and let her look.  “Mom! You knew I wouldn’t be able to stay no to this!”  Well, yeah! “It’s about to be summer.  Are you really going to wear your DMs or those old, nasty Converse all summer long? I know that you’re like Liz Lemon and refuse to wear sandals so pick out some new shoes.”

Why do characters from “30 Rock” seem to describe my family so well?

Once she engaged in the experience, we actually got it done! We shopped! According to Doireann, “I still dress like a dude, but I look like a well-dressed dude now.”

As we were having some coffee after plundering the sales rack at The Gap, Doireann confessed, “All my bras feel funny now.  I don’t know what happened.  I woke up one morning and they all just felt funny.”  I’m sure that my eyes twinkled at that admission.  Doireann looked at me and said with suspicion, “What?”  I replied, “You probably need new bras.  You grew out of your old ones.”  She looked positively shocked.  “What? That can happen?”  I wanted to laugh, but I knew that I shouldn’t.  “It can when you’re 17.  You’re still growing.  You need new bras.”  I may as well have thrown my head back, bared my teeth, rubbed my hands together and maniacally laughed, “Mwahahahahahahaha!”  Doireann looked to be in pain at the thought.  I finished my coffee and matter-of-factly told her the cold, hard truth:

“Here’s the deal.  You need to be sized properly.  So, I’m going to take you into the mouth of the beast.  Your worst nightmare.  But, you’ll survive.  There are ladies there that size women for a proper fitting bra, and it’s about time that you embrace the idea of wearing a proper fitting bra.  A good bra will improve your posture, support your girls, and feel really good.  So, let’s hit it.”

Doireann was wide-eyed.  “My gosh, Mom!  Where are we going?”

“Victoria’s Secret.”

We walked into Victoria’s Secret, and I boldly took Doireann directly to the back of the store and found Shay who had a tape measure hanging around her neck.  I left Doireann in her care.  I looked around the store deciding which new pieces I really needed vs. which ones I merely wanted.

I love lingerie.  In another life, I would own a lingerie shop and fit women with bras.  I adore the show “Double Divas” because the show represents friendship and women helping women without judgment.  Women often experience so much relational aggression amidst groups of women, but women can also be nurturing, kind, supportive, and encouraging.  When women nurture other women, it can be a powerful catalyst, and there’s nothing quite like hearing from another woman, “You look beautiful in that outfit.” or “Oh, you need that bra! It looks amazing!” or “Your hair is gorgeous!” or “I am loving that lipstick on you!” or “You are rocking those jeans!” or “Your skin is so pretty.” or even “You are so smart.”  Intelligence is beautiful.   Whether we want to admit it or not, beauty matters.  Our definition of beauty doesn’t have to be someone else’s definition, but I don’t know one person who doesn’t need to feel beautiful on some level.  It’s part of feeling significant.

Doireann emerged from the dressing room with a new bra and a new size.  She has surpassed me.  That was an odd feeling.  I’m not in any way competitive about it.  It’s just that my husband is adopted as is my mother so she is probably expressing genes from relatives we’ll never meet.  Doireann stood there with one bra in her hands.  I gestured toward all the bras in the section and said, “Take your pick if you dare although they don’t have anything in leather.”  She looked thoughtful.  “I’m starting to get this.  This stuff is pretty.  I sort of like it.  I mean, I can wear jeans and t-shirts, but no one will know that I’m wearing really pretty underwear.  It’s like my secret or something.  I could really get into this!”

And there it was.  One of the reasons why women wear gorgeous underwear! The motivation behind the name of the store in which we stood! Our little secret.  We might be wearing sweatpants and a stained shirt, but you should see our underwear!

She had no problem picking out new underwear and bras after that.  She has great taste.  When we got home, she dragged Eadaoin upstairs for show and tell.  Eadaoin came downstairs and practically shrieked, “Mom! I wanna go to Victoria’s Secret and pick out new bras and panties! Doireann’s new stuff is gorgeous!”  I was waiting for that.  “When you’re done cookin’ then I’ll take you.  I’m not buying a $50 bra for you until you’re done.”  And, Eadaoin is going to need them.  That girl is going to be stacked!

Raising girls is fun.  Hard but fun.  As a mother, I’m getting to do all the things with my daughters that my mother never did with me.  I don’t get it right every time, of course, but I don’t think that’s the point.  I think the point is that we show up, fully present, ready to listen, and willing to try.  When you fail, you just go right back to showing up, being present, listening, and being willing to try again.  I can do that.

Life is never boring, is it? That’s reassuring to me for some reason.

Alektorophobia and Dangerous Tropes

In which MJ can’t decide on a topic

There are so many things I could write about this morning.  For instance, Eadaoin confronted her chicken phobia head on.  Yes, Eadaoin has a profound fear of chickens.  There’s actually a word for it–alektorophobia–which tells me that alektorophobia isn’t that uncommon.

We went to Wild Rumpus, an independent bookstore home to an unusual menagerie, where a couple of chickens roam freely–Chinese Silkies to be exact.  As soon as Eadaoin caught sight of one of those chickens strutting around the store, she froze and tears began streaming down her face.  She truly is terrified by chickens.  Milly the Fearless walked right up to that diminutive, fluffy hen and picked it up! I was taken aback.  I’m not exactly fond of chickens myself after The Incident with a mean rooster on the family farm years ago.  Eadaoin nearly screamed, but then she saw how docile the little chicken was.  She settled into Milly’s arms and made content chicken sounds.  Eadaoin looked at me and said, “She doesn’t seem mean.  Maybe I’ll pet her.”  And, she did!

I started looking at the graphic novel section when I heard Eadaoin’s voice behind me, “Mom, look, look!”  I turned around to see her HOLDING A CHICKEN! She was trembling, but she was indeed holding it.  “It’s not so bad.  She’s friendly.  She’s really small under all this fluff.”  Milly came over holding the other chicken.  It was quite a sight to behold–my girls holding these fancy chickens.

After we left the bookstore, Eadaoin said with a shaky voice, “I know what I’m going to talk about in DBT group this week.  I confronted my fear of chickens!  I did it! I could be fearful but still do what I was afraid of.”

That’s a dialectic.  Two opposing ideas that are true at the same time.  Eadaoin was fearful of chickens, and she could still hold a chicken while being afraid of it.  She did great work in that bookstore.

I used a dialectic approach on Tuesday when dealing with our neighbor who sent me quite the email.  Initially, her email appeared to be an olive branch, but it wasn’t.  It was condescending.  She apologized for kicking us off her lawn, but her reaction was our fault.  We made her feel defensive and, hence, made her do what she did.  She stood by every decision that she made and felt that Milly’s reaction was actually a display of her guilt.  She also indicated that she believed that I, in fact, did have Munchausens (sic) because she has heard that all four of my children have diagnoses and are medicated, and that concerns her.  Rumors are interesting because they seldom reflect the truth.  She heard wrong.  All four of my children do not have diagnoses nor are all four of my children medicated.  I have a feeling I know the very people responsible for keeping the rumor mill turning, and I’m not thrilled.

Munchausen Syndrome is a dramatic form of a factitious disorder in which people cause their own symptoms for a variety of reasons.  Munchausen Syndrome by proxy (MSBP), which is what I believe she was trying to say, is on the spectrum of factitious disorders and features a caregiver secretly abusing a child by faking or causing the symptoms in the child victim.  I would have to be quite the powerful sorceress to feign symptoms of schizophrenia in Grace and symptoms of autism in Milly.

She also went on to say that when Milly was playing at her house she told “friends” of hers who were “educators” and “psychologists” that Milly was diagnosed as autistic, and she asked them to assess her.  According to this woman, they observed Milly in her home and decided that she was misdiagnosed because she seemed well-adjusted.  I think this is the part of the entire situation that stuns me the most.  She asked other people to assess my child’s mental health because she questioned her diagnosis based on her own lack of understanding the diagnosis, and she is merely a neighbor.  She is not my daughter’s legal guardian or even a relative.  She’s doesn’t even rank as family friend.  She is a woman that lives down the street from our family.  This almost feels illegal.  In any case, it’s a violation of monstrous proportions, and whenever I think about it I feel something visceral.

She then went on to say that my daughter was the neighborhood bully for excluding children younger than her in her play.  This is where I had to agree with her.  Exclusion of other children in play, by definition, is social bullying, but if we are going to talk about bullying then we must define the term in its entirety.  She opened the door and made the accusation.  What about physical and verbal bullying? If my daughter was engaging in social bullying by excluding others, then what about her two boys who actively hit, taunted, punched, made sexual remarks, embarrassed, and singled-out? Those were acts of physical and verbal bullying, and they are also common to socialization.  Labeling and vilifying one child in a neighborhood for engaging in one act while dismissing all the other negative acts in which three other children regularly participate is all or nothing thinking and labeling.  It doesn’t tell the whole story.  A child can engage in a few negative behaviors and not be labeled as a bully.  I don’t call her sons bullies even though they are aggressive at times.  Why is Milly a bully when she chooses not to play with her sons after one of them has punched her in the face? Isn’t it reasonable not to want to play with someone who has groped you repeatedly and then screamed, “I hate you!”?

A good friend reminded me that while the boys’ behavior was inappropriate, it’s behavior that is often lumped under the age-old cliché, “Boys will be boys.”  As soon as Milly heard that phrase, she said, “Oh yeah, Tanya says that a lot.  Boys will be boys.  What does that even mean?”  Well, this is what it really means:

The expression “boys will be boys” attempts to explain away aggressive behaviors that a small number of children exhibit by linking it with “natural” or “biological” impulses, without examining other reasons for the aggression. Linking aggressive behaviors with a child’s sex assigned at birth ignores all the other environmental (family, media influences, messages at school, etc.) and individual factors (personalitynutrition, body chemistry, etc.) that might be influencing behavior. It creates an easy excuse to fall back on so adults don’t have to examine other reasons for such aggressive behaviors. It is also often used to justify schoolyard bullying—often very extreme cases that are violent and homophobic in nature—and causes many adults to accept negative behaviors as “natural.” The school principal in the famous Nabozny v. Podlesny case—where a student was hospitalized after being beaten up for being gay—justified the assault, using such terms. This phrase allows harmful behaviors to persist unchecked and possibly worsen over time. It also reduces the likelihood of adults intervening in interactions that can be really harmful. (The Danger of “Boys Will Be Boys”)

This binary thinking, however, applies the inverse to girls.  Girls are expected to be kind, nurturing, and inclusive, but everyone knows that all girls have a dark side, right? They can also be mean and conniving.  Boys are supposed to be aggressive and violent according to this “Boys will be boys” attitude, but God forbid a girl be relationally aggressive by excluding others on the playground!  We can excuse homophobia, sexual harassment, violence, verbal assaults, and the like but all but crucify girls for social bullying.

I’m not minimizing relational aggression.  It’s one thing to tell a kid in the neighborhood that you don’t want to play because he hit you in the face last week.  True social bullying? Oh, that’s a beast all its own, and people like Dr. Cheryl Dellasega are investing their lives into showing girls and women a better path.  Almost every girl and woman I know has been the target of relational aggression.  The point I’m making here is that I would wager that my neighbor is going to try to explain her children’s aggressive behavior, but she will express absolutely no interest in understanding the reasons for my daughter’s.  This is typical, and it’s myopic.  One can’t claim to want to live at peace with one’s neighbors and value the safety of all children in the neighborhood while refusing to look underneath behaviors for motivation.  It’s not possible.  You can’t single out a child and assign blame for all the woe and misery in a group without having all the information.  How many of us ever have all the information? How many of us ever know the whole story?

In the end, Tanya was the biggest bully in this scenario! Isn’t that ironic? She victimized a child, had a lawn tantrum, violated numerous boundaries, judged an entire family, and then justified all her behaviors with false information gleaned through gossip and rumors.

You know what? I’m not surprised.  On the scale of human behavior, this is probably fairly normal.  People love to gossip.  They love to talk about other people particularly if they themselves are unhappy. lonely, or in pain.  Misery loves company and all that.  There are some unhappy people in my neighborhood, and, believe it or not, we are not unhappy.  That can piss people off.  Seeing other people flourish under pressure and trying circumstances often draws unwanted, negative attention.  Plus, we are private.  Both my husband and I are introverts so it’s somewhat painful for us to be social butterflies.  This can come off as rude to other people if they are wont to fill in the blanks with speculations.

On this Thursday in May, I’ve learned this:

  • Always act with integrity.
  • Always remember that anything you say can and will be used against you by others who don’t really know you.  So, always speak thoughtfully and without malice toward everyone.  When the shit hits the fan, you want to be the one to walk away smelling like roses.
  • Reveal little about yourself and your children to your neighbors.  Who people are on their front lawns is seldom who they are behind closed doors.
  • Go with your gut.  If you sense that something is off about a person, you’re probably right.
  • Be kind.  Be polite.  Be generous if can, but always mind your boundaries particularly if there is a Queen Bee or Gossiping Hen in your neighborhood.
  • Coach your children on dealing with the Gossiping Hen.  The Gossiping Hen in our neighborhood has cornered three of my daughters aggressively seeking out rather personal information.  Doireann had no problem shutting it down, but both Grace and Milly were confused and fearful because of the power differential present since they are children and the Gossiping Hen is an adult.  Your children need to know that they have permission to run away from any adult who causes them to feel threatened–even if it’s an adult who is pressing them for information.  It’s still a violation.
  • Live at peace with your neighbors if you can, but don’t tolerate a false peace.  That’s not peace at all.  True peace doesn’t come at the expense of your dignity or the dignity of your family.

I imagine the saga isn’t over yet because Tanya is the sort of personality who will want the last word.  I know what I’m dealing with here.  Her last word will have to come at our expense for her to feel empowered.  People are…interesting.

If I could have the last word, this is what it would be:

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Resource:

The Danger of “Boys Will Be Boys” by Elizabeth J. Meyer, PhD

The Day The Sh*t Hit The Fan

keep-calm-and-let-the-shit-hit-the-fan

I’m a verbal processor.  I just have to get this off my chest and put this somewhere so that I can deal with it.  So, I’m going to put it on my blog because…? Because.  I don’t know why.  It might clear my head.

Something happened today, and my brain is stuck.  I can’t quite accept it.  I don’t understand it.  And…I’m pissed.

We all know by now that I have four daughters.  My youngest daughter, Milly, is on the autism spectrum.  She’s high functioning.  What does this mean? It means that she has a co-morbid anxiety disorder that is either simmering at a slow burn or burning so hot that she isn’t very functional.  It depends on the day.  It also means that she has a big time theory of mind deficit.  She has huge problems with social skills, and she is developmentally delayed by about two years.  She’s chronologically ten years-old, but she is really about eight years-old socially and emotionally.  She also struggles with language pragmatics so she doesn’t understand puns and idioms very well unless she’s learned them.  This is all very textbook stuff for an HFA kid.  Nothing new here.  Also common to HFA-ASD kids? Poor emotional regulation and sensory processing issues combined with issues with flexibility and/or rigidity.  If there’s a rule, then Milly will know it and expect that we all follow it.  Combine all that with gestalt processing and it’s quite the roller coaster ride around here every.single.day.  It’s okay though.  She’s my kid, and I love her.

We’ve spent an inordinate amount of time helping her.  She’s had play therapy, skills training, therapy with a clinical psychologist who specialized in working with people on the autism spectrum, and I write books and materials for children, families, and professionals who work with individuals on the autism spectrum so I direct a lot of time and energy towards my daughter so that her autism will work for her rather than against her.  Milly does very well.  Many people who meet her tell me that they would never know that she’s autistic unless you’re someone who knows what to look for.  If you are, then you’ll spot her as ASD in under a minute.

There are, however, always bumps in the road.  I can’t change her nature.  She is who she is.  Recently, there has been some discord in our neighborhood.  We live on a block with a few kids of varying ages.  Milly is an extrovert which makes her seem unusual for an Aspie.  She is the extroverted autist.  She loves to play with other kids, but she can’t read their body language very well.  And, quite frankly, she can be a bit too direct.  She tries to cope with her social anxiety by controlling the social situations which is common to almost everyone with social anxiety, but, in Milly’s case, it has come out sideways.  She has started excluding certain neighborhood children because she doesn’t have the social savvy to deal with them.  She doesn’t want to feel fearful or anxious because that’s an uncomfortable way to feel so when these kids come around she simply says, “You can’t play with us.”  Apparently, these children go home crying.  Looking back on my own childhood I recall that one doesn’t need to be autistic to engage in this sort of social interaction.  I recall plenty of kids excluding other kids.  I’m not justifying this sort of thing.  Why do most people hate gym class? Well, for one thing, we get excluded.  Someone gets picked last for a certain team.  Someone else doesn’t want to play with someone else.  All the politics of recess and gym class.  Worlds collide.  Feelings get hurt.  How do you handle it?

Me? I watch.  I decide when I need to get involved.  I know certain things about child development.  For example, a 7 year-old child will be able to recognize that a problem exists but may not necessarily be able to solve that problem.  Parents are required to help in the problem-solving.  So, what’s the problem?  Oh, Lord, it’s all about Pokémon.  God save us from Pokémon!

Two boys from down the block are hot on Milly’s tail to trade Pokémon cards with her.  She outright refuses.  Why might you ask? A year ago Milly traded cards with these boys.  A few weeks ago, these boys were banging our door down claiming to want their cards back.  They were reneging on their trades! The Aspie, rule-lovin’ Milly could not abide by this.  She was completely offended and could not understand their reasoning.  If you trade a card, then the trade stands.  She returned one card, and then she vowed never to trade with them again.  That was it.  All or nothing.  These boys returned every single day.  EVERY DAY! They insisted on trading cards again which really meant that they wanted their cards back.  Milly steadfastly held her position.  Nope.  No can do.  She sent them home crying.

I watched.  I asked Milly about the situation.  What was her goal here?

“Mom, they don’t want to play with me.  They want their cards back.  They don’t care about me.  Besides, they’re mean boys.  They don’t play nice things, and they always tell me that they hate me.  I don’t like them.”

I chose not to intervene.  She had a point.  I listened to how she spoke to them.  She was respectful.  She wasn’t mean, curt, or surly.  I’m not a parent who believes that her children are above wrongdoing.  On the contrary, I know that my kids will screw up.  I expect it.  We learn from our failures.  I thought that perhaps this might be an opportunity for these boys to learn something.  Don’t trade a card if you really like it.  Also, integrity matters.  Be a person that keeps your word.  But, that would indicate that there was a parent on the backside actually parenting! The reason I don’t let Milly play with these boys now is because one of these boys told Milly that he knew how to make girls feel “really good”.  When Milly asked him what he meant by that, he responded, “I can tickle you in your vagina.  You’d like that.”  Nope.  There are other kids to play with in our neighborhood.  There will be no “special tickling” going on.  By the way, the boy was four years-old when he said that.  Little boys don’t come by that sort of knowledge by accident.  Know what I mean?

So, after all this, Milly is excluding these two boys.  She doesn’t like them.  She is anxious when they come around for a few reasons some more obvious than others.  I have never been a proponent of exclusion.  It hurts people particularly children.  I’m simply explaining it and the context for it.  Today, these two boys knocked on our door yet again insisting that Milly return one of their Pokémon cards.  Once again, Milly said, “No.  I’m not doing that.  We traded fair and square.”  The boys brought along a friend who also wanted to trade, and, as is totally characteristic of my socially inept daughter, she said that she would trade with him because she didn’t know him.  This, of course, hurt the feelings of the boys.  Milly didn’t understand what she had done.  To her, it was all very clear.  Very black and white.  In her mind, the two neighbor boys were untrustworthy and unsafe.  One of them wanted to get into her panties and the other was essentially a liar.  This new boy, however, might be a very nice boy and should be given the benefit of the doubt.  So, she invited the new boy inside to trade!

Shit is now hitting the fan unbeknownst to my husband and me.

My husband and I were in the backyard.  We were getting our beds ready for planting herbs and vegetables.  We were commenting on how beautiful the weather was.  Suddenly, Milly comes running toward us sobbing and hyperventilating.  She was trying to speak, but she couldn’t.  I thought she was hurt so I started scanning her body for injuries.  All I managed to understand was something along the lines of, “Tanya was in the house and she was yelling at me and she was saying that I was bad and…and….and…and…”

I looked at my husband.  He looked at me.  “What do you mean that Tanya was in the house? Are you saying that she actually came into our house?”  She was stuttering and choking.  She nodded.

The mother of the two boys had actually come into our home.  She had not knocked.  Milly had not let her in.  She barged in.  She blocked the door.  She yelled at our daughter.  She could see that we were not present.  She verbally attacked her.  She completely mistreated her.  She has been informed numerous times that Milly has an autism spectrum disorder.  Apparently, this did not matter to her.  From what I have been told, what she said was wildly inappropriate.  It borders on abusive.  In any case, it was traumatic, and it victimized Milly.

We had a guest today, one of Grace’s friends.  She happened to walk through the living room when Tanya was yelling at Milly, and this girl told me that she saw Tanya in our home and also heard her tone.  She described it as threatening and mean.

My husband went ballistic, and I was livid.  Who just barges into another person’s home and verbally assaults a child? I mean, who does that? This is where I’m stuck.  This is what my brain can’t accept.  I was shaking.  Seeing my daughter cry caused my viscera to boil, but I knew that I couldn’t turn that loose onto Tanya.  That would make me just like her.  We had to talk to her about this, but how? We’ve lived peacefully in our neighborhood and at peace with our neighbors for fourteen years.  Suddenly, one woman can just waltz into our home and mistreat a vulnerable child, and we’re left trying to figure out how to handle it.

We walked over to Tanya’s house, and all I could think to ask her was, “Did you come into my home without my permission and confront my child as if she were an adult without the presence of her parents? Did you do that?” That’s all I cared about because, frankly, that was all that mattered to me.  Kids excluding kids? That’s childhood! Victimizing a child with a developmental disability because you feel entitled to do so? That’s simply wrong! And it makes you the perpetrator!

So, we knocked on her door, and she came out all smiles.  We asked what was going on, and she immediately made Milly the problem.  “My boys just want to play but your daughter just continues to exclude them! So, you now, I just don’t get it.”  My response? “Well, I’m not really interested in that right now.  That can be discussed in a moment.  What I really want to know is if you went into my home uninvited and confronted my daughter without my permission and without my presence? Did you do that?”

Her expression changed and she evaded.  She immediately went on the attack and called Milly a bully.  She attacked her personhood.  I said, “Stop.  You are evading the question.  Did you go into my home and verbally assault my child without my permission and without my presence?”

She didn’t like that.  She put her hand up and said, “How dare you tell me to stop! Did you just tell me stop?”  She then attacked Milly’s character.  She then went on to say that she didn’t believe that she was really autistic.  She was older than her children and ought to know the social rules.  We explained what autism was.  We explained to her as we have so many times before what that developmental disability means, and she just smirked at us.  She blamed Milly for her sons’ unhappiness and insisted that her sons have every right to play with whom they want, and our daughter is the one who can’t play with anyone anymore.  That’s how it has to be.  She has to go home when they come calling.

I then told her that she had yet again evaded the most important question, and I expected an answer.  Had she come into my home without my permission and engaged my daughter in a confrontation without my permission or presence? She sneered and then she lied.  She said that she never came into the house.  That was a lie, and she showed no remorse for anything that she said.  It was at that point that my husband lost it.

He quietly approached her in his easygoing Texan manner and said in what I would call a menacing tone, “I don’t give a fuck what you think your children are entitled to.  You do not walk into other people’s houses and mistreat their children particularly when you know their parents are in the backyard.  That is wrong and don’t you ever do that again.”  As soon as I heard my husband say ‘fuck’ I knew that we were done.  My husband is a brilliant negotiator.  He does it at work all the time, but he was seething watching this woman lie, evade, and justify her almost abusive actions as well as her blatant trespassing.  I waited for her reaction.  It was predictable.

She told us to get the fuck off her lawn and shouted that we both had Munchausers (sic).  She then slammed her door.

We both stood there in shock.  I looked at my husband and said, “Do you think it would be wrong if I shouted out, ‘Don’t you mean Munchausen by proxy?’ I mean if she’s gonna insult us she should at least get it right, don’t you think?”

I look forward to living a life that has no drama whatsoever.  Munchausen by proxy? Really?! If I wanted this much drama in my life I would have gone to Julliard and been a drama queen like I planned when I was 17.  This life? No one wants this much attention.

I mean…unless you really do have Munchausen by proxy, I guess.  ::shudder::

Do you think Tanya would like to sit in the Behavioral Health ER or ride out a mixed state or pay for all the medications or talk a child off a suicidal ledge or deal with an Aspie having an anxiety attack or go to DBT skills group once a week for the next 21 weeks or sit for hours while your child endures neuropsychological testing or help your child cope with severe emotional pain so that they don’t cut or use the holding technique on an autistic child so that they can emotionally regulate rather than self-harm? Do you think she would like that? Do you think she would be so tempted to treat her boys like special snowflakes entitled to the world at the expense of everyone else once her boys actually see what the world is really like? Or at least someone else’s world? I wonder…

Shit.  Lord have mercy!

 

A Lesson Learned from The Science Fair

Grace’s school had their science fair yesterday.  I’ve explained before that Grace attends an intermediate district that exists to serve the needs of students who could not be adequately taught in their home district.  The facility is absolutely gorgeous, and every staff member, Miss Lydia aside, seems to love their job and each student.  I’ve never seen a group of teachers, social workers, para-professionals, and school nurses more committed to the well-being of a population of students.

Eadaoin, Milly, and I went to the science fair, and Grace was so excited to see us.  It was held during the day so my husband was unable to join us.  Grace did her project on neuroplasticity.  She sculpted a neuron and explained what every part of the neuron did in the brain.  I watched her as she stood by her project and answered everyone’s questions.  She looked very proud, and I thought that it was oddly wonderful that she chose neuroplasticity as the subject of her science fair project.  Some of the latest research on schizophrenia is showing that neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to repair itself, may be an avenue for treatment.

I wandered around the gym taking a look at what the other participants had done.  Milly was particularly impressed by the baking soda/vinegar volcano.  I listened to the kids explain their hypotheses and how they followed the scientific method.  Many of the kids have cognitive impairments or emotional and behavioral disturbances so it requires a lot of patience, acceptance, and compassion to interact with each of them.  Some of these kids are suspicious of adults.  Some of them are overly friendly and have poor boundaries.  Some refused to look at me altogether, but they did a project.  They showed up.  I thought I should at least look at what they did.

In the middle of looking at all the projects a boy caught my eye.  He was sitting alone by his project.  I walked over to look at his display.  He had chosen Greek mythology as his topic.  Initially, I thought that his topic wasn’t very scientific at all.  I know, I know.  I was judging this boy’s project.  That was just the first thought that came to mind.  I let it flow out of my mind as easily as it flowed in.  I read his board.  It was hand-written in pencil, and it was messy.  There it was again.  My “judgey” inner critic.  I looked at his display to see his name.  His name was Jake.  “Hi, Jake.  Nice job.”  He just looked at me.  Suddenly, a teacher was right by my side.  She grabbed my arm and said with emphasis, “Why don’t you ask Jake a few questions about his project.  Wouldn’t that be a good idea?”  She then smiled at me showing all her teeth.  Right.  Got it.

“Jake, I see you’ve chosen Greek mythology as the topic of your science fair project.  Why did you choose that?”

He lit up.  “Oh, well, I really loved the Percy Jackson novels.  Have you heard of Percy Jackson? You know, they were written by Rick Riordan, and they are about demigods who are the kids of the Greek gods.  So, I wanted to know more about the Greek myths since I didn’t know very much about them.”

Jake’s speech patterns were awkward.  He had a cognitive impairment.  I adjusted my questions.

“Oh, I really like those novels, Jake.  Do you have a favorite Greek myth?”

“Oh, yes, I do.  I think I like the myth of Echo or maybe Midas.  Yes, I think I like Midas the best.  That’s a good one.”

“I like that one, too.  Do you have a favorite Greek god?”

“I do! I really like Poseidon.  He’s the god of the waters.”

“It sounds like you learned a lot doing all this research for your project.  Thank you for sharing this with me, Jake.”

He nodded.  He then looked at the teacher standing next to me and asked, “Have you seen my parents? Are they here? Have you seen my dad?”

His teacher leaned down, put her arm around his shoulder and said, “Well, there are 45 minutes left.  There’s still time for them to get here.”

Jake looked at her for a moment and then looked at his hands.  He shrugged his shoulders, sighed, and looked off into the distance.

That exchange hit me in my chest.  I wanted to cry.  Jake worked hard on his project.  He was excited about it, and he just wanted his mom and dad to see it.  He wanted them to see what he had been doing at school.  I looked at his teacher.  She looked at me.

I couldn’t fix this! My gosh, I wanted to do something to fix this, and I couldn’t.  I stopped and looked around the gym again at all the projects and all the kids standing by their projects.  There was only one other family present.  Eadaoin, Milly, and I and another couple.  That’s it.  This other family was making the rounds as well, asking each student about their project.  As I turned to find my daughters, one of Grace’s classmates hugged me.  “Can I hang out at your house this weekend? I’ll give you my phone number, okay? You can call me and ask my mom.”  Then, there were other kids hugging Grace’s classmate.  Then, it was one, big group hug.

I am easily overwhelmed when I see others in pain.  Sometimes it paralyzes me because I’ll not know what I can do to change anything.  If I can’t change anything, then what? But, I am observing more and more that our presence can change a lot.  Being the parent that shows up to watch the talent show and congratulating the students means something.  Being the adult that goes around to each science fair project, showing interest, and asking questions means something.  Presence is a powerful thing, and it affects others.

We might not be able to change the world or fix everything, but we can offer our presence.  We can show up daily, ready to listen, and ready to encourage.  We might not ever know if it changed anything for anyone, but what if it did?

What if…?

 

 

 

Building A Better Marriage

In which MJ is verbose and apologizes for that beforehand

Since I’m plumbing the depths this week, let’s just call it the theme of the week and keep going.  I want to talk about marriage.

I love talking about human behavior in the context of relationships.  Relationships of all sorts are messy, and, for some reason, I really like that.  I like the complexities, the nuances, and the fact that no matter how well you know someone there will always be something new to discover about them.

Marriage without children is complicated enough.  The idea that two people are going to commit to love each other for the rest of their days seems almost outdated for the 21st century.  After Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s “conscious uncoupling” hit mainstream media sources and their philosophy behind their decision–loving and committing to solely one person does not mesh with human nature–I imagine that there are quite a few people nodding their heads in agreement: “Yeah! I’d like to consciously uncouple from my spouse, too! I think my human nature would like another partner now, thank you very much.”

It’s a very tempting idea.  My physical therapist even said something similar last November! I was lying on my back while she was doing something painful to my neck.  All the while, she talked about marriage and relationships.  We change.  Who we were in our younger years doesn’t line up with who we are twenty years later.  Sometimes we just don’t fit with our partners after so much time has passed.  Sometimes we must move on.  We just don’t like each other anymore.  Then she left the room so that I could get dressed.

Her words struck a chord in me.  Marriage is indeed complicated enough without children, but what might marriage be like when one or two or three of your children are diagnosed with something? How complicated does it really get?

Very.

I’m not going to cite any statistics because the stats are all over the place.  Suffice it to say that the divorce rate increases when special needs enter the picture.  Why? Well, from my own experience as well as observing married friends with special needs children, I can tell you that two of the primary reasons that a decent marriage tanks under the pressure of raising a child or children with special needs are:

  • unmet hidden expectations
  • poor communication

Unmet hidden expectations plague every relationship.  We think that we’ve been clear about what we expect from our partners, but really we have all these hidden expectations that even we didn’t consciously know about.  When they aren’t met, however, our disappointment, feelings of rejection, and resentment come out, and usually they come out sideways.  Our partners don’t know what they did wrong, and we’re often not entirely sure why we’re behaving badly.  We just know that we’re hurt or mad or disappointed.

For example, when I was newly married I had a picture in my head of what being pregnant would be like (expectation).  I imagined that my husband would go with me to the prenatal OB visits (expectation).  If he didn’t go to every appointment, I thought he might go to a few (expectation).  I imagined that he would want to go (expectation).  It was our baby after all.  This would be an experience that we would share (expectation).  As it turns out, nothing like that happened.

My husband was in the middle of building his career and was not able to go to one prenatal appointment with me.  I went alone to all of them.  Rationally, I understood the reasons.  My emotional mind, however, was hurt.  The “postcard” that I had created over the years around the pregnancy experience looked nothing like reality.  All of my expectations were dashed.  This is just one experience–one postcard–that defied my expectations.  How many experiences like this might be strung together in an almost 20 year marriage? Oh, so many.

What might our expectations be–what might the “postcards” look like–when a special needs child is introduced into a union? What do we imagine our life will look like? What do we imagine our relationship will look like? What do we imagine our communication will look like?

In my case, I thought that we would share the experiences.  Once again, I imagined that we would go to a few key appointments together.  I thought that we would be able to discuss our feelings.  I know, it sounds so female, but, honestly, that’s what I imagined.  Looking back, I see that I was a bit misguided in my expectations of my husband regarding what I expected of him in the way of emotional sharing.  That postcard in my head was created to meet my own needs.  My husband is an internal processor.  He doesn’t like to sit around and talk about his feelings.  I do that enough for the both of us.  He retreats and processes his emotions and his grief alone.  Can this harm a relationship? Well, yes, it can, but my husband wasn’t thinking about the state of our relationship when he was dealing with Grace’s diagnosis.  He was coping with his own grief and reaction to his daughter’s decline.

That very dynamic is one of the primary reasons marriages fail under the pressure.  All communication gets locked down due to an emotional response to the circumstances.  Instead of couples coming together for support, they retreat from each other.  A rift forms, and all sorts of negative things fill the void.  It’s very hard to build a bridge over that chasm once it’s there.  Why? Well, the relational pressure of a special needs diagnosis in a marriage amplifies the problems that are already there, and you’ll find that you are no longer able to overcompensate for your partner’s deficits anymore because you are now forced to overcompensate for the deficits being caused by your child.  You can’t fight a battle on two fronts.  Something has to give.  Most often, it’s the marriage.

So, what is the solution? How do you build a better marriage under the immense pressure of caregiving? And, I won’t lie.  The pressure is staggering.  I think I’ve aged ten years in the past two and probably have an active autoimmune disease at this point.  There are days I have to tell myself, “I outwitted and survived a murderous psychopath.  I can survive Grace’s schizophrenia.”  We are playing for keeps here.  So, what’s the strategy? Truthfully?

A year ago, I fantasized about not being married.  The marriage felt desolate.  There is nothing more lonely than feeling completely alone while married.  Total alienation from your spouse.  I was practically killing myself trying to take care of my girls and meet everyone’s needs.  All the time.  I felt a certain amount of hopelessness about my future.  About my future happiness.  I felt very trapped.  Trapped in my marriage.

Some time ago, I bought The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook in an effort to do some research as well as add to my skill set so that I could help Eadaoin and Grace at home.  I was already familiar with DBT, but I wanted to be thorough.  One of the first chapters in the book focused on radical acceptance.  As I read through the chapter and came to the list of exercises, I started to sweat.  I saw how little I actually accepted my husband for who he was.  I observed how critical and judgmental I could be just in my thoughts.  I realized that I needed to practice radical acceptance in the present.  I needed to go first.  Someone has to go first.

When relationships are in gridlock, someone has to take the first step.  I took the first step internally by shifting my paradigm.  I started seeing my husband through the lens of radical acceptance.  All those annoying habits? No more judgments.  All those times in the past where I felt disappointed or failed? I couldn’t change the past.  I needed to stop fighting reality.  There was nothing I could do to change how I arrived at the present moment.  I needed to begin accepting that I was where I was.  No more blaming.  No more accusing in my mind.  Radically accept that this was my reality.  Who we were at that moment was who we were.

That shift changed everything.  It was subtle, but it was there.  It was not easy to stay in the place of radical acceptance.  I caught myself on numerous occasions wanting to judge.  I caught old resentments bubbling up, but then I had to ask: Would I want to be judged according to who I used to be or according to who I am now? Slowly, things thawed.  As I worked on my part of the bridge, he started building his part of the bridge, too.  I learned to listen better.  He started sharing more because I was actively accepting him as he was now rather than reminding him of who he used to be.

It’s funny because I have always been a proponent of taking responsibility for our own happiness.  I have always said that I am responsible for my happiness, but, somehow, I did not put that into practice in my marriage.  When you practice radical acceptance, the by-product of that is that you will learn to be responsible for your own happiness and well-being.  I was finally able to give my husband room to expand and be himself, and his expansion has not cloistered me in any way.  On the contrary, our marriage is better now than it’s ever been.  We collaborate and communicate better now after Grace’s diagnosis than we did before.

It is possible to go through very difficult times in a marriage, endure not one but two special needs diagnoses (Milly was diagnosed with autism a few years before Grace was diagnosed with a schizophrenia spectrum disorder), and come out on the other side better and stronger than you were before.  This is the wonder of human beings and what we’re capable of.  Yes, humans can be very destructive, but we can be very creative, too.

Why bother blogging about this? I know a number of women who are the primary caregivers to some wonderful children with profound needs.  They love their husbands, but they feel isolated and alienated in their marriages.  They feel like they are bearing most of the burdens associated with caregiving.  They have had to give up or postpone their own aspirations in place of caregiving.  They feel like they are “doing it all”, and, because so much is required of them, they have little to no time for self-care.  Gone are the haircuts.  Gone is the exercise.  Mani-pedis? What are those? Showering? Uh…if they’re lucky.  Eating a balanced diet? Do french fries and crust off the floor count? Sleep? Who’s counting? Hobbies? What are those? Friends? Who has the time, and where did they run off to?

While the women are trying to patch the dam and wishing for eight extra arms and about three clones, their husbands are coping in their own way.  I see a lot of gaming and working extra hours to avoid coming home.  The women can’t wait for their husbands to come home so that they can at least go to the bathroom alone and eat something other than coffee and a stale cracker while the men’s view of home is one of ‘sanctuary’.  When he comes home from work, he doesn’t want to have to be “on” there, too.  Can’t he just relax and do what he likes? What? He’s expected to work in his home now? If a caregiving woman answers that question, then the answer will be something like a shrieked, “YES!” When you caregive in a home environment, then your home is your workplace.  You are never off the clock.

So, there are two competing views of “home” here–workplace vs. sanctuary.  Underlying these competing views are those hidden expectations.  The primary caregiver, often the mother, views her husband as back up and relief.  He gets home, and she gets to clock out for a while.  The husband views home as a place of rest.  He gets home, and he is off the clock.  He is emotionally and physically unavailable.  He has worked all day.  Why should he have to continue to work? But, his wife has worked all day, too, often in complete isolation.  Doesn’t she deserve a break as well? One partner is taking their reward at the expense of the other, and the child who needs the care is neglected by one parent–the one who views home as sanctuary.  If one parent is making himself or herself unavailable to a spouse chances are s/he is doing it to the children, too.

This very dynamic used to be the dynamic in my own home, and I see the same dynamic in many other marriages.  It is possible to overcome and change that dynamic.  That’s why I’m blogging about it.  I hear a plethora of women complain about this, but I seldom hear women say that they’ve had any success in changing it.

It’s possible.  It’s hard.  It’s really painful.  It takes commitment and a good deal of self-awareness.  It also takes a willingness to look in the mirror and be curious about where you might be contributing to the gridlock because I can guarantee that you are.  I was.  I could not change my husband, but I could change myself.  If you really think about that, the fact that you can change yourself in any relational scenario is pretty outstanding.  Why? Well, if you’re 50% of the problem and you can change yourself, then you can change 50% of the problem by simply changing yourself! How much of your life would change if you changed 50% of the relational problems in it today? That’s a pretty big question, isn’t it?

Doesn’t that give you hope though? Change yourself.  Build a better life.

Start here:

The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook: Practical DBT Exercises for Learning Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotion Regulation & Distress Tolerance

 

 

 

Building Bridges

I think that it’s time for a bit of encouragement chez Empowered Grace.  That last post was very intense.  Intensity can be good.  I am very accustomed to high levels of intensity.  I often take it for granted that others are not but experiencing different levels of intensity through story and daily life is very good depending upon the nature of the intensity, of course.  For those of us who come from high intensity environments, learning to fully experience quotidian events without expecting the other shoe to drop can be very healing.  For those people who hail from healthy families, reading or listening to the experiences of others who have survived experiences distinctly outside their own can develop empathy, compassion, and gratitude as well as expand their worldview and inner emotional experience.

For example, Eadaoin and I are now into week 4 of the DBT Skills Group.  For anyone reading who isn’t familiar with DBT, it stands for Dialectical Behavior Therapy.  It was created by Marsha Linehan as a therapeutic approach for Borderline Personality Disorder, but it is now used in conjunction with Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) by many therapists because it is so effective in equipping people regardless of their diagnosis.  It is especially helpful for teens who are struggling with emotional regulation and cutting.  A few months ago, that was Eadaoin, hence, our current enrollment in the DBT Skills Group.

I want to make it abundantly clear that I don’t easily whip out the “I survived human trafficking” card nor do I get something out of discussing growing up with a parent diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder.  In my experience, it won’t give me gravitas.  People will actually look at me with suspicion and say, “No wonder your kids are messed up! You’re probably abusing them.”  The point, however, that I want to make is that our life experiences, no matter how harrowing, can help us later on.  I am not a person who believes that “things happen for a reason”.  Ask any person who has survived something extremely significant like the loss of a child, childhood sexual abuse, a kidnapping, or the like.  There is no ontological reason for it.  Meaning is applied to the event later on during the process of healing.  It wasn’t inherently within the event during the occurence.

Those platitudes that people offer up like “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” (not in the Bible) or “Everything happens for a reason,” or “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” or “When God closes a door, he opens a window,” are all said because the person saying them is uncomfortable.  They are the ones in need of comfort so they are trying to comfort themselves in an attempt to say something that might put meaning to a meaningless event.  It is very difficult to come to terms with the stark reality that sometimes very bad things just happen.  There is chaos in the world.  What is behind these platitudes? If chaos and evil can happen to someone I know, then perhaps it can happen to me.  If some events are truly meaningless in their nature, then that means that there is nothing that can be done to prevent them.  That means that anyone could experience something horrible at any time.

The human brain cannot easily accept chaos theory.  No.  When bad things happen, it must be someone’s fault.  When a child dies from SIDS, it must be because someone did something wrong.  When a child is abducted, it must be because someone wasn’t paying attention.  Someone did something wrong.  We have to blame one of the caregivers.  Why? You mean that we can do everything right and still experience suffering? If we can’t blame someone, then what’s to stop our own children from getting hurt? If we can’t blame someone for our children’s mental health conditions, then what?

Then what?

What do you do when there is no one to blame? What do you do when there is no meaning? What do you do when it feels senseless?

I suggest here that our own personal experiences with suffering are what we can use to apply meaning to future experiences.  As I shared, Eadaoin and I are taking a 24-week DBT Skills Group.  I suggested DBT for Eadaoin because she was struggling with emotional regulation, and she was cutting.  My mother used to cut.  I don’t remember what my response was to my mother’s cutting.  I just remember that she did it so when Eadaoin began doing it I recognized it.  I knew that she was using cutting as a response to emotional pain.  She was trying to seek relief.  She was trying to feel better.  Because cutting was familiar to me, I didn’t freak out.  I already had a language around it–because of my mother.

Is cutting something I should have been exposed to as a girl? No.  Should I have been a witness to it? No.  Was it meaningful to me then? No.  Did it suddenly become meaningful to me when Eadaoin needed my support? You bet.  Could Eadaoin’s cutting have been a trigger for me? Yes.  Was it? No.  Why? I have done my work.  Eadaoin is not my mother, and I am not 12 years-old anymore.  This is a completely different scenario, but I was able to use something that was once painful, transform it into something useful and meaningful, and apply it to new circumstances so that I could communicate with my daughter more effectively.  And, now, we attend a support group together with other parents and teens who also want to apply meaning to their relationships and daily lives.

Everything that we have experienced, no matter how meaningless or chaotic it seemed in the moment, can be used later on to build a bridge.  I haven’t always believed this, but, as I have lived and shared this journey with my family, I have found myself drawing on the darker experiences in my past to find wisdom for the present.  I was more than equipped to deal with Grace’s plunge into mental illness thanks to my mother’s diagnosis.  I never thought that I would ever be thankful for my experiences with her until the day I walked into the Behavioral Health ER with Grace and realized that everything was familiar.  I knew how to speak the language of the psychiatrists.  I knew what it all meant thanks to my mother and her myriad suicide attempts.

Because of my own healing journey associated with originating from such a highly dysfunctional family and, yes, the trafficking ordeal, I know the ins and outs of the therapeutic process like the back of my hand.  I was equipped to be the mother to the kids I have.  This is what it means to put meaning to difficult circumstances and seemingly senseless events.  What I see in so many families is that the parents are actually uniquely suited to be the parents to the children they have.  That, to me, is what is meaningful.  If anything does lack chaos, it’s that.  Our life experiences have brought us to this moment in time with these people in our lives, and, whether we know it or not, we have a wealth of resources in our lives that are most likely completely untapped.

We are the resources.  It is the process of healing and growing that releases those resources to us and to others.  That is how we turn the lead into gold.  That is how we learn to view ourselves and our children, regardless of diagnoses, as always empowered.  Never as victims.  That is how we learn to tell our stories with a sense of accomplishment rather than with shame.

This is what I want for myself, my loved ones, and my friends.  That we would walk in peaceful strength, applying meaning to our present, drawing wisdom from past experiences while looking to the future with hope even if there’s chaos.  Even in the midst of suffering.

To me, this is what it is to be empowered.  Never ashamed.  Never reluctant.  Instead, proud of where you came from.  Proud of where you’re going.  Proud of where you are.  Proud of who you are.  Because maybe, just maybe, your darker life experiences and diagnoses that the world would stigmatize you for are a bright, shining light to someone in your world right now.

You can cause someone else’s darkness to become light simply because you walked through your own darkness and lived to talk about it.  Your story, life, and circumstances suddenly become a bridge from chaos to meaning.

How encouraging is that?