Goal 8: Try not to be too hard on myself

When I was a child, my parents were very hard on me. They expected perfection and I tried to deliver. The better behaved I was, the more I was loved.

I was punished for not being good enough. My parents had a hard enough time with my autistic sibling, they didn’t need any problems from me.

When I got a bad grade in elementary school, my dolls were taken away from me for a semester.

I am hard on myself to this very day. If I don’t accomplish enough in a day, I feel very anxious.

So it is no surprise that when I had kids, I tried to be the perfect parent. I thought that if I was the best parent I could be that my kids would turn out the way I wanted them to. If I was loving enough, they would get good grades and like school. If they were disciplined right, they wouldn’t try drugs, etc…(Insert problem here).

Let’s be totally honest, if kids do something wrong the first place society looks is at the parents. What did the parents do wrong to have a child like that? I am just as guilty. There is some truth to that statement, but some kids just make bad choices against their parents wishes.

My own mother faced a lot of blame for having a violent autistic child in the 1980’s.

I tried to be the best parent I could be and that has to be good enough whatever my children choose.

It was so easy when they were babies. I had full control. I decided where we would go. I picked out the little outfits that they were going to wear. They ate what I made.

I tried to share my values and beliefs with them. But I’ll admit, as honest as I am, I lied to my children all the time. I lied to them about who I was. I tried to hide my faults. I pretended to like cartoons and Barney when I really wanted to be head banging to hard rock and watching horror movies. I didn’t swear around them and said a lot of nice words like please and thank you.

Hey, get me a beer was replaced by may I please have some more milk. Gangsta rap music was replaced with catchy tunes like I love you, you love me..we’re a happy family..

I hated pretending to be perfect and being someone I wasn’t. I always just thought that was a part of being a good parent though.

Then my kids grew up. I no longer picked out their little outfits. We stopped reading books together and listening to baby music. I was slowly more free to be me.

Part of the process of letting go is learning to fully be me again. It is losing some of my identity as a mother. Part of that is also showing my kids who I really am. I will share my book with them when they are ready and someday my blog as well.

I also have to accept that the choices my children make might not be what I have in mind for them. I have to be less hard on myself and them when they screw up. I also have to be less hard on myself when I am not perfect.

Perfection should not be my goal. If it is, I will live a life of disappointment because it is unattainable. Plus it annoys the crap out of my family. It is difficult to unlearn something that is so ingrained in me. But it is worth a try.

Maybe I would be a better person if I was a little less perfect. Now doesn’t that sound like an oxymoron?

 

Doubt

Would you be willing to hurt people you are closest to in order to help strangers?

Fear that is toxic. Anxiety whispers an endless echoing rhyme. Worry incessant. Doubt creeps in like a vine that entwines the wrestling demons running around in my mind.

I’m not sure I can do it. It’s too risky. Who do I think I am? Do I really think this will be a bestseller? Do I really think that my poison will be a tonic? Do I really think that my story is going to make a difference, change things?

Really, Alissa, you couldn’t even save your own family.

The thoughts painfully pierce my poorly healed wounds. The scabs tear away and bleed onto my parched paper skin. The memories scratch at the demons inside. They wreck havoc on my mind. Tears slip from my eyes.

Now I understand why there aren’t a lot of siblings telling their stories. I get it now. It is too painful. If the story is going to be effective, I have to be brutally honest. But that honesty is going to hurt, not just myself but other people.

Tomorrow I have a meeting with a lady from the local autism group. She wants me to be on a panel representing siblings of autistic children in front of a group of parents. There are not a lot of programs available for siblings because they are ‘normal’. I think that is very tragic if a child needs help and doesn’t receive it because they aren’t special enough.

My goal is to write a book about my story as a sibling. I want to advocate for siblings. My thought was to write a book and donate a certain amount of the proceeds to go towards helping siblings that are struggling through support groups and therapy, etc. Just how it is all going to come together is not totally known to me at this time. I would be willing to donate my time and money to help other’s struggling through what I’ve experienced.

Maybe tomorrow I will have some answers. But as for today, I never want to write again. I want to delete my blog. I want to throw the book that I started into the trash. I feel unsettled, almost angry and sad. Restless.

I am at a crossroad of sorts. Will it make a difference? Am I just picking at scabs and bleeding out into my words? Will it heal me? Or will it hurt me and those I love? Should I just let it go?

Will I be able to help others? Am I being delusional that I can make a difference? Would it be worth it if my story can help someone contemplating suicide if  my family turns away from me? Maybe my vision is too grandiose?

I am absolutely terrified, but I think it will be worth it.

What if I don’t help anyone and end up alienating myself from my family? Do I have the strength and courage to do what needs to be done?

I have my doubts.

Goal 6: Try new things/explore different interests/be fun/enjoy lifelong learning.

When I was younger I was afraid to try new things. Now that I am older, I long for something new.

When I was younger, I never thought I was good enough or smart enough. But being older, I don’t really care if I make a fool out of myself.

This morning I went to an exercise class for the first time. I was the only one in the front row, all the other spots were taken. Front and center for everyone to watch me make mistakes. But I don’t care anymore. Besides I am old enough to know that everyone else is really concerned about themselves and how they look. If they make fun of me, shame on them.

Everyone has been very welcoming though. I took a strength training class for the first time this week and everyone introduced themselves and helped me set up my equipment. Someone even cleaned and put away some of my stuff. They even gave me helpful suggestions and asked if I was coming back.

I have to admit, I’ve been rather shocked lately about the kindness of other people.

I’ve been trying new things, like exercise classes. I also bought an Indian cookbook. I  tried making a few recipes this week. They turned out okay, although it has been a real challenge to find the ingredients I need.

The most exciting new adventure for me this year has been to start writing a book. I am still terrified about this! I’m not sure how it will turn out, but I keep pecking away at it every day.

I don’t have to be perfect nor do I even need to be good to enjoy trying new things. It took me a long time in life just to learn that.

 

Goal 4: Worry less/let go/learn how to relax and handle stress better

I’m sure you’ve heard of the phrase ‘let go and let God’. It is something that is a lot easier said than done. I really wish there was a step by step manual on how to do it like an idiots guide or something.

Is it a process? Is it something that just happens? Will I be able to turn off my worry someday like a faucet? Or will it incessantly drip until it drives everyone, including myself, crazy?

How can I relax? How can I handle stress better than I already am?

How can I let go of these children that were once mine to hold onto? How do I let go of a business that I once helped build? How do I let go of past hurts? How do I trust God? Is there a dummies guide?

Maybe eventually I will figure it out. But until then I want to keep working on it. I don’t want worry to rob me of my joy in life.

Goal 3: Start the process of writing a book

For a very long time, I was angry about the things that happened to me in my childhood. Why did my family struggle so much when other families had it all together? I think it was a miracle to survive with most of my sanity intact.

What is the purpose of struggle? What are we supposed to do with what we have been through?? Personally, I believe by successfully surviving my obligation is to reach out and help others going through similar circumstances. I have always felt this way but I was never sure how to do it.

Blogging has been a wonderful way to process my experiences in life honestly. But I found it to be lacking. I don’t feel like I have been able to reach my target audience so to say. They haven’t found me and I haven’t found them either. Maybe there are few that can relate to my life story. Where is everybody? Why aren’t you writing about it? Maybe it just takes a long time to process it like it did for me.

I told myself that once I retired I would write my story. I always put it off into some future place. Then I found myself without a job.

I’ve tried to find books even other blogs of people out their with similar stories and found nothing. How can there be a void? Nothing?? I decided that I am going to be the one to write the story. I don’t think that it will be easy, but I do think it will be worthwhile.

I am going to write the story of a sibling growing up in the 1980’s with a violent autistic brother. This was a time when autism wasn’t an epidemic. This was a time of very limited services. This was a time where my mother was blamed for his violent behavior. This was the time where I was expected to give up my childhood to be a caregiver. I also had two other younger siblings and an abusive father which will be woven into the story.

So I will be processing more journals from my childhood in the weeks to come and compiling everything together to start the process.

I also have some exciting news. My new friend Sue, who is a child psychologist that works with autistic children specifically, put me in touch with someone from her agency. I will be meeting with this person at the end of the month. I have been asked to be put on a panel as a sibling to work with parents. I don’t have all of the details yet, but I feel like this is a huge step forward in being able to help others who are going through what I have been through.

I am very excited about where this could lead even if I am only able to help one person through my experiences. Struggle does have a purpose, I just needed to find mine.

 

 

My last day of work

Friday was my last day of work. I thought that I would be feeling down like I did most days leading up to the last day. Instead I felt relief, and a lightness of spirit. I did end up inviting some close friends over that evening. Two out of three couples came out for my pity party. Two out of three ain’t bad for short notice over the holidays.

I invited out the brewer and his wife, the psychologist, whom I will call Rhett and Sue. Sue told me that she gave my name to her boss as someone who was interested in talking to the parents and siblings of autistic children. I still feel interested in helping people through similar experiences that I’ve had. I want to write a book. But first I want to go through all of my journals. It is going to be a slow and tedious process.

We also invited over Tim and Cara. Cara just wrote a book and now that I have more time, I offered to read it critically. She encouraged me to write my own book. Right now Cara’s job is also on the line. She would love to be a full time author. Paul and I thought of starting a sailing business with Tim and Cara. Paul is working on his captain’s license as we speak. It’s crazy, but we are thinking of starting another business together.

I’m not sure where the future leads right now, but I know that these other couples are involved in it in some way. We had a lot of fun Friday night and did a lot of laughing. I felt like whatever happens everything would be alright.

And so the journey starts…

The community theater extrovert

I don’t know what it is about community theater. I become a whole different person. I’m not just talking about the role I’m playing as a character, I’m talking about me as a person. I become an extrovert.

In real life I am not much of a social person. I blog, does that count? You get the idea. I like to keep my opinions to myself. I shy away from the spotlight and become a wallflower. I am moody, melancholy, and not at all agreeable. But at the theater, I am an extrovert on stage and off. All or nothing, baby! My most redeeming social quality is that I have a quick wit. I love to make people laugh. After the evening shows, Paul and I rarely made it to bed before 1 AM.

One night after celebrating at the theater, we had a couple of people crash at our house. One of the actresses confessed that she has cancer and is going through her third round of radiation next week. How could I say ‘no’ to that? Come on over! That night I went to bed at 2 AM then got up the next morning and did the show all over again. That is life as a community theater extrovert I guess.

You tend to meet a whole bunch of eccentric characters at the theater. For a brief time, they get to be someone else too. I wish I could say that all other life stops for awhile during the run of a show, but it goes on. I lost my job during the run of the show. I wasn’t the only one either. A cast member had a funeral to attend out of state. One young girl got her first period and had to reach out to people that were basically strangers to help.

For that short period of time, we became like family and you know how it is with family…some people drive you nuts. Oh, and there is always drama.

There was this new lady that was very beautiful, nice, encouraging, optimistic, and cheerful. She also totally annoyed the crap out of me. Every time she was on stage she would over act and upstage me. It drove me nuts. Back stage she dumped my whole water bottle on my dry clothes. It was an accident so I couldn’t do anything but suppress my irritation. She apologized profusely. When we had only two shows left, she decided that she didn’t like the dance routine choreography and wanted everyone to change it without actually telling everyone who would be on stage at the time. I told her there was no way I would be changing anything.

My husband Paul had the lead part. He had somewhere around 200 lines to memorize. Most of them were a paragraph long. He did a great job. Everyone thought that he had a natural gift for memorizing. Does anyone?? I really want to know. He spent at least an hour a day going through his lines.

There were love triangles on stage and off. Did you know that the theater is also a good place to fall in love? My uncle Rick met someone at the theater for a first date and they are already engaged!

Sometimes things didn’t go as planned. Lines got missed or messed up. Once the curtain opened at the wrong time while a woman was changing behind it. One little girl got hit hard on the head by someone moving a prop. Three other people fell, one while tied up. Many people had sore throats. We wandered around the rest of the week like exhausted zombie versions of ourselves while life continued on.

Then after the show is over, the main characters have to de-role. It is time to say good-bye to the new family. There is a period of sadness and loss after saying bye to a beloved character that almost becomes you for awhile.

For that brief time, everybody loved you. You were someone special, a star. The anxiety of performing is a major adrenaline rush. It is thrilling! Did I mention the costumes, makeup, wigs, and hair primping? Fun!

Then when it is all done, we go back to our normal lives until the next show.

 

Hell week

Last week I lost my job.

Last week Sunday hell week started with a nine hour practice at the theater.

We sold our business earlier this year and up to this point everything has stayed relatively the same. I wasn’t expecting this at all. I didn’t have time to prepare for this in any way. I didn’t have plans to quit working anytime soon.

Then last week happened. Paul and I found out a couple of days before corporate flew in. We met them out for coffee on a brisk chilly sunny morning. I didn’t want to meet them. I didn’t want the small talk about the weather. I wanted the day to never happen or be over before it began. I faced the day with dread. I had nightmares about it when I could actually sleep.

It was the hardest day I ever faced at work. I had to go to the office that morning and watch my staff get fired right before Christmas. They didn’t do anything wrong which made it harder. I felt like I betrayed them. They had to immediately pack up their belongings and leave. I didn’t have time to prepare for the pain of firing long time employees, people that I saw day in and day out for years. Employees that I talked to more than some of my family.

I understand why it happened logically. Corporate wanted to consolidate all of operations into one centralized office. It makes a lot of business sense, but it did not stop my tears from falling.

I have been doing this for over ten years now. I feel really lost like I am losing a part of who I am. Who am I? My job will be gone and my kids will be out of the house soon too.

I thought about my time here, building a business alongside my husband. I thought about the friends I’ve made throughout the years. I thought about the clients that I will miss. I thought of the conferences I attended, the files I stockpiled, the work relationships I built during the 15,000 hours I dedicated my life to this. I feel a great sense of grief, of loss. Maybe if I saw it coming months before it would’ve been easier to adjust?

I feel unsettled, anxious, and depressed. Paul and our sales staff will stay on. My department is closing. I am the only employee staying on to make the transition of our operations to the central office. By the end of the month, our office here will close and I will be out of a job.

I wish I could say that the transition has been seamless, but it hasn’t. The central office has a different way of running things than we do. It is neither right nor wrong, just different. This has upset some of our clients which has been upsetting to me. I don’t have any control over this. I wasn’t prepared, I wasn’t ready. I am trying to let it go and not let it bother me, but it is easier said than done.

I feel like I am getting a divorce. Paul and I spent half of our married life working together. But it isn’t over, Paul and I have plans in the future to start another business together. This all had to come to an end sometime, I just wasn’t ready for it to end now.

That night Paul and I went to hell week rehearsal like nothing happened. Paul has the lead part in the show. Could he do it? Could I go on stage and smile when I spent half of the day crying? Acting like everything was okay was one of the toughest performances we had to give. We couldn’t tell the cast before we were able to tell close friends and family.

Somehow we were able to pull it off, but last week certainly gave a new meaning for hell week.

Self-therapy breakthrough

Last night I dreamt about Matt for the first time that I can ever remember.

Yesterday I went to the mall shopping with Arabella and my mom. My mom spent most of her time worrying about getting back home because she had to give Matt his medicine. Frankly, it didn’t bother me much because I wanted to go home early because I hate shopping. It was my daughter Arabella’s choice for a girls day and she picked shopping.

As I mentioned before, my brother Matt is autistic and most likely schizophrenic as he hears voices that tell him to hurt people.

As a child Matt would:

  1. Have psychotic fits out the the blue where he would be violent towards himself or others. I don’t believe that this was within his control.
  2. Have episodes of anger where he would be violent towards himself or others when he was asked to do something he didn’t want to do. I believe this was within his realm of control.

Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference between the first and second scenario. Matt did not have a lot of chores besides unloading the dishwasher. When asked to do that, he would sometimes hit himself on the head. Matt did have a lot of trouble in school. When asked to do his school work, he would often attack his teacher or his aide.

There was a time when Matt was schooled at home due to his extreme psychotic outbursts. The district sent a retired school teacher to our house. That woman was a saint because she was strict while loving. Some days Matt didn’t cooperate and she had to leave early.

Later Matt went back to the public school. At one time, my best friend was his aide. When asked to do work, he often attacked her just because he didn’t want to do it. One time after he attacked her, she called the police. They came to the school and hauled my brother away in handcuffs.

After that incident our lifelong best friendship dissolved. And I wonder why I have trust issues with friends??

I had a dream that Matt and I were at an amusement park. I was watching him. I told him that he couldn’t go on any more rides because he hurt me physically. My mom overruled me and said that Matt could go on the rides. I told her that if she wanted to have Matt go on the rides that she could take care of him. Matt was angry at me for saying no to him so he hurt me. He spit on me. Then Matt hurled himself off of the cliff. He landed grotesquely on the pavement below. I was afraid that he was dead or seriously hurt. But the feeling that I felt the most was guilt.

I woke up realizing for the first time that Matt hurt people when he was having a psychotic fit and when he had to do something he didn’t want to do. I feel angry that he was never told that his actions were wrong. It would’ve made me feel better, like there was justice, even if he had absolutely no control over it.

Matt had total control, but no one else ever saw it that way. Was I wrong? I don’t think so. Matt was in control of our house and he wanted things his way. If we were all packed up ready to go and he wanted to stay, we stayed. If we were all too hot to sleep but he wanted the fan off, it was turned off. Anything that could set him off was taken away. One Christmas a boyfriend gave me perfume, I threw it away because I wasn’t allowed to wear it because it might set Matt off. We had to live our life around the god of what might upset Matt. Matt had to have things his way or somebody was going to get hurt.

You have no idea what it is like to be forced to worship that kind of god or how it messed up my life. I am just beginning to realize.

Chaos reigned which is why I need to live in a controlled environment today. I like my schedule, routine, and organization. It is my security blanket. I like to control the temperature and lights in my house, etc.. I learned to have control over the little things to find comfort. The things that most people don’t care to have control over like the placement of an object on the shelf. It is safe. I go absolutely crazy if someone tries to take my control away which is not even a bit logical. It gives me extreme anxiety. Turn on the lights right after I turn them off and see what happens. It makes no sense.

I have also learned to have a great amount of control over myself. Me. No one I know can beat my self-discipline with the possible exception of my brother Mark. At times I make myself hard to love. I am tough. I have high expections on others and even higher expectations for myself. I embrace pain and deny myself pleasure. I guess that is what attracts me to long distance running.

I am too old now for a baby security blanket. I have to learn to be able to rest without it. But I can’t relax.

I’ve made a tremendous amount of progress on my self-therapy.

This session is over.

Learning (to let go) the hard way

I don’t know where to start. I don’t even know when it all started, the specific moment when things started falling apart. All I know is that now we are in crisis mode and I’m afraid that we can’t put it all back together in one piece.

Maybe you noticed, maybe you didn’t, but I took a week off of writing last week. It wasn’t intentional. The previous week my son brought home a paper to sign up for honors band several hours away out of state. I hastily made arrangements. I cancelled plans and found someone to work for me so I could take him. I thought that maybe this was all he needed to get back into wanting to go to college for music. But I was wrong.

You may remember back in September that we toured a college for music and then a week later Alex dropped out of band. After talking to the teacher, he decided not to drop out of band. Now he got kicked out of band, but I am getting ahead of myself in the story.

I thought this would be a good mother-son road trip, a time of bonding. Two days before leaving, Alex said he didn’t want to go because he would be missing a party a friend was hosting because a couple more friends turned 18. I was unsure whether or not we would actually go, but we went.

I dropped him off the next morning full of hope. I picked him up a couple of hours later full of dread. He didn’t like it so he just walked out. His teacher called me angry. I literally felt sick to my stomach because I was so stressed out. What was I going to do? I just wanted to go home. But Paul was so angry that he would’ve kicked Alex out. Plus I spent a lot of money to rent a cabin and it was a really long drive home.

Instead I decided to stay. I spent the weekend talking to Alex. He opened up to me and for awhile I felt like everything was going to be okay.

On Monday morning, I talked to Paul. I told him that we needed to have more fun and let go. Life is just not fun anymore. To be honest, I’ve been feeling so depressed that I didn’t want to do anything that helps me deal with my stress. I didn’t want to blog, I didn’t want to run. Putting one step in front of the other seemed like it would consume too much energy.

Later on Monday, we got a call from the school. Tuesday we met with the principal and dean of students. Alex is getting kicked out of band. He is also failing 2 other classes and may not graduate. He was suspended several days for being tardy, but at least he is still going to school.

We have just been beside ourselves for the last week trying to cope. We are going to be meeting with the school counselor and even set up an appointment with a regular counselor to help our son. The good news is that our son is talking to both of us. Paul and I have been taking turns talking to him. For awhile we think he will be okay and then we are filled with anger and despair.

Alex now has a dream to go into business. We are trying to keep that dream alive to motivate him. But it has been hard. Paul’s blood pressure has been sky high. I’m afraid to stress him out any more than he already is. I have been having stomachaches. Plus I have been struggling with depression. All the things that help me cope healthily I want to push away.

I feel very anxious and panic when I hear the phone ring. I have become paranoid that something bad is going to happen to him. I am not at peace in my life right now. I think people view us as crappy parents. But we are trying everything in our power to help our son succeed. We are trusting that God has a plan for him.

I am trying to take care of myself so I can help him. He is 18. Isn’t my job over? Is this why letting go of children into adulthood is so hard? Why do I feel like I am sending a two year old out to play in traffic? Is any of this normal?? He wants to leave, but he is just not ready. It’s so hard to let go when the future is uncertain. I will be able to do that a little easier once he graduates, if he graduates. Right now I want to fix and control.

I have to learn to let go even if things don’t go the way I want them to.