Hurt again

I felt a burning fire rage within me today. I think it was the combination of a lot of different things that ignited the fiery red flame.

Yesterday I wrote in my book about one of my most painful early adult experiences. Previously in my writings, there seemed to be a separation between what I was saying and how I felt. There has been an insulation protecting me from the words. Yesterday it was removed and I felt angry.

My mom always told Matt that it wasn’t his fault he was violent. Sometimes she told him he was having a seizure after being exposed to loud music. Most of the time Matt was told that he was having an allergic reaction. It was an accident and not on purpose. The school told my mom that they wanted Matt to be told it was wrong when he hurt someone and to have consequences for his negative behavior.

That never happened. Six months later Matt got arrested at school for assaulting his teacher’s aide. She was pregnant at the time and it took 2 adults to get him off of her. Matt’s aide was my childhood best friend Shelly. I was the maid of honor in her wedding. We were best friends forever, or so I thought at the time.

When I got married, Shelly wasn’t invited to the wedding. I had to choose between my family and my best friend. My mom had the attitude of oh well you were growing apart anyway. But if we grew apart and the friendship ended it would’ve been my choice, but it wasn’t. It tore our whole friend group apart.

It was very painful to lose a best friend, all my close friends really because my brother attacked her.

I was rage cleaning this morning as a result.

I had to take a step back from running. My Boston marathon friend contacted me to go running again. We ran 8 miles together at breakneck speed. Then she told me that I really needed to work on hill training. I pushed it really, really hard and ended up hurting my ankle. Now just walking gives me pain.

Something else happened too. Someone I know told me the story of how her son recently fell asleep while driving and caused a fatal accident. After hearing her story, I started feeling anxiety driving again. It started by not sleeping well one night, then driving Arabella and her friends somewhere for her birthday. I started to worry that I would fall asleep and kill someone too. For the last couple of weeks, my driving anxiety has been back and I am worried that it is going to turn into full blown anxiety again. I worked so hard to get over it.

I have just been feeling angry and frustrated by the things I have experienced and the things I am experiencing. My son had some friends overnight and I waited until 1 PM to vacuum near them. I didn’t say one word to them but they seemed so terrified of my anger that they went from a dead sleep to packing up all of their stuff and leaving.

My son saw me rage cleaning and asked if he did something to make me so angry. I told him that it had nothing to do with him really. He pressed me for more details and I ended up telling him about my childhood for the first time. He is almost 19 and will know all about it when I publish my book anyway. We had a really nice conversation for almost 2 hours. In that time my anger dissipated.

I’m not sure what is going to happen, but I plan to keep writing no matter how hard it is or gets. Sometimes it is very hard to stir up my demons because I don’t know how I’m going to react. This has been my biggest obstacle so far, but I refuse to give up. After all, that is how I hurt my ankle. Sometimes I need to learn when it is time to ease up. That’s never been my strong suit.

It sounds kind of funny. Most people complain that they don’t have my determination, but all I want is the ability to relax and not be so hard on myself. So here I am, hurt again.

Allergy sufferers

This morning my blog friend LA wrote a post that really hit the nail on the head for me about allergies. LA was on a train and sat next to a woman who said she was allergic to LA’s perfume. LA got up and moved seats. But should LA have catered to the allergic woman or should the allergic woman offered to move? Whose shoulders does that responsibility fall on?

All my life I had to cater to my autistic brother’s allergies. He would become violent if he was exposed to allergens. That is what I was always told and that is what I always thought. But as I have been writing my book, in retrospect I have been able to see the situation with my blinders off.

It’s not that I don’t believe that Matt has allergies. I find it hard to believe that allergies could cause someone to act violently towards another person. He doesn’t sneeze, cough, or break out in a rash. It is possible that an allergen could cause a physical symptom that causes him to be irritable and lash out. But I no longer believe that smelling someone’s perfume could cause him to be violent.

Matt acted violently because he was severely mentally ill. He needed to be told that his actions were wrong whether he was capable of controlling them or not.

Meanwhile, we did crazy things to cater to Matt’s allergies. I wasn’t allowed to wear perfume. My parents got rid of their wood stove. Newspapers weren’t allowed in the house. No one was allowed to park in the garage for awhile because of auto exhaust fumes. My parents replaced their new curtains (new smells) with old blankets. We had to evacuate if the neighbors were spraying their fields. There were many other things as well that were very inconvenient and extreme.

But, guess what? With all of our catering, Matt was still violent.

I don’t cater to everyone anymore. It was hard at first since it was so ingrained in me to do so. Now if I host a party or holiday and I am expected to do all of the preparation, I make what I want and tell people if that doesn’t work for them to bring what they can eat for themselves. Believe me I’ve tried and I just about went crazy. This person is gluten free, the other is dairy free, another black pepper free, pork free, organic only. I wish I was kidding.

I’ve learned that the best way around it is to tell everyone what I am making and if that doesn’t work for them they can bring their own food (or host the party themselves!). I’ve made peace with the fact that I can’t please or accommodate everyone.

I do feel bad for people who are miserable from allergies. But it is also inconsiderate to  expect others to cater to you if your allergy is not life threatening.

In bloom

Good news! My son is graduating this weekend!

I really wasn’t sure he was going to pull it off. Although my son has a brilliant mind, he has been an underachiever.

Paul and I attended the high school awards ceremony this past week. I noticed that 90% of the awards went to 15% of the students. My son received one award for an extracurricular music trip that he participated in.

It was easy to go to the award ceremony when Angel graduated from high school because she was an overachiever. It was different this time around. I noticed the parents that were there and more notably, the parents who did not attend.

Sometimes we just want life to be fair. We want ‘good’ parents to raise ‘good’ kids. For most things, our results are a response to the amount of effort put into something. There is no guarantee with parenting.

We may light the path we want our child to take, they may take a different trail.

I noticed a good example of that a couple months ago.

Parents A have a son that won a lot of awards at the ceremony. He is a star athlete getting letters in a dozen sports. He is good looking, a high honor student, popular, and very involved in his high school experience.

Parents B have a son that is an underachiever, not very athletic, not all that attractive, and is a smoker.

Boy A and boy B are cousins. Boy A ratted boy B out for smoking. Boy A’s parents told boy B that he was a loser and would never amount to anything. Then boy A’s parents confronted boy B’s parents and told them that they were horrible parents. Boy A’s parents told them that if they were good parents then they would have a bright shining star like boy A. Ouch!

Mom B cried as she told me this story. I was appalled and angry. The parents of boy B are great parents. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. Is it wrong to want boy A’s parents to come crashing off of their high horse?

Should you ever confront parents if they are doing everything they can and their kid strays off the path?

It reminds me of how my mother was treated having a violent autistic child. People pointed fingers and blamed her for the way my brother was acting. What a refrigerator mom! It was painful to hear their comments. My mom needed support and help, not to be ostracized and condemned for something beyond her control.

It was great when my overachieving daughter received award after award. Guess what? It made me feel like I was a great parent. But it really was the fruition of her own efforts and good choices.

When do children stop being dependent and start making their own decisions? The line was so fine I didn’t even notice the transition.

I had dreams for my son too. He is a talented musician but earned no band awards because he is no longer in band. All of his previous work and past achievements were not applauded. He still was voted the best musician in the senior class by his classmates. In the fall, we even toured a college for music. He decided to go to tech school instead.

Sometimes our kids will date people we don’t like. They might choose a different career than what we chose for them. They may even decide not to follow our political or religious beliefs. But it is their choice.

Needless to say, boy A’s parents were happy parents at the award ceremony. Boy B received no awards. His parents were not in attendance.

I thought I had everything figured out with the whole parenting thing when my first two babies were happy and slept through the night right away. I was ready to write that parenting book. Well, not really, but you know what I mean. Then baby three came along and was colicky. She cried day and night and rarely slept through the night for over a year.

I realized then that I didn’t have all of the answers. There isn’t an instruction book. If there was I probably wouldn’t follow it anyway. Sometimes things just don’t go the way we want them to. It is heartbreaking as a parent.

Some kids bloom at different times. Honestly, I would hate my children to experience the best years of their lives in high school. There are so many better years beyond that to experience.

Boy B hasn’t bloomed yet. Sometimes he comes to my house along with a slew of other underachieving boys. Several of them are at my house right now. Some come from good homes, others I know are going to struggle. But they are great kids. They are respectful to me, funny, and kind. They just haven’t bloomed yet.

My son is graduating this weekend. I can’t wait to watch how his life unfolds as he starts to bloom, mature, and grow.

Outrunning my demons

Arabella skipped school today. She was very upset and was crying this morning because she did not get cast in the next community theater show.

For some reason, it brought back memories for me of the time I tried out for a community theater show when I was a couple of years younger than her. Maybe it’s just because I am almost to this point in my book.

I remember sitting outside in the sunshine with other children that summer working on my lines. I got the part of a princess. I was a pretty little girl with the sun hitting my long golden hair. I was happy and excited about my part. It made me feel like I really was a princess.

But something went wrong. My brother Matt had to spend the summer in the hospital. I had to drop out of the show because my brother was really sick. (It took me 20 years to audition for another show).

After that, my whole life changed. My brother became home bound after getting out of the hospital. I saw the paperwork for that yesterday. The original paperwork gave him a period of 2 months to be educated at home. But he was home bound for over 3 years. My mom quit her job and pulled my other brothers and I out of school as well. It was the time of the great isolation. Few people were allowed to come in and we rarely went out.

I am making excellent progress on my book. I try to work on it several hours every day. There are usually one or two days a week when I cannot. Right now I am over 30,000 words and am nearing the halfway point in my story.

I’ve decided to title my book ‘Outrunning my Demons’ with the subtitle of ‘What Life is Really Like with a Mentally Ill Sibling’.

I know my daughter is very disappointed right now that she didn’t get a part in the show. I feel bad for her. But in a few days she will be on to something else. She probably won’t even give it another thought a couple months from now. But I will always remember the summer, over 30 years ago, that I could no longer be a princess.

Depression

As I was getting ready for the last show, I saw a car pull up to the theater long before the show started. It was a navy blue car, the same color, model, and make as my dad’s car. The passenger door opened and a very large man struggled to get out of the car with a cane. He had his head down, but I could see a mass of white hair and a long white beard.

I knew my mom was coming to the show. But was my dad? Would he finally tell me that he was proud of me? The man looked up and I realized that he wasn’t my dad. I felt sadness for what never was and what probably will never be.

Depression, it hit me the hardest in my late teens and early 20’s. As I mentioned before, my childhood was the hardest period of my life. My brother Matt, who is less than 2 years younger than me, had some very serious health and mental health issues. He was violent towards me, towards others, and to our pets. He hit me, pulled my hair, and clawed my arms on a regular basis. I think he killed my cats. He threatened to poke my eyes out with a knife. The list goes on…seriously, just read the book once I finish it.

My dad was depressed too. He withdrew from the family. When he was home he would sit on the couch and ignore us while watching TV. If the house was too quiet, I worried that I would find him dead somewhere.

My dad is the most pessimistic person I know. His life mottoes are ‘sh!t happens’ and ‘life’s a bitch, then you die’. He never hugged us or told us that he loved us. We never had father-daughter ‘dates’. Nothing. Instead he told us that we were stupid and laughed at our feelings, dreams, and fears.

I consider myself a realist, which probably is just a nice way of saying pessimist. But I will never be like my dad. I will never tear someone else down to lift myself up.

My dad is everything I don’t want to be. He never took care of himself. He ate a lot of junk food. He never exercised. He weighs almost 350 lbs. He hasn’t brushed his teeth in years. He hasn’t showered in almost a year. He is lazy and hates to work. He doesn’t clean up after himself and is a hoarder. Once one building is full, it’s time to build another shed. He doesn’t finish anything he starts. My parents built their house in the 1970’s and the upstairs bathroom still has not been finished. Simple repairs lie in disrepair for years. He is even too lazy to bother getting dressed if he doesn’t want to.

Maybe that is why I do everything the opposite. I eat healthy, run marathons, can be a workaholic, try to maintain a healthy weight, get things done right away, and am a clean freak. I don’t like things that he likes just because he likes them. But the truth is, I am still his daughter. I can’t hide from that.

In early childhood, when my dad emotionally checked out, I was called up to the plate. I started trying to fix the problems at home. Nothing was kept from me. I was handling responsibilities that no child should have to handle.

A 6 year old should never have to watch her 3 younger brothers in the lake even for a few minutes. My youngest brother almost drowned that day.

A 13 year old shouldn’t be making the call whether or not the neighbor should come over and put our dog out of her misery when she was suffering a painful death. I made the wrong call and I have to live with that.

A college student shouldn’t have to help raise 3 teenagers. But that is what I was doing.

I home-schooled one year of middle school and two of high school so I could help my mom out. Even though I attended college in the drunkest city of the United States, I never went to a single college party. Most Saturday nights you could find me at home helping shower my disabled brother. Then I graduated from college, got married two months later, and right away started a family of my own. At times I feel like I am suffocating.

Sometimes I yearn to be the child I never was. In some ways, my kids are older than me. I gave them everything I didn’t have. The pendulum swung too far to the other side. I only told them the things they needed to know. I only let them be kids. I gave them few responsibilities and chores. I shouldered that responsibility so they didn’t have to. I was wrong. I realize that now. But how can we be functional parents if we both had nothing but dysfunction to model from?

I get depressed when I have memories of the horrible things that have happened to me. The PTSD depression is the worst I’ve ever experienced. Burying my painful feelings in the moment is a future time bomb. The feelings I’ve repressed have a way of coming out tenfold. The depression from that is intense and irrational. The urge to end it all is hard to fight. By the grace of God I was able to make it through to tell you about it. I want to say that will never happen again, but here I am stirring up my demons.

I actively mourn the childhood I never had. There is something joyous and magical most people experience that I’ve never had. It is utterly devastating. I don’t know if I will ever be able to get over it. It is the kind of depression that no pill can cure.

My life is everything I’ve ever wanted it to be now, yet somehow I cannot outrun the demons of my past and find peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going home

Today my mom and I went to see Matt for his birthday. He spends the day at a program for autistic children and adults. While we were there, Matt’s caregiver asked him to tell us about his special morning in a high pitched sing song voice reserved for a small child. Everyone was optimistic and cheerful, except me.

I felt such sadness I could cry. My brother should be meeting up with his friends for his birthday, or maybe going out to eat with his wife and children after driving home from a long day of work. His normal isn’t right.

I feel such grief every time I see someone with a developmental disability, especially my brother, that I don’t want to be there. I feel guilty for visiting out of obligation. Visiting makes me think about the families and all of their lost dreams. He shouldn’t be putting stickers on a chart for good behavior, he is a grown man. It shouldn’t be that way, but it is.

I feel tired today. I slept good last night. But the night before was restless with nightmares. I was triggered by the developmentally disabled girl backstage. I heard people ask her sister what was wrong with her. I remembered all the times I was asked that about my brother. I got sick of explaining after awhile. They never asked about me.

Then I dropped my mom off at home. I went in and said hi to my dad. He didn’t get many birthday cards or calls this year. I wonder if it will be his last. He looks so old and weak. He rarely leaves the house. No one really cares about him much anymore, certainly not my mother. I want to reach out and help him. But he was a very cruel father. Why should I care? Why is it so painful to see the consequences of his bad choices when I was one of the people he hurt?

I walked through the house. There are still clothes from the 1980’s hanging in the closets. Hoarders. Piles of mail on the table. The same linoleum lies on the floor from my childhood worn with holes in it. Bags full of food line the floor. Dirty dishes clutter the counters. Nothing must be thrown away, but much more to be collected.

I feel depressed. But writing about it makes me feel better. I am starting to process how I feel and why I feel the way I do. I feel sad that my family is broken and nothing I do can fix it.

On the way back home, I drove through town and did not avoid it by driving through the outskirts. I drove by my Aunt Grace and Uncle Harold’s house. I drove past the area where my grandparents lived. I remembered how the town looked when I was a child. It was alive then with parades and festivals. But now it is a ghost town. Small town businesses closed. New houses stand where old homes once stood.

Everything has changed. But I still remember how it used to be back when my aunt, uncle, and grandparents were still alive. The town was alive then and that’s how I want to remember it with my loved ones alive in it. But that is not how it is anymore.

That is what it is like going home. The broken things still have not been fixed. The town and relatives that made my life magical as a child are no longer there. Emptiness.

Writing helps me process the way I feel. I think I understand why it is so hard to go home. Maybe you would feel the same way.

 

On writing

I took a step back from writing my book.

I was doing it all wrong. In January, I just jumped in and started writing. I took a break when we went on vacation in the beginning of February and haven’t wrote a word since.

It has become common knowledge now that I am writing a book. When my mom found out, she brought over 2 boxes of journals. I sat down and read through them all over a weekend. Most of them were notes between my mom and special ed teachers. It really gave me a glimpse into some of the school day that I didn’t see.

It was a reminder to me how incredibly violent my brother Matt was. There were times that he threatened school children with scissors and was into poking eyes. That is just a small glimpse.

Then I went and reread all of my personal journals. I flagged all pertinent parts of at least 15 journals and created a general outline of what I wanted to share in the book. Then I am going to go back and rewrite what I already started. I am even thinking about asking my other siblings if there was something that they wanted me to share. But I am afraid that they will be more open to what they don’t want me to share.

I decided that I will not write when I am really stressed out or feeling depressed. The next couple of weeks I will be performing a major part in the community theater production. That would not be a good time to stir my demons.

I have to be careful. I have to know when to run forward and stay back. I could get lost in it or worse dragged back into it. There have been times that I experienced PSTD symptoms. It is horrifying, but I am not afraid of it. I have people around me that will make sure I am safe. This is what I was meant to do.

I see writing this book as a challenge similar to my desire to conquer a 50k. It is a test of strength, determination, and will.

The people who know what I have experienced are saying that I am brave and strong to tackle this. I have a unique story that unfortunately is not unique anymore. When my brother was diagnosed with autism, as the first generation of de-institutionalized mentally ill, it was rather rare.

This is going to be a story of survival and abuse, many people do not realize that when I talk to them about it…the people that didn’t know me then. I seem so normal, healthy, and strong. But remember how I said I am in community theater. I can be a good actress. They don’t know how difficult this is going to be emotionally. I have to be very strong. I have to be smart to notice if I am slipping.

I am doing some public speaking in September for the local autism chapter. When I told the woman that I was going to write a book about my experience, she said that she knew of a publisher who would be interested. Maybe that should be my last resort. Maybe I can do this. Maybe this will be really big. If not, I am okay with it. I want to tell my story for me. I want to heal. I want to help others feel like they are not alone even if it makes me look bad.

I have decided to also keep my blog personal. I am at times tempted to share this blog with family and friends. I can’t waver. If I tell you I am tempted, please remind me of my words. It is a struggle to be fully honest with myself and others. I need to be completely genuine.

I can’t let anything stop me from telling my story.

 

Goal 10: Make peace with the past

For a long time I’ve outrun my demons and wondered how they could still catch up to me.

Writing this blog has been a great first step in making peace with my past. If that wasn’t enough, I started writing a book. I’ve found the process to be very therapeutic.

In a few months, I will start the process of public speaking about my experiences.

In doing all of this, I realized that I missed a very important step. I need to be open and honest with the people that care about me even if I get hurt. It’s not like I didn’t get hurt in the past and move on with my life.

I spent my whole life pretending to the outside world that everything was alright in my life. Life is good now. But I want to be able to tell people I am close to that things are not alright if they aren’t. I want to be able to ask for help instead of pushing everyone away and dealing with things myself.

Right now I’m trying to look back without having blinders on. Hindsight is not always 20/20. Sometimes I tend to wear sunglasses when I look at the darkest days. I make excuses and cannot face things as they truly were.

I tell myself that what happened in my life was completely normal. It wasn’t that bad.

Sometimes I think I will just be able to throw all of my painful memories into a book, then close the book and walk away. I’m not sure if I will ever be able to do that. But I do think that my story could help others and that I will be able to make peace with my past.

Geez, sometimes I wish my goal was to lose 10 lbs. Revamping myself on the outside sure seems a lot easier then stoking the demons within. But I feel like this is what I was meant to do.

Speaking instead of talking about it

Last week I had a meeting scheduled with someone from the local autism chapter. In a couple of months, I am scheduled to be on a panel as a sibling talking to parents about my story. What does this mean?

I am going to be given an hour to talk to parents of autistic children on how it feels to be a sibling. An hour! I will write my own presentation where I will speak in front of parents for 45 minutes and then have a 15 minute question and answer segment.

I did not know that I would be doing public speaking. Alone! In front of an audience. She also asked if I felt comfortable being recorded. Absolutely! I have no fear in doing any of this. In all honesty, I always saw myself doing this some day.

I also told her that I started writing a book about my experience as a sibling. She thought it was a great idea and also thought that there was a niche out there for a book like mine. No one else is doing this. She said she knew a publisher that would eat my book up if I decided that I wanted to publish my story. She said that she could also link my public speaking to this blog and would do what she could to promote my book.

She said that in previous videos, she received up to 7,000 views. People just love personal stories. This is where my fear started. I am not afraid to be a public speaker. I am not afraid to talk to strangers about my very personal experiences. I think it is powerful and moving. But, and here is the big but, I am afraid to tell my story to people I know.

I am afraid of getting more followers. I am afraid to put myself out there. I am rather paranoid about being found in all reality. That scares me. I’m not even sure why. Who cares, really? I won’t let anyone in. I have never told my friends my story, maybe just bits and pieces. My friends have asked to follow my blog and I told them that it is too personal.

I refuse to use my real name. But it is getting bigger. It is starting to snowball and I’m afraid I can’t stop it. But the question remains, why do I want to stop it? Isn’t it time to let people in?

This is my struggle, I want to tell my story but I don’t want anyone to know about it. I don’t know why this scares me more than public speaking. You would think I would want to talk about it with friends and family before speaking about it to strangers.

Has anyone else ever experienced this? How do I get over this fear?

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.