Same road, different paths

A few days ago, my neighbor committed suicide.

This past week after my kids got home from school, Angel told me that she thought something was wrong. “Mom, there are a lot of cars in the neighbor’s driveway. There is also a police car in the driveway. He never had that many cars in his driveway, even for Christmas or Easter.” I looked over that way in curiosity, but dismissed any concerns because I saw the neighbor the day before and he was fine.

It all started a couple of houses down a couple of months before. Our neighbor had a rummage sale on a cool fall weekend. He told us that his wife of over 20 years left him for another man. They never had children, but were delighted to see ours when we stopped by year after year on Halloween. We looked through his rummage sale of broken dreams. He sold empty picture frames where wedding pictures, happy moments, and vacations used to be. He sold games, his and her costumes, wine glasses, and kitchen items. Then after that weekend, the driveway was empty up until a few days ago.

 I frequently saw our neighbor out on the road. When we first moved here, he walked his two dogs by our house. Then after awhile, he walked with one dog. That dog would walk slowly and the man would wait patiently. Then after awhile, the man walked by himself. He was a large man and every time he went by my dog would bark. He walked in all kinds of weather sometimes with weights. He wore a blaze orange hat. Every time he saw me he was friendly. He noticed when I ran longer runs and asked if was training for something special. I told him about the marathon. He wished me luck.

There are a couple of people that I see often while running and he was one of them. I spoke to him a few weeks back. I think it was about the weather. I told him that I couldn’t wait for warmer days as I ran by. Then I saw him the day before he died. We were going in separate directions on the same road. 

I feel sad that he was so lonely and unhappy that he took his life. I will miss seeing him on the road. 

A storm is brewing

I feel the edginess right before the storm hits. The peacefulness and calm from my vacation is leaving slowly like a summertime tan. I feel the wind surround the emptiness inside of me, trying to find a void to fill with cold icy snow. The warmth and sunshine are gone now. Sorrow, darkness, and anger encapsulates me. I cry out to God, but He doesn’t seem to hear my prayers. I feel the tug of emotions trying to drown me in a river of despair. I am alone. I want to be alone. I don’t want to talk. I really don’t want to do anything.

It has been a hard start of the year. I miss my neighbor and friend that passed away a couple of weeks ago. Every time I look at her house, I think that she is still there. She will pull her car out of the driveway and wave at me. We were supposed to do something together next week. But guess what? I can’t go. I looked over the old messages that she sent me. My heart tells me that she is still alive. She just can’t come outside. My brain tells me to stop being such a fool. Stop pretending that things are fine.

Last summer my best friend moved to Florida. I had the opportunity to spend time with her while we were there on vacation. I didn’t realize how much I missed talking to her and seeing her. I miss her. I don’t feel like talking to anyone else. In 4 months, my oldest daughter will be leaving the house. I am excited for her to start the adult chapter in her life, but I am at such a loss. I started crying while she performed her solo and ensemble song for me. It bothered me that she sold her junior prom dress. It just seems so final.

Then yesterday we found out that my mother-in-law has stage 4 terminal lung cancer. They are giving her around 15 months to live. Wait a minute, I am not ready to deal with the loss of our parents yet. I have been having a hard time with this since I saw her last week. I have been feeling sad and angry. With all of the people that were praying for her and my friend that passed away, why didn’t God heal them? I don’t have any control. Why should I expect miracles? I feel helpless. Who can avoid death? It has given Paul time to say goodbye to his only parent. That has been good for him to spend time with her.

This morning my son got suspended from school. He got in a fight with someone in the hallway. It has been no secret that my son has been struggling with school for the last couple of months. He has been begging us to switch schools for a couple months now. Apparently a boy called him a faggot on facebook back in December and has been bullying him with some other kids. My son got in his face today. I suppose that it shouldn’t surprise me that the day after my son finds out that his grandma is dying that he confronts this other boy. Words were exchanged between my son and this boy. They were pushing and shoving each other in the hallway. Then I received a call from the school that my son was suspended for 3 days. He was trying to provoke the other kid that was picking on him. Maybe this is a good thing. Maybe we can finally resolve this issue head on.

We are expecting a snow storm today. We should be getting somewhere around 8 inches of snow with blowing winds. It just started to snow.

Ending the holiday season

I didn’t tell anybody this earlier, but I started the new year off on the wrong foot. We had a couple of friends over for New Year’s Eve. Everything went well and the last people left at 1:30 AM. Paul and I finally made our way to bed around 2. At 6 AM, a noise woke me up. Somewhere between 2 and 6 AM, our furnace went out. The house temp was under 50 degrees. We ended up having someone come out at the crack of dawn on new year’s day receiving holiday pay to fix it. It was a rough start. 

Today we took down our Christmas tree. I put all of the decorations back in the crawl space and dug out all of my old journals. I don’t know how quick I will go through them to be honest with you. I always have a rough time this time of year with the lack of sunlight. Even though I take massive doses of vitamin D, my thoughts and emotions tend to be dark. Just thinking about the past can bring me down on the sunniest of days….so this month might be light and fluffy like the winter snow. Talking about the winter snow, Paul and I were able to get out and cross country ski for the first time on the skis that we bought last winter. What a workout! Sure made me feel out of shape, especially since we saw a friend of ours there and he did two laps to our one. 

Yesterday I told you that we were going to one last Christmas party at my uncle’s who happens to be a clean freak. Well, I am embarassed to say that it was me this year that made a mess. That’s right. After being at the party for about a half an hour, I cracked open a bottle of beer. I took 3 sips and proceeded to spill most of the bottle everywhere. It went down my shirt with a majority of it landing on my pants and their off white carpet. I greeted relatives coming to the party looking like I peed my pants. My uncle said I could leave behind some money for the carpet cleaning. I am glad he was just kidding. Or was he? He didn’t freak out though like the story I heard of when my cousins accidently knocked over his fish tank. Other than looking like a complete idiot, the party went well.

Our staff party a couple weeks ago went great too. We took our employees to a painting class. It was so much fun. And I didn’t suck at painting. I was happy to be average. Out of the four of us that went, not one single person between the ages of 30 and 52 ever painted on a canvas before. Checked that off my bucket list and would love to do it again. 

Other than that, I have been trying to upload a video of my daughter and I singing. I haven’t been successful at that. I will probably figure it out by July. Geez. We sang our Christmas songs at the party yesterday. Every year my aunt insists that we sing. My daughter moves people to tears with her singing. She wants to spend the summer singing and performing on tour. She is auditioning to do that next month. When my cousin heard that, she was bummed out because she wanted Angel to sing at her wedding this summer. Angel just sang at my brother’s wedding a few months back. Angel and I have very similar voices, except that hers is well trained and mine is not. I used to be the one asked to sing at weddings, now it is her. When did she become better than me??? She used to ask me for advice and now she tells me what to do. I listen to her because she is right, but can’t help but feel hurt that I am no longer wanted. I am happy that she has had so many opportunities that I didn’t.

Sometimes it is hard for me to accept this whole aging thing. 

The darkest days of the darkest years

Isn’t it funny that Christmas comes during the darkest days of the year, the time of the year that we so desperately seek out light. That was all that I wanted those darkest years, to be able to see a ray of light, a glimmer of hope. But all glimmer of light was gone. I had lost my hope. I fell into a time of deep despair. I was angry with God.

Those are the years that I don’t talk about to even the closest of new friends. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. The darkest years happened when I was in middle school. My autistic brother Matt became increasingly violent. So much so that he was not allowed to go to school with other kids. He had to have a teacher come out to our house. When Matt got “kicked out” of school, my mom took my brothers and I out of school too. My parents had us 4 children in less than 5 years, with me being the oldest. I was homeschooled between 8th and 10th grade. While my classmates attended prom and homecoming, I was at home in isolation.

Through the darkest years, my dad totally checked out emotionally and became very depressed. My mom became desperate to find a cure for autism, taking Matt out of state to a hospital that did extreme allergy testing. She thought that if he avoided certain foods and allergens, it would curb some of his violent outbursts. When they came back everything changed for us.

Matt was allergic to everything. My parents got rid of their wood furnace and put purifiers throughout the house. My mom took down her bedroom curtains because they had formaldehyde in them. She used old sheets and blankets as curtains. If the local farmers were spraying their fields with pesticides, she would call them screaming if she didn’t get notified first and Matt would have to wear his charcoal mask. If they did call her to notify us, we had to pack up our car within a half an hour and head up north for a couple of days until things gassed out or it rained. My parents had to park their cars at the bottom of the driveway so exhaust fumes would not come in the house. If my dad snow blowed the driveway, he was not allowed into the house with his snow gear on and had to shower immediately. I wasn’t allowed to wear perfume, hairspray, or nail polish. Those were just a few of the changes that were made in attempts to control Matt’s violent behavior.

It was very hard that year at Christmas. My mom said that Matt was allergic to Christmas trees, even the fake ones. It was at that time that we no longer had a Christmas tree in the house. No decorations. No lights. Nothing. Even my grandma was instructed not to put up a Christmas tree. Instead she put little bows on the wall in the shape of a Christmas tree. It was horrible. Matt had meltdown, after meltdown, after meltdown. Day after day he attacked me. He kicked me, punched me, scratched me, hit me. Ironically, taking away all of the things away from Matt (and the rest of us) did nothing to tame his aggression. It seemed to hurt us more than it helped us.

But how could I be angry at my mom for trying everything she could think of trying? How could I be mad at my brother who wasn’t bright enough to read or write? I fell deeper and deeper into despair like a small flower buried under the cold deep snow.

Judged

I always thought that I was a really good judge of character. Don’t we all? I have heard people admit that they are selfish, lazy, unorganized, vain, but I don’t recall anyone ever saying to me that they are a bad judge of character. Why is that?  Do we want to see the best (or worst) in people despite contrary evidence? I have been struggling with this concept lately. I think most people are embarrassed to admit that they were wrong about someone’s character when their hearts were broken or money was stolen.

I met Jake a couple of years back when he still was a boy. The first time I saw him, he was walking his dog by our house. At the time, I thought maybe he would be a good friend for my son. One day I just happened to be looking out the window when Jake walked by. I just let my dog out and was looking towards the road when I saw Jake’s dog drag him over the meet my dog. In the process, Jake got clotheslined on our mailbox. The dog further dragged him into the ditch. Jake laid wounded on the grass with blood coming out of his neck. I freaked out. I sent my oldest daughter out to get him while I panicked. Eventually I bandaged up some of his wounds and gave him a warm washcloth to put on his scraped and bloody neck. I tracked down his muddy mutt and loaded them into my car to give them a ride home. Welcome to the neighborhood!

A few days later, Jake’s mom sent me a note thanking me for taking care of her son. I still have it which is remarkable because I throw everything out. Over the years, Jake and my son became very good friends. I always liked Jake. He was courteous, quiet, happy, friendly, and kind. He always thanked me when I gave him a ride to school. He was the kind of kid that I wanted my son to hang out with.

Then this summer, things changed. Jake grew into a troubled teen. He was no longer happy. He stopped thanking me for rides. He went to the gas station and stole a pack of cigarettes. His parents made him return them and apologize to the owners. He was grounded for over a month from everything. Then one cool rainy night, he ran away which I blogged about previously. He vanished for almost 48 hours, then went back to school like none of it ever happened. He was present, but not quite there.

A few days after Jake went back to school, his mom texted me with concern. She said that a teacher asked the students to draw a picture of what they were doing for the weekend. Jake drew a picture of himself alone in the corner of his room with his knees folded and his head down in despair.

Then a few weeks later, a note came home from school stating that a student talked about bringing a gun to school. Apparently, a boy had created a hit list with 6 names on it and stated that he was going to bring 7 bullets to school. It was Jake. Jake said that he didn’t mean it, but he was sent away for a couple of weeks for treatment.

Last week I saw Jake walking his dog when I went on a long run. I asked him how he was doing. He smiled and replied that he was doing good. I just have to wonder if his smile was sinister or sincere. I always liked Jake and thought he was a good person. I still want to believe that despite all of the contrary evidence. How could I be so wrong?? In my mind, he is still the sweet and caring boy that I first met years ago. Not the troubled teen that he has become. I have been having a really hard time with this. I feel unsettled, I want to trust him again but can’t. I feel thankful that the troubles with my teens are trivial in comparison. I worry about his family. I pray that Jake can find the friendly and happy boy he once was.

The dark unfeeling cardboard box

When I was a young child, I never really liked school a lot. Sure, there were some bad teachers, some good, and some everywhere in between. But it really wasn’t that. It was never that. It had more to do with Matt, my autistic brother. Being less than 2 years younger than me, I could never get away. The school really didn’t know what to do with Matt. He was the first autistic child to come through the school district. When he couldn’t function in a regular classroom, they cut the library in half to make it a special ed room.

For a long period of time, Matt was nonverbal. Oh, he did scream and cry but he did not talk. He was uncontrollable. His teacher at school set up a naughty box for him between the library and special ed room. Almost every time we had library, my brother was in the box screaming and flailing around. The box seemed high at the time because I was so little. When my class lined up to look at books, the kids could peer into the box. Most of the time the kids laughed and I hated them. I put my feelings in a big box that seemed even bigger than the box that Matt was in. Many times I would rather be trapped in that empty box devoid of feelings, life, and light than to face the pain of the real world.

For a long time I floated around in my own little world. How could I make friends with my classmates? How could I like the kids that called my brother a retard? I went deeper and deeper into that box. I stopped eating. I didn’t talk to anyone. I started failing my classes. The only thing that touched my heart was music. I had this focal point that I would always stare at so I didn’t start crying in that class. I was so lost. My mom was very concerned, she had the school counselor talk to me. She was a wonderful person who tried to help me make friends and talk about feelings.

My mom wasn’t in much better shape herself. Mother daughter outings with the extended family ended up with my mom sharing with the family how much she hated autism and all of the things that Matt did or didn’t do. The family just wanted relaxation and fun. They were uncomfortable that my mom was crying and needed their support. They stared at me all the time. When I was alone with family, they peppered me with questions about if my mom was ok and how was Matt. I didn’t feel like anyone cared about me. Most of the time they were just trying to help without being very helpful.

One day Matt started talking again. He told stories of how his teacher in the grade school was abusive towards him. She shoved him under her desk and sat down at her desk squeezing him in there. He also said that the teacher would place him face down on the floor and sit on him making it hard to breathe. My mom asked me if this could be true, she was very upset.

After everything that happened, my mom tried to keep my younger brothers sheltered from going to school with Matt. She sent my brothers to parochial schools and schools that were out of our district. I wonder if that had anything to do with me not responding well to being in school with Matt. Did I save my younger brothers some pain? I hope so.

Little to no provocation 

I can feel the gentle, slow downward descent of my mood. My heart in utter despair. I cry with little or no provocation. I haven’t slept for 3 days. It takes forever to fall asleep. I wake in the middle of the night, lying awake for hours. I awake again at the crack of dawn exhausted. I’m not hungry. I can’t eat without acid reflux. I worry about the things I can’t control. I pace the floor. Any attempts to rest or nap leave me frustratingly wide awake. I wouldn’t wish the hormonal fluctuations of a middle aged woman on anyone. 

It was harder this week cleaning out my grandma’s house. The memories some of the items brought back were almost too painful to bear. When I try to reach out to my grandma for comfort, she is not there. What I wouldn’t give to hear her voice again or to even smell the scent of her perfume on her clothes. All I smell is dust and decay. Emptiness. Nothingness. 

It is incredibly stupid to cry over the meaningless little items that I lost. I can mourn over the stupid little stove, but can’t cry over the friends and family that autism cost me and my family? The childhood family vacations with the whole family that never happened? I can’t even remember one time that we went out to eat together as a family. I have to continue to pray for strength to make it through this process of opening myself up to and dealing with unresolved issues. 

I will make it through. I will be ok. 

My mother, my heroine

My mother’s life has been anything but ordinary. She was born prematurely in a foreign country. Despite my grandmother taking medication to prevent premature labor, my mother arrived early at a hospital in the Panama Canal Zone, after my grandma flew several hours to see her husband who was stationed there in the Navy. She weighed 4 lbs and stayed in an incubator for a month. This was in the 1940’s and she wasn’t expected to live. 

My mom grew up in a rural community and met my dad in a one room schoolhouse. Her family was poor and she spent most of her summers picking cucumbers for a local factory to help support her family. She didn’t have a lot of time to play and had one doll. As a teenager, her mother died after delivering her eighth child. My mom was in college at the time and spent her weekends helping take care of her 6 younger siblings. My dad went off to Vietnam. He came back a different person. College finals were cancelled due to war protests and bomb threats. 

My parents eloped. My dad went to work on their wedding night, my mom cooked for their sponsors. The night ended with freezing rain. My mom wondered if she made a mistake. My dad started drinking a lot. He was depressed and sat around with a gun in his lap staring off into space. He was going through PTSD after Vietnam. He drove a tank in the war and one day all of his buddies died in that tank. He was the only one that walked away unscathed. He became abusive and mean. My mom wondered if she made a mistake. My mom got pregnant with me. When I was a month old, a tornado was headed towards the trailer park we lived in. Sirens blared, it was time to take shelter. My dad just sat in his chair and stared. My mom decided it was time to pack up and head back home, they were hours away from family. 

My parents lived with my dad’s parents for 2 years while they built a house and started a new life. My dad stopped drinking. My mom got pregnant again. They moved into their new house and planned on having 2 kids. Their plan for 2 kids ended up turning into 4 kids within 5 years. Their second child was violently autistic. My parents fought constantly. My mother wondered if she made a mistake. My mom was very beautiful with plenty of opportunities to leave my dad. A best friend’s husband wanted to plan a hook up with her up north. No one needed to know. Another friend’s husband kissed her. I just found out about this and he was a great guy. Guess who I ran into right after she told me? Other men pursued her, but she ran away from them instead of running away with them. That was one of my mom’s greatest strengths, staying committed to a marriage she was miserable in. This is such a rare quality nowadays.  It is hard to live up to parents who have a wonderful marriage. It is even harder to live up to a parent sticking with it when given ample opportunity to leave. 

My mother was the family breadwinner. She is still working full-time at 67. She was emotionally strong when faced with many difficult life situations. She was there for us when my dad couldn’t take it. She has patience when others have none. She is a hard worker. She handles difficulties with ease. She has been an anchor through all of life’s storms. I am proud and honored to have her as my mother. What a blessing her life has been to me and many others. She has been a lifelong advocate for the disabled and their parents. She has helped many with her empathy and compassion. She has been very generous with the gifts she has been given. She is one strong woman. 

Happy birthday, mom! I love you. 

The cure for autism part 7

Drugs! It took a little while to get back to my cure for autism blog. The reason being that I feel a lot of anxiety about this because it will be the hardest cure to write about so far. In retrospect, I am not sure we could have coped any differently. Back in my day we didn’t have blogs, the Internet, or even many books on how to cope with a violently autistic family member. There certainly were not any books written by siblings for siblings. How does a dysfunctional family cope with almost 2 decades of constant stress and daily episodes of violence? We lived in fight or flight mode for almost twenty years! Twenty years!! Doctors could only offer one basic solution to our constant stress, medications to treat our symptoms. Every single person in our household was medicated at one point or another. 

Besides being autistic, Matt had a myriad of mental and physical health issues. He was given several different anti-psychotic medications. Some made him like a zombie, limp like a rag doll. Mom couldn’t stand that. Others didn’t seem to do much of anything or had side effects that were intolerable. One drug made him stiff as a board and he needed assistance doing simple things like walking up stairs. 

My dad had several ulcers. He was impatient, angry, and seriously depressed. I often worried when I came home to a completely quiet house that I would find that he had killed himself. He was distant, dispondent, or storming around the house angry about something. My mom was was always full of worry, anxiety, and self-doubt. Always afraid to make the wrong decision, perfectionistic. Her teeth were constantly clenched. 

Then there was me. Outwardly, I had it all or so most people thought. I turned down the opportunity to have a career in modeling to go to college which was paid for in full by my family. I always had my pick in men. I drove a red firebird in high school. I can honestly say that I had someone pass a semi in the pouring rain in a no passing zone on a two lane highway just to try to get my phone number. Do you hate me now? Most of the other girls did. 

Inwardly, I was a mess. I couldn’t sleep at night. I would go long periods of time  without eating much. Every time I ate I would feel nauseous and my stomach burned. My grades dropped because I couldn’t concentrate in school. I was put on a high dose of amphetamines which did help my ability to focus but was like drinking 10 cups of coffee. I started scratching my skin, picking at scabs, pulling out my hair. I had issues with anxiety, hyper vigilance, and obsessive compulsive tendencies. I was seriously depressed. I was prescribed the highest doses available of anti-depressants. I felt like a zombie, totally numb to all feelings. Some drugs made me sleep 18 hours a day, weight gain, constipation, diarrhea, but nothing made my environment change. I could tell when the medicines weren’t working for me when I had nightmares. I dreamed that cats were clawing up my body or birds were pecking at my skin, my skin crawled. The worst thing that happened was that I was prescribed the highest dose of Prozac and became downright unconsolable. I grabbed a bottle of pills, locked myself in my room, threatened suicide, and ended up spending a couple of days in the psych ward. But I wasn’t the only one in the house thinking of my own demise. Mark was also very depressed and was having problems focusing in school. He would hang nooses in the tree next to our house for my mother to find in the morning. He was quiet in school and at times was a target for bullies because of it. He really wanted the pain to end, perhaps even more than I did. 

Luke was hyperactive and couldn’t concentrate in school. He was always moving around in his chair, tapping his pencil, and annoying the teachers. He was medicated for ADHD. Luke dealt with the stress by partying hard. Sometimes my parents would find him out in the yard in the morning. That was if he even came home at all. 

Still no cure, not for any of us. 

(We are all living relatively happy lives now. I promise I will write about something light and fluffy tomorrow!)