My son’s graduation

It happened on a rare perfect day in Wisconsin. The temperature 75 degrees with a light breeze under partly sunny skies. No rain, no muggy humidity.

I’m not sure why we felt so stressed out that morning as my husband and I snapped at each other. Maybe the perfect conditions was a sure sign to be cautious that something might go wrong.

Last minute Alex couldn’t find dress pants that fit and had to borrow a pair of Paul’s. I was worried that he would be late for school one last time.

We sat with family on the bleachers in the gym. I tried to keep an open mind, yet inwardly I judged.

Did the people in front of us manage to have some of the few empty seats because they purposely didn’t shower? I ended up sitting behind them because no one else could stand the smell.

Then there was the mother with the ripped jeans and crop top like she was attending her daughter’s graduation from pole dancing school. I was appalled. I am not big on fashion, but made sure to buy myself a new dress. There are some things that one must simply look respectable for.

There was the child that sat behind us with an incessant whine.

Well at least they were there showing their support which is more than my dad did. He decided not to attend.

I’m not going to lie to you. I was filled with anxiety.

I was worried all week that I would get that knock on my door with a certified letter stating that my son did not meet the requirements to graduate. I imagined myself full of shame as I explained why my son’s name wasn’t called at the graduation ceremony when people came bearing gifts at his graduation party. But I emptied that anxiety just to fill it with more.

I had irrational fear that my son would end up punching someone instead of shaking their hand as he received his diploma. I still thought that maybe he wouldn’t graduate as he received his diploma. There was a part of me that was very unsettled. I felt fear that there could be a school shooting during the graduation. Sadly, I no longer feel safe in large crowds of people.

I saw my son’s friends come in that attended another school. Included in the group was the boy we took into our home that stole from us. I felt uncomfortable.

My brother Luke asked my daughter’s boyfriend Dan if he was having flashbacks of his own graduation there. He said, “Yeah, more like PTSD”.

The graduation ceremony was boring. It was hard to see, the nearby projector didn’t work and the microphone kept cutting out if the speaker didn’t have their mouth right on the microphone.

The guest speaker was a doctor of neurophysics. She showed pictures of herself and spoke of all of her amazing accomplishments in a monotone voice. I thought to myself that I needed to get out of all graduation ceremonies I can in the future.

After the ceremony was done, I felt very happy and giddy. I was ready to go out and pop champagne in the school parking lot. Would that be against the law? Never mind, I didn’t have any champagne. I hugged boy B’s mom. We did it! We convinced our boys that hated school to graduate. I can’t quite explain the feeling. I felt like I almost got hit by a bus, but at the last second got away. That feeling of just escaping disaster. My son was also the happiest I’ve seen him in a long time.

Afterwards, we had family over at our house. It was so nice that we were able to play games outside and sit on the patio with a fire.

All in all, it was a wonderful day. We are happy that our son graduated. I can’t tell you how relieved I am.

 

 

BAD (Battling Anxiety & Depression)

I’m always in a battle with anxiety and depression.

Anxiety is what wakes me up in the middle of the night.

Depression is what makes me feel tired all day.

Anxiety is my all.

Depression is my nothing.

Anxiety is gales of nervous laughter.

Depression is a hurricane of endless teardrops.

Anxiety makes me care too much.

Depression makes me not care at all.

Anxiety fears death.

Depression cheers on self-destruction.

Anxiety worries about the future.

Depression agonizes over the past.

Anxiety overthinks.

Depression can’t concentrate at all.

Anxiety overachieves.

Depression labels me worthless.

The battle rages within.

Hopefully someday I will win.

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.

 

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.

The wedding of my best friend’s son

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There is a time in your life when you get invited to a lot of weddings. For a long period of time, that time was over for me.

Last year the last of my friends turned 40. Last year the first of my friends started turning 50.

It’s strange, I’m starting to get invited to weddings again. This time for my friend’s children. Ted turned 50 this last week and ended the week with his 25 year old son getting married.

Ted and Cindy are very excited that their son choose a wonderful partner to marry. I suppose as parents you couldn’t ask for more.

The wedding itself was held outdoors in a garden. It was a little stressful because it was supposed to rain. We could hear thunder in the distance all morning. I worried that perhaps I missed the call that the wedding would be moved elsewhere. We were in the boonies with limited cell phone reception. We brought umbrellas, but didn’t end up needing them.

Despite the forecast, the wedding went without a hitch unless you count the bride and groom. The ceremony itself was short and sweet. The longest part of the wedding was the procession with somewhere around 10 couples that stood up. The pastor was a newly ordained friend of the groom. There wasn’t a sermon. We didn’t sit long enough to shift around on the hay bales.

That evening at the reception hall, I felt a little old. I was tired. I felt rather mopey. Cindy was having a great time and dragged me out on the dance floor. I made a conscious effort to get out there and have fun. We were at a wedding, a grand celebration of love. I am a marathon runner for crying out loud. I can’t be sitting around watching the young folks dance.

I knew their son since he was little.

I really wasn’t expecting to feel nostalgic. I wasn’t expecting that I would need to hold back tears as the bride walked down the aisle with her dad. I wasn’t expecting to have watery eyes thinking about kids growing up and leaving. I wasn’t expecting to feel pensive and sad on a very happy day. Emotions can be funny that way…

I’m not ready for this.

This was the first wedding of a close friend’s child. I didn’t expect that it would be so emotional.

I love weddings…

 

Luke’s visit, part 7

Suppose that a little girl whom you were close to died.

In the first scenario, I want you to imagine that the girl died in a tragic accident and was killed unintentionally by one of her friends.

In the second scenario, I want you to imagine that the girl was brutally murdered.

How might you feel in either scenario? Would the loss of someone close be the same regardless of how she died? Could you blame someone if they didn’t intend to hurt another but did? Is it okay to be angry even if it was an accident?

It’s easy to be angry if that feeling was justified. But what if it is not?

Sometimes I feel angry at Matt. It is hard to justify feeling anger towards someone severely mentally ill. I don’t think that he intended to be violent towards us, his siblings. But the end result was the same, he ruined our childhood.

Luke said that when he was younger he told Matt to hit a wasp nest with a stick. Matt got stung.

We were told that feeling angry was bad. Yet we still felt that way.

Sometimes it was hard not to feel angry at our mother for favoring him so.

But isn’t it natural to want to soothe the baby that is always crying?

Luke said that he needed to have boundaries. He told our mom that he didn’t want to hear about Matt unless he asked how Matt was doing. Our lives don’t revolve around Matt anymore. It was hard to break away from that. But we needed to break away from that to heal.

It is okay sometimes to feel angry.

 

 

 

 

Luke’s visit, part 4

When we were young, my dad was a very cruel man. He is not like that anymore.

Luke said what terrified him the most was the train. It was one of his earliest memories. He remembers dad inching closer and closer to the tracks while the train was passing. He hid crying in the back window of the car as my dad and brother Mark laughed. He said I wasn’t there.

I don’t remember this being an isolated incident. I was there. I almost forgot about this. The train did not terrify me. I liked to wave at the man in the caboose when mom took us on walks. As kids, we lived near the railroad tracks. I found the sound of the train’s whistle to be rather soothing at night. We even saw a train derail in our lifetime, but not on those tracks.

I remember my dad doing other things like crossing the tracks right before the train passed. But I think he found much more satisfaction in waiting for the train to pass. He inched closer and closer until the front of the car seemed to kiss the side of the train car.

If you get really close to a train, it is squeaky and loud. The cars teeter and rock back and forth making an awful grating noise. Sparks fly. It seems like it could come off the tracks at any moment and destroy the car in a big ball of fire. My dad took the opportunity to scare Luke or any of us whenever he had the chance. I remember this happening several times with the train. I was there, but Luke does not remember that.

We couldn’t comfort our terrified sibling otherwise it would probably be our turn next. Compassion and empathy were not rewarded. In fact, they were more of a weakness. Laughter was probably the safest response. If you laughed or acted like it didn’t scare you, he wouldn’t do that to you. I often responded with no response. But Luke was terrified and I think he was too little to hide it.

My dad did other things to scare us in the car. He drove fast and laughed at us if we tried to put on our seat belts. He drove fast over hills. He would taunt us by saying that he had no idea what could be waiting on the other side of the hill. I was big enough to see out of the window, maybe they weren’t. There could be a family walking on the other side of the hill….a dog…another car and he wouldn’t be able to stop from hitting whatever could be on the other side. Sometimes he would drive up hills on the wrong side of the road.

I’ve had nightmares about him driving fast or going up steep hills not knowing what could be on the other side. I think it was also the root of my struggles with a fear of driving, especially hills. I was afraid of hurting someone. I was afraid of not having control over that. I couldn’t see what was ahead of me.

Today I am obsessed with conquering my fears. If the fear wins, so does my dad.

I built a big wall around myself. I have a thick shell. But maybe somewhere inside is that little girl who is kind and caring.

I don’t think that my mom even knew about the things our dad did when she wasn’t around.

 

Luke’s visit, part 1

It happened, our meeting, almost 4 months after I sent the impersonal ‘happy birthday’ text to my brother Luke. He replied that he wanted to talk sometime in person, about our childhood, if I was up to it.

It happened the end of last year for him. He wasn’t going to lie to himself anymore. It happened right after our brother Matt was taken off of his anti-psychotic medicine and threatened to kill Luke’s daughter. The memories flooded back with strong emotion.

I understand, I take it in in small doses until I can’t swallow it anymore. But Luke took it in with one massive gulp. He set aside everything that he used to help him cope and embraced the pain.

He told me that he thought no one cared about us. No one had our best interests in heart. We were physically abused by our disabled brother Matt and verbally abused by our dad on a consistent basis. No one once said that they were sorry this happened to us. We were just expected to take it.

I agreed that our dad did not care about us. I did not agree that our mom did not care about us. I said that I thought she did the best that she could under the circumstances. But did she? Or am I just telling myself that to help me cope?? What is wrong with lying to yourself a little to make you feel better?? What is wrong with coping mechanisms if they are healthy and actually help you cope?

My mom always put Matt first over our safety or the safety of our children. Matt was like an idol we were forced to worship. Our wants and needs always took the back burner.

I feel angry sometimes. Luke does too. He said I should feel angry. But I don’t feel angry at my dad although he was a terrible father. I feel angry at my mom although I think she was an amazing mother.

There is an inconsistency there.

Things don’t add up with what I think and how I feel.

What kind of parents have a 6 year old (me) watch my 3 younger brothers swim at the lake even for a few minutes?? That was the day that my youngest brother (Luke), who just turned 2, almost drowned. I have carried the heavy weight of responsibility since then. I was not allowed to be a kid. I had to be an adult.

Luke said he was sorry that all of these traumatic things happened to me. He asked Paul if I was okay. He asked how I cope. Paul told him that I cope by running. He didn’t mention writing or this blog. I’m not ready. I’m not sure if I will ever be ready. But I am ready to start delving into the past again…slowly…

I don’t want Luke to worry about me…I think this time our brother Mark is the one that could be drowning. Maybe if we can reach him, we can help pull him out.

 

The rails

My husband says that life is sometimes like a railroad track. On our journey, the rails of good and bad happen side by side simultaneously. Life is never all good or all bad. Sometimes the great and the horrible bombard us at the same time. I’ve never felt like that was more true than it is now. I don’t even know what to feel anymore..

Lately, I’ve been in a bit of a funk. My go to feelings these days are anger and a deep sorrow. I thought maybe a weekend up north in isolation would force me to reflect what my problem is. I am not a negative person, but right now the rose tinted glasses makes me want to gag.

What is my problem? Why can’t I have a light and fluffy blog? Is that even what I want? Probably not…

I consider myself a realist. But what happens when reality doesn’t even seem realistic?

The funny thing is that I achieved everything I wanted in life. I’ve worked really hard to accomplish my goals. I’ve turned out better than I even thought I would. That should make me happy, but it only leaves me wanting more. What can I conquer next? I already have a wall full of medals in my dream house.

Some things have really hit me hard…the terminal cancer diagnosis of a close friend…the death of a close friend’s child. I feel like I can’t talk to them anymore about the good or bad. How can I complain about my teen throwing a drinking party at my house when her teen daughter is dead??

There is a certain isolation of not knowing what to say beyond…I’m sorry this has happened to you..Life is unfair..You are in my thoughts and prayers..What happens after you said this a dozen times? What happens when words run out to express your grief for them? Do you go back to talking about every day ordinary life? I don’t know what to say.

The death of Lisa’s daughter stings. It was so unexpected and tragic. This wasn’t my plan for either of my friends. A child shouldn’t die, a healthy person in their 40’s shouldn’t get cancer…Whereas, I have never felt healthier in my life. My body is a lean mass of muscle from running and working out consistently for the last ten years. I still get carded to buy alcohol when some of my classmates are getting asked for their AARP cards.

My children are all healthy and normal. I worried for years that I would have a severely autistic child like my brother. That worry slipped off the horizon many years ago to be replaced by other worries. But they are all normal worries that every parent has..

I have a wonderful husband. I have a great job. I am reaching the end of actively parenting three teenagers.

Yet, I feel this isolation. Change is hard, even if it is good. I love my new house, but I don’t know who my neighbors are. My youngest daughter will be going to a new school and doesn’t have any friends in the area.

I feel estranged from my extended family. I haven’t seen my siblings in months. We rarely talk.

I feel estranged from my church family with all of the controversy lately. My best friend Cindy left the church and we might too. All of my kids were baptized and confirmed there. Must everything change all at once?

My husband, aunt, mother, and son have been on a school trip for the last couple weeks. I haven’t seen them in almost a month. I spent a week in Vegas and when I got back, they left. It almost feels like they are gone from me too. Is this what it is going to feel like if I, in the natural course of life, outlive my husband and mom? This emptiness?

I’ve spent a lot of time alone in reflection this past month. It’s really dark and messy in there. I want to clean things up but I’m afraid of what would happen if I disturb the cobwebs. I have to be really strong to go into the deep, dark ugly places. I just don’t feel really strong right now. It’s not the best time to poke at my demons.

My family will be coming home tonight. Maybe my mood will improve. Maybe I will find my way out of this sorrow. Maybe I will finally accept change, the good along with the bad. I’m on the right track, I just need to keep chugging along..

 

The second half of the weekend roller coaster ride

After church on Sunday, we went to visit our old friends Harv and Kate. Our old friends as in friends that are in their 80’s and not as in old friends we’ve known since the 80’s.

Harv and Kate invited us over under the guise of having us share our adventures in Thailand with them. They have been all over the world but have never been to Thailand. Despite being older than my parents, we share many common interests with Harv and Kate including traveling, sailing, singing, theater, the love of the outdoors, and being hard core intellectuals.

Once we arrived, I noticed in sheer panic that I forgot my phone at home. During this time, I missed the call from my friend Jen preparing me to see her with her new cancer diagnosis later in the evening at our children’s band concert. But I am getting ahead of myself.

Harv and Kate said that they had a surprise for us. We weren’t going to be eating lunch at their house as expected. They said they were taking us on a mystery date. Kate said that one time Harv took her on a mystery date and they ended up in Missouri. Wait! What? I got a little nervous when we started heading south. Not to mention that Harv went through a couple of stop signs.

Now Harv and Kate are by far the happiest married couple that I know. Although they have been married longer than I’ve been alive, they act like a couple of newlyweds. They said that they often plan surprises for each other to keep their relationship alive. Maybe Paul and I will have to start doing that.

Soon we arrived in a small town to a hole in the wall bar/restaurant/theater/art gallery/hotel that was 150 years old. Harv and Kate surprised us with a dinner theater show that Harv and Paul performed in together years ago. We had a marvelous time. When we got back to their house, they wouldn’t let us leave until we saw Kate’s drawings, they watched our son’s solo and ensemble performance, and we set up another date to tell them about our Thailand experience.

That set us on the road with just enough time to grab my forgotten phone on the way to the concert. I didn’t have time to call Jen back.

Arabella, my mom, Alex’s girlfriend, Paul, and I attended the concert that evening. We saw Julia sitting by herself and invited her to join our crew. Our other old friend Vince showed up. He sat down next to Julia. He asked Julia if she was married. She replied, “Not happily”. Her husband never attends their children’s events, just like my dad. Julia told Vince that it was so nice that he could come out to watch his grandson perform. Vince told her that he wasn’t related to us.

That can be the awkward thing about unconventional friendships…people always think we are related. He is not your dad?? No, my dad takes no interest in my life and Paul never had a dad. At this point, we don’t even bother explaining all of this anymore.

Paul invited Vince over to our house after the concert to watch the video of Alex performing at S&E. That was before we ran into Jen, before I found out that she has terminal cancer. I cried all the way home. I cried while Vince was at our house watching the video of our son perform. I cried myself to sleep. I was still crying when I got to work the next morning.

For so many years, I stuffed my feelings. I don’t remember crying when my grandma died. I told myself that she was still alive. For years, I crammed all of my bad feelings in some back closet of my mind. I wouldn’t allow myself to feel. After a while, I could no longer pick or choose what feeling I put behind the door…all feelings got locked up until I became completely numb to life.

After awhile I got sick of living in the empty void. Eventually I opened the closet door and all of the old junk of emotions came crashing down on me. I sorted it out. I processed it. I dealt with it and lived to tell about it. It was only then that I started to live again.

This time I told myself that I was going to deal with my feelings. If I’m sad, I’m going to cry. If someone can’t handle me crying because I found out a close friend is dying, then why would I want that negativity in my life??

But I didn’t cry in front of Jen, in front of her husband and children, in a public place. There is nothing I can do to heal her. But I am going to her house later on this week to see if she needs anything to make her last days happier.

So there you have it…I have a new friend with lupus, an old friend (15 years) with cancer, and 3 old friends in their mid-80’s.

Just because our time with others may be short doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t forge relationships…because, who knows? Nothing is guaranteed in life. Might as well start living every day to its fullest.