Bracing myself

I received a fortune cookie this week. It read, “our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist.” Sometimes I feel like I have the opposite problem. I have the mind set of an iron pumping 17 year old male trapped in the body of an iron popping 41 year old woman with a sore knee. I am not the only one of my siblings to have knee problems either. My brother Mark blew out his knees and pretty much the rest of his body years ago from intense physical labor. My youngest brother already had 2 knee surgeries from being a hard core competitive volleyball player. We have been known to beat the crap out of our bodies, I wonder why I thought I could be the exception. My daughter said I may have to quit running and take up knitting. God forbid!

I bought myself a knee brace this week and ran with it yesterday for a 6 mile run. I wrapped it around my knee tight as a tourniquet. About half way through, I did feel a twinge of knee pain. What I did notice, however, was that I had a lot less pain after the run. I can imagine myself running in the future with a full body brace. I am bracing myself for that. Lol. Did I tell you that I also have a carpal tunnel brace? I need to wear it if I spend too many hours at the office or if I have a jigsaw puzzle marathon. C’mon, you live through decades of Wisconsin winters and tell me what you end up resorting to. Then my sanity level should not “puzzle” you. Just another thing I will have to brace myself for, a long winter. I am going to tell myself that it is summer as long as I can. 

I did see something interesting on the road yesterday. It was a young man walking covered head to toe in camouflage. He even carried a large camo bag. What wasn’t covered in camo was covered in tattoos. He had long dishwater blonde hair with a bit of a beard growing. He meant me no harm on his long journey. I imagined that he was discharged from the military in Texas and decided to take the long way home. It is strange how we can meet up with strangers that converge for a very brief moment on our path. Here he is in my blog, unaware. Maybe for a second I was strange to him too, bracing myself for the path I chose to tread upon. 

Family dynamics of autism

Growing up, we all had our roles. Even dysfunctional families find ways to function. As mentioned previously, my parents relationship was rocky before having 4 kids in 5 years. I would even go as far to say that my dad probably is within the Asperger’s spectrum himself. Now throw in the violently autistic child and a wife who was trying desperately to juggle flaming torches. 

As oldest, my main task was fixing. I also held the role of caregiver, decision maker, best friend, advisor, and emotional support. I aligned myself with my mother. It was my task to keep the flaming torches in the air. If there was a problem, it was my task to fix it. I was loyal to whatever cause was important to my mother. As an adult, it has been difficult for me to listen and empathize when everything within me tells me to fix. I had to suppress all feelings in order to use my head to fix. It worked a little like email. I kept deleting my feelings until finally my deleted items were full. Then anger, depression, and anxiety flowed forth like spring’s river. My email is working now, but my husband and I both lack empathy in order to survive childhood. I need reminding to listen and not fix all the time. It has been a bit of a marriage struggle, but as a team people have been hard pressed to take advantage of us by pulling on our heart strings or pull the wool over our eyes. So it is not all bad. 

Mark’s task was physically working hard and advocate for my dad. He aligned himself with my dad. If my mom packed up the car with all of her stuff and was heading down the driveway, it was Mark’s task to stop her. He would tell my mom that it was not my dad’s fault, that he was just not good at relationships. He also earned my dad’s love by working hard even though my dad was lazy. For example, my dad will take the lawnmower to the end of the driveway to get the mail (sometimes in his underwear, of course). Or that one time we got a couple of inches of snow, he was too lazy to clean off his windshield and ended up in the ditch instead. 

Mark worked so hard that he blew out his back as a teen. I have never seen anyone work as hard as he does. When I told him that I was running a marathon, he said he could outrun me. I think that I threatened his role as the family brawn. When Mark wasn’t working, he preferred to be invisible. Mark and Carla decided they are going to have a small wedding with no one standing up. Mark said that he was tempted to have our autistic brother Matt be his best man because Matt’s behavior is so bizarre that no one would notice Mark. That was very profound. 

Luke, the youngest, had the role of instigator, comforter, caregiver, and clown. He was a mama’s boy and my dad hated him for it. His main job was to make sure that Matt did not get all of the attention. He was the one who cut the wires on my dad’s electronics and kicked a hole in the wall. When he got older, he was the one who played strip volleyball with his friends in the front yard. Girls running around topless in the front yard.  He also wrestled with my dad in the front yard over car keys which resulted in an overnight stay in the ER for my dad with heart palpitations. After awhile my parents gave up, he started driving at 14. He was also the scapegoat and received the brunt of my dad’s anger, deserved or not. 

Somehow we all managed to function. We are survivors. We made it through with our sanity intact, held by a thread.  We are strong, but not without a few battle wounds. 

Real life Tetris 

What is easier, training for a marathon or blogging about painful events in my life? In analysis, they both take approximately the same amount of time per week. I would say, without a doubt, that training for a marathon is much easier. I only feel tired and perhaps physically sore after running. I feel tired, sometimes upset, depressed, and emotionally sore after blogging. 

Is there anybody out there? Am I all alone? Where have the other siblings of the disabled gone? Have you escaped? Have I not? How can I? Why can’t I? I don’t want to do this anymore. It is too personal. The feelings are too raw. I am picking away at old poorly healed scabs. This worries me. 

I feel very overwhelmed in general. I was just notified of mandatory practices for my kids at school the next couple of weeks that conflict with other mandatory practices. When do I have time to work? What about work? We are picking up our biggest client ever the end of this week. It is great, but overwhelming. Will I be able to perform? Will I be able to handle the work? I feel like I am playing Tetris right now. Pieces falling haphazardly on other pieces and nothing fits. I am fighting to stay in control. I worry about the things I can’t control. Am I all alone?

Up north, part 3

This past weekend I was up north with my daughters. Luke’s wife, Emily, and I threw a bridal shower for Mark’s fiancĂ©, Carla. This is the start of another strange happening this month. Emily recently had surgery and was having some health issues related to this. She ended up driving herself to the closest ER an hour away from the cabin after a sleepless night. I was running later than I wanted to the morning of the shower and had a lot of errands to run. Through a series of strange events, I ran into my sister-in-law at the pharmacy in the middle of nowhere hours from her house. My daughter rode back with her to the cabin to help keep her alert. It seemed like a bizarre coincidence and I still don’t know why things happened that way. 

It was lunch time when we all got to the cabin. Luke bought some bread to make sandwiches with the peanut butter that was there. First, he had to call our mom to make sure that this was not Matt’s peanut butter. I had almost forgotten about this very basic rule. Most of Matt’s food was labeled with his name. You did not dare eat Matt’s food without facing the wrath of my mom. Since he spent most of his life gluten and dairy free, his food a lot of times was separate from ours. If Luke put the knife in the peanut butter and touched the bread, then it would be considered contaminated. My dad would eat Matt’s food a lot of times probably just to piss off my mom. She would worry endlessly about food for Matt to the point of obsession. 

Another thing that happened, the last time we were up north my brothers put in an A/C unit. It was really hot this weekend so we were running it with a lot of fans. We had 13 people sleeping in the cabin. Matt came out to the porch angry saying that the fans were too loud, that he couldn’t sleep. My initial response was to ask Matt how long he was trying to sleep. Luke agreed. Mark was concerned that Matt would be up all night worrying. Mom went with Matt to turn off all the fans. Now no one would be able to sleep. Luke turned the fans back on after Matt fell asleep.  Luke said, “Part of this is his condition and part of this is his conditioning.” Matt never had any consequences, seems like we all had the consequences for his decisions. I felt the familiar old resentment towards my mom for allowing Matt to be the god of our lives. The god we sacrificed to day in and day out. Sacrificing the good of all for the sake of one. I hated being forced to worship and kneel before the alter of autism. 

The bridal shower went without a hitch. Haha. The future bride left saying, “See you at the wedding, if there still is one.” Mark and Carla spent most of the weekend fighting. Everyone at the shower said that Mark and Carla reminded them of my parents. That is not a compliment. My parents marriage is filled with strife. It is not something sacred, to be yearned for. I worry. My husband says I should only worry about the things I can control. 

A driving controlling fear

Mom is a good driver. I usually feel safe when she is in control. My dad likes to drive really fast. He says that we don’t have to wear our seat belts. I feel safer when it is on especially when we go over bumps and my head almost touches the roof. Bumps always make the seat belt tighter around my waist and I have to take it off to loosen it. I think that my dad learned to drive from Aunt Grace, except she drives really slow and goes through the stop signs. 

When mom drives she has to be careful. If she puts Mark and Luke next to each other they like to laugh and do funny things while she is driving, like open the door. The day it happened she wasn’t being careful. She put Matt in the seat behind her and she was wearing a ponytail. Matt likes to pull hair, sometimes very hard. I worry that Matt might pull her hair so hard that her head will go back and we will go off the road.  I am sitting in the back with Matt. Matt starts pulling mom’s hair. Gentle tugs. 

Matt pulls mom’s hair. It is loud in the car. Tug, pull. It is hot, the windows are open. It is loud. Tug, pull. Cars are coming down off of the highway. It is hot! Mom drives through a red light. It is loud, hot, a long ponytail of hair!  Mom keeps honking her horn. Loud, loud! Cars slam on their brakes and swerve. 

My little brothers giggle and can’t wait to tell everyone that mom ran a red light. “Did I just run a red light?” asks mom. “Oh my gosh, I could have killed someone.” Mom is upset and pulls the car into an empty parking lot. Matt is upset and runs away towards traffic. Good thing mom was able to catch him before he reaches the busy street. Mom is a good driver. Mom needs control. I need control.