Look Closer…

One year ago today….

This was a picture perfect day as captured from the rooftop deck at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I remember the first part of the day being a lovely family outing. And there are dozens of other pictures taken that morning which support my memory. 

But shortly after this picture was taken, our son had his first debilitating panic attack. In the middle of the aquarium, we all had our first experience with the wave of panic washing over him and sending him to the floor in a fetal position. It was possibly the most frightening moment of my life. And was certainly a turning point in my son’s story. 

Just 2 days before this picture was taken, we had made an appointment with a psychiatrist to discuss the possibility of medication. If there was any doubt left lingering that our boy needed the support of medication, that disappeared as we helplessly watched him first huddling on the floor in the middle of a crowd and then watched as he ran searching for an exit from the building. 

That day marked the beginning of a long series of days and weeks and months that were colored by fear and exhaustion for all of us. Because even though medication was only weeks away from this date, it took a long time for us to see and feel the effect. 

Everything you just read? That’s what all flashed through my head as I saw this picture pop up in Timehop this morning. It was an awful lot of emotion and memory before 7am. 

But then I looked closer. I looked at the picture again, and I saw how far we’ve come this year. On that day we didn’t even yet have an actual diagnosis. We were still searching and trying desperately to get to an answer before something went terribly wrong. On this day, a year later, we have the diagnoses and answers and experience to better handle whatever his brain or life might throw at us. We are so much better equipped. And while we know there are likely more dark days to come (that will masquerade as sunny and picture perfect), we also know we can fight that darkness. 

So look closer. Look closer and you can see both the broken and the beautiful. 

Life is tough…But so are you

Recently a very brave friend has been struggling, and sharing her struggle publicly on Facebook. In recent days she has shared, through words and pictures, that she is feeling vulnerable and broken.  My guess is her posts are making many people uncomfortable, but I see so much strength in her candor and her willingness to share her brokenness with the world.

One day this week, I commented on one of her posts to let her know I am thinking of her, praying for her, and cheering her on. My comment was – One minute at a time. One hour at a time. One day at a time. Whatever it takes to get you through. Her response was one of thanks, but in that she referred to me as “wonder woman”. And I cringed.  I am not a wonder woman.

I am a broken woman who is struggling in my own way each and learning to live my own advice – One minute at a time. One hour at a time. One day at a time. I share my story not from a place of strength, but from a place of vulnerability. Sharing makes me stronger, but I am really no wonder woman. Certainly no more of a wonder woman than my friend. She is brave and candid and something of a wonder in her own right.

In sharing her story, she is definitely helping herself. But more than that she is helping to open a dialogue about an often hidden reality for most people – the reality that no matter how strong we may appear to the world, we are in fact all a little broken. By sharing her story, she is stepping into the light and shouting, “Hey world! Look at me! I am struggling right now, but that is not where the story has to end. And if you are struggling too, know that you are not alone!”

By sharing her story, she is making space for others to share their own stories. In her brokenness there is beauty and light and strength. She is a wonder and an inspiration.

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This is Why..

This is a post I have been pondering for quite some time. Truth be told, I’ve written it dozens of times in my head, but hesitated to send the words out into the world. Why? Because as much as I KNOW this post isn’t about any one person, I am pretty certain that there are people in my life who will think this is about them. But it’s not. It’s not about any single person, or any single incident. It is about setting the record straight for anybody and everybody who doesn’t understand why I am sharing our family journey – and that group of people does include some extended family and friends.

So if you are reading this and include yourself among my extended family and friends, please believe me when I say this is not about you. And with that out of the way….

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We are quickly coming up on the first anniversary of We’re All A Little Broken. What started out as a way for me to first process my own thoughts and emotions, quickly became a way for me to provide a peek into our lives in an attempt to help loved ones understand our reality. In the early days of the blog,  my solitary goal was just to help family and friends understand the day to day challenges in our house. But somewhere along the way, the little blog bloomed into a small community of people all over the world who are reading my words and finding some meaning. Somewhere along the way, our story began to resonate….with those who read and can see a similarity to their own family in us, with those who read and see the struggles and triumphs of their own loved one in my son or my daughter, with those who read and are having their own perspective shifted, with those who read and sigh with relief to know that they are not alone on the journey.

Time and again this past year, I have been overwhelmed by the positive response to We’re All A Little Broken. But it hasn’t been all positive. There are people who have questioned my intent, and even some who have wondered out loud if I might be opening my kids up to ridicule by sharing our story. There were enough of these questions, that I actually spent time really wondering if I am being helpful or harmful. And while I do share openly about the challenges we face in our family – autism spectrum disorder, childhood mental illness, learning disorders, fibromyalgia – I do not over share. I do not tell the stories that feel too fragile.  I take great care to balance out the raw and broken bits of our story with the beauty that is found in our day to day reality. And the people who are beside me in this day to day reality – my husband, son and daughter – are all incredibly supportive of me telling our story. So do I think  I am doing harm by sharing our story? Absolutely not.

I know that there will always be people – both in my personal life and in the world in general – who will never understand the intent and message in my words. And that’s okay. I’m not writing for them. I am writing for me. But more than that, I write for the people out there who do understand the intent and message in my words.

I write for my son, who can’t always find the words himself to express his experiences or feelings, but he reads my blog and tells me how proud he is that his story can help other kids.

I write for my daughter, who is already an amazing force for good in this world and I hope that she find some inspiration in my journey as she charts her own path.

I write for my husband, who is my partner, ally and greatest supporter in this life we didn’t expect.

I write for the childhood friend who has confided her own son’s struggles that in many ways mirror my son’s challenges.

I write for the high school friend who has shared her daughter’s challenging journey with me.

I write for the college friend who talked with me about her own hunches and fears on the eve of the first in a series of diagnostic appointments for her young son.

I write for the friend who’s adolescent nephew has been recently hospitalized as he battles with depression.

I write for the woman I have never met, who sent me a message thanking me for words that helped her feel that her family was not alone in their own struggle.

I write for all of the parents and caregivers who are searching for answers.

I write for all of the family and friends who are trying to understand and wanting to be supportive.

I write because the raw and broken parts of our lives are as real and formative and important as the beautiful parts of our lives.

And I will continue writing as long as somebody out there continues reading.

On the Bookshelf -Only Love Today by Rachel Macy Stafford

I have been following the inspirational writing and work of Rachel Macy Stafford for a couple of years via her blog and Facebook page The Hands Free Revolution. The basic philosophy behind all of her writing encourages people to both love more and live more fully – a lesson we all need from time to time, and one that I have needed to hear over and over again in this season of life.

Rachel’s words are often just the lift my spirit needs, so when presented with the opportunity to receive an advance copy of her newest book Only Love Today I was thrilled – and once I actually began reading the book I knew this was something I would be both returning to and recommending to others for many years to come. This book has the ability to inspire change, heal wounds, and encourage conversation.

I inhaled every page of  Only Love Today, even though it is actually designed to be read in small bits – maybe once a day, once a week, or just when your soul needs to hear some healing words. It is designed to help us all root our daily interactions from a place of love. My copy is already dog-eared, and will likely become more well loved in the months and years to come as I revisit specific entries.

The tagline on the title is “Reminders to Breath More, Stress Less and Choose Love,” – and who doesn’t want or need more of those things in their lives? When you read the words on the page, you actually feel as if Rachel Macy Stafford is speaking directly to you. Her words are genuine and organic. Her message is universal and incredibly accessible. And best of all for me? She really GETS that we are all a little broken! From the book…”When we see each other’s scars, we love each other more…By displaying my true self, I might inspire those around me to display their true selves as well. What a gift it is to meet others in the light of realness, a place where we can love each other even more because of our shared imperfections, vulnerabilities and experiences.”

When I read those words, my soul cheered! My soul cheered and my heart remembered these words that I wrote at the beginning of my own journey toward sharing our family’s story, “We are all a little broken – and we have love and faith and stubborn streaks that win out when the days get hard.”

Rachel Macy Stafford would sum that up in three little words…Only Love Today.

Only Love Today, indeed.

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The “Aha” Moment

About 10 months ago, we made the decision to start my son on medication to help manage his anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. Since then the type of medication has changed, an additional medication has been added, and the dosage on both has been increased several times. It’s been a process.

At the beginning of that process, the psychiatrist told us that one day we would suddenly realize that things were better. 10 months ago he promised us a date somewhere in the future when we would suddenly look at each other and just know that we’d made the right decision when we chose to medicate. He promised us an “aha” moment.

Days, weeks, months passed. It wasn’t an instant fix, and we knew it wouldn’t be. Truth be told, the worst days in our son’s slide into the black hole that was anxiety/panic/depression came after he started the medication. There were days and weeks where we feared for his safety, and there were days and weeks where we feared for our own safety. But we kept on.

Medication levels were adjusted. He continued his weekly therapy with a psychologist, and also began spending time each week with the counseling intern at the school. There were several points along the way where I wondered if we’d ever see that day the psychiatrist had promised us, but there were also several points along the way where I saw glimmers of calm and joy in my son that fueled me with hope.

And then it happened.

That “aha” moment we’d been promised came earlier this month, in both an unlikely and wonderful place.

February 21, 2016. (About 2 months before we began medication)  That was the day last year our son’s Cub Scout pack celebrated their annual Blue & Gold banquet, and that is where our son had his first panic attack. Although at the time we didn’t know what to call what was happening – he would later describe it as feeling too hot, and dizzy and not knowing what was happening right around him – looking back now we know that was the first (and far from the worst) of a long series of panic attacks. All we knew at the time was that he was in distress, that we had to get him out of that room, and that the trouble we had seen brewing for over a year had reached a new low point.

Fast forward. February 12, 2017; this year’s edition of the Blue & Gold banquet but this time with no panic attack. In fact, it was actually the most enjoyable large group activity we have experienced as a family in more than a year.

That was our promised and long-awaited “aha”moment. I lost track of the number of events or places we either avoided or left abruptly in the past year,  because the place or the people triggered either panic or explosive behavior. He missed out on a lot. We missed out on a lot. But we just kept trying, and working, and praying, and loving and searching for that “aha” moment. And when it came, it was shiny and beautiful and dripping in hope.

I am coasting on the beauty of that victory for as long as I possibly can. As much as I celebrated the arrival of that long-awaited moment, I also know there will be a time in the future when we are waiting for the next “aha” moment to arrive. On the same day the psychiatrist told us we would get that aha moment, he also told us that our son is most likely dealing with a lifetime of fragile mental health. While the medication levels and therapy have helped him find some equilibrium, that equilibrium can be blown in an instant and we could find ourselves back at the beginning once again. That’s not a pretty thought, but it’s a realistic one.

So we’re learning together how to extend the good moments into good hours and days and weeks and months. And we’re celebrating the small victories and figuring out how we can trade those up for larger victories. And most of all, we are making sure he knows how much he is loved and that he will always have a safety net in our arms in the spaces between the aha moments.

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MFEO

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day.

My son announced last week that he wasn’t going to take Valentine cards to school this year. He said he just doesn’t care about it anymore. He’s in 5th grade, so the announcement didn’t really surprise me (although I did double-check today that he really, really meant it and was prepared to do a last-minute run to get whatever was left on the shelf at Target – but he is standing by his decision).

My daughter has spent much of the last week preparing cards for her classmates and personalized gifts for her besties. She doesn’t “do pink” anymore, but my guess is she’ll be decked out in red and hearts when she heads to school tomorrow.

My husband heard our son talking about the Google Doodle being new for Valentine’s Day this morning and had a moment when he thought today might be February 14th and checked with me to make sure he hadn’t missed it.

I have little gifts stashed away for my husband and the kids. My husband will actually be on an overnight business trip tomorrow night, so I will probably take the kids out for dinner between afternoon therapy and evening aerial. If my husband was home, the only way the day would look different would be a quick dinner at home between afternoon therapy and evening aerial.

This will be our 24th Valentine’s Day together. And while the holiday has never been a day we marked with grand romantic gestures, the celebration has certainly scaled itself back over the years. While I would adore a date night out with my husband, at this point in my life I actually cringe at the thought of having that date on Valentine’s Day in a crowded restaurant, while also paying the “parent tax” for the babysitter and pizza back at home.

All that said though, I am feeling a bit more sentimental this year. The little gift I got for my husband is a nod to a younger version of ourselves and also a glimpse of what our future selves may become. It’s sappy and a little goofy and won’t make sense to anybody but us. It’s perfect. And for the first time in a long time, I found myself wanting to find something perfect for Valentine’s Day.

Life has become a kind of hard that our 18-year-old, or 25-year-old, or even 35-year-old selves could have never imagined. And while the days are a little easier now than they were at this time last year, we know there are still tough times ahead. But there is something our 19-year-old selves knew, that remains true to this day, and it is what gets us through the darkest of dark days.

In 1993, our 19-year-old selves saw the movie Sleepless in Seattle, and as a couple we became infatuated with the idea in the movie that certain people are M-F-E-O….made for each other. Corny. I know. Even back then I knew. But I’ve decided I need a little more corny and sappy and sweet and lovely in my life. In a world where so little makes sense and so much is heartbreaking, my husband is my rock. It hasn’t always been easy – we haven’t always been easy – but that’s all a part of our evolving love story. In 24 years worth of Valentine’s Days we have cycled through several versions of ourselves as individuals and as a couple, but the constant is love and even though we don’t need an “official” holiday to celebrate that love, it is a nice excuse to remember and share a little bit of our love story.

So this is for Him. The man who is my partner in life and parenting,  my biggest supporter and by my side as we navigate this journey. It’s not always easy, and I’m not always easy to love, but we were MFEO.

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Choosing Grace

Should.

That’s a trigger word for me. I know I use it with myself too much, but I make an extreme effort to not use with it other people. In my opinion, “should” feels critical or judgmental. It diminishes the possibility that there is more than one “right” way to do or be or feel. Should lacks empathy and limits perspective. It is a word that has the ability to make a person feel small and question their choices. It is not a positive word.

Clearly I have an opinion on this. But why?

I am my own worst critic. Truly I am harsh on myself. There have been periods in my life when I constantly and consistently “should-ed” everything I did or said, or didn’t do or say. Those were seasons of self doubt. Hand in hand with the shoulds I put upon myself,  I would also absorb the shoulds that that world put upon me.

Life and time and age bring the gift of perspective, if we are open to receiving. Thankfully, those long seasons of self-doubt are somewhere back in my younger days (along with big hair and questionable fashion choices). That’s not to say that I don’t still occasionally slip a “you should” into my own self-talk, but it does mean that I am infinitely better at not allowing the shoulds of the world color my perspective or choices. It also means that I try really hard to not limit the perspective or choices of others – I’m not perfect, but I am certain that should is not a word that passes my lips toward another person very often.

Bottom line? Should removes the space in which grace – toward myself and others – can thrive. And instead of choosing to live by should, I have chosen to live with grace. Dozens of times each day, my inner voice reminds me “Grace in. Grace out.” When I remember to treat myself with grace and treat others with grace, I counteract the shoulds. Living with grace means allowing for possibility and perspective and choices. Living with grace means allowing for mistakes and second chances.

As a parent, wife, daughter, sibling and friend – instead of choosing should, I choose grace. With my voice and my actions – instead of choosing should, I choose grace. In a world that is becoming increasingly divided – instead of choosing should, I choose grace.

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