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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Pasta – With a Side of Perspective and Persistence

A dyslexic, an Aspie and their mother are sitting around a table…

That almost sounds like the start of a bad joke. But it isn’t. It was dinner time in our house last night.

On most weeknights, dinner is a rushed affair in our house. We eat early so that anybody who has an evening practice, rehearsal, scout meeting, etc. heads out with a full belly. The early meal means generally my husband isn’t home from work yet, so most weeknights it is just the kids and I around the table.

Last night, as the three of us ate our buffalo chicken pasta, my son asked my daughter a series of questions about dyslexia – what do words look like to her, does she see letters backwards, does it make her sad that she has to struggle to decipher text, does it make her nervous to use the tools she’s been given to help in class?

In response to that last question – does it make her nervous to use the tools she’s been given to help in class? – she talked about how some of the kids in her class complained to the teacher that she gets to use something that they don’t. And that one statement provided an opening for the most amazing series of statements from my son…

“They’re just jealous. But you shouldn’t care. You see the world differently from them, and that’s ok. It’s just who you are.  Look at me. I don’t like to think about my anxiety and panic disorders as a mental illness. They are just a part of me, and that means I see the world differently. And my autism isn’t bad. It helps me see things other people can’t see. It’s part of me, and I also think it makes some people jealous of me. Just like some kids in your class are jealous of you. It’s ok. Just be you. Yum. This pasta is good.”

And then they started talking about a YouTube channel they both follow as they finished their pasta.

I don’t know how long those thoughts have been running through his heart and head. I don’t know what prompted him to speak them aloud in that exact moment. I don’t know when or if I will ever again hear some version of those statements come from his mouth.

I do know that in  hearing him say those things – “It’s ok. It’s part of me. Just be you.”  – I was also hearing that somewhere in his heart and head he is developing perspective and persistence. I do know that in that moment he gave me hope. I do know that, even if it isn’t always apparent, he is becoming increasingly comfortable with who he is and the space he occupies in this world.

The words are simple – “It’s ok. It’s part of me. Just be you.” – but the message is universal. We don’t always get to choose the circumstances that shape our reality, but we do get to choose how we respond. My husband and I work hard to make sure both of our kids are developing the persistence and perspective they need to thrive in life. We work at it everyday, but we aren’t always sure we are getting through. At dinner last night, I was certain that we are getting through.

 

 

Too Peopley!

I woke up this morning and for the first time in months, realized that there was nowhere to be, nobody who needed me, and nothing that had to be done. Bliss!

I am an introvert, who lives a life that is undoubtedly more suited to an extrovert. My world is super people-y. Much of that is by choice –  I chose a career that is people-centric, volunteering in my kids’ school and writing this blog. Throw in balancing a partner and one child who are extroverts with another child who is both introverted and struggles with anxiety and life lived at full speed has a tendency to catch up with me.

This week, life caught up with me. I have been feeling physically and emotionally exhausted. So when I realized that my Friday off was actually a Friday off for the first time in months, I excitedly planned for a day that would look something like this (but substitute the pizza with leftover curry chicken that I cooked for dinner earlier in the week)…

But that adage about making plans and God laughing? That is a running theme in my life in ways both big and small. I spoke out loud my intent to recharge by avoiding the world today, and within moments I heard from my daughter “The cat is spraying and it looks like there is blood.”

It sounds awful to admit it, but I was SO RESENTFUL of the fact that nowhere to be, nobody who needed me, and nothing that had to be done had turned into someplace to be, because somebody needed me, and it really could not be put off until later. Yup. I was resentful of an elderly cat who clearly needed to see the vet. Not my finest moment.

And it wasn’t just one moment, it was several moments of my loudly lamenting that my plans of hiding from the world had been ruined. Honestly, I was pretty irrational for about 15 minutes. But I pulled it together, because that cat is as much a part of our family as any of the people who live in the house. And we love her. And we show up for those that we love. So off to the vet we went,  and of course my whole day wasn’t ruined – it took less than 90 minutes from the time we left the house until the time we were back.

The moral of the story – I clearly need to be doing a better job of self care and carving out people-free zones in my life.

And the P.S. to the story – I typed this blog post while snuggled under a cosy blanket with the cat snuggled in sleeping next to me. I am getting my planned day after all!

What Will Your Story Be?

New Year’s Eve. 

2016. It’s been a rough one in many ways – my son hit the lowest of his lows, my daughter has had to learn to balance being herself and being a good sister, loved ones have died, marriages of people close to us have ended. It’s been an emotional and exhausting year. 

It’s also been amazing in many ways – we finally found the right treatment team for my son, my daughter is blooming into a confident and compassionate young woman, and we’ve found our voice as a family. 

It’s that last part I will hold as the best part of 2016 – we have found our voice as a family and it has opened up a dialogue with the world. On this day in 2015, I would not have dreamt that this blog would exist. But it does. And so 2016 became the year we truly began to write our own story. We don’t get to choose all of the circumstances, but we do get to guide the outcomes. 

I am excited about what 2017 will bring. And look forward to continuing to write our story. Happy New Year my friends. I wish you blessings, love & laughter as you write your own stories in 2017. 

From my perfectly imperfect family, to yours…

It’s late morning on Christmas Eve day. Hanukkah also begins this evening. A scroll through my Facebook feed shows me most of my friends and acquaintances all over the world are engaged in some form of last minute holiday preparations. I’ve been sick for the past couple of days, and am pretty weak and tired, so the things we normally do in the days leading up to Christmas – mostly baking – are not going to happen this year. And that’s okay. 

As I was thinking about what I wanted to share with this community as a holiday wish, I saw an Instagram post from the amazing Glennon Doyle Melton. In just a part of her message , she managed to say it all…”Rest. Love your people. Done is better than perfect.” 

We know that family is real, raw, broken and beautiful all of the time. Holidays magnify that. And that’s okay. Live in the moment, laugh at the messiness, and love with all you have. 

So from my perfectly imperfect family, to yours…Merry Christmas. Happy Hanukkah. Peace be with you.