Tuesday, October 20, 2015

It's My Free To Be Me-Iversary

The date had been on my mind for a few days. At a different point in my life, it may have brought on some feelings of sadness and loss. But to the ME I am today, this day gives me every reason to celebrate!

One year ago today, I left for work in the morning and I did my five hour shift in the school lunchroom. I came home and started to get ready for the kids coming home from school. There were a few things out of place in the kitchen, but I didn't really pay them much mind until later. I went upstairs to collect my daughter's dirty clothes, and when I walked past his room, that's when I realized, my husband had moved out.


The marriage had been dead for a long time, and neither of us wanted to be the one to pull the plug. I guess his current relationship was what it took for him to finally walk away, and there are a million reasons that should be devastating to me, even today, but it's not. I don't even want to talk about any of that right now. It's become exhausting. I DO want to talk about the wonderful things I have learned about myself in the year without him.

Lately, I have been fixated on evolution. I don't mean the kind of evolution that turns volcanoes into islands or dinosaur remains into fossil fuel. I mean personal evolution. I mean having the ability to be who I was yesterday, and knowing I have the power to change the parts I don't like and become somebody new today. Every day.

I am a huge Anne Rice fan. I started reading The Vampire Chronicles back in my early twenties. I know people will either love her or maybe not so much, but I LOVED every word. To this day, I am in love with The Vampire Lestat. Right now I'm sure you're thinking, "What the HELL do vampires have to do with a broken marriage and evolution?" Hang on. I'm getting there.

At some point in The Chronicles, somebody asks Lestat how he manages to survive the changing centuries when so many other vampires have been driven mad by the progressing world. It's been quite a few years since I've read the books, and I couldn't tell you where or in which book the question was asked, but the answer was,

"I am able to adapt".

Five words in a fiction series that have given me power my whole life.

Now, I'm not some storybook groupie and I don't mean to say that my life doctrine is based on a fictional character, but you have to admit, the concept of those words is pretty powerful. When we are faced with sadness, we can crumble or adapt. When faced with hardships, we can either be defeated by them or rise to the challenge. And when faced with life altering changes, we can either be devastated by them, or we can adapt.

I loved my husband. His selfish need to justify his behavior will compel him to disagree, but if you want to know how much I loved him, ask his mother. I believed he loved me, and didn't ever consider  I could be wrong until an argument toward the end. I asked him, "What do you need from me, to move toward fixing this marriage?"  His answer was,

"I need you to change EVERYTHING ABOUT YOURSELF!"


So I said, "I am exactly the same person I was when you met me. If this is how you feel, does it mean you never liked anything about me?"

"I guess I just never realized it."

That was what it took. That conversation made it so easy to let him go. It was mean, it was hateful and it was hurtful. And it relieved me of any lingering hope that we could ever fix what was so very broken.

Living alone with my kids is sometimes a struggle. Most of the struggles are financial, and we have all learned to live without. This week, the dog has eaten Cheerios for three days, but we'll all be just fine because we're infinitely happier. There is no more stress. No more stress over what time dinner is ready, (it never was on time for him, but there was always the stress). No more stress over the tension when my oldest came to visit. No more stress over every damned thing I do being "wrong".

So now that it's been a whole year of living without all that stress, let me tell you a few other things I have come to enjoy over the last twelve months:

1) I can cook (or not cook) WHATEVER THE HELL I DAMNED WELL PLEASE. All those Asian dishes served with rice (that he hated so much and I absolutely loved), 3 times a week! Breakfast for dinner? Why not?!! Pizza? $8.49 pies on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday!! WHAT. EVER. I. WANT.

2) The girl and I can wear perfume and polish our nails in the house without offending his sensitive sinuses.

3) When attending family functions, I don't have to keep watching the clock because he already gave me a "departure time". I can get there early, be the last one to go home, or spend the damned night if I want!

4) My family comes over more often. All the years my loving hubby told me that nobody came over because they couldn't stand to be around me, the truth is, it was HIM they couldn't stand to be around. Not so much him, as he related to THEM...but the way he treated ME left my sister-in-law, on numerous occasions, dragging my brother out the door early so he wouldn't feel compelled to teach dear old hubby how wrong it was to be such a hateful ass to me. Now that he's gone, I see them all the time. It's been warm and also validating.

5) My son has fewer meltdowns. His OCD is still sometimes intense and his inability to express himself sometimes leaves him incapable of controlling how upset he might be. But for the most part, I handle it without the anger and frustration that were the instant reaction of dear old dad. I'm not saying I NEVER lose it...I'm human. But it's rare. Without that constant disapproval, he is a much calmer, happier child.

6) My girl is less stressed. She can be herself without the daily challenge of "living up to daddy's image of her". She still deals with some deep anger with her dad that she keeps bottled up, but I'm doing my best to help her through it. And she's my very best friend, so we enjoy that much more now that it's just us.

7) I don't have to pretend to enjoy vacuuming and ironing. I don't have to feel guilty for so intensely loving my holiday decorations. I can boldly LOVE Christmas again.

8) I can associate with good, decent, loving people who he always thought were beneath him. Then again, he thought most people were beneath him. Including me.

9) My oldest can visit me any time he likes, and NOT have to feel hated. This is my favorite freedom.

10) I can be 100% authentically, unapoligetically myself. And I can love myself without the constant self  doubt that comes from someone constantly telling me how wrong I was. About everything.

It's been a whole year on my own, and I am happier than I have been in YEARS!! I would say that's cause for celebration. So happy free-to-be-me-iversary to me!!!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

What Kind Of Parent Sends a Kid Out In Shorts In The Winter?

This morning I posted a meme on my Facebook page about Sensory Processing Disorder that seemed to strike a nerve in the community. Now, I'm no trained professional on the subject of SPD, but when you're a parent of a special needs child, you tend to become an unwilling "expert" on a lot of things. We tend to be on top of our kids, everywhere they go, and that brings us in contact with lots of other parents of special needs kids. We talk. We commiserate. We compare. We suggest. We learn.

Networking on Facebook is a salvation of sorts for parents in the special needs community. If you discover upon becoming a parent, that socializing for yourself has become a hardship, for the special needs community, that struggle is greatly increased, to put it mildly, so Facebook is often our only "human" interaction and we network via whatever screen with which we can manage to sneak away. That's where we hear so many of the stories that tell us we are not the only ones who are desperately trying to help our kids navigate their way through the SPD challenges that can make the simplest of tasks a torturous event. But the judgment of how we choose to deal with those challenges can be found everywhere we go.

When my son was first diagnosed, back in 2002, the clinical psychologist who made the formal diagnosis mentioned SPD, and explained it in the simplest way possible to my novice mind.

"Do you hear the hum of the air conditioner unit? You really didn't notice it until I mentioned it because your mind has been trained to tune it out in favor of what is going on in front of you. To the person with SPD, the sound of that motor can be impossible to tune out, and can seem like giant tower bells between the ears, leaving them completely unable to focus on anything else, and perhaps causing a meltdown. These seemingly irrational reactions can be triggered by any kind of offending stimuli. What is perceived as an assault on the senses...a smell, a taste, a sound, a touch or a visual stimulus, can truly render an SPD sufferer incapable of controlling his or her reaction."

I may have SLIGHTLY paraphrased that explanation, (it WAS 13 years ago), but I am certain it was pretty damned close to word for word.

For those who battle SPD, the offending object or situation can change from time to time, depending on a great deal of variables. How much sleep was had the night before? How long has the person
been "holding it together" prior to the introduction of the offending stimulus? Is there more than one stimulus present? Are there fluctuating hormones involved? Has there been a disruption in a routine? Sometimes there is no telling why something that was perfectly acceptable yesterday might have triggered a Defcon 5 meltdown today. But when the disorder has been triggered, we who are doing our best to help our kids (or ourselves) through it will do whatever it takes to keep everyone safe and bring calm back to a situation.

I have seen kids whose hypersensitive gag reflex is triggered by the smell of a certain food. I have seen a 6 year old boy attempt to refuse broccoli on his dish only to be accused of wanting his snacks instead of his meal, and to be told he would have to take the broccoli like everyone else. I saw that boy burst into tears and walk out with no meal because he would rather be hungry than to smell broccoli on his plate. That is Sensory Processing Disorder.

I have seen a child watch all his siblings having fun in the snow, throwing snowballs, building a snowman, sledding down a giant snow slide. He watched in tears from the living room window because he couldn't tolerate putting on the snow pants that would keep him dry. That is Sensory Processing Disorder.

I have seen my own son scream and cover his ears as he threw himself on the floor in the middle of a busy restaurant, all because the sounds of the conflicting noise was too much for his brain to take in at once. He has the same reaction to the sound of the crowd roaring at a ballgame, or the sound of a baby crying. That is Sensory Processing Disorder.

Bright, flickering lights, the loud, Dolby stereo speakers of a movie theater, the strong smells of a farm, the feeling of certain fabrics...anything that is overwhelming to an individual with SPD in a given moment has the potential to trigger a meltdown, which IS NOT the same as the temper tantrum of a "spoiled brat". When a person with SPD or autism or any developmental disorder reaches the point where they are in a full meltdown, it is NOT a choice they have made, and they will need help to regain control.

So if you happen to be out somewhere and encounter a scenario that seems out of the ordinary, do you instantly pass judgment or do you consider the possibility that there may be more to the situation than your own experience might lead you to surmise? What do you think when you see the mom who only gives her child chicken nuggets at every meal? When you see a dad who is pushing his six year old in a stroller, do you think "How ridiculous?" And when you see my son, rocking back and forth in our booth at the restaurant, wearing his big headphones and watching a video on my phone, do you think, "How rude! There should be no screens at the table!" If these thoughts cross your mind, you should keep them to yourself, because those chicken nuggets, that stroller and that God forsaken Barney video are the tools that we are using to keep our kids safe and calm. These are the strategies we have found to be effective at helping our kids maintain control of their behavior. We are doing our best to help them to try new foods, navigate through crowds and remain calm even in very noisy places, and since your judgment can't HELP us and our kids in any way, it's a negative we can really live without. And keep in mind, most of us are hanging on to our last shred of sleep deprived sanity, so you really don't want to be what pushes us right over the edge.

Oh, as the colder weather approaches, you might also keep in mind that those kids who are coming off the schoolbus in shorts, or in a skirt with no tights, and even on the coldest days with snow falling, you'll see kids with no hats or gloves...Sensory Processing Disorder. When you think it was a "bad parent" who allowed that kid to leave the house with his legs exposed on a 28 degree morning, it was actually a parent who loved his or her child so much, no expectations of keeping up with a social "norm" could justify torturing that child with a clothing item that would've made focusing on school work impossible. And the next time you have to cut the tag out of the back of your shirt, or readjust the seam of your socks, or you cringe at the sound of someone biting the fork...Sensory Processing Disorder.