Posted in musings

stimming for joy

I stimmed today, for the pure joy of it.

I shook my hands back and forth like there was a vibrato in my wrists; I made waves through the air like the swirling lines of a dancing ribbon; I watched my fingers sparkle against the sky.

We were at the park; a storm was rolling in and the air was cool and crisp, with a bite to the wind. I was pushing Aubade and Limerick on the swings, feeling like I could fly with them, happy in the weather and the hours we’d been at the park already and the laughter bubbling from them as they swung. I would run towards them as they flew backwards, then dart backwards out of the way just before they could swing forwards and crash into me, and they would laugh so hard they could hardly catch a breath. Aubade would crow, “Three!” and I would push her three times, each one bigger than the last, so the third push would make her erupt with glee. And as the happiness ran through me it ran to my hands, and I chose to let it be instead of shutting it down, and I found as my hands danced in response to my happiness they also made it grow, until I was as completely blissful as I have ever been as far back as I can remember.

Normally, I have my body on some sort of lockdown – I can feel an impulse to move and then before I even have time to process it there is a counter signal to hold still. Normally, the only things that get through this lockdown are the stims that I need to cope with my anxiety or the stims that occur when I’m thinking hard enough about something else that I don’t notice what my body is doing. In other words, I let my body process and express my negative or neutral emotional states (at least to some extent, because I have learned that it is important for my mental health), but I prevent it from feeling my joy.

I’m starting to think, now, that the stimming of my happiness may also be important for my mental health. I have walked the thought paths of depression for so many years, always feeling inadequate, always feeling like I was carrying a nameless secret that would make people reject me if they found out, always shutting down my happiness from reaching my body so that even the moments of the most joy and beauty were tinged with sorrow. But here my body is ready and waiting to give to me the gift of happiness – of taking my happiness and escalating it, elevating it, prolonging it – able to protect me from the darkness of those roads, if only I am willing to let it do so.

I stimmed today, for the pure joy of it. I hope I can feel free and confident enough to do it again.

Posted in family life, musings

fear of change

After eight years of working in a genomics research center, I’ll be transitioning to being a stay-at-home parent a week from now. Technically I’ll be working eight hours a week, in a sort of consultant role, which will keep me connected to the science – but it will still be a big change. It’s what I’ve been wanting ever since Rondel was born almost four years ago – but as it approaches, I find myself becoming more and more anxious.

I like my job, and I am good at my job. My supervisor respects me and my opinions; the researchers who rely on the services our facility provides respect me and my scientific knowledge and experience. I know what types of problems are most likely to arise, and I have tools and strategies for troubleshooting them. And I know that if I put in time, effort, and energy, I will have a successful outcome.

To be totally honest, I really like having the respect of other professionals whose opinion I value and who do innovative and important research. It gives me self-confidence: I may be a complete wreck if I have to call my doctor to schedule an appointment, but when I sit down with a researcher to discuss their experiment and figure out the best plan for them to take moving forward, I am completely at ease. It also gives me a sense of identity and self-definition: when acquaintances ask what I do, I can tell them about the science and feel that I’m doing something of worth, something that uses my talents and gifts, something beyond just staying at home and cleaning and cooking like any other person could do.

At the heart of my nervousness about the transition, then, I think, is a fear of losing that respect and identity – of becoming part of the crowd, no one in particular, no one with any valuable skills or gifts to offer my community. When I spend time with other moms, I feel so inadequate in the areas they are gifted in: my home is rarely clean, laundry and meals happen on an as-needed basis rather than with planning, small talk eludes me, playdates terrify me, schedules and extra activities overwhelm me, my children are dirty and wild. My mind is usually lost in a book, or an idea, or a project, instead of focusing on the people around me. I say nothing and feel isolated, or I say too much and still never manage to connect with anyone else. I simply don’t have the skills that these other women have, and without them, I’m not sure where I can fit in or belong in the mom world (especially the homeschool mom world… those women are so organized that I give up just at the thought of trying to be like them).

In the workforce, in academia, where everyone is a bit weird and everyone is valued simply for the expertise they offer, I knew where I fit in and I knew how I could flourish.

In this new world, I’m afraid I won’t ever be able to flourish – and that in my lack of flourishing, I will stunt my children’s future as well.

I’m not going to let my fears make a decision for me, when I believe on principle that a self-directed education is ideal for children, and when I observe pragmatically the stress that a classroom environment would add to our family life. I’m going to choose to let my love for my family be the motivating factor here instead!

But I’m still afraid.

Posted in family life, musings

stepping outside of routine

Change is hard. Routines give life structure and reduce anxiety. This is probably especially true in a partially autistic household…

But sometimes, you have to swallow your fears and set out into the great wide somewhere, without knowing what might happen, even expecting that something may happen for which you are utterly unprepared.

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And then, sometimes – more often than your fears would lead you to believe – there is freedom, and there is joy.

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There are places and times when the beauty and the wonder overcomes the discomfort of uncertainty or freezing water, and happiness can reign uncontested.

There are moments when the lure of the next rock over proves greater than your apprehension about the deep pool that lies between you and it, and moments when crossing over through your fears ends up being one of the best parts of your day because that thing you were so worried about is actually something you love, that brings out the adventurer in your soul.

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It takes a lot of energy to step outside the normal and comfortable patterns of everyday life; I’ve discovered that I need to plan for a day of rest and recovery afterwards. But the thrill of living more fully, more expansively, less bound by our anxieties and routines, is very often worth it.

And for me, the scent of the clean air, the caress of the warm sun, the rhythm of the flowing water, the strength and grace in every line of plant and rock – those things are always worth the effort it takes to find them.

(Many thanks to the friends who made this possible by inviting us along and giving me a safety net to quiet my anxieties! I wouldn’t have gone without the assurance of helping adult hands, since my husband wasn’t able to come along, and now I know that I am capable of handling this kind of adventure on my own in the future. Your support was invaluable for the moment as well as for the moments that are still to come.)

Posted in family life, musings

the value of a diagnosis

As we proceed with Rondel’s diagnosis (since the school district is unable to provide an actual medical diagnosis in their evaluations), we’re using an innovative diagnostic app developed by a local children’s hospital, which involves capturing multiple videos of Rondel’s actions and interactions in specific situations. I like the concept a lot, as it lets the doctors see into Rondel’s everyday life and observe him unnoticed for far longer than would be possible in an office setting! However, as I’m going through the videos to trim and upload them, I keep wondering if the specialists will see the differences that we believe are present – or if they will tell us that his struggles are due to something like poor parenting. Maybe if I were stricter, or reinforced acceptable behaviors more consistently, or provided him with a more stable routine, or cleaned up our diet, or or or or…

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…then maybe he would be fine, maybe he would be normal, maybe he would fit in with all the other kids instead of sticking out uncomfortably.

He just isn’t so significantly different that it’s obviously a medical problem to a layperson. His differences are hidden, partially masked, behind his gregariousness and intelligence and creativity, until he’s used up all his energy on coping and he falls apart. So when people see him melting down or acting out, it’s easy for them to assume he is doing so willfully, or to think that he is simply being “spoiled” and “self-centered.” Even I, who see him every day, wonder sometimes if the difference is truly there, all the way down, no matter what, or if I could find some parenting technique that would work better for him and “catch him up” to his peers.

But I wonder that about myself also. Do I fail to maintain relationships or engage in neighborhood community-building because I am selfish, lazy, and don’t care about other people? If I were a better Christian, could I overcome my introversion? Many people do, after all, and are able to make time to recharge themselves. So am I guilty of using my social anxiety as an excuse to cover up for my vices or inadequacies?

Similarly, before I was diagnosed with depression (and honestly sometimes still), I would tell myself that if I just tried harder – if I prayed more, exercised more, ate better, spent more time in self-care, spent more time with close friends, practiced the right mental exercises, etc – I could get through the negative feelings and be fine. Getting the diagnosis was one of the best days of my life, because of what it meant to me: that I wasn’t an awful person taking advantage of the people around me, just a sick person who was trying as hard as possible to find joy and light but needed some extra help.

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And my hope is that a diagnosis will be a similar gift to Rondel: a confirmation that his differences are real, and valid, and significant; a reminder that some things will be harder and it will be ok to seek and use help and support; and a shield against the barbs of guilt and shame that always accompany deviations from social and cultural norms. The alternative – refusing to acknowledge and name the neurological differences that give rise to his behavioral differences – is only a recipe for disaster as he grows older and begins to notice his differences without a framework for comprehending and addressing them. How much better to provide him with a framework of informed understanding, acceptance, support, and unconditional love!

Posted in family life

2017

2017 is coming to a close.

We started out with postpartum depression and RSV; we’re ending with all three kids sick with the flu! (Well, to be more accurate, they were sick over Christmas and are mostly better now.) In between we fit more into one year than I would have thought possible, with therapies, medications, travel, moving into a new home, dipping our toes into the world of special needs education, and beginning a new round of transitions with my husband graduating and finding a job (which will start shortly after the New Year).

And I have learned so much this year, including about things that I thought I already understood but was able to look at from personal experience or through the new and edifying perspective of someone else’s experience or research. I acknowledged my anxiety as an obstacle in my path rather than a personal failing, thereby removing the associated guilt and shame and allowing myself to move forward; I began to make space for myself and the people I love to be different, express their differences, and be loved for who they are with those differences; I learned when to stand up for myself and when to disengage, and that both are ok given the circumstances as well as my own mental state; and I found the courage to make uncommon decisions for uncommon reasons without becoming defensive or belittling the choices I turned down. At least, those are the seeds of change that are beginning to germinate within me as a result of this year – I think I could spend a lifetime watching them grow!

This was also a year of good reading. What began as a way to cope with my depression when almost nothing else could distract my mind from the darkness turned into a re-ignition of my lifelong compulsive love of books and a chance to discover new characters, adventures, worlds, and authors. For the first time since childhood I kept a book log for myself, which was a massively encouraging endeavor in and of itself, and managed to read and record 84 previously-unread-by-me books since I started tracking mid-January! I think the books deserve their own post so I will say no more here – but it was a major part of my year and a consistent source of pleasure and refreshment as well as an escape from my own head.

And of course this was the year of Aubade, since she just barely made an appearance in 2016 but has by now infiltrated herself into every thread of the warp and weave of our lives. Through her, the boys have gained independence and learned compassion and gentleness. She has stolen our sleep but given us laughter. She is a confident baby princess, secure in her belief that whatever she wants, she should have, and she will get it for herself if no one will get it for her! She is a fearless baby explorer, certain that she can do whatever she sets her mind to do, and that around every corner (or behind every door, or on top of every high place) there is something new and exciting to discover. She is a bestower of hugs and a jealous claimant to her mommy’s lap. She is a passionate lover of showers (or pools, or baths, or splash pads), peek-a-boo, mud on her fingers, the thrill of the climb, the loudness of blenders and vacuums, snuggles with the people she loves, and singing or playing music. I can hardly believe she has only been in our lives for a year, because life without her would seem so empty.

Overall, it was a year of crashing lows, dark valleys to endure, and steep mountains to climb (my saint for the year was St. Jude, patron of hopeless causes, and it certainly seemed fitting when I was in the depths of the depression) – but it was also a year of soaring highs, transcendent mountain views, and glorious sunrises. A more stable and mundane year would certainly have been easier, but I am thankful for the things that happened and the way they shaped the person I am now. And now, let the adventures of 2018 begin!

 

Posted in musings

thoughts and worries of a distracted mind

I’ve been thinking a lot about a few topics lately, none of which have made for suitable blog posts.

First, I’ve been very actively consumed by an off-the-record project I’m attempting for my job (basically, I’m trying to develop a database and website for our team, for essentially no cost, using only my own skills and whatever products are accessible for free or close to it. It’s difficult, time-consuming, and addictively enjoyable).

Second, I’ve been noticing how my hormonal cycle still affects my depression even with the Zoloft. And when I’m exhausted and down for a week or so out of every month, I feel like I spend the rest of the month digging myself back out of a hole. Still, it’s much better than being continually tired and depressed!

Finally, I’ve been concerned – or maybe nervous is a better word – about Rondel. His quality of speech hasn’t improved over the past year or so (although his language development has, which would be a greater problem), and may have even declined over the past six months. For people who don’t know him, he is a challenge to understand at all, and even I have to ask him to repeat himself if I can’t see his face or the context of his speech. He’s also had some anxiety or behavioral issues – it’s difficult to tell which may be causing the other, or if they’re both just feeding each other – that have made it increasingly difficult to take the kids out. On a good day he’s sweet, loving, funny, imaginative, energetic, and helpful; on a bad day he’s impulsive, defiant, silly in a “let’s make breaking the rules into a game” sort of way, aggressive, and clingy. And the bad days seem to be getting more frequent, and I never know what sort of day it’s going to be. But in my mind I’m just endlessly walking the treadmill of worry, and that doesn’t make for great reading 🙂 So we’re waiting to have him evaluated, and hopefully that will be profitable. Actually, I wouldn’t mind prayers to that effect!

But it has been a while, and we’re finally starting to settle into the semester and the new house, so hopefully you will see a lot more posts on here soon! I keep reminding myself that I need to write things down or else I’m going to forget them all when the kids have their own families and are wondering how far the apple fell from the tree…

Posted in musings

the girl who became a warrior

Once upon a time there was a little girl who worried. She didn’t worry about practical things, like fires and robbers; she trusted her mom to handle things like that. But she worried about heaven, and how to know what happens when you die. She worried about wanting to be alone and making her friends feel hurt. She worried about being the littlest and the last and being left out because she was too late. She worried about losing her stuffed bunny that kept her company in the dark at night.

When she grew up, her worries didn’t really leave; they just changed to fit her new grown-up circumstances. She still worried about death, and wondered just what she would find after passing through that painful door. She worried that her introversion made her less of a good Christian by crippling her witness to Jesus’s love and grace. She worried about never measuring up to the people around her; she worried about missing out on something important by showing up late to anything. And she worried about losing the people closest to her, the relationships that mattered most, the love that kept her feeling safe in the dark at night.

This little girl didn’t realize, for years and years, that she worried about all these things. She thought that because she didn’t care about what other people thought of her, and wasn’t anxious about the future, and didn’t get nervous for doctor appointments or tests, and could handle large crowds and speaking in public (although it wasn’t enjoyable), that she wasn’t a worrier. She prided herself on her ability not to worry, to trust God with the outcome, to embrace new situations and attack new problems with confidence. But the worries were always there, in the dark corners, ignored but not silent.

They were there in the moments she wanted to speak but couldn’t open her mouth for fear of saying the wrong thing; they were there in the Psalms of trust and strength she memorized and would recite over and over again before getting out of the car and walking back into the relationships that mattered so much they hurt; they were there in the nights lying sleepless in bed aching over a careless word that might have damaged a friendship; they were there in the years and years of picking away all the bumps and scabs and scratches on her arms. But it wasn’t until they grew so strong that she couldn’t leave her house without physical panic that she admitted they were there, and that she wanted to let them go and help them rest in peace.

Worry grows like a climbing plant, wrapping its tendrils tightly around the support bars of your heart, cracking stone, weakening foundations, inserting itself into every nook and cranny and taking hold. Removing it is not the task of a day, nor an effort for the faint-hearted. Sometimes, this grown-up girl worried that it would be an futile effort, not worth the time and energy it demanded. But now that she knew how deeply it could incapacitate her if allowed to grow freely, she could see that even just keeping it fought back and somewhat maintained was a necessary (if unrewarding and unending) task. Left to itself, it would destroy everything else.

Worry builds unseen walls around the tended places of your heart, sealing them in, claiming to protect them from danger and harm. But all the time, as it builds, it pricks and pokes and pierces those vulnerable and intimate areas with images of all the possible scenarios that could bring about your devastation and despair. You may be safe from the actual event you fear, but you are locked in a dungeon with your worst tormentor of all. It took years of patient love, proving the worries false and unfounded, to open doors in those walls and coax the frightened areas of this girl’s heart out into the wild and beautiful free world again, and still she finds herself drawing back into those confines in moments of fear or anger. But now she knows the feeling of warm sun, fresh air, and flowing water in the deepest part of her being; now she knows the peace that comes from leaving behind worry’s dark and fearsome fortress.

Worry tried to convince this girl, through all these years, that she was unable to control the forces surrounding her life, and that events were sure to overwhelm her at some point or another. It tried to tell her that she could never hope to be enough, to break her spirit and close her in. But the deeper story, the more lasting truth, is that worry has trained her to be a warrior, fighting for her own joy and peace and love and beauty, and for all those things for the world she lives in: a warrior who will never give up, who knows her enemy is a liar and a coward – a warrior who fights with hope.