Close Encounters of the Aspergers Kind

Sometimes at our house, it can be challenging to connect emotionally with one another.  There’s the constant challenge of Aspergers, but there are also challenges of each of us being in different states including emotionally exhausted, frazzled, stressed out, sleep deprived, annoyed, frustrated, angry, with each expecting from the others compassion and respect, regardless of their individual state of being at the moment.  Two of us (I will admit to being one) are, shall we say, high-strung, and the other two are mellow with a tendency to withdraw.  I’m sure we are no different from many households in this regard.  We also have a very small house so it is hard to get or give space.

Despite these challenges, there is a lot of humor in circulation around here.  Something that will elicit a smile, or even better, a laugh, makes even the worst of times more bearable, and seals the best of times on our hearts like a metaphysical smiley face sticker.

Having had my birthday and Mother’s Day within the same week, I felt that special longing for connection for a number of days.  We had decided some time ago to keep to a routine and not have the big observances for holidays or disruption to our physical space that came from decorating for Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, the 4th of July, or for birthdays.  This is easier on me as it’s less work, on my husband and son as they both thrive on sameness.  I think it is pretty hard on our NT daughter, but she had her turn growing up, and accepts the change with grace.

So our holidays look pretty blah, but I still feel these days are special, and mark them in a small way.  I made an Easter basket for my grown daughter because that is still something special between us.  She brought her boyfriend over for a night of TV on my birthday, which I felt was a great gift, and she presented me with a gift bag on Mother’s Day with earrings in a design that she knew would be special to me.  My husband did nothing to mark either my birthday or Mother’s Day, but I have noticed that every morning, the first thing he says to me is, “Hello, sweetie.”  Did he always do this and I just noticed?  I don’t know, but I think now that it more than compensates for the lack of an annual card or gift.  I can’t stop smiling just thinking about it.

And he laughs at my jokes, a rare trait which I appreciate immensely.  He regularly cracks me up as well, with a very dry, understated humor.  Like the time we were newly married, visiting family, at my sister’s house with nothing to do at that moment except watch bad TV.  I was still adjusting to spending so much time with someone who is so much quieter than I am, and who watches so much more TV than me when we could be talking instead.  I was enduring watching the actor going on desperately about how he needed money, the music was ratcheting up the emotion of the scene, and the actor finally yelled, “I’ve got to have the money!” to which my new husband appended lightning quick and in the perfect tone, “To pay for my acting lessons!”  Perhaps you had to be there, but decades later, I remember that as a watershed moment, when I was reminded that the man is exceedingly thoughtful and witty, and that I love being with him, but really understood for the first time that his wonderfulness only emerges when he has space to be himself.  I hope our son grows up to be the same kind of sweet and thoughtful husband, and ends up with someone who loves the whole of him and does not compare him to an ideal created on Madison Avenue or in the pages of a novel.

My most personal interaction with my son on Mother’s Day occurred when I called him in to see a cute video.  Watching over my shoulder as I sat at my computer, he smiled as I played an awww-inspiring video of a dog jumping in circles on a bed.  When it finished, my son pointed to the URL (wimp.com) and deadpanned, “Weakly interacting massive particles.”  Then he left the room.

I know he loves animals and I could see that he enjoyed seeing the video.  One might think that this is typical Asperger behavior, but that is what is so funny.  He is not usually like that.  It’s like he was spoofing himself.  My take was that by not commenting on the content of the video, instead purposely seizing the opportunity to make an off-topic remark related to his beloved physics (which I flunked and avoid talking about whenever possible), he was exacting revenge on me for interrupting his round-trip between bedroom/mancave and kitchen, and letting me know that attempting to interact with him in this manner would bring me no joy.  Except it did.

It can be challenging to feel connected, but when I can slow down and accept the interactions instead of comparing them to what they are not, I find these loving relationships to be a source of great joy.

May 14, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Tears for a friend

I hear my son laughing, Skyping his friends as they play online together.  He is not yet aware that a girl he went to school with has ended her life, and that her body has been recovered from the park where they once played.  Her close friends found out within minutes of her mother finding the note, texting and calling each other.  The neighborhood found out as we heard and saw the first responders converge on the park by car, firetruck and helicopter, searching for the lost girl.

My husband and I talk about how to break the news.  Should we wait until we have more information?  What if he finds out from someone else?  That is not likely.  He is engrossed in his game, temporarily shut off from the world we consider real, in a different world inhabited by him and his friends, and their electronic allies and enemies.  The teenagers in the real world around us are of minimal interest.  Our teenager is no longer close to that crowd, having left them in middle school for extended stays in the hospital.

Even during the most difficult times, we were grateful that our son’s mental health issues had been discovered while he was young enough to want to return to our home and be with our family, while he still enjoyed our company, while he still trusted us, and before he could learn to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.  The friends he plays with now are from his new school, a school for kids like him, and his isolation from friends from the neighborhood, from our old church, from elementary and middle school, is no longer as painful to him as it once was.

For me, the change was almost unbearable.  The end of his social world was the end of my social world, and I exchanged my work, parent coffees and volunteering for questionnaires, consultations, and waiting rooms.  The camaraderie I had enjoyed with other moms was gone.  No more conferring over those compelling questions, how long to let him play on his Gameboy, how much to spend on a birthday present for a friend, whether or not to require him to exchange valentines with classmates.  The questions were different now, the stakes higher.  Where do you draw the line with aggression?  Zero tolerance for physical violence, sure, but what about threatening posturing?  Yelling?  Sarcasm and disrespect?  How intrusive should you be when they seem down?  How much independence do you give them around taking their medications?

In my new peer group, the common bond is a profound love for our children, alloyed with profound sadness, weariness, and a bent towards self-blaming.  We help one another on the path to a healthier place.  It is still painful for me, but it is a pain I embrace, knowing that while our family is no longer in the social mainstream, my son will have the support he needs to deal with whatever comes his way.

As we talk about how to break the news, I wonder what kind of support he will need.  He may not need any.  After all, he spent months in the hospital with other kids with mental health issues, some of whom tried and failed to end their lives.  I’m sure they talked about it.  During one of our visits, he said he felt bad that an older teen who had been discharged, had had to come back to the unit.  I remember thinking, it was good that his family had access to great mental healthcare for him, and that they had known how acutely he needed it.

I know that later I will have to go in and talk with him about stopping the game and going to bed.  The dread I sometimes feel in advance of a difficult discussion is not there.  Whether or not he goes to bed on time, or at all tonight, seems trivial.  I hear him laughing with his friends.  I think of the girl we knew, and her friends and family down the street, weeping.  I am so sorry for them, and for the first time, I wish that other families could know what we know.

April 23, 2012. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

Would you like bipolar with that?

Most blogs I have read start out with an intelligent post introducing the author as a person with something to say.  I  can’t think of anything except various things that would embarrass my children and/or suggest that I am a grown woman somehow stuck with the sense of humor of an adolescent boy, which comes out when I am feeling stressed.  Which is all the time.

One day hanging out with my Aspie, somehow we got to saying whatever we needed to say with “ass” worked in, in a highly exaggerated manner.  If I were speaking ass right now, I would say, “my Aaaaassssspie.”  In fact, I think the first incidence may have occurred with the word “Asperger’s.”  That would be, Aaaaaasssssperger’s.  I can’t even remember to quote for you, but there were many, many hilarious things to say with aaaaaasssss in them.

We were watching the Sandwich King.  One of the most fun of the many Food Network series we have watched was the most recent competition for the Next Food Network Star, producing its new star, Jeff Mauro, the Sandwich King.  I was watching his show with my Aspie, and I was wondering, if my life were a sandwich, would the bipolar be a part of the sandwich, or would I just be in an Asperger’s sandwich with a side of bipolar? I don’t know why that is so important to me to figure out, but I keep thinking about it.  I had been thinking about Asperger’s sandwich with a side of bipolar for a long time, but watching the Sandwich King was the first time I thought about it all being in the sandwich, all layered together, and every day is another bite.

My dad had Asperger’s, my mom was bipolar, and my growing up years were chaotic.  I was confused all the time.  Luckily, I had older sisters to help me, at least until they went away one by one, to college and to get married.  After I grew up, I was still confused but managed to stay busy for a couple of decades, and thought I was having a pretty normal life, at last.  I married and had my own family — I had a career, I was a wife, and the mom of a beautiful, sweet daughter.  I wish I had been able to slow down and enjoy life and especially enjoy being with my daughter then, instead of having been so high strung and driven to do something meaningful with my life.  She was so undemanding and easy going, much like my husband.  How I wish I could go back and really enjoy the days we had together, when among my biggest concerns were what to wear and how to do our hair, since everything else came so easily to our family.

Our son was born, and after years of trying to figure out how to be the best mom I could be so that he too could have a normal life, I learned that me being not just the best mom I could be but even being the best mom who ever lived would never give him what I thought of as a normal life.  Our son, who reminded me so very much of my dad, was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome.  Then my son went to middle school, without an IEP, and after numerous school-stress-induced hospitalizations, he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  By now, he was a teenager and began to remind me so very much of my mom as well.

It took a while to sink in, and when it finally did sink in, it was like a bell rang deep inside me, like there was a buoy in there, floating inside me, with a bell that had been just waiting to ring and ring and ring.  I had thought I was sailing away, away from the craziness, and I did.  High school graduation, college graduation, grad school, career, marriage, my own family, my own structure and rules, all took me far away from the craziness.  I set sail and I sailed so far that I went around the world.  It took decades, but there I was, back again, at the same buoy.  Riiiiiing, riiiiiing, riiiiiing.  I could never really get away, because the bell was in me.  It was in me, and I passed it on to my son.  Aaaaaaassssk not for whom the bell tolls.  It tolls for me.

October 5, 2011. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

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