How do you tell someone that all the things that make life so hard to navigate are the very same things that make them so amazing?
It used to be easier. Even last year, when she went to Boston to take part in a study about girls with autism, she didn’t really ask about her Autism. She just generally believed, as do the rest of us, that autism made her amazing. You could ask her for an explanation and she would usually launch into a rather disjointed but incredibly adorable speech about her awesome, sparkly brain.
This week things changed for her. I am not sure when, or why, but all of the sudden, she wants to know some serious detail about what autism means for her. So then, what shall I say?
Kate’s expressive language is far stronger than her receptive language, so while she can talk your ear off, she doesn’t always comprehend your message. You can ask an expert about the finer details but, for Kate, I imagine it’s a lot like this:
Kate hears the words you say and then each of those words goes into a different compartment in her brain. Then, she must access those words and put them in an order that makes sense. This is my best guess. I could be way off, but for now, this is how I imagine it. Somedays, she can organize those words quickly but on other days, when she is all out of tokens, as we say, she has a much harder time making sense of everything.
Now, on top of this communication issue, there are a number of other things that make up Kate’s version of autism. She’s excessively overconfident, she has little concept of her body in space, she knows no strangers (which can be terrifying as I’ve often said) and she has low tone, or very little muscle tone which makes her pretty uncoordinated, but only in the cutest way possible.
Sure, there are other things that I could mention but that’s enough for now. You get the idea. Right? In order to explain her autism to her, I would have to explain to her why things are often confusing and frustrating. And, while she has every right to know, she isn’t quite able to fully understand yet, so we end up in a more confusing state than when we began.
So, you can see how this isn’t easy.
She has questions, and rightly so.
I worry that I don’t have the answers, because the answers are really all inside her fascinating brain. I hope she can tell me someday, but for now she will have to do with my rudimentary explanations.
How do you tell someone that all the things that make life so hard to navigate are the very same things that make them so amazing?
I know I share intimate details on this blog, which might lead you to believe I have some level of confidence, but the truth is, I suffer from anxiety and depression and I take medication daily.
This won’t shock anyone that knows me. But, part of my problem is the insistent need to overshare.
Maybe that’s why you like me. Maybe that’s why I make you uncomfortable.
If you don’t suffer from anxiety, you may not understand, but I’m guessing, if you read this blog, you have some knowledge in this area.
Isn’t everyone a fucking basketcase, in one way or another?
Why am I telling you this?
Just another example of oversharing?
A warning that what I write is either fueled by anxiety, depression or, if I’m lucky, a mid-level red, costing less than $15.
Relax! I love to write on caffeine, too.
I recently made a list in my journal of all the things that cause me anxiety/depression (and what,EVEN, is the fucking difference?)
Here it is, in NO particular order:
I could go on and on, and get into some serious minute detail, but I’ll spare you that shit. You have your own worries I’m sure.
I take pills for my blood pressure, too. It’s as bad as my anxiety/depression insofar as it makes my day more difficult than it should be.
So there it is; I take three pills every morning.
I wish I didn’t, but if wishes were fishes… to steal a phrase.
So to my workout...which is the point of this post.
Christ, I can ramble.
I’ve started Working Out, as you may know.
Maybe it makes you roll your eyes.
I visit CrossFit about four times a week.
I don’t love it, because that’s stupid. That shit hurts and makes me sore and nauseous, among other things. I am loving the people, for sure, but the workout...it’s hard and it hurts. I can’t do most of it and spend my workout scaling everything back to a manageable movement.
I’m always last. I’m always slowest. And, for the most part, I’m always confused.
But there is something that makes me want more. Something that makes me look forward to my next visit.
That’s so strange to say.
Why the Fuck, would this tired ass, obese (relax, the truth hurts) teacher and autism mom, enjoy a level of self-harm that puts her emo-stage in the early 90’s to shame?
Here’s what I’ve discovered (and yes, most of you probably already know this)
When you kick your own ass, there is something released into the brain that rivals the pills I take to make it through my day.
Do you hear that?
CrossFit makes me happier.
Isn’t that the most fucked up concept?
This special-needs mom, with a severe level of anxiety and mild depression is telling you…that...exercising until you think you might vomit on an elite athlete’s shoes, is better for your head than any pharmaceutical out there.
There, I said it.
And if you don’t believe me…
Fuck off, I don’t care. CrossFit doesn’t make me nicer.
I’ve been to crossfit 37 times. I know that because I have been obsessively marking the pages of my planner whenever I go.
I’ll start at the beginning:
It was January 2nd, and as usually I was going through a list of possible resolutions. And just like Lent, for this lapsed Catholic, I always try and make my resolutions more about getting than giving up. My list read like this:
In 2019 I promise to:
I didn’t know where to start, having failed miserably at every fitness attempt to date so I decided to google some of the obvious and honest questions that were rolling around in my head:
Best gyms for fat people
Gyms where fat people are welcome
Least Painful workouts for out of shape people
And so on
(I know you think these search terms are all about the self-hate but trust me they were just a pragmatic way to find a welcoming gym)
It was a particularly dreary and depressing January morning when I decided to I needed to tell my husband straight away that I wanted to try Crossfit, because in all of my searches it kept coming up first.
He was in the shower, but I really didn’t want to wait to tell him that we were about to join a gym. A gym where I had said to its members: “Call your Dad, you’re in a cult.”
I burst through the bathroom door and held my phone into the shower showing him a picture of the gym website.
“We are joining this gym...tomorrow.”
He agreed; probably because he was shocked to hear those words from my mouth.
I contacted the gym immediately and set up an appointment.
Here’s what went down:
Starting Weight 268lbs
I donned my cleanest and newest ‘yoga’ pants, that, to date, had never been to yoga, and in fact, might be more aptly named “pajamas”, and drove, with my gym-ready husband, to our first appointment at Crossfit.
(I do love a run-on sentence, don’t I?)
This session was designed to go over the fundamentals needed to partake in a crossfit workout. So, basically, practicing movements like squats, lunges and a number of other workout-y terms that I don’t remember.
We practiced these movements for an hour, and I went home a little excited that we were about to start working out and making some positive changes to our health.
And then the next morning came…
It hurt so bad that when I sat down on the toilet to pee, I debated staying there until I had to pee again to avoid the pain of going from sitting to standing.
And if you think I am exaggerating, I invite you (if you’re out of shape like me) to come work out with me anytime.
I hurt like that for two days, and then I went back for more.
It doesn’t hurt that bad anymore, but it sure still hurts on some days, and I’m learning to appreciate those sore muscles because it means I got off my ass and did something.
Now at 37 workouts or 10 weeks in:
Current Weight 251lbs
Stay tuned for more.
My youngest was diagnosed with autism at the goddamn peak of the anti-vax movement. I’ve written loads about that time but I haven’t yet been ready to share the intimate details of my righteous anger regarding the anti-vax movement and how it affected us directly then, and even now.
Let’s start at the beginning, shall we? Two years before Kate was born, we had Grace. Sweet Grace, who doesn’t say much, and is a sensitive soul, was our first. She has many vaccinations leading up to her 18 month shots, and we asked no questions, because as a teacher and an engineer we decided to leave the science to the scientists. However, on the day of those infamous 18 month shots, our nurse informed us that our little Buddha baby was going to get three needles. As first-time, overprotective parents, we inquired whether we could split those needles up, just in an attempt to save our Grace from the pain. Our doctor, who I remember as a very sweet, very smart, resident, said the following: “Do you take medical advice from Jenny McCarthy?”
(Disclaimer: This WILL NOT shit on Jenny McCarthy or any other mother led down the wrong path by con-people and the like. I am merely re-telling my story)
Having less than zero knowledge of the anti-vax movement at this time in 2008, I answered, “No”, thinking my doctor was a little odd. Maybe I should have been aware, but after a brutal pregnancy, I was far from up to date on current trends.
The nurse went on to give Grace her three needles and we went home, and continued our sleepless first year.
Over the course of that year, the strange “Jenny McCarthy” commnet began to make sense. I shrugged it off, grateful, that I didn’t get sucked into the drama, and continued on my journey to make that second, most awesome baby, we called Kate.
Now, with Kate, we were very careful to follow doctor’s orders from conception on and will continue to do so, as we do for big sister. The difference was, with Kate, the anti-vax movement was strong. Close friends and neighbors, and even some family, had comments to make about whether we would vaccinate our second born.
We scoffed, of course. We were going to vaccinate our baby, because we knew that vaccinations caused ADULTS, and we so wanted our babies to grow old.
No, I won’t pretend, that hearing these things over, and over, from people I respected didn’t make me wonder, think, question our decision for a moment, but in the end, thankfully, we let the science do the talking and fully-vaccinated our second baby, as well.
It was soon after that we noticed Kate was missing those damn “milestones” that baby books and baby shows, and other parents consider crucial (which is a whole other crock of shit if you ask me).
We were worried, of course, because Kate wasn’t talking, or making eye-contact. She was experiencing, what we now know is, major sensory-overload, and meltdowns that would shake up our home. She was toe-walking and had a very limited palette (many of these things are the same today, and that's okay)
(Disclaimer #2: Please do not try and diagnose your child, grand-child, husband, cat, whatever, with the symptoms I have listed here. Just as with vaccinations, see your doctor, please). Our Diagnosis story can be read here.
After the diagnosis, which happened relatively quickly thanks to a brave family member who had the courage to chat with us about the possibility, we barely had time to process when the comments started:
Did you notice things were different after her 18 month shots?
Well, yes, yes we did. It’s because so many of those milestones she missed were due to come out right around then, but yes, you go ahead and make me feel like a shitty parent for vaccinating my baby, Barbara.
Did she act differently the day she was given the 18 month needles?
Yes, yes she did. She had just been given three needles after an hour long wait in the doctor’s office, Janet, and she was rightly pissed off that day, but you go ahead and tell your whole church group that things changed immediately after her vaccinations.
And so on….
And you know what really sucks.
Beyond the guilt laid on parents and caregivers, beyond the guilt we take on ourselves, for so many reasons, you tried to add more. And worse….
What really hurt was that people then, and EVEN NOW, would rather risk the death of their child from a formally eradicated disease such as measles than have a child, with autism, like mine.
We know vaccines don’t cause autism.
We know the harm the anti-vax movement has done to so many, and still some of you would risk it, to prevent a life like mine. To prevent a little girl like mine.
She’s perfect, you know. You have no idea.
That makes me angry.
Not just angry that you are stupid, but angry that you don’t know how stupid you are.
Now, go vaccinate your babies.
It’s boring, to me, to discuss whether normal is a word we should attribute to the typical population, so I won’t. Instead, I’ll just say that among the normal crowd, is a place our youngest doesn’t reside. She instead, with her autism, her neurodevelopmental differences, lives in a world of her making. She does not, and has never, given a feeble shit about whether she is normal or not. In fact, her existence, to date, seems to rival the very idea of ‘normal’, ‘typical’ or, ‘conformity’. Her confidence in ‘who she is’ to use a weak phrase meant to encapsulate the entire idea of connecting with yourself at your very core, is so firmly bold, courageous, and maybe even a little cocky, that it might make you question whether being typical is preferable, at all. Maybe the idea is to be content and to be content you have to rock the wrong side of typical?
Do you feel bad for her, when she loses her words when she is frustrated? Me too. It breaks my heart when I think her brain is defying her. But lately, I wonder. I wonder if her anger and frustration are born from moments of losing that assurance that she is verifiably awesome in every single way. Maybe those moments of frustration are a small price to pay to never live with self-doubt, anxiety, mistrust, and a general sense of existential dread.
Yeah, for me too.
To be less dramatic, I’ll say it like this:
Don’t for a second think I am suggesting my little girl is ‘blissfully ignorant’
I am trying to tell you that she has figured it out. She understands who she is and why she is and she doesn’t care to prove it to anyone, but herself.
It this a result of her autism?
I don’t know, but it seems likely.
I won’t deny that there are dark days for her but I will say she has far fewer than the rest of us.
I know, I’m not the first or last parent dealing with issues such as this. I fully comprehend that I am standing on the shoulders of giants here. I’d just like to talk this through with you, if you’ll let me.
Autism and The concept of Time (or at least Kate’s autism). I preface that again, to remind you that no two children with autism are alike.
If a six year-old, or a sixty year-old for that matter, asked you to give them a definition of time, what would you say?
I have no idea, either.
Google gave me this:
While those definition are lovely, they do nothing for my daughter Kate. She is currently working very hard to comprehend the concept of time as it relates to her. She will work on its relation to other people when she gets a spare moment but first things first.
Time is fluid for Kate. That’s the only way I can manage to describe it. For example, when she draws a picture of her family, our ages don’t always match what we are at present. She likes to draw herself older than her sister (which is no surprise) and she likes to draw me young like a child with her. Her father gets be ‘old’ and sometimes even gets grandparent status in her drawings, ha!
Kate also asks about her birthday, every single day. Her birthday is in May. A few years ago when she began to comprehend that a birthday was like her very own toy party, she began asking for her birthday every single day after. No matter what I tried, I could not make her understand that there would be a long passage of time between her birthdays.
We are currently working on “sleeps” (as many parents do) and it sometimes seems to work. For example, I can say:
“Kate, there are four more sleeps before we go to the zoo” at which point the teenager in her will yell ‘that’s like 84 minutes!” And scream with disapproval.
As with everything else, these things (so far) will come in time. We are fortunate that way. For now, we will patiently count sleeps, read social stories and calm the anger and anxiety that 'time' creates as best we can
If you have a child with autism, like many of you reading this do, you’ll know about social thinking programs like SuperFlex that do wonders for some kids on the spectrum. Our Kate is one of those kids. Among her struggles, is some serious faulty thinking. If you’d like to explore Superflex further, you can check it out here (this is not a sponsored post, by the way ) but for the purposes of this piece, I’ll explain some of Kate’s issues with the “The Unthinkables”.
Superflex, in my most uneducated explanation, is a program that consists of a superhero, the titular character, that spends his time working to defeat the ‘unthinkables’ which consist of a motley crew of mischief-makers that cause a person to struggle with self-regulation, social behaviours and communication difficulties. If that sounds like your child, welcome to the club.
The three unthinkables that frequently bother Kate (and subsequently, the rest of us) are called:
Rock Brain: This guy is a major pain in the ass. He gets a kid stuck on a topic, subject, rule, expectation, you name it, and it is near impossible to get him to let you be flexible in your thinking. Here’s an example:
Kate: I can’t wait for My Birthday
Me: Your Birthday is Eleven and a half months away, Kate. Could we take a few months off from talking about it everyday?
Kate: Do you want to see my Birthday list?
Me: Why don’t we wait until closer to the day.
Kate: Is it tomorrow?
Me: It’s many, many sleeps away.
Kate: So three sleeps?
Me: More like three hundred sleeps?
Kate: So should I start inviting people?
(and so on...)
Kate’s birthday is one topic that she gets majorly stuck on, but it can be seen as funny, even if somewhat exhausting.
To be fair, though, the ‘getting stuck’ part can actually be quite debilitating if it stops your child from moving on and navigating their day.
There are far less charming examples that actually cause some pretty difficult days in our home but I don’t feel like sharing that, right now. More out of laziness than concerns over privacy.
This silly unthinkable tends to play the same joke over, and over and over and over again. I cannot tell you how much Kate loves playing practical jokes (or her version of them, anyway). For example, she takes the batteries out of the remote control and she laughs every single time we fall for it. It simply never gets old for her. It does, however, get old for the rest of us.
She has a rubber pencil and a bottle of fake spilled glue and a water squirting calculator that give her so much entertainment. How do you tell her peers that she doesn't understand that it isn't funny the second, seventh or seven hundredth time?
This unthinkable is pretty obvious, I think. Energy Hare-y keeps Kate’s energy level at full tilt from morning until night. She’s busy and actually talks non-stop (even when she is alone). All the sensory input from her day comes out of her mouth and her non-stop limbs. This is why she is playing basketball. She isn’t entirely sure what the rules are, but she gets to run and jump a lot so she’s happy.
Just my two cents for what it's worth.
Happy Social Thinking!
Once, before I had children, when autism was not the subtext of my very existence, I thought I might be happy if I settled down with a nice person and found a job that paid enough that we might have a middle class existence. I, of course, wanted to travel. I wanted bi-annual vacations with my future family, and at least one real designer bag. I thought I might exist like that for many years in a sort-of happy, unassuming state. I would teach other people’s children for what passes for a livable wage and I would raise my own children to be strong and feminist and everything would be just fine. I wanted a little drama in our lives, but just the good kind, like when you see your neighbor being arrested for money laundering or racketeering (what even is racketeering?)
And then autism happened. My beautiful second born was diagnosed and I fell apart and more importantly re-assembled into a most unrecognizable person. Now, I still wanted the aforementioned things in my life but now I wanted more.
I wanted to study autism obsessively so I could prepare my youngest for the world. I did this for awhile but it was less productive than one might think because knowing and doing are so far from each other in this arena it’s almost comical...almost.
I wanted to advocate tirelessly so I could prepare the world for her. But there were times when I did get tired and do get tired so I’ve learned to pace myself on that one.
I wanted to write down everything I thought about, worried about, dreamed about, obsessed about in case there were others out there like us, that might relate in some way. And I began to wear out a little because the confessional narrative is cathartic, sure, but it can also be exhausting.
I wanted to burn it all done and build it back up again so many times I’ve lost count.
I wanted to celebrate autism and respect autism and destroy autism and wrap autism in a bow and deliver it directly to Hell. (Clearly still a penchant for the dramatic)
I began to want bigger things for us, for her. And it surprises me even now that they aren’t all autism related.
I wanted more.
More for her, and more for us. I wanted to remember there was ‘a rest of us’ in all of it.
And that’s what I am currently working on. And that’s enough for right now.
Except, I would still like that designer bag.
I’ve been absent. I know. There is hardly a good reason, except we had a great summer and I didn’t feel the need to document every minute of it. I guess my extended break from the computer can be attributed to spending lots of time doing things instead of thinking about things and if you’re anything like me, you’ll know that getting out of your head for an extended period of time is good for the soul. As a classic, over-thinker, I can sometimes create entirely false scenarios to fret over. For some reason, after forty-one trips around the sun, I don’t even much energy for this kind of thing anymore, and frankly, it’s been liberating.
Having said that, I will say, that I am not done writing, and I am certainly not done sharing, because I get so much more than I give when I tell you guys our story.
So, how about a quick re-cap to get you all caught up:
Things have been good. The girls have been good. Alex and I have been good.
Now some housekeeping:
I’ve been doing some mixed-media art as some of you already know. I’ve even sold some of it to people I’m not related to. It’s been a therapy, much like writing, that helps calm the thoughts. The girls also spend a lot of time creating in our ‘art room’ as we like to call it, because ‘studio’ implies that I think I am a ‘real artist’ and that’s just too much pressure for me.
When I spend time up there, throwing layers of paint and ink and paper down onto paper that is far more expensive than paper ever should be, I work out a lot of things that might plague my already overwhelmed brain.
I guess, I’m curious about what things do that for you?
Alex likes to Fish.
Grace likes to Dance.
Kate likes to make videos.
What do you do?
Anyway, I just wanted to quickly check in and tell you I haven’t disappeared and I shall be back to discuss all those autism-related things that we love to ponder over.
Happy Mail to:
27 Wellington Row
Saint John, NB
Grace and Kate's mom. (Shanell)