Every couple of weeks I have an appointment with my psychologist and once we get past the pleasantries, I’ve noticed that I usually start by saying the same thing nearly every time, “I’m doing really great! I’ve been feeling really good about things..”.
The best thing about my appointments is that I feel like I’m chatting with an old friend, so those first few minutes are when I’m genuinely happy to be ‘catching up’. Once I remember that this is paid time on the clock, I sink into the appropriate mindset and think back to what events have transpired since I last talked to him.
This is when I realize how effed up my life really is sometimes.
I recap all of the events and episodes that have caused stress over the past two weeks and the feelings from each crisis come rushing back. A heat rises from a ball in my throat up to the top of my head; my heart starts racing and I can hear my cadence speed up, words falling from my mouth so fast that I don’t have time to think about what I’m saying. Ironic, because the speed at which I’m talking feels like the speed that life is throwing landmines at me.
I’ve been living a life of retro Nintendo games – I’m Frogger dodging speeding traffic on a highway and Super Mario hopping from swinging bridge to bridge while the screen keeps moving us forward. I live in a constant state of hyper-vigilance. Constant panic knowing I have to keep my eyes on all the things, all the time or a fireball is going to swoop out of nowhere and wipe out my last life.
I’m used to stress. This isn’t just a busy day; managing multiple people and their schedules and having things thrown in last minute that change the plan. It’s not even getting bad news that puts your head into a tailspin. I can deal with that, as most of us can and are used to. It’s not about the challenges that come with time management, or dealing with difficult personalities, or having to deal with huge life disappointments. Those things suck, but that’s just life.
Life with all three of my boys has come with a series of dramatic and traumatic events, mixed with a lot of fun, tons of humility and so much love that I sometimes feel like I’m a walking hormone for all of the crying I do. I have managed to keep the plates spinning for so long now, that I thought I was doing pretty good. I recognized that my life likely wasn’t going to change; the stressors weren’t going to disappear, so I just had to learn to keep up with it all.
But what I learned in the last couple of years and what became a shocking smack upside the head in the beginning of 2020, is that you can tell yourself ‘you’ve got this’ as much as you want, but your body and mind have the ultimate say and they can bring you to a grinding halt.
There were signs all last year that I wasn’t doing so well. In the back of my mind I knew it, but thought it would work itself out. From a physical standpoint – my joints were aching all the time, I had muscle weakness and had dropped more than a couple of mugs of coffee because my grip strength just disappeared. Lethargic doesn’t even come close to the exhaustion I was feeling and in February I found myself laying on the kitchen floor and couldn’t find the strength to get back up. I ached in places I didn’t know I had and I woke up every morning (if I had managed to get any sleep the night before) with one of those headaches that felt like a heavy fog had me wrapped in cotton and I just couldn’t mentally, or visually focus on anything. I was having extreme heart palpitations. I developed a form of psoriasis that looked like I was a polk-a-dotted circus attraction. My hair was falling out and I was diagnosed with dangerous hypertension.
I’m bilingual and have always known the struggle of grasping for a word that escapes my memory in French, with it being my second language. But now, words in English were out of reach as well and were gone for HOURS at a time. No word of a lie, I went a whole day where I couldn’t remember my son’s name. A whole day. I tried to put it out of my mind so I wouldn’t stress about it, but finally by the late afternoon, I searched through paperwork that was laying about, with the hope that I would see his name written somewhere to pull it back. Yep. Things were not okay. At work, my workload was higher than it had ever been and the stakes were even higher to get it all right, but I couldn’t keep it all going anymore.
I was taking care of everyone. I was keeping track, making lists and managing so many other people’s lives, that I could no longer stay on top of my own.
My home life, combined with the intense work in my professional life, were no longer manageable. It was too much. There weren’t enough hours in the day and I was already only getting by with an average of 3 to 4 hours of sleep a night (so screamed my Fitbit sleep tracker), so I knew I couldn’t find any more space for another thing.
When my ex left in 2014, I was rocked. I had twin 11 year olds with severe autism, who both absolutely adored their dad and I had a 13 year old who was on the eve of coming out and was thick in the middle of teenage angst. We had just made a massive transition of moving back to Ontario from Alberta and the boys were still adjusting. If you know anything about about autism, you know that change is hard, especially if it is unexpected and/or traumatic. Change affects each of my boys in different ways and for the most part, I would say that it affects Will the worst. It shows up for him as anxiety and OCD and that leads to behaviours that often turn into seriously traumatic events.
Our separation was admittedly, the lowest point in my life. I could not control how it played out, or how it would present to my boys and I could see their suffering. It was not amicable, nor was it seamless to the boys. It was ugly and messy and hard. Put the emotion from the dissolution of a marriage aside, I was facing a thousand foot wall of absolute, white hot fear. How could I do this on my own? I might as well have had a crystal ball, because I knew I was in for a rough few years, but I was determined no matter what, to do right by my kids.
There isn’t enough space to type out all of the emergency, 9-1-1 moments that we went through in the years that followed, I’m sure that I will break some of them down in posts to come. But I will say that regarding the twins, we had more runaway situations than I can count, emergency room visits, countless calls to pick Will up from school because he was a ‘danger to himself and others’, hundreds of sleepless nights and more meltdowns than I can count. With Jake – he has had the most tumultuous years than all of us. That is his story to tell, but I know that I can share that we have ultimately navigated the world of trauma, the court system, mental illness and addiction. It has been one hell of a ride.
Writing a blog is incredibly cathartic. It also feels very egocentric and that’s what bothers me about writing about myself. Sharing my experiences polarizes people’s opinions of my motives. Am I doing it for the attention? Or am I doing it because I think it will do some good? I am desperately trying to figure that out myself and in inviting so many other friends and voices to my platform, I think that it supports my core intention of pouring out our vulnerabilities with the hope that it might connect with someone else. Do I hope that it will benefit me and my family? – Absolutely. I hope I find more empathy in the world for all three of my boys and that someone might cut me some slack the next time they think I’m brushing them off because I’m too preoccupied or wound up too tight.
More than anything, I am writing about these personal experiences so that I can get unstuck and released from the fear and anxiety that I constantly live in.
2020 brought us a pandemic but it also brought me crisis after crisis that has brought me back to me. For a long time I was able to keep a smile on my face and I’d get the job done, so no one really knew how broken-down I really was. I was reliably loyal and effective at multi-tasking. They didn’t know how much I had isolated myself and they couldn’t know that it was on the verge of falling apart.
I am writing now from a place of grace and love for myself. I am healing myself and putting my own needs back on the agenda so that I can be ready and strong for the next forty years of caring for my boys. I’ll share more later about those spinning plates and how they finally crashed, but what is more important to know is the fact that I’m still standing and that is largely due to the fact that I am inspired daily by others who are trying to do the same.
I’m trying my best to pay it forward by dealing hope and sharing stories & tips on caregiving and how to survive hard things. I blog a lot about single parenting my adult twin sons who both have autism, and the challenges we face in surviving the everyday challenges and planning for a future full of unknowns.