Here I am sitting in my tent with my cats, my kids, and my dog. Yes, we are camping with three cats. Why do you ask? Because we are in the process of building a house, but my lease ended before our future house was far enough along for us to move into. So, here we are in our little tent city looking at the skeleton of our future residence. The outer walls are all up, the frames for the inner walls are up, and today it looks like the last parts of the frame for the roof was put up. We figure we will be occupying our little tent city for about a month and a half or so.
Fortunately, we do have access to running water. We are building our house on one half of my in-laws’ property. They own 160 acres and we have inherited 80 of those acres, the half without the house, barn, and shop. The running water is at my in-laws’ house, which is on the other half of the property, just a short jaunt from our building site/camp site.
The house we are building was designed by my 15 year old daughter. When finished, it will be 48’ X 24’ single level home with three bedrooms, one and a half baths, opened floor plan with no hallways or stairs. My daughter designed it so we will have a long roof beam that will be exposed where she can have a hammock swing attached in between the kitchen and living room area.
It has been amazing to be part of this project. We are building the house ourselves along with friends and family members. The wood for the lumber is coming right off the land. Our family friend has an old mill (that used to belong to my in-laws) on his property where he can turn logs into usable lumber for building. His property is just down the hill from us, so it is relatively easy to transport the logs down to the mill, then back up to the building site.
These last three weeks have been particularly difficult for my family. Everything had to go into storage. We had to do things in stages to allow my children time to adjust to the differences in the house, but as time clicked by, we had to quicken our pace. I started packing two months ago, so our living room became filled with boxes of all sizes. Over these last few weeks all the boxes and furniture began to be moved to storage. The faster we went and the more things began to “disappear” from the house, the higher the anxiety and agitation for all of us. This was the third move my children have had to endure. The first one occurred when they were very little, the second occurred four years ago and it was a move they wanted. The school district there was not a good place for them. This third move has been both difficult and rewarding.
About four years ago, two months after the second move, our family was ripped apart. My husband’s life long mental health challenges overwhelmed him and he began to self-destruct. These were challenges that he was never willing to attend to and it all caught up with him. Unfortunately, he took our family along with him on his path to self-destruction. Instead of getting help, my husband ran. He left us with a gaping hole where he used to be and with many unanswered questions. Three years later, my husband came home. He had finally decided that he wanted help and had begun to see a counselor. He discovered that what he really wanted was his wife and children, not the life of a bachelor free of family responsibility.
That was almost eight months ago and we have been rebuilding our family structure ever since. This house building project is part of that rebuilding of our family. We were living an hour south of where we are building. Today, July 25th, I turned in my keys to our rental and said goodbye to a place I thought I would never be able to leave due to being a single mom with limited income. I fought to keep my own place. I had been told to leave by family members and move into a camper trailer on their property with the kids living in their house. I was told I wasn’t competent enough to raise my children on my own.
I was expected to put my tail between my legs and give up and let another family member care for my children. I refused. I was determined to prove to my family and to myself that I could do this. I was not going to give up. I had to hold on. I knew I was more capable than what they thought. I may be a disabled Autistic adult with multiple invisible disabilities, but I am NOT incompetent. I just needed to be given time. Time to grieve, to find my place, time to do what I needed to do in the way I needed to do it.
You know what happened? I did do it. I worked three part-time teaching jobs, completed my Master’s degree (which I had started just before my husband left), homeschooled both my children these past two years (and will continue to do so), made sure my children made it to all their counseling/doctor appointments, helped my children through their grief, maintained a house and a vehicle, cared for all my pets, and still participated in advocacy work.
I don’t advise anyone to do it what I did. This was personal to me. It was stubborn resilience and determination on my part. I had to make it work, but it was at a high cost. I have been in a perpetual state of burnout for years, not really living my life, but instead just surviving. There have been many days that I can’t even get out of bed. Grieving is different for everyone. How one deals with grief depends on the person. One of the worst things you can do to a grieving person is to tell them to get over it, to let it go, and move on. I was told that many times by the same person who expected me to just give up. If I had given up, my family wouldn’t be where we are now, together for the long haul.
I would never have imagined four years ago when all hell broke loose that we would be here today building a house together. My life has definitely taken quite a few detours and hit A LOT of bumps along the way. It is not how I had necessarily planned it to be, but, as the saying goes, life happens when you are making other plans. After 18 years of being a classroom teacher, I have decided to become self-employed. Another aspect of myself I thought I would never be able to do, starting my own business as an education consultant and tutor. Not only has my family become a four legged entity again, but my housing and employment situation has also changed.
So much change in such a short time. Change can be very painful, but also rewarding. Change is one of those strange concepts that can make you feel that your life is ending, and essentially it is, at least the life as you knew it before the change. I think that is why change hurts so much. A life is ending, a life you have become accustomed to and are comfortable with. Then along comes a change and disrupts everything you knew. Life can never be the same after that.
(Image found at http://uniqueviral.com/quotes-about-change/)
The universe is a dynamic place. Always shifting and changing, but also striving for equilibrium. The universe wants to find balance out of chaos. Change brings chaos, but time brings balance.
It is always important to give yourself and those around you enough time to so what they need to do. As much as it pained me to do so, I had to give my husband the time and space he needed to figure out what he really wanted and then decide on his own what he needed to do in order to achieve that wanted situation. It was a difficult road to travel on. It took a long time and it could have gone either way. Luckily, he chose to get help and was able to come home.
As for me, I am developmentally delayed, but not developmentally stopped. I have been continually growing as a person, abet slower than my peers. I especially grew as a person after I was diagnosed. Being diagnosed as an adult, I had to be allowed the time to process the anger of being ignored and silenced for most of my life. I had to allow myself the time to grieve the loss of who I thought I was and adjust to who I had always been, a dynamic person who is full of passion, but had been stifled and silenced most of my life.
I had been taught that I had to conform to other people’s expectations of how they wanted me to be instead of being accepted for how I really was. What I needed didn’t matter. My voice was silenced and my needs were made secondary to everyone else’s. I was conditioned to became a codependent which isn’t healthy. I had to gain enough confidence in myself to allow that fire within me to burst forth. When it finally did there was instability at first. It took time to find that needed equilibrium.
My husband could not accept me after my diagnosis. The change of his perception of me that was caused by my diagnosis was too great for him. He thought he had wanted me to be a certain way and I was never that way and I couldn’t be that way no matter how hard I tried. He had to lose me in order to realize that what he had always wanted had been there all along, he just couldn’t or wouldn’t see it. He also had not given me enough time to process through all the changes that my diagnosis had created within myself.
I hear many people grieve after their children are diagnosed. That didn’t happen to me. I never grieved after both my children were diagnosed. I never felt that I had to. They were the same two amazing children that they were prior to their diagnoses. Nothing changed for me in that regard. However, I did grieve for myself after my own diagnosis. The change brought on by the diagnosis was both positive and negative for me.
It felt like a burden had been lifted off my shoulders, a sort of redemption in a way. I finally had the proof that I wasn’t broken after living a life time of feeling like I was. There was also this sense of loss, a life that could have been if I had been able to get my diagnosis sooner. Then the “could-haves” started up. Maybe I could have had an easier time growing up if I had access to social skills training and an educational setting that was more conducive to my needs. Maybe I could have been more comfortable in my own skin if I had known that I needed to let myself stim and not hold myself so ridged all the time. Maybe I could have been spared so much confusion growing up. Maybe I could have been seen for who I really am instead of how everyone wanted me to be.
I had to allow myself to process through all of this, and it took time, much to my family’s dismay. I am slow to adapt to change. Change brings grief and grieving for me takes a very long time, especially with all the layers of trauma that I have built up throughout my life. This is something my family still struggles to understand. Luckily, my husband is now wanting see me, the real me, after being together for nearly two decades.
Now here we are, all four of us living in tents with our future house becoming more of a reality every day. We have a kitchen tent and my husband and I have our own tent with the cats and the dog. Both my children have their own tents and my son’s birds stay with him. I forgot to mention that we are also camping with two parakeets. Our two goldfish are happily swimming in their tank up at my in-laws’ house.
Change hurts. Transitions are hard. Everything takes time and everyone operates at different speeds. People need to be given the time they need to reach equilibrium. My family is on a journey to reach our equilibrium. We are not there yet, but we are getting closer every day. I highly suspect that there is still going to be ripples, stretches, and possibly some cracks in the equilibrium even after we reach some resemblance of it. Life is funny that way. It always seems to keep us on our toes reaching for more, but also striving for balance at the same time.