Tag Archives: grief

Ramblings of an Autistic Single Mom

NOTE: The Aspie Teacher blog is the story of my family’s journey. My first blog was Geeky Science Mom’s Tumblr which I started in September 2012 and my writings gradually progressed from there. Periodically I look back over my old writings to check on the distance I have travelled in this journey that is called my life. This is one of those checks.

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I am autistic and I am also a mother of two amazing young people who are autistic as well. I am also single.  My children see their father maybe two hours every week, sometimes it is less.  He is not really involved in their lives.  For the past four years I have been working multiple jobs to make ends meet.  Somewhere in there I managed to earn my Master’s degree. I have been homeschooling/unschooling both my kids for the past three years and will continue to do so until both my kids graduate high school in another 2-3 years.  It has been a challenging balancing act.

I see articles online about single parenting with autistic children. It strikes me odd how bleak the authors describe their lives. One author claims that single parents of autistic children “can’t have it all”, that they “will never be compensated financially or professionally for the thousands of hours I’ve spent over the last decade taking my son to treatments”. Other authors complain about having to give up their career, complain they can’t go on trips, complain that it was the Autism that caused the divorce, and complain about the “grueling therapy sessions” (if they are grueling for you, how do you think your child feels?)

Parenting is hard no matter what the neurology of the child is. The reality is if you are a single parent, something has to give.  You can’t expect to have everything and the reason why you “can’t have it all” has nothing to do with your child’s neurology. It really does take a village to raise a child, so when part of that village is missing, it gets that much harder.

I willingly chose to put my career on hold when I became a parent. I was fortunate enough to be able to be a stay-at-home mom for five years. At the time, my husband had a good paying full-time job with benefits.  Being a single income family lead to finances being really tight, and we lived in a small duplex, but it was worth it.  The only time I was a home owner was when both my ex and I were working so we could afford a mortgage. As a single parent, I am a renter once again. This time, my rental is even smaller than the one we lived in back when my children were babies. Housing costs are higher and there is a housing shortage where we live.

My children have weekly counseling visits and my daughter has weekly occupational therapy (OT) sessions (something she personally asked for). We live in a rural area. Services are in another county all together. We are on the road a lot and I am fortunate enough to have the type of employment that allows me to take my children to their appointments.  I have never put my children through “grueling therapy sessions” and I never will.  Applied Behavior Analysis (AB A) sessions, which is considered the go-to treatment for Autism, are anywhere from 25 to 40 hours per week for 12 months a year for at least 2 years with sessions typically provided in 2-3 hours blocks.  I spent three hours observing an ABA session in June 2015 as a requirement for my Master’s degree program. It was horrible – Initial Reaction to ABA Observation.

My divorce finalized on June 23, 2014, but we had separated in October 2012. We tried to get back together after being apart for three years. Our attempt lasted a year and a half. My ex just doesn’t want the responsibility of a family.  It has almost been five years since we first separated and I have not tried dating. I have had to let myself grieve.  Looking through my old writings, I see many blogs that focused on sadness and grief.  I have had to allow myself to process those emotions. I have also had to be present for my children.  They have been grieving, too.  There was no room for romance in that.  I have to allow my heart to heal before I can allow anyone else in.  I am still healing.  Everyone grieves differently and the time it takes to adequately heal is different for everyone. When you have been in an abusive situation, it can take even longer to heal and you need to give yourself that time or you could very well fall into a similar situation.

Some of my previous writings describing my journey through grief:

Grief 2

[Image description: Sea green colored background with black lettering. “Grief is like the ocean; it comes on waves ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do it lean to swim.” – Vicky Harrison]

Then there is my issue of living in a duality of perception. I wrote that blog in June 2016 and it helped me realize some things about myself.  When I found myself unexpectedly a single parent, I didn’t know how I was going to manage.  My family isn’t in the area.  I was in graduate school at the time and I was working part time.  How the hell was I going to support two kids with special needs on my own!!!???!!! This thought was screaming in my head.  I was so filled with fear and shock I had no time to be angry, at least not yet.  My anger came later.  The grief cycle is an interesting, complicated thing. As I tell my kids, a very wibbly wobbly, timey wimey sort of thing.

I never thought I would get to the point where I would even consider letting my ex back in my life, but I did and I learned a lot from that experience. I learned about letting go, something I had been really struggling with for years.  As a content teacher, I didn’t think I could teach outside of Science (my area), but I found out I could.  I didn’t know I could teach myself how to do basic home and car repair along with all the other family/parenting/home stuff I had been doing for years, but I found out I could. I didn’t know I could parent on my own, but I found out I could.

I learned I was autistic five and a half years ago. Both my children had been diagnosed by that time. I have learned so much since then.  My life has been turned upside down and inside out, but I kept moving forward knowing that another sunrise would signal another chance for me to try again.  I kept learning and adapting.

It wasn’t the Autism that caused my divorce. In fact, divorce rates are similar for parents with and without autistic children, so don’t believe the myth that divorce rate in families with autism is 80%. It is definitely not (80 Percent Autism Divorce Rate Debunked in First-Of-Its Kind Scientific Study).

Looking back to where I was when I first became a single parent, I couldn’t really think of the future. I was in full on survival mode back then.  Looking where I am now, all I can say is “wow”.  I have come so far from that place where I found myself crushed, lost, and desperate just trying to make it day by day.

My journey is not complete, not in a long shot, but I find myself no longer in that place of desperation. I have found a future where I am valued and wanted.  I have found a future where I have developed skills I didn’t even know I had.  I have found a future where my children are seeing a future for themselves as well. I have found that my mind has a sense of ease now.  I still have a lot of stress in my life, but nothing like it once was.  I feel a sense of peace inside me now.  Do I still cry when I am alone?  Yes, my grief will take time to process. Where there was once soul crushing pain, there is now a sense of understanding and a level of acceptance of the reality of the situation. As I stated before, I had to adapt. I had to find peace on my own, and I did.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.”

― Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

 

**Image is not mine. Source is linked with image.

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Reaching for More, but also Striving for Balance

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.

chang(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.

Sadness – Moving Through Grief and Finding Understanding

i__m_pleading_for_a_second_chance_by_lalita17-d5b6v1eSadness. It can be crippling. Anger is different. Your body can feed off the energy of anger as you try to keep yourself from being ripped apart by it at the same time. You busy yourself with activity trying to suppress the anger raging inside you, that monster that is just below the surface. Sadness, on the other hand, drains you. There is nothing to feed on, because there is just nothing there but emptiness and loss. That is where I am now, feeling that emptiness.

What makes it worse is when anxiety is mixed in with that emptiness. It makes you sick to your stomach and all your energy is drained from you. Lifting your arms is a challenge. Speaking hurts. Your heart feels like it is sinking into your stomach, but the anxiety is making your heart feel like it is being squeezed and trying to explode out of your chest all at the same time. Your head is just a clouded mess. Functioning? Not even going to happen. There is not enough “spoons” for that.

Beyond_griefGrief is unique to each individual. There is no one way and no right way to go through grief. It has been just over a year since my divorce finalized. It has taken me this long to get to this point in my grieving. I was in an emotionally abusive marriage for 15 years, yet I didn’t realize it until fairly recently. That is the problem when you are subjected to emotional abuse that is insidious, silent, and passive aggressive. It creeps up on you slowly and wears you down. You don’t even know what is happening to you until it is too late. Recently I have learned that my ex-husband fits the “Peter Pan Syndrome” profile.

He is the type that, for the lack of a better term, goes after things that are shiny, and it doesn’t seem to even occur to him the pain he causes other people by doing so. He gets bored or lonely, and then sees a new shiny thing that catches his attention and goes after it not even contemplating the destruction he is leaving behind. To the kids, they feel abandoned by their father. To him, he only went after something shiny. In this particular case, the shiny things were new women, a new job, and the prospect of getting away from having to make choices and having to have responsibilities he didn’t want. The kids have not seen their father is over a year. They don’t trust him. My son wants nothing to do with his father. My daughter is scared of him. He became a stranger to her even before he moved out.

I believe that my ex-husband does feel guilty for what he did, but only to a point. There is this vagueness that I sense. He doesn’t seem to fully understand what he did and the level of pain he caused. During our marriage, he never wanted to talk maskanything out. He would never express his own needs. He always had to be the hero to anyone else, but when it came to his own family, he would stall out. He is also emotionally unavailable and has always had trouble being honest with himself and others. His freedom seemed to be more important to him then what he felt was the monotony of family life. I have mentioned in past blogs about the masks he would wear. These masks changed based on who he was with. Toward the end of our marriage, he seemed to forget who he was with and a stranger would emerge. He told me that he pretended to be someone else to get me to marry him. Why would someone do that to another?

He actually told me the other day that he hadn’t realized how much he missed talking to someone with what he referred to as “intelligence in science”. I had only called him, because the wildfires had gotten very close to where he and other family members live. I wanted to make sure everyone was alright. He told me he really enjoyed our conversation and wanted to have more of them. I felt his pull and I missed his voice, but I said it was not a good idea. I realized that he was using the same tactics and speech patterns he had used all those years ago to get my attention. I knew that I was just something shiny that he had forgotten about. I knew it wouldn’t take long until he would get bored again or saw something else shiny that would take his attentions away. I know I am still vulnerable even after all this time and I need to still protect myself.

A_Silhouette_of_SadnessThe sadness hurts. I was just something shiny to acquire, something to play with. Then real life set in and I wasn’t worth his time or effort anymore. I represented something that impeded his freedom. I have come to understand that there is a pattern about myself. I seem to have a habit of attracting “Lost Boys”. I don’t have the full-on version of the “Wendy Dilemma”, but there is definitely a problem there. I struggle with codependency issues. I was conditioned to be codependent from childhood. The problem was that I didn’t even know what a codependent was until after my marriage failed. I was the overly emotional, loyal, trusting, and honest partner. I am not saying this is a good thing. I am developmentally delayed and my naïve tendencies have been taken advantage of on more than one occasion.

My ex-husband, on the other hand, lacked emotional reciprocity and the ability to be truthful. He preferred to lie by omission and speak with vagueness. He mistakenly felt he was somehow protecting us by lying. He also seemed to think he didn’t have to deal with anything if the issues were never out in the open. He could deny and pretend that everything was alright. Our relationship was really one sided and out of balance. We were a codependent couple and it wasn’t healthy.

I re-read a long letter my ex-husband had written to the kids a while back. It was his attempt to explain why he left. As I have stated before, I am developmentally delayed, but that does not mean that I am developmentally stopped. I started really growing as a person once I reached my mid-30s. I started learning about healthy boundaries and advocating for myself. I was essentially growing up.

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What was really a life changing moment for me was when I was officially diagnosed with Autism, a diagnosis my ex-husband could never accept. Everything started making sense for me after my diagnosis. All the struggles and confusion I had had all my life up until then finally made sense. In that letter that my ex-husband wrote, he talks about how I was developing and it wasn’t working for him. Basically, I wasn’t playing my part in our codependent relationship anymore. I was setting boundaries; I was seeing each of us as individuals with individual needs and wants. I began developing friendships outside of my marriage with people who shared my passions. I had been isolated up until that point.

My ex-husband told me once that I was too passionate about things and it made him uncomfortable. He also didn’t like how I hyper focused on things nor did he like the time and energy I devoted to my job as a teacher. All of this was expressed in that letter he wrote to the kids, but it was done in a vague way. No specifics were included other than the fact I was developing and growing as a person and he felt so lonely as a result. He states he was losing his identity. I get the impression that instead of establishing himself as an individual, he needed me to maintain his identity. He was codependent on me defining him as a person and I had been codependent on him to make me feel safe in a world I didn’t understand. That is not healthy at all.

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(Image found at Codependency)

“What makes interconnections healthy is interdependency, not codependency. Paradoxically, interdependency requires two people capable of autonomy (the ability to function independently). When couples love each other, it’s normal to feel attached, to desire closeness, to be concerned for each another, and to depend upon each other. Their lives are intertwined, and they’re affected by and need each other. However, they share power equally and take responsibility for their own feelings, actions, and contributions to the relationship. Because they have self-esteem, they can manage their thoughts and feelings on their own and don’t have to control someone else to feel okay. They can allow for each other’s differences and honor each another’s separateness. Thus, they’re not afraid to be honest. They can listen to their partner’s feelings and needs without feeling guilty or becoming defensive. Since their self-esteem doesn’t depend upon their partner, they don’t fear intimacy, and independence doesn’t threaten the relationship. In fact, the relationship gives them each more freedom. There’s mutual respect and support for each other’s personal goals, but both are committed to the relationship.”  

Source – Codependency vs. Interdependency  

Where do I go from here? There is no going back; the past can’t be changed, so I just have to keep moving forward. Grieving – denial, bargaining, anger, sadness, and then finally acceptance. I am not there yet, that point where I have found acceptance, but I am moving toward it and getting closer every day. For me, it is all about resilience. I have to keep going, but as for today, the sadness is winning. I will try again tomorrow.

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