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What Happens When your “Rock” Starts to Crumble?

As you know, I have a son on the spectrum, with ADHD and SPD. I also have another child and she, it turns out, battles anxiety. Like, in a very serious way.

My girl was always my rock. Although she was a really tough baby (cried all the time!), she turned out to be a fantastic, flexible, silly, lively, vivacious kid by three. It was like a switch turned and she was this easy kid who brought so much joy into our lives. Who we thought was the universe’s way of saying, “Hey, we know you were kind of handed a rough hand with the whole autism thing, so with this one, we decided to ease up on you a bit.”

We love both of our children and J’s struggles have certainly taught us how to be less rigid and more understanding, patient and inclusive. I came to think that maybe he was here to show me how to think differently, and be more patient. And that my daughter was here to keep things light and silly. She was our rock. She was the bedrock that was holding the foundation of our family together. And maybe all that burden was too much because out of nowhere, my daughter’s stuff began to rock our world. Suddenly, it seemed, everything was wrong. Everyone was bad. Nothing went her way. And it made us so sad. It was like the whole family had a dynamic shift to constantly be agitated and angry as we took on her moods and worries.

Also, I think, for my husband and I, we kinda felt like we didn’t deserve this after everything else.

And that’s the truth right there. It’s not pretty. It’s not nice. It just is.

This sucked. It sucked for her, it sucked for me, for J, for my husband…for all four of us.

Our house became a malatov cocktail waiting to blow. There was so much tension between all of us that we stopped inviting people over because we didn’t feel like our house was a welcoming one. When we did, our daughter made some outrageous statements about it and how it put more responsibility on her, because we were hanging with other adult friends while their kids played with mine. She felt she had to watch the other kids and that we were being irresponsible. She was 8 at the time. What 8 year old thinks like that???

It seemed like the air was taken out of our home. Every inch was filled with anger and frustration. Every conversation any of us had was a fight or, at the very least, tension ridden. No one in the family could relax, and no one who spent any length of time could either. It was obvious that we were all miserable.

We tried therapy. For her and my son because he began exhibiting symptoms of anxiety as well (I chalk most of that up to puberty and self-awareness though) because why wouldn’t he?

She didn’t like the therapist (in all honesty neither did I but felt like any motion was progress, so…). She eventually “graduated” from that therapy. I think she tricked us all into thinking she was better so she could stop going. I really do.

Yet, after a time, it once again seemed like everyone was doing her wrong. Everyone was mean or cruel. She considered herself to be an outsider everywhere she went, which meant that she never wanted to try anything new. It meant that she set herself up for failure before she even started things. The mind is a very powerful tool. It is very controlling and cruel. It is manipulative and mean. I am not a fan of this mind. She had something bad to say about everything that happened to her. She was LOOKING for stuff to be upset about it. And I felt the air crushing me every time. I could physically feel the strain in my chest because I couldn’t breathe.

We switched therapists. She played coy and never really wanted to talk about her feelings. He figured out some other stuff about her that made perfect sense but still had many questions as to why she was doing the things she was doing. She would avoid talking about the things that really mattered in her therapy and made up stuff when I wasn’t in the room with her to talk about. Finally, her new therapist said to her, quite bluntly, “I don’t know that you WANT to get better.”

I know, that seems harsh for a 10 year old to be told, but it was necessary. He called “bullshit” on her and she didn’t like it. He told her point blank what she needed to do to help herself. He took the impetus off of me and the rest of her family to “fix” her, which was a self-placed burden, mind you.

And that was the beginning of the change for me. I began to feel as if the best thing I could do, most of the time, was to just let her be.

I began to just let her be upset or frustrated or pissed off and let her know that I acknowledged her feelings but I would not validate them or make them bigger. I will not add to her every building mountain of woes, for I have plenty of my own to contend with. I can not take on the stresses and worries of not just her, but of everyone. Or anyone.

Lately, it seems no matter where you turn people are upset and I get it. I truly get it and I am there with ya but I can’t anymore. I can’t let everything worry me. I can’t let every little blip make me stop and denounce the person, place or thing that has caused me anguish.

And, through this process, I have started to see people’s true intentions and their true nature. It has provided me a great “bullshit meter”. I can see it coming a mile away and I can now pivot, make the CHOICE to avoid the stuff that I no longer wish to be burdened with.

But, my family, I can’t abandon them. I have to be here for them and I have to once again be patient. And this is a tough thing for me. It is incredibly hard for me, personally. Me, whose nickname in college was “Miss Bitter”. Me, the pessimist has had to evolve into the one looking for the bright side. I am a Jew from Queens–this is foreign territory for me.

Yet, I see no other choice. I work against myself every day in the process. I mess up this new perspective on the daily. I still catch myself trying to assign blame to others, just as my daughter has learned to do. I have to stop myself from talking negatively about people or things that have upset me, because it then gives my daughter license to do the same. I need to shift and be better than I have been. I need to set a better example for both of my kids.

I think the hardest part about having kids in therapy, is when you realize how much of your stuff has projected onto them. You see yourself, warts and all, in their little faces, their voices and expressions and it hurts so much. It feels like the worst form of failure I have ever felt. It makes me want to run and not do any more to damage them. That is when the pivot happens though. At my worst, my most down, I know that there is no way out other than to help my kids be better. My only salvation is to help them through it and hope that we all have the ability to change. That we can all be better and feel better and find the sunny side of the street someday. Together. I can actually picture it in my head. That song playing, while we walk down a city street, lined with old brownstones, holding hands and looking toward that sunny side.

Maybe, some day. But, for now, I’ll take what I can get. Maybe just a sliver of a sunset, on a quiet night, with my babies smiling.

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