Learning More About PTSD

This is from “A Warrior’s Garden”:

What if I’d told you that when you are exposed to a traumatic experience or event, if you develop PTSD whether acute or chronic you will renavigate Erickson’s stages of psychosocial development? And your speed and ability to navigate your trauma and move past your diagnosis into your healing phases will be dictated by how quickly you renegotiate those stages.

#PTSD

#PTSDAWARENESS

#knowyourself

#ACTIVEOVERPASSIVE

#selftherapy

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I am always interested in new ideas about PTSD. Being an educator in the field of special education, I was familiar with Erickson’s Stage Theory. I learned about PTSD after leaving an abusive marriage, and helping my son through what was referred to as PTSD from being raised by a dad who I have come to learn through parenting evaluations, demonstrates all the characteristics of a sociopath.

There is not a quick fix to navigate the stages; just consistency, frequency, and perseverance among those involved in treatment. When reading the chart, I see Brother entering the third stage, “initiative vs guilt- 3-6 year olds”. When I finally left the situation, Brother was 6 years old, but very delayed in social/emotional development. Regular contact continued with the dad for another three years, during which time, Brother would have meltdowns related to having to visit with the dad or in response to things that happened during visits. He was at the tipping point of having a complete breakdown when a judge intervened and required all future visits to be supervised in a center. This was a huge protection, but unfortunately, not enough. Brother ended up having a complete breakdown requiring hospitalization after attempts to self harm.

Visits were put into the hands of the children’s therapists with regard to when the kids were emotionally ready to resume supervised visits. It has been over a year now, and visits for Brother will resume tomorrow. I am thankful that he has been given time to heal a bit before being put back into the situation of navigating a relationship with the dad. There are so many people supporting Brother now, that even if he falls, there is a safety net that is right there.

I can’t help but think of all the kids out there who are navigating Erickson’s Stages after PTSD related to domestic violence and other issues. I ask myself,”What can I do to make a difference?” I think I will start by reading “A Warrior’s Garden”. I have a feeling that some of the ideas can be applied to the children whose lives I touch!

~AoA❤️

Check Off One Goal, Little AoA!

Learning to swim was one of Little AoA’s goals for this summer. She just finished a two week swim program, where she went five days a week and worked in a one on one situation to learn. She still has a way to go, but from being too scared to pick up her feet or leave the safety of the pool edge, to having Her face is in the water and kicking feet is big! I will be continuing to work with her at our recreation center.

Adding to the fun, we created “Banjo Bear”, who will be traveling this summer with various friends, and sharing his adventures through pictures in his own Facebook group and on Instagram. Banjo is traveling to Williamsburg, Virginia next week with some friends. We can’t wait to see his adventures!

Little AoA and I went to our first camera club this week. It is called,” Life through the lens”. It inspired us to explore the world, and share. We don’t have fancy cameras, but we will be working on getting creative shots with what we have. I found some photography lesson cards on genre, and we will be working through them.

Here is my attempt at creativity- looking at my environment through the lens while waiting for the kids at music lessons.

One of my goals is to help the kids find things that they are passionate about, and things they want to learn, make, or do. When Brother started the homeschooling journey this last year, all sparks of interest were gone. He was in darkness with no joy or hope…just anxiety and depression.

Photography has helped him be able to communicate, and he expresses interest in going to places where he can take interesting pictures. Here are the latest pictures he took from an adventure to The Hermitage- Andrew Jackson’s home:

~AoA

Supervised Visits

Today I did a test run to the supervised visit center we will use beginning next week. There are not many visit centers to choose from, and even fewer that actually follow best practice standards to some degree. The center we will use is about an hour from where we live. In fact, it is the closest center to us. Supervised visits were the only type of visit that the judge approved of for the dad, back in January of 2017. Those visits went on for about 4-5 months until the behavior of the dad and his mother at the visits became beyond disturbing to the kids. The visits were halted, and Brother ended up in a psychotic break, including self harming, and trips to the hospital. Visits would not start again until a therapist felt that Brother was ready, and had evidence that the dad could maintain boundaries for a short visit.

After our last experience with a visit center, I have become more proactive in advocating for the needs of Brother. I was very trusting the last time, that the center would do what they said they would do. That didn’t work out, and cost a lot of heartache, time, and money to get the kids back on track.

I went to meet the new center, armed with the Supervised Visitation Network’s standards. I insisted on a written copy of their policies, even though they said they were really only for the visiting parent. I went through each policy out loud, with both Brother and the main supervisor. I also pointed out some additional concerns that arose before, like a supervisor being on the cell phone or social media during the visit. I also made sure that we were clear on drop off and pick up procedures, and had a way to communicate if someone was going to be late or absent. The center is in a bit of a run down kind of neighborhood where I would definitely not feel safe being in a hidden parking area with the dad, without supervision or even a police escort!

This is the “building”, and the actual visitation room has its own entrance in the back. Brother was close to a panic attack when we started down the street. I actually had a different address, and had not been informed that the address on their web page was not correct. The supervisor sent me the new address when it got close to our scheduled arrival time. I drove to the address she gave, and it was obviously someone’s private residence. She texted me to go to the back, which I did. It felt wrong and creepy. I texted back that I was pulling into the church at the end of the street. The next thing, I was texted that she had given me the wrong house number! That was certainly not a very strong start.

It is difficult to convey the complexity of the years of litigation we have been through, but I wanted to make one thing clear. When the kids’ therapists think they are ready to increase visits, or reduce supervision, I am on board. I do not need to go through litigation to do what the kids need. If the dad does not want to do what is in the best interest of the kids, he will not be supported by me or child advocates. He has burned those bridges many times over.

I like to be positive…glass half full, but it is hard. I have had to compartmentalize my thoughts and feelings about the trauma I lived in with the dad, and remind myself that those days are behind me. The only thing I have to navigate now is making sure to follow the court order and the guidance of the kids’ therapists. I already know that unless some miraculous change has occurred, the dad will play the victim card and try to triangulate with the supervisor. In my proactive endeavor, I have already addressed this elephant, and reiterated to the supervisor and Brother, that the supervisor does NOT make the decisions about increasing visits or removing supervision. I hope and expect that the dad will respect boundaries during their visits, especially when he knows the supervisor is paying attention. I do not expect that Brother will be able to advocate for himself in front of the dad, or point out a need to change conversation topics. His feelings about the actual visits will come out later with his counselor or with me.

Moving forward….

~AoA

Keeping a Safe Distance

Supervised visits with Brother and the dad will start next week. I have had some much needed peace for the last year, relatively speaking. Supervised visits stopped last July, and I have not had to coordinate anything with the dad for the year. He stopped responding to texts about doctor appointments, and refused to pay the agreed upon child support for the year. He was always in the background, however….stalking and acting like it was just coincidence that we were in the same place at the same time.

Now that Brother is older (13), and has learned a lot about setting boundaries, it is time. I can tell that he doesn’t know the entire set of circumstances, and has blocked out many experiences he had with the dad. He understands that the dad has limited intellectual capabilities, but has fallen into the same trap I was in, excusing inappropriate behavior because of it. Brother doesn’t see the dad jumping around to 9 attorneys, lying about situations, and continuing to try to work against the kids and me instead of being a supportive parent. Brother doesn’t know that the dad and granny committed a heinous crime and got away with it. Brother doesn’t know that the dad lied to DCS, my employers, attorneys, judges, the psychologist who did our parenting evaluation, and care providers. That doesn’t even include the time we were married. At that time, I was excusing the lies, and even believing the lies on things that I had no proof to back my disbelief on.

The place where Brother is right now, is understanding that the dad “doesn’t always give all the facts”.

Well….I suppose that is one way to call it. That is what I use to think. There came a point though, where it was so important to have provided ALL the information, that it crossed a line. I remember he use to accuse me of lying to him on a regular basis. He would tell me how he HATES liars more than anything! The sad thing is, it was him who was lying.

It seemed that by the time I had reached my limit of excusing the regular lying, it seemed that the dad truly could not distinguish between the truth, a lie, and an omission. I remember my initial divorce attorney stating that a competency hearing was where we were headed if we had gone to trial at that time, because it was noticeable that the dad was delusional and unable to appropriately assist his counsel.

Today, when I spoke with the supervisor for visits, she shared that the dad has already asked about bringing his mom to visits. Since the initial separation, there have been no legal restrictions on the dad’s parents maintaining a relationship with the kids. They stopped the relationship when the judge ordered supervised visits with the dad. Despite their ability to maintain relationships of some sort, they never acknowledged the kids on holidays or birthdays, except for the ONE time that a hateful message was left on my mom’s phone. They have acted as though they were victimized.

I had a brief conversation with Brother about whether he wanted the grandparents at visits. He said that as long as they respected his boundaries, he was ok with it. Over the years, I have periodically asked Brother if he wanted to contact the grandparents, and I let him know that there was no restriction on those relationships. He never felt comfortable with it. I reminded him today, that even though the dad wants the grandparents at supervised visits, he was free to see them whenever he wished. There was never any court order about grandparents. I was surprised by his response to this….he suggested that the grandparents probably never knew that they could contact the kids, because the dad probably didn’t tell them the whole story! I was told by Brother, that I turned “everything into a conspiracy theory”. Unfortunately, the truth ends up sounding just like a conspiracy theory, because it is just incomprehensible that people would do these things on purpose. I mean, why would the dad not tell his parents that they could still send things to the kids and have some kind of relationship with them while he worked through his things?

Ignorance seems a much more acceptable reason than a conspiracy to make his parents suffer the consequence for his behavior.

While I am on the subject, conspiracy or ignorance? In an earlier post, I mentioned that the first supervised visit had been scheduled without my knowledge. I was proactive, and reached out to the visit center. The supervisor said that the dad had given her an incorrect phone number for me! I have had the same number for about 20 years. I found that oddly suspicious. In my gut, I suspect that someone has told the dad that if I don’t follow our court agreement, he can take me back to court. Not unlike the advice he was given about making a trail of reports to DCS in order to take me to court.

I know that Brother sees the truth, but is he strong enough to endure? I pray that with the continued support of his therapists, Brother will be able to maintain healthy boundaries, and see the truth for what it is. I pray that he will not fall into the trap of believing the dad is innocently forgetting the truth, and excuse bad conduct.

I feel the mental exhaustion sneaking up on me.

~AoA

How Much Do I Share?

One question I ask myself whenever I introduce the AoA kids to new experiences is, “How much do I share?” I could share nothing, and just hope that all of the disability characteristics stay hidden for the time they are involved with other people. This doesn’t seem fair to those who work with them. Will the characteristics always come out? Kids with seizures or peanut allergies don’t show their areas of difference all the time, but we would be negligent not to inform caregivers, and hope for the best.

With the AoA kids, I know that after working with them, caregivers would know something was different, they just may not know what to call it. Both kids have been said to be selectively mute. Little AoA is rising above this some, with a lot of support and encouragement. The intense anxiety around animals is another thing. Little AoA has full on panic attacks when a dog or a cat appears in her line of sight. Most people where we live, have pets. I feel bossy, suggesting that people hide their pets…but it is only a suggestion. I realize that ultimately I can’t control other people’s pets. I think it is fair that they are made aware of the likelihood of having to deal with a panic attack, and what to do, “just in case”.

With Brother, it is the dissociating that throws people off. Much like panic attacks, it is triggered by an experience, then a self-defeating thought. He starts staring blankly, and freezes. He doesn’t respond. This may last for a few minutes, 15 minutes, or more. It looks like he is in a trance, and one wants to just clap their hands and watch him snap out of it….

Unfortunately, that doesn’t work. He may stay frozen until the activity ends, or until he is excused to leave. Many people have tried different techniques to bring him back from this state. I have found that even if I do tell people ahead of time, that doesn’t really prepare them.

Short term memory loss is another challenging characteristic of Little AoA. The movie “Finding Dory” does a pretty good job of representing this. While it is kind of cute in the movie, in real life it is frustrating. Little AoA responds with,”I forgot”, quite a lot. Her army of angels works with a lot of repetition and hands on learning to try to move information into her long term memory so it can be retrieved.

One of the best things we have done that helps EVERYONE, is to put up dry erase boards for each family member. On Sunday evenings, I go to each board and write the activities for the week. It definitely eliminates the constant question,”Now what do we have to do today?” Every week there is therapy, tutoring, music lessons, and then the grandparents have doctor appointments. Little AoA is the most proactive with the scheduling and keeping everyone straight. Brother needs time to mentally adjust and wrap his mind around activities. Rarely do we act on a whim, and do something spontaneous.

Spontaneity is something to work toward with the kids. I must say that when “Pokémon Go” first appeared, it was encouraging us to go on little adventures. It was pretty short lived as a passing fad. I look forward to more adventures!

~AoA

Communication that stresses me out

I usually love the give and take of a meaningful conversation, but tonight was different. I had to send the dad an image of a doctor visit receipt for Little AoA today. He is suppose to pay 24% of it (that’s never happened since we divorced in 2014…wait…he didn’t help pay for their medical care when we were married either). Anyway, I sent it to him, and I expected the usually ghosting. Instead, he responded,”when visitation”.

I responded, and entered into a text conversation of sorts. He gave limited pieces of information, withholding important facts that would help in the conversation. The bottom line is, he says he spoke to the visit supervisor, and that the visit was to be this Monday. Well….no one has called me to let me know. It was already after business hours on Friday when the dad shared this information. I called the Supervision center and left a message. I had spoken with the visit supervisor about a month ago, and let her know that Brother would need a “pre-visit” with the supervisor, before the visit, due to his areas of need associated with his diagnoses(Schizophrenia/Autism/ptsd).

Had I not initiated the text about Little AoA, a visit would have been scheduled without my knowledge. I would have looked like I wasn’t cooperating. Of course, I have been lied to and manipulated so much by the dad, that I don’t fully trust that he did what he claims to have done. He is suppose to have learned about the needs of Brother, but springing a visit on him without warning is not a good idea. Part of the problem has been that the dad stalks…shows up in places where he has no business, without communication of any kind. It is quite disturbing.

If the visit planning went as the dad claims, I am concerned that it is not a very professional or reliable center. I can’t see a place scheduling a visit with the visiting parent, before making sure that the child could be there. It is as though the kids and I are already being treated with disrespect, to schedule our lives without consulting.

The truth is, the AoA kids have very busy summers planned out through June!

I have known and accepted that there will be at least two days each month that will have to be dedicated to visits. The supervision center is about an hour away. Once we get some regular, consistent days scheduled, it will be fine. Everyone can plan around the visits.

I pray that I stay strong and advocate firmly and lovingly, for the needs of the kids.

~AoA

More Joy in the Journey

Today was one of those days that reminds me that sometimes going to work is less work than being at home. I have been a public school teacher for 18 years, enjoying two months of “recovery time” each summer. I knew I would be going back and forth all day to get the AoA kids to therapy and lessons, with little time to spare! We hit the ground running by 10, and didn’t stop until 6. Little AoA to therapy…store to get special snacks for grandpa AoA….home to get Brother and instruments for music lessons (make a peanut butter sandwich to go)….music lesson for Little AoA…home for her- Brother stays at music lessons…Little AoA to her swim lesson boot camp- drop her off….back to pick up Brother…WAIT! We have about 30 minutes before we need to pick up Little AoA from swimming…

“Hey, there’s a man making digital caricatures! How cool is that?!”, I thought to myself, then said out loud. I took some time to enjoy an artist in action! The artist commented on all the different tones in my hair. My “word filter” was off, and I shared with him that I had just had family photos taken with my parents. They didn’t want me to make them look old, so I covered up the gray in my hair with an auburn color. The artist replied,”I see a lot of colors, but gray isn’t one of them.” I responded,”Oh good, it worked!”

Brother wasn’t too sure he wanted to do it, but it didn’t take much convincing…

Even on the busiest days, try to find time to notice something cool! Take a moment to give a little business to local artists!

~AoA

Is it Time?

When I first entered the “blogosphere” in 2013, it opened my world in ways I never imagined possible. As I worked through therapy at our domestic violence center, I started writing as part of the healing process. I used the blogging platform, because I had always had an interest in trying it. I never imagined that people would ever have an interest in reading it. I was wrong. For the most part, I received very positive feedback from people who could relate to what I was writing. All of a sudden, I was no longer alone on an island called “small town USA”!

Blogging was in full swing, and I really enjoyed it. Then it started….I started getting followers who didn’t have blogs or other social media that I could follow back. I realized that I enjoy the give and take aspect of relationships, even blogging or other social media relationships. Around this same time, the ex was going through different attorneys, always trying to find some dirt to throw around on me in preparation for a custody hearing. Under the advisement of my attorney, I took all social media accounts to a “private” setting. I have used a pen name since I started blogging, in an effort to avoid creating problems that could arise from using real names, especially with litigation being neverending.

I have been pondering whether or not to open my original blog back up…to remove its private setting.

I have come out of hiding on other social media platforms, for the most part. I have learned to take some precautions in posting, and have altered or halted some activities I use to enjoy.

Precautions:

1. Do not use the “check in” feature on Facebook. This feature invites stalking by flying monkeys.

2. Do not host yard sales. This is an open invitation to flying monkeys.

3. Be cautious when using groups or sale apps to post items for sale. Have a friend do it if it must be done. Again, inviting flying monkeys.

4. Be mindful of pictures, and the stories they tell (or the stories that someone might make up).

5. Don’t write or post about being in specific locations until after the fact. In the past, flying monkeys have alerted him to our location, and he “shows up”….not cool.

I have accepted that I will not be free from the threat of flying monkeys as long as I am living in this small town. I have had to learn to live cautiously. The dad (ex-husband), has proven himself to be unstable and violent. He has threatened to kill me, has killed before, and owns/conceal carries guns. An order of protection is just a piece of paper. He has violated “no contact” orders regularly over the last few years.

I’m sure I am wiser now than I use to be. I once was blind, but now I see.

I think I will read back through my original blog once before freeing it into the blogosphere once again. I feel that there are people out there who can benefit from my story, as I have learned from others.

~AoA

Living in The South

The last 38 years of my life has been spent in “The South”. When I got my first job here, working in a school, I couldn’t comprehend the notes that were left for me! It said to “carry child to lunch”. I was CONFUSED! The child could walk! Well, “carry” actually means “take”. I had to have someone explain it!

Here are some interesting tidbits I have been collecting about living in the South….

Yes, people really do this. I do this.

They missed “carry”, as in “carry child to lunch”…

True….this….

~AoA

Waiting

The latest “wait” in the “counterparenting adventure”, is the wait to get supervised visits set up. Brother’s therapist has gone far above and beyond expectations, and gotten Brother to an emotional and psychological place where he is ready to take the next step into supervised visits with the dad.

It shouldn’t be too hard. Last summer, we agreed, in a formal, court endorsed document; on a visit center, along with a second choice, “just in case”. In addition, the therapist gave another recommendation. The next step is for the dad to call one, go through an orientation, and then the visits will start.

Well, instead of doing this, he has gone through his attorney to ask for an agreement to do what we already agreed to do! He has now claimed that he can not set up the visits! I have been successful at contacting all three of the visit centers to inquire about their timelines for starting visits. All of them have the policy of needing to be contacted by the visiting parent to initiate services. I made sure that the dad was given this piece of information by both his attorney, and by Brother’s therapist.

I am very thankful that Brother is in a place where he can move to these visits. Whether the dad follows through and decides to respect boundaries in place, is totally his decision. I have followed our agreement to the best of my ability, and have supported and worked hard with Brother and his therapists, to get him to this place. It is time to move forward now, accepting things we can not change.

Has it been difficult navigating childrearing without a partner or financial support? You bet! I am forever grateful to the Army of Angels who stepped in and became my partners; family, therapists, friends, and tutors!

~AoA