Do What You Love

When I was learning how to be myself again, after living in a toxic and abusive relationship for many years, I was given some fantastic advice. I had to try to remember things that I enjoyed…really enjoyed. Three things provided a base to build upon; crochet/crafts, writing, and performing arts.

I had worried so much about pleasing others, that I had lost touch with myself.

I have enjoyed these three activities over the last several years, and remembered how to accept and love myself. I try to encourage the AoA kids to find their interests and passions, and it has become an ongoing theme in my work life as well.

Last week, I had the pleasure of going to a concert with the AoA 12 year olds. We saw Panic!At the Disco! I didn’t know too much about them when the 12 year olds asked to go- several months earlier. As the concert date neared, Brother found the setlist, and began playing all the songs on it, whenever we were in the car together. He wanted me to be familiar with all the songs so I wouldn’t feel out of place.

The concert did not disappoint!

I am so thankful that I can share these experiences with the kids. I am also thankful that they like the same genres of music as me. They do dabble in some rap, which is ok, but just not my cup of tea.

What do you enjoy doing or learning about?

~AoA

The Panic Attack

This is a true story of one of 12 year old Brother’s recent panic attacks. He has several diagnostic “labels” that have been formally used to explain the behaviors and guide treatment: Schizotypal Personality Disorder, Autism with PTSD, and , Generalized Anxiety.

We joined a local fitness club recently. Both AoA kids are old enough to use equipment in the workout area (with adult supervision). They had to take a short orientation class with a trainer in order to be allowed to do this. I signed up and put it on the family calendar. Both kids were fine about doing this.

The time came to go to the center. Both kids were fine. When we arrived, we all walked in together with no problem. We were directed to wait with a few others, until the trainer arrived. Brother took one look at the few people sitting in the waiting area, and began to panic. I asked if he knew the other kids who were there…he didn’t. There were eight people waiting, plus us.

Brother began to repeat over and over,”I can’t do this. I need to go to the car.” He paced back and forth. I tried to reassure him, but it didn’t work. He said he would go to the gym and wait. He walked to the gym…then quickly back to the lobby. “Too many people”, he said. I let him go to the car. I texted him as we waited, offering monetary incentives if he would just come in and try. His anxiety was bigger than his desire for a money treat.

Little AoA did the orientation with the group. It only took about 5 minutes, and consisted of an overview about how to adjust weight machines and operate bikes and treadmills.

I spoke to the trainer about Brother’s anxiety. He offered to do a one on one orientation if he would come back into the building. Little AoA and I went to the car to try to coax him in (did I mention it was pouring down rain?). We explained what the orientation consisted of, and within about five minutes of talking, Brother came back into the building.

The trainer greeted Brother warmly, and went through the orientation. I could see the anxiety leaving Brother, as he started to nod and smile in response to the trainer. It ended with a handshake from the trainer, and verbal praise from me.

I had not thought much about how appreciative I could be for these little victories. Some would say,”big deal, he did something that any kid could do.” Some will never understand the joys and struggles of learning to live with disabling conditions…it is real.

~AoA

Inspired With No Energy

The new year has hit me hard. My body is still a bit worn down from surgery in December, but I do as much as I can, plus a little more. I never gave much thought to how much lifting I do, until I was unable to do it!

The new year has me thinking of new goals…and old goals. I dream of an uncluttered life, a place for everything…purging the unnecessary.

I still imagine myself sharing some writing in the form of a book. I actually signed up for a Facebook group and a series of daily emails to motivate me. It is working, as I can sense a stirring in my mind thinking about a book…”fiction or non-fiction? First or third person? What about dialogue? Adult, teen, or children? Illustrations?”

I overwhelm myself and return to the safety of blogging. One of the people who helps our family was recently able to quit her side jobs because her blog started generating enough income to meet her needs! I know that took some work and dedication! Then I remember that I really should start a blog related to my profession in some way. I have been in the field of education for about 20 years. My passions are in areas of special needs- inclusion, whole child focused education, students with emerging mental illness, relationships, and motivation. I have little desire to decorate or create worksheets…I can do those things, but they don’t really light my fire.

As the AoA family enters into some new adventures, I find myself with new experiences to share, in hopes that someone else may find a glimmer of hope in knowing that he or she is not alone.

I remember a conversation I had with the ex-husband as he was trying to convince me to have children with him (after my two children from a previous marriage were grown). I shared that my biggest fear was that something would happen, and I would essentially be raising children as a single parent….again. That was hard enough with my older kids, and their dad was supportive after we divorced! The ex ASSURED me that he would ALWAYS take care of his kids…well….that didn’t happen. My biggest fear came to pass- with a little added abuse.

I learned firsthand, how early childhood trauma can shape young minds. My 12 year old, Brother, is a complex case, diagnosed on a Schizophrenia Spectrum. My 10 year old, Little AoA, has come through verbal apraxia, severe anxiety with irritable bowel syndrome, and continues to display selective mutism. Some days we have to take in small bites…one tiny step at a time. To outside people, it looks like dealing with a moody, spoiled kid. I know this, and while it shouldn’t, it still bothers me. I only wish that the “cure” was as simple as grounding for noncompliance, or rewarding for desired behaviors. Add into the mix, a sedating antipsychotic needing adjustments, and most of the parenting tools I have, become ineffective at best, triggering at worst.

I started a homeschooling journey this fall with Brother, when the public school experience failed to improve after a full year of meetings and interventions including being in a behavior program. I now prepare to add Little AOA to the homeschool life, as her anxiety is getting worse with school, and I witnessed the segregation for myself, of students with disabilities in her classroom. I couldn’t believe what I saw! Kids learn from us- if we demonstrate intolerance and exclusion of people who do not learn the same way as the majority, the children will mimic that attitude! ALL CHILDREN deserve to be accepted for who they are, and be given encouragement to build on their strengths. My eyes were opened as to why my child was regressing and becoming more anxious and depressed. I understand that bumping up against obstacles builds resilience, but this child has dealt with more obstacles than many adults. We must practice acceptance- try not to judge others by what we see in a moment’s snapshot. Take time to LISTEN FOR UNDERSTANDING…

I must add for curiosity’s sake, that I informed the dad via text, of my intention to add Little AoA to our homeschool. I expected some sort of disconnected response or condemnation. There was no response.at.all… I sent the notification to my attorney, just in case the dad tries to claim later that he was not informed. Watching back over my shoulder has become part of my life- a part that I pretend isn’t taking a toll on me.

~AoA

Almost Here

I appreciate all the joys of this holiday season more than ever! If you have ever had a sociopath, narcissist, or other cluster b in your world; you know what I mean for sure. Never a Christmas went by that there wasn’t some type of drama or anger outburst designed to spoil the love. My last Christmas with that person in my home was in 2012. The events revisit my mind each year at this time. I was just days after having back surgery, and in some pain. He became angry that I wasn’t up and making the house perfect. He silently got his gun, and went to his truck- I thought he was going to kill himself or another- he had been so angry that year, that he had threatened to kill my parents and delivery drivers. On Christmas Eve, he started wringing his hands and pacing the floor- then he silently left…he didn’t respond to texts or calls….he didn’t come back on Christmas morning.

Never again would I go through that heartache!

There is distance now. He still chooses holiday time to act out, as he recently made a show of threats at brother’s therapy office.

While I wish that the AoA kids could have some positive relationship with the dad, I am beginning to accept that it will not happen. It seems that whenever things are going seemingly well, the dad goes off the deep end with threats or hateful comments or actions. This has been the pattern for the last six years.

Back to the fun part….Little AoA and I have had tons of fun getting ready for Christmas! She is the best at decorating and organizing! Brother comes to the tree every now and then to try to get an early present. No giving in to this….if it is wrapped, it stays wrapped until Christmas morning! Neither of the AoA kids likes surprises, so they pretty much know what all but a few of their gifts are.

My lingering task is to mail something out to my 22 students. I missed the timeframe for Christmas, so they will be New Year gifts!

I know I share the same story of how the dad left on Christmas Eve…every year. It lives in my mind, and resurfaces at this time…having less emotional effect as each year goes by. Thank you for the space to share year after year❤️

~AoA

Star Trek Sick Bay and Me

This week, I underwent a robotic hysterectomy! It sounds so futuristic…

Everything went as well as it could, and I was home resting within 24 hours.

That seems like enough, right?

THE PHONE CALL….

Just as I rested on day two after surgery, there was a call….it was Brother’s therapist. Apparently, when Brother was not able to go through with the first visit in over a year, the Dad lashed out. The day the visit didn’t happen, the Dad seemed to understand that the mental health issues being worked through were serious, and that we would have to try again with some adjustments in the approach.

A couple days later, he showed up at the therapists office with his step father, who is well into his eighties. Together, they yelled at staff, made some kind of threats (maybe legal threats), and created a scene in the lobby, in front of other clients.

As a result, this therapy group will no longer work on the reunification of Brother with the dad. They are no longer willing to see the dad for any reason. He will still be able to request records, as has always been his right…but no more meeting with the therapists there to discuss Brother…they are done.

I don’t really know how I feel about this. I am not surprised, and actually feel a little validated that the therapist got to see this extreme side of the dad. That is what we lived in for years- never knowing what response would be coming. He must have been really scary for this office to go to the extreme of not taking him anymore, because they were very open to working with him. I saw them go far above and beyond to help heal the relationship between Brother and the dad.

Despite the attempt to rattle my world, the AoA kids and I are enjoying the holiday preparations! Little AoA and I finished most of the shopping before my surgery, so now we are mostly playing. There is always something to wrap, or a new ornament to add to the tree. We are going slowly this year, and just enjoying all the little moments.

I hope everyone is taking a moment to breath this holiday season❤️

~AoA

It Didn’t Happen

This last week was suppose to include Brother having a therapeutic meeting with the dad. It would have been the first time they had seen each other in over a year. It was Brother’s idea, and his therapist was supporting it.

The week leading up to the visit, Brother became extremely depressed- sleeping most of the days and nights away. The morning of the visit, he began to panic. He went to what we call “the upside down”, which includes a catatonic stare and shaking uncontrollably. He went into this state on and off throughout the day.

The visit didn’t happen.

We will keep working on building Brother up to a point where he can face unpleasant things and work through them. He is not there yet. He still needs a lot of support in social-emotional areas.

It took about 24 hours after the missed visit, for Brother to get back to his normal state.

Though we are removed from the daily turmoil of various abuses, the memories don’t go away. They are triggered back to the surface with experiences that are meant only to build tolerance and resilience. I am wondering if we don’t have our limits of tolerance and resilience….if the unpleasant or hurtful experiences go beyond our capacity of resilience….do we not break?

~AoA

Preparing to Visit

The AoA kids have not seen the dad in just over a year. Visits had been supervised for nine months, ending after cumulative subliminal threats had been made during visits, ending with a statement to Brother that “they would be living with dad all the time, very soon”. This statement, on top of other statements he had made to Brother, in which he said he would kill me if he had to… led Brother to a complete mental breakdown.

For the past year, I have had to manage the aftermath of destruction, while trying to help Brother rebuild. It has been a long and hard journey.

Brother is at the point now, where he thinks he wants to try to see his dad….in a therapeutic setting with his therapist by his side.

My role is to provide Brother with tons of support and relaxation strategies following the visit, to ward off a potential breakdown.

I am willing, but worried….here we are at holiday time trying to do this. Besides normal holiday stress, I am having surgery in another week, and anticipate being pretty fragile for a week or two afterward.

Historically, the dad uses holidays, particularly Christmas, to play upon people’s sympathies. The truth is, when we were married and raising the kids together, he would rant and complain about Christmas. He NEVER bought gifts for the kids, and was angered by anyone who did. He threatened to shoot the delivery driver if he delivered another package, and threatened to kill my parents if they brought any gifts to our house for the kids. It was on a Christmas Eve that he walked out on me and the kids six years ago, after pacing the floor in a panic. I thought he was going to kill himself, from behaviors he had been displaying leading up to that moment.

Despite this, he has played on sympathy, even sobbing in front of a judge, about missing the kids at Christmas. There was a time when this would have pulled on my heart greatly…

Now I just shake my head and enjoy the holiday time without worrying about the safety of delivery drivers in my driveway!

Happy December!

~AoA

Keep Moving and Doing!

Yesterday I spent the day at a Girl Scout camp, being trained and prepared to take girls camping. I haven’t been camping in about twenty years, so the refresher was appreciated! I really enjoyed being with other people who have a passion for working with kids, and teaching them skills they will have for life.

This is me and another leader from our troop, experiencing success in building a little fire in the freezing, windy weather of autumn.

Here are all three of our troop leaders…right now, we only have four girls who come to meetings regularly. Our troop is truly multi-age girls and women building relationships. We do community service projects, earn badges, and go on outings together.

How do we make friends? Little AoA is learning these life lessons now…

Here are a couple of quotes I found…please share your insights on making friends!

I find the best friends are those with whom I share meaningful projects and activities. Some stay around, and some move on, but they are forever friends who live in my heart❤️

~AoA

What a Difference

One month ago, I was picking Brother up from a two week stay at a mental health facility, after he fractured my elbow in a rage. This week, Brother is like a new person. He is cooperative and even…dare I say it…relaxed. On Halloween, without any coaxing, he chose to participate with the rest of us as we went trick-or-treating at a nursing home, and then bowling!

At the nursing home, he really got into making small talk with the patients. It really warmed my heart to see him enjoy “peopling”.

One of the effects that constant anxiety has on Brother, is that his heart rate stays extremely high- like 130. His doctor said today that it is like a person with a more average heart rate would feel after a brisk walk. That takes a toll on the body!

Little AoA is in full “Harry Potter” mode! She has dubbed herself in Hufflepuff, and has character names for all of our family members.

Life is much more relaxed these days. A month ago, I was feeling so hopeless regarding Brother’s prognosis. We have all put a lot of work into establishing new routines and boundaries to help our home be more harmonious and responsive to Brother’s mental health issues. It has not been easy, and a lot of tears have fallen. We are at least, all moving in the same direction.

I could have never imagined how intense Brother’s mental health needs would become by this young age of 12. Early intervention is so important! It may not fix things, but it helps to build a network of support!

When I first sought help, Brother was 7, and had already endured so much emotional and psychological abuse, that it very possibly masked underlying issues. He continued enduring abuse for another 3 years before a stop was put to it by a judge. We are picking up the pieces…

~AoA