Situation Overload

Sometimes I think my life is so boring and other times I crave something more normal, with less drama and some tranquility. I have been quiet for a few weeks because the drama took hold of us. I’m not sure you would believe me if I told you the events of the past few weeks. My friend called it “situation overload”.

When someone asked me “how are you?” or “how’s things?” I could barely string a sentence together. I couldn’t even respond with the standard stiff upper lip of “fine thanks”.  At one point I literally went and hid when someone asked me.

My son had Situation Overload.

My daughter had Situation Overload

Me? I had Situation Overload AND Situation Overload by Default.

My advice to my children- you have to go through shit in your lives. You have to learn that it’s okay to feel negative emotions of anger, fear, sadness, frustration, doubt and guilt to name but a few. You have to learn that these feelings do generally pass IF you allow yourself time to feel these emotions and know that with strength and tenacity you will get through it.

I’m not telling them to pull themselves together; I’m definitely not telling them to Man Up (a phrase that I actually abhor). I have told them that they are awesome, they have conducted themselves with dignity, they have cried and smiled, and their relationship has developed another layer of closeness.

In amongst all of the drama here are some of the simple things that reduced Situation Overload to a mere Situation:

  • Watching Pitch Perfect 2 with the daughter- whilst eating vanilla popcorn.
  • Ice Cream- it’s always a feature.
  • Friends who touched base, but knew that I needed time- I am so grateful.
  • The Bali Squad and the huge hug I received- what a lovely evening we had making plans together and eating Chinese food.
  • Watching Untouchable for the third time- this is my all time favourite film.
  • Laughing so hard when I just overheard my 14yr old ordering pizza with his friend “do you want a stripper combo?”

And finally… getting the opportunity to write some thoughts down. Breathe.

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Unite & Be Awesome

A weekend coffee share

If we were having coffee (or if I was having fruit tea), I would tell you that I have been really out of sorts this week.

If we were having coffee, I would want to talk about what had been happening in your week. I would want to avoid so much of what has been happening in my world.

It’s not major stuff (well actually some of it is), but I would hope that instead of dwelling on it we could sit and chat and put the world to rights. So much dialogue goes on in my head that it would be good to sit and just talk!

I cancelled our coffee date last week because things were getting on top of me, I took a rain check and rescheduled to this week to see if it would help my mood. It didn’t.

I’m feeling angry and tense, it’s been hard work getting my life back together and in one fell swoop someone called me “needy” and I lashed out. If I was needy do you think I would have spent all these years alone? Do you think I would have done something about the loneliness before now? If I were “needy” maybe I would have looked for a man to supplement my less than living wage income? Or maybe just had casual sex, if my needs were not being met by a man? If I were needy do you think I would have coped so fucking well with bringing up my children?

But then I got to thinking…What if being needy wasn’t an insult?

Surely it’s part of the human condition to want to be with someone else? We can tell ourselves that we don’t, but there is so much research out there that proves otherwise. Wait a minute…I used the words ‘want to be’ NOT ‘need to be’. Therein lies the difference.

So what else has been going on? Would you like another coffee? How much time do you have left?

If we were having another coffee I would tell you that I resigned from my voluntary position. I didn’t want to; I wanted to make a difference. I think I did for a while, but to make a difference even on a small scale you need other people to help you. Yes NEED.

I would also tell you that linked to that decision was the fact that my son is anxious again and that means that I don’t get much sleep. A fourteen year old will pace the house into the very early hours if he is troubled and anxious. He will lash out at you because you are the one who is always there, He NEEDS you.

He’s anxious because his safe place, with people he trusts, and activities that he enjoys, and is very good at, is under threat. Why is that? He’s anxious because the social situations are challenging him. He sees only black and white, he’s extremely literal. He can’t easily identify that he’s being bullied by someone because they might see him as a threat; they might resent his single minded drive to achieve. They most definitely do not understand any aspect of autism.

If we were still drinking coffee, I would tell you that I fought back. Publicly, on Facebook. I NEED to protect my young. I NEED them to know that I have their back. They NEED to know that I have their corner.

So this happened- I took over my son’s Facebook account.

But then the messages of support for him started pouring in…

Matt’s a cool guy and if anyone is doing such ridiculous things we’re always here even though we don’t speak a lot!
Here for u Matt…you’re a nice guy and them who bring u down don’t let em cuz u will achieve something and will gain things mate
People only need to bully if they are lacking I’m their own lives, it is no true reflection of Matt, as the entire Evans family is frankly nothing but kind and genuine.
Luv ya Matt
Always here for you Matt u was was one of my first friends at school
You know how proud I am of you (from his sister)
 I’m here for u m8 
Unite and be awesome my friends (my personal favourite comment) 
Do not listen to them they are just being dicks ur a good person and a good mate  
stay strong ma friend

…And so it went on and on without a negative comment amongst them. He NEEDED that. I NEEDED to see that happen.

So the way I see it is that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with needing other people. And thank you, I really needed that fruit tea and chat.

’til next time then xx

What’s Your Social Story?

Social Media Cans

If you have any contact with a child with Autism you will be all to familiar with the term Social Story, but that’s not really what this post is about. However, these days, we all have a social story of a very different kind. The story that we set out to show the world via Social Media.

The end of my marriage coincidentally was the beginning of my social media story. It all began when my daughter wanted to have a Facebook account. The only way I felt comfortable enough to let her do that was by having one myself and ensuring that I had access to her password and could monitor and close the account down should I feel that it was ever being used inappropriately.

I quite like Facebook, or possibly did like Facebook. Life as a single parent is pretty isolating at times and more so when you have a child with additional needs and also have very little money for babysitters. It means you don’t get out much! Facebook was useful for keeping a virtual eye on teenage habits (the trick is to watch & not comment) it also enabled me to keep in touch with friends, some who lived many miles away and some who lived in different countries altogether. What I hated was the teenage idea that more Facebook friends meant that you were more popular.

I “cull” my Facebook account quite regularly, it might seem harsh to de-friend people, but if they are just there sitting on the periphery of my life and have no interest in interacting with me what’s the point? It’s the equivalent of the friend that never responds to your invites and doesn’t call you back. There comes a point where you have to let them go.

Linkedin is another social media site where I have had quite a lot of experience. I was asked by a friend to work with her on a project on Linkedin. It involved me working from home (perfect for childcare) and coincided with me needing to change my job from a well paid role with an IT company where I was so desperately torn between my new (sole earner) family responsibilities and my children’s needs for a more present, calmer mother. I’d also has a spate of illness which ended in me needing an emergency operation. Ill health focuses the mind to what really matters! Working from home it was then.

It was perfect timing, I was able to regroup my family, recover and work evenings. I grew a Linkedin Group from 1800 members to nearly 18000 in just under two years. I knew very little about the field that I was working in, but I did know how to talk to people and encourage conversations. Social Media conversations do not start themselves. You have to be present and you have to put the effort in. Just like in real life.

Jumping forward to the point where my son wanted a Facebook account, I considered that I was quite savvy in the world of social media. WRONG! This is the point where I became more wary of social media. Whilst any social interaction for a child with autism is seen as a step forward the pitfalls are so exaggerated. Bullying is more rife than in the real world as people are somehow braver (or more stupid?) sitting behind a keypad, keyboard or touch screen. It reinforces my instinctive belief that you  have to be a part of your child’s online activity. I have deleted content, blocked and reported (to the police at one point) a great deal of vile content from his Facebook. It’s very clear that many parents do not have a clue what their children are up to on social media. Yet it remains a valuable means of communication for any teenager in this world today.

My relationship with Facebook is love/hate. I love seeing updates from friends (real friends), I enjoy feeling that we are still ‘connected’. I hate a great deal of the ridiculous stories that get shared about on this forum and I mostly hate that children are not monitored in their online activities.

So what about Twitter? I find myself with a relatively new Twitter account mostly because said daughter has fallen out with Facebook and defected to Twitter, she has also moved away from home and it’s a nice way to touch base with her daily life and occasional rants. More than that though, I have found that I am in a odd place myself.

My long term relationship seems to have ended, my children are older and I am craving the company of like minded people. I know that I need to ‘get back out there’ but I am not really ready YET. At the moment  I am enjoying ‘meeting’ new people on Twitter. Sharing parts of my life that I have, until now, kept really private and finding out that my story, not just my social media story, resonates with others. I feel safer sharing some of my experiences with people who otherwise don’t know me but I also value the human interaction that has been missing in my life.

I am being myself and being totally up front and honest about who I am, with a view to learning that despite some challenges along the way, I know that I need to steer my story nearer to where I would like it to be.

 

What is Normal?

 

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Is any family normal?

If the opposite of normal is abnormal where do you draw the lines?

Synonyms of normal might include usual, standard, typical, common, ordinary, conventional, to name a few. Do they describe your family? Those words don’t describe my family and for that I am quite grateful.

I have an autistic son; I have no idea what it’s like to have a ‘normal’ son because he is MY normal. In much the same way I have a fiercely tenacious daughter, it scares me at times but it’s quite ‘normal’ in our house. I really don’t consider either of them normal; they are exceptional in every way.

One of my biggest frustrations has been the measuring stick that is used in schools these days. My daughter was constantly told that she should be less sensitive. WHY? Don’t we need sensitive people in the world? My son had to learn to read from fiction books that didn’t make any sense to him, they seemed pointless. But give him a technical article about a ship or boat or train and he could read every word and remember every fact. Why was this so much of a problem?

At times I have craved normality, feeling  that we just limp from one drama to another, each one requiring more tolerance, patience and strength than the last and taking what little energy that I seem to have left these days. But I don’t think there is one that we haven’t conquered. I realise now that doesn’t make us normal – that makes us successful. But I am only just beginning to see this.

Discrimination

the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people

Is it possible for a white girl from a middle class village to experience discrimination?  A little while back, I read my friend Pavla’s blog Small is Really Beautiful and it got me thinking about my own childhood home. It was so interesting to read her views on racism in my own country.

Chobham

I lived in a small affluent Surrey village between ages 9-18, in the only social housing in the village. As a teenager I found it very isolating as the “council house” kids were not considered appropriate friends for other wealthy villager’s children. My school was miles away, as was the nearest town. Transport out of the village was a single bus daily, miss it and you had a long walk! I hated it!

Without a doubt I have been discriminated against as a single mother. There will always be some article or report somewhere blaming a heap of issues on broken homes and single parents. Even people who I thought were friends distanced themselves when I became single.

It’s my experience that any small “difference” from the norm will get noticed, discriminated against or become the target of bullies. My son has been bullied at school because of his autism. My daughter has been isolated at University by a group that quite literally tormented her because of her drive and determination (she didn’t want to take part in the constant drinking).

I have a few questions for you all. What is the difference between bullies, racists, homophobes, misogynists and the like? Are they simply people who never outgrew the playground? Do they ever choose to grow up and think about their past and change or apologise?

Would you agree that education is the key? I think it is, but not formal education. It’s OUR responsibility as parents to teach our children respect for all human beings. To help them find the joys of being with people with different outlooks and experiences. Help them to learn that, for the most part, each individual wants a good life just as we all do. The countries that we wage war with – they have people there with families too, just the same as you and I.

My life has been enriched by people who are categorised as foreign, gay, autistic, disabled, but to me they are just my friends and family.

“Child of Hope”

It’s a harmless enough question when people ask about the age difference between my children. It’s almost 6 years. Nothing extraordinary about that is there?  My standard answer is “that’s just how it happened” and that’s true enough for most people. After all, when someone asks “How are you?” do you give them chapter & verse. No, I thought not.

November 5th 1999 I had a positive pregnancy test. Six days later I was in hospital with a suspected miscarriage.

Please tell me why they scan you in the same department as all the pregnant women with their swollen bellies? You hang your head, unable and unwilling to make eye contact with anyone. There is no joy in your heart or womb, just emptiness. You failed. I was sent home to let nature take it’s course. Miscarriage, even early on is bloody, painful and cruel. But that’s only half the story.

I thought that I was verging on insanity, you see, after years of infertility treatment I was fairly in tune with my body and its cycles. I felt pregnant. I felt crazy. I had seen what was flushed down the toilet. I honestly thought that if I mentioned it to my GP that he would have me sectioned. I didn’t mention it, I went back to work.

A week after my  miscarriage I had a routine blood test to make sure that “the products of conception” (Hey! That’s my baby you’re talking about!) had not been retained by my faulty, failure of a womb.

I took a call at work – I was working evenings – my GP said that I needed to go to hospital. I said “I’ll make an appointment in the morning”. He said no, that I needed to go immediately as my pregnancy hormones were still rising. What the hell did that mean? I think it meant that I wasn’t going crazy.

I’ll cut a long story short. More scans. More swollen bellies. More disgust with my own body. More failure. Nothing. There was no trace of the pregnancy, a “complete miscarriage” they said. That’s it then.child of hope

But it wasn’t, there was an ectopic pregnancy. This was a heterotopic pregnancy,  a rare situation when there was an intra-uterine and extra-uterine pregnancy occurring simultaneously.

I then had to sign a consent form to have the foetus and fallopian tube removed. It broke my heart. This is a very different kind of grief.

A healthy, very unexpected pregnancy followed very soon afterwards. My son is my Child of Hope. Even his name means gift. If I had to go through it all again just to hold him, I would.