Monday, January 6, 2014

2013: it was a rebuilding year

if i had known when it started what 2013 would bring i'm certain i would have booked a trip to tahiti and hidden in an over-water bungalow for twelve months. escape has always been my m.o.

the things is, though, now that the year has drawn to a close and i, once again, have hope for the future, i realize the tearing-down and rebuilding have been priceless in terms of my overall growth as a person, a wife, and a mom. i still have so much to learn and so many areas where i need to grow and there is still so much about which i'm unsure. but of this i am certain: had i run away and checked out on this past year, 2014 would look entirely different.

y'all have walked along on this adventure with me. you've read with teary eyes about my son's inability to express his love for me. you've read with overflowing hearts about the exhaustion of evaluations and treatments and decisions. you've even read snippets of my own emotional distress about parenting a child with a diagnosis. and even though i touched a bit on the depression i carried last winter, i never completely revealed to you the total break down that has occurred within me. and within my marriage.

there is an aftermath the occurs following diagnosis. an adjustment period. a leveling out. a transition to one's new "normal". i would venture to say this is true for any diagnosis - whether spd, autism, diabetes or cancer. i wouldn't dare to rate those different ailments on a scale of better or worse, but i will say this: when a child is diagnosed with a spectrum disorder it is often accompanied by a realization that one or both parents also suffer from their own spectrum-y issues. it's a double whammy.

the first eight or nine months of 2013 knocked us down and tore us apart. the clean up began in the last third of the year. 2014 promises continued maintenance on what was rebuilt...along with a positive outlook for continued construction and an abundant life.

now that i am - we are - in a better, more connected, more stable place, i believe it's important to talk about the break down. i have to write about it simply for my own understanding - my therapy. but also for anyone who might benefit from my honesty. "an unexamined life is not worth living" is what socrates said. i believe that. but i also believe we have to share what we learn because it's not just the examination that's worthwhile, it's the exchange.

an unexchanged life is not worth living.

i'm not sure exactly where to start. i suppose it's safe to say i had been feeling disconnected from jeremy even before the issues with harrison came to light. long before. i recall sitting across the dinner table from him back in september of 2012, after having been on a romantic weekend away that wasn't all that romantic, confessing that i'd felt disconnected for a very long time and begging him to stop working so much. so we didn't have the firmest of foundations when harrison was evaluated and his treatment became our primary focus. our marriage had not been a priority for quite some time but it really took a rear seat last year. jeremy focused on working to pay for therapy. i focused on getting harrison to and from therapy and learning as much as i could about how to help our son.

when parents carry sole responsibilities instead of shared responsibilities, a chasm occurs.

in our case it only made our disconnect wider.

as the year progressed and my research increased i began to realize how differently jeremy and i think. men and women, generally speaking, have brains that process in polar opposite ways. so there's that. but imagine you could rate your brain on a scale of "typical-ness"... on a scale of 0-200, i would be an 18 and jeremy would be a 143. a 125 point spread. disconnect.

i was a math nerd in high school. i took calculus as a junior. i loved working with numbers because everything just fit. had i not gotten into computer networking i'd probably still be doing pages and pages of math to this day. i like it when everything fits. i NEED everything to fit. when things fit it's like my brain feels physically lighter and i get a brief moment of peace,” he said.

but you fell in love with a girl who doesn't fit. she buys you clothes you don't like to wear. she cooks you food you really don't want to eat. she doesn't fold the receipts correctly, nor does she put them in order by date or by size. you have a wife who doesn't fit,” i said.

"YES," he exclaimed. 

it was a moment of clarity. i finally realized why i had felt ignored by my husband for much of our marriage. with a tear streaming down my right cheek i said, "it's much easier for you to sit in front of your computer, collecting and cataloging data, than it is to interact with your wife who doesn't fit.”

yes,” he said, softer this time. a tear escaped his eye too. it rolled down his left cheek, creating a mirror image of mine.

i said the only thing left to say, “that's the problem, honey.”

this conversation took place in august. it was the first honest talk jeremy and i had about our marriage. it was the first time i understood the depth of our issues and the lengths we would need to go to save our relationship. 

even after this chat jeremy revealed that he did not feel disconnected from me at all. not even a little bit. my complaints about our marriage not only came out of left field, they hit him upside the head and knocked him to the dirt. disconnect.

in september i called a psychologist. i made an appointment for myself. i begged jeremy to go too. in fact i threatened him. go or get out. another disconnect. 

i spent the first three therapy sessions sobbing and blowing my nose and catching my breath. i spent the next three analyzing and understanding and focusing on change. changing myself. changing my thoughts. it turns out jeremy was not solely responsible for making me feel ignored in our marriage. my own thoughts - my deeply negative thinking about myself, others, life, the world, the things that happen to us - were a major factor in the disconnect that occurred within my marriage, but also within me individually. 

i signed up for counseling to deal with my son's diagnosis and to salvage my marriage when in actuality what i really needed was to rebuild myself.

although i wrote on this very blog about how i believe "everything happens for a reason" and "all things work out for good" and "this life is a great's a journey", my internal thoughts were calling BULLSHIT! my mind was thinking "i'm exhausted" and "i can't deal with this" and "why do i have to do it all by myself" and "this is too much" and "i feel so alone." my mind was focusing on every negative aspect of harrison's diagnosis (because that's what i was training to do - notice his behaviors, figure out why he's acting that way, and modify my own behavior or the situation to help him cope). my mind was reeling with the unattractive pieces of jeremy's personality. and my own. i was everyone's worst critic, but i always saved the worst of the worst for myself.

i lacked the the energy to see the good. the inside of my brain was a mess with worry and fear and doubt and suspicion. and the worst part of all was that I HAD ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA I WAS THINKING SO NEGATIVELY. i had lost the ability to live a conscious life. there was no examining my own mind. i was too busy analyzing the external happenings around me - and interpreting them negatively - to even notice the wrecking that was taking place within.

what i began slowly, painstakingly learning in therapy is that i cannot live a healthy, productive life if i don't have healthy, productive thoughts. i cannot have a happy marriage if the loop in my head continually plays to me how unhappy and hopeless my marriage is. i will never have a right relationship with my son if i'm constantly reminding myself about all he has to overcome and worrying that he'll never be able to do so. cognitive behavior therapy has helped me recognize that, while i cannot control the events around me, i can control my reaction to them and my thoughts about them. 

jeremy and i have been seeing our doctor faithfully each week since late september - first separately, then together. he's given us assignments. i was asked to keep a gratitude journal, to write down three things i'm thankful for each day. i was told to monitor my thinking and to try hard to catch my negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones. i'll be frank with you, at first i had no idea how to do that. my therapist had to give me examples of positive thoughts! (i'm blushing; embarrassed at such a confession). one session he said, "rachel, your marriage is strong" and i remember being amazed at that idea. he went on to give me lots of examples of how jeremy is an awesome, competent partner and how harrison is an amazing, bright boy. ultimately, he showed me if i could simply change the connotation with which i interpret things, i'd see their incredible qualities too. 

i am far from whole. i feel as though my foundation - our foundation - has been shored up and our structure is sound. we've got a house that's liveable but we're still adding the special touches that make it a home. i do finally feel connected to my husband again. he has done an outstanding job of working toward regaining my trust and i am doing my best to trust him. we are showing up for each other. and that's a really powerful thing. 

i mess up every day. i still think negatively. and i still speak negatively. and i still hurt others. and i'm still hardest on myself. but at least now i'm trying really, really hard to forgive myself when i mess up, let it go, and just do the next right thing. i'm better able to catch my negative (worrisome, anxious, harsh, always jump to the worst case scenario) thoughts and replace them with good.

in 2013 i learned so much about my son. not all moms are able to say they know their child as well as i know mine. i'm not saying that to brag. but it sounds like bragging, doesn't it? and isn't it something to brag about?! i know harrison so well and i wouldn't have that deep, special relationship with him if i'd hopped a flight to tahiti. i learned about myself this year. how to be more of who god calls me to be - someone who's full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. how to focus on things that are noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable and praiseworthy. how to tune out the lies and focus on truth. i learned things about my husband that hadn't before been revealed in nearly ten years of marriage. he and i are convinced our ten year anniversary celebration (and vacation!) will be all the sweeter for having walked through the mire these past months (and in the months to come). we are, more than ever, committed to each other and have reached a deeper level of understanding about how the other sees the world.

in 2013 i learned that diagnosis doesn't have to lead to divorce. 

instead, it can lead to discovery.

and the greatest discoveries in the world are the ones found right in your own back yard.

come what may in 2014, if i feel the need to escape to tahiti i'll be taking jeremy, harrison and graham with me. an over-water bungalow would undoubtedly be more fun if i shared it with them.


April said...

Thank you for sharing so much of your journey, Rachel. I am glad to know how to love and support you through my prayers. I think you are a beautiful person.

Becky said...

I'm way behind on keeping up with blog posts . . . thank you for sharing your story. I knew it was a tough year, but I had no idea. What amazing insight you have gained through it all! This story needs to be shared with so many people I know. This idea of a gratitude journal is so important. I started blogging about things I was grateful for earlier in 2013, but it fell by the wayside . . . immediately. I felt like I needed to refocus my thoughts, too. It's so easy to go down the path of everything being so hard and in doing so missing out on all the blessings. I found myself doing that with regard to much smaller things than what you have had to endure. I'm sorry I was not more aware and more prayerful. We think about you guys so much. Wish we were closer and could offer more tangible support, but I will be praying more intentionally now and I will make a better effort to check on your blog. Love you, sweet friend!