8/10/2012 Diana Ray
Last month, I finished a memoir that has taken me 4.5 years to write. At times I didn’t think I would finish, and for long periods I put the project down. But it is only so long a person can ignore a big elephant in the room, and back to the project I went. In actuality, writing the memoir was a kind of life-cycle, one that had distinct developmental stages. Getting started was like laying the egg, while telling my story became the larvae, one that grew with each page of words I wrote. Taking long breaks were a form of hibernation, where transformation was occurring inside, while finishing the memoir was the final stage of metamorphosis, where the desire to set my wings free coated my body and soul from the inside out. There is such a thing as ‘sympathetic magic,” an old way of thinking where people felt that eating the heart of a lion would make them brave. I fully believe in magic, and wear an emblem of my fairy friend around my neck to prove it. Writing my memoir, and thus re-living my childhood and life up to age 33, has been a kind of consumption, one that has nourished me beyond belief. I also know, like the person who ate the heart of the lion, that telling my story has healed and opened up my life and made me brave in ways that are also beyond belief.
Where to go from here has been more challenging. Advice started coming from my therapist, who knew a bit about how to get published these days. She suggested I start a blog, and use it as a platform for my writing. I loathed the idea of writing a blog, and cringed every time she brought it up. When I finally finished the book, I had other ideas of how to make myself known. I told her I might try to intersect with a very famous author who lived not too far from me, introduce myself, and then ask if author X might like to read my book. My therapist kindly but firmly told me that trying to approach a public figure like author X would likely not bode well, and I might want to see if that person had email, or was on face-book. She also re-iterated the idea of starting a blog.
That night I searched the Internet to see if author X took email. After a long time of getting no-where, I stumbled upon a google heading that had “I emailed author X” in it, so I clicked on. It was a blog by a woman named Erica Staab, where across the top of her headline was written, “Seeing beauty in all things…Living life as a prayer…Creating a meaningful life” It turned out that Ms. Staab had met author X, at a local book signing. She also had her own e-book she had written, “The In-Between.” I began to read Ms. Staab’s writing, and could not stop. Her words about healing and love and courage touched my soul. Her site took me to another woman’s blog, and then another, all about the transformative power of grief, loss, love and courage. That was it, I was fully sucked in. If these woman could put themselves out there to the world, offering what they had so that others could heal, then so could I. Once I decided to start the blog, the first entry became clear: I would write about my children, who are a source of tremendous pain and joy, and also, the topic of my second memoir, which I have yet to write.
So here I am. Another woman out in the world who wants to get a book published. Or put another way; another woman out in the world who wants to make a difference, and is hoping that through my stories and experiences, some of us get healed. I have found that putting myself out there, even when I am overloaded, and my critic is raging, and I am scared to death that I won’t be able to handle it all, comes back 10 fold. It’s as easy as going from Ms. Staab to 9 other woman, who together through their words, cheer me on. So thank-you Ms. Staab, for your blog, and for everyone on the path I read along the way. You keep on writing, and I will keep on reading.
I have one more thing to mention about myself: I am writing under a pseudonym. I could never reveal my true identify as long as my parents are living, as I say hurtful, damming things about them throughout my memoir. As an adult in my 40’s, I have made peace with my parents who are now in their 70’s, and do not wish to cause them more pain. So for now, I am writing under the pseudonym, Diana Ray, one that I can take with me if/when I get published.
So here is my first entry. I would love feed-back. My husband tells me that it is slow in a couple of places. As my goal in life is to give up my day job and write for a living, any feed-back about my writing or stories would be much appreciated. Thanks!
This Is Louis
Last month my 7-year-old son Louis had a swim play date with his friend Kyle, from school. I and Kyle’s parents planned to meet on a Sunday afternoon, at a pool Kyle’s mother reported was open until 6 pm, as listed on their web-site. We arrived at 4:30, only to discover that the pool was closing at 5pm, and that the pool’s web-site was wrong. After a fierce smart phone race between me and the other boy’s father, to see who could find an open pool first, we settled on a pool approximately 20 minutes away. We got there in time to enjoy the last hour of a hot sun, highly chlorinated yet cool water, and semi-healthy snacks purchased at the swim center. My son Louis and his friend Kyle, both newly independent swimmers, had short swim races to the ladder in the shallow end, did underwater tricks that bumped a few kids, and generally had a good time. By the end of the play date, the two boys were laughing like old pals, and grumbling about having to leave. We all said our good-by’s, then headed our separate ways for dinner.
This scene will be familiar to many of you. You are nodding your head as you read along, and think, “Yeah, that sounds like my kid.” This is the kid who adapts reasonably well to change, gets along mostly well with their peers, and often has a week-end birthday party scheduled. This is the kid that falls in the middle to far right of the bell curve; that beautiful area delineating average to exceptional skills in the areas of behavior, emotional intelligence, self-regulation and social development. If this is your kid, pat yourself on the back, you and your child are doing well. But what if this is not your kid? What if your kid fell below average, or even far to the left? What if the bell curve was describing your child’s cognition (intelligence), ability to function at school, their health, their ability to grow up as self-sufficient contributing members of society? What if your child fell to the left of the middle then?
I haven’t told you the whole pool story. While everything noted above is true, here’s what I didn’t include: My older son Louis, was having a bad day, which for us, his mother, father, and younger brother, meant having a very difficult day. Louis was formally diagnosed with ADHD in November of 2011, with co-existing Non Verbal Learning Disorder added in January of 2012 (to learn more about Non-Verbal Learning Disorder go to http://www.nldontheweb.org). Louis also has anxiety, ranging anywhere from mild to profound, and has been noted to obsess on topics that are of interest, or generate deep emotion for him.
That morning, Louis had taken his daily Ritalin, in addition to a new medication we were trying, to further help Louis get a hold of his impulses. Poor impulse control has been rampant since Louis was young, and includes the impulse to use a wild, out of control body, with no knowledge of the size or strength of that body; the impulse to use rude, foul, or teasing language, and, when angry, the impulse to lash out at his family with such aggression, the other person is left bleeding, scratched or bruised.
The day began with an argument over swim class, which Louis did not want to attend. As I prepared for yoga class, something I did every Saturday morning, I listened to Louis complain about why he did not want to swim. Swim class was always mixed for Louis; if he had a calm, soft voiced female instructor, he was great, and would finish the class with much pride over his accomplishments. If he had an instructor who was male, or pushy in any way, it sparked his anxiety, and he would refuse to go. This past series had not gone well, as Louis had missed a few classes, and had a one-time sub who was pushy. This happened to be the last swim class of the series, and also the first day of a hip-hop class I was taking Louis to in the afternoon. Hip-hop, or dance, was something Louis had a deep interest in. It was also something he felt incredibly anxious about. My husband and I told Louis he did not have to swim that day, knowing that 2 classes in one day would likely be too much, although he did have to go and watch his brother swim, as I would not be home. After much whining, fussing and relentless teasing of his younger brother, who generally responded to Louis’ behavior by screaming, hitting, or throwing something at him, Louis consented. We all agreed to meet back at the house at noon, and went our separate ways.
At noon, we re-convened quite hungry at home. Both kids ate in different rooms while watching television, something my husband and I had been reluctantly doing, to keep peace in the house. Despite this separation, scuffles ensued between the two boys that made it impossible for my husband or I to do anything more than shove food in our mouths. On the way to hip-hop, I made plans to meet Louis’ friend Kyle and his parent’s at a local community pool, just few hours after class. Louis was excited about meeting Kyle at the pool, and having dad and Aiden join.
At hip-hop class, I noted that Louis was the only boy, out of 8 kids. Some of these kids had taken this class before, and were romping comfortably around the room. Others were more hesitant, and stayed close to their parent’s, similar to Louis. Finally a firm, but clearly engaging and talented dance teacher, called the children to come sit in a circle. The children were instructed to say their name and share their favorite food. Most of the kids reported pizza, burgers and burritos. Louis mentioned his love for salmon, something I knew was unusual for a 7-year-old, but the teacher responded that it was her favorite food as well. Then it was time to learn some moves. Louis stood in the back, with his “I’m growing it out” hair helmet in place, and moved awkwardly around the room to the teacher’s moves. Louis seemed tired, out of it and disengaged. He was one step behind every move, and stiff as a board in motion. This was not the same boy who danced all over our living room to Kelly Clarkson and Victoria Justice from Nickelodeon! Louis had been talking about going to a performing arts school for some months now, despite his lack of any developed performing art, and I was pretty sure teasing, foul language and unpleasant body noises would not count. Louis seemed most interested in dance, something my husband and I had been trying to get him involved in for several months. But despite the strong interest, over-riding Louis’ anxiety about starting something new, was no easy task. We did eventually get him to try hip hop at a different studio, with promises of a Pelligrino Limonata upon completion of one class. This worked well, and morphed into a weekly ritual of class, followed by Limonata. While Louis had fun at a few classes, he had joined late and had to sit out for a portion of the class, while they prepared for a performance in a parade. This unstructured time led to moments of teasing and berating the other dancers, something his young 20-year-old teacher could not handle. We decided to take a break until the next session in September, when Louis could start at the beginning with everyone else. The current studio we were at had no final performance, had a larger mix of kids from different backgrounds, and was taught by a kind, but no-nonsense teacher. All in all a better fit.
Thanks to the hair helmet, I couldn’t see Louis’ eyes, but based on his body language, Louis seemed tired and uninterested. One of the pitfalls of Louis’ new medication was that it lowered his energy level. While Ritalin upped it, his new medication lowered his blood pressure, and in theory, lowered his energy level. He seemed mighty low to me, so I spontaneously joined him on the dance floor. It was fun doing the teacher’s dance moves, with Louis at my side! I figured anything I learned, I could teach him at home. I learned how to do a baby-freeze, a balancing pose where you lean on your arms while sticking your legs out to the side. Having done yoga, I picked it up immediately, and proceeded to do it 5 times in a row. Unfortunately, hip hop teachers are not yoga teachers, and I had no idea that I was playing accordion with my neck until the next day, when serious pain kept me in discomfort for close to a week. Then the class was over and we headed home, with approximately 1.5 hrs of down time before the swim.
At home things were tense immediately. Louis, whose mood went from irritable to irritable++, insisted that only he and I go to the pool, after having invited both his father and little brother earlier. This happened frequently: a change in plans based upon Louis foul mood, anxiety or rigidity, with little regard to how others are affected. Fortunately, Aiden became involved with Lego’s, and didn’t seem to mind. I was not thrilled about the change for 2 reasons: change usually involved some other party being grossly unhappy, although both his dad and little brother seemed okay, and; I would have to continue to be on and attentive to all of Louis’ demands and anxieties, something that could have been shared with my husband.
While bummed, I plugged on. Louis sat on the couch and whined about being bored (we finally said “no” to t.v! ). I changed into my suit, all the while checking in to see if Louis changed his mind about dad and Aiden joining, another character trait we often contended with. He had not. While dad and Aiden had moved on, and were happy doing other activities in the house, I hadn’t. I did not want to take Louis to the pool alone. Unless I wanted to bow out of this play date altogether, which would only cause Louis even greater anxiety, I would have to take him alone. I said a quick prayer, threw kisses to Aiden and my husband, and left.
Louis zoned out in the car to music, giving me a short respite. It was a 15 minute drive to the pool, with 13 of these minutes involving a quiet Louis in the back seat. Then, just as the pool became in view, things changed.
Louis suddenly remembered he would have to change into clothes after the pool. That would involve going into the mens locker room alone, as he was too old to come with me in the women’s. Although Kyle and his father would be there, Louis had never changed with them before. It was always his dad who helped him change after swim class, as I never took him. Louis began to whine, his voice charged with fear, that he needed dad to come after all, that Aiden could come too, and could I please call, because he really, really, needed dad to help him change. I pulled over, and quickly tried to calm him: Louis did not have to go in the locker room at all, he could wear his wet suit in the car, or, I could hold up a towel and he could change, something he typically did at the beach. Neither of these options were acceptable, and Louis continued to beg me call, his voice so high with tension he could have belted out an aria. I didn’t want to give in, as he had already invited and then taken away his offer for dad and Aiden to join, but felt trapped. I did not want Louis to get into full-blown anxiety mode, as I had dealt with that frequently in recent days, and felt burnt out. I called my husband, who said Aiden was knee-deep in Lego land, and did not want to stop. He encouraged me to continue on, that hopefully things would change with Louis, as they often did. Louis and I pulled up to the pool, with Louis now engaged in a complete anxiety attack. He screamed and yelled that he had to have his dad, and that I had to call again. Then he threw his shoe at me from the back seat, which hit my arm and hurt. I tried to talk to him, to calm him, as I had success with sitting and talking about his fears when he wouldn’t get out of the car to pick up Aiden at his preschool last week, although for the life of me I can’t remember what those fears were. Then I saw Kyle start to walk over to Louis window, and I got out of the car. Louis screamed for me stay in the car, and threw his other shoe, which hit the windshield. I asked Kyle where his mom and dad were, and he said inside paying. I told him that Louis needed a minute, and could he please go and wait inside, which he did. Then I went over to the side of the car where Louis was sitting and opened the door. I got down to his level and looked at his tear-stained eyes, trying desperately to think of anything that might make this situation change, but I was beyond tired, and at a blank. I again suggested he change with Kyle and his dad, or wear his wet suit in the car, which was no more acceptable now then it was 5 minutes earlier. Louis grabbed my arm and scratched me hard, trying to sink his teeth into my flesh in the process, but I slithered my way out, and slammed the door. I told Louis I would be back in a minute, and to sit tight. As I started to walk in the pool, Kyle and his parent’s walked out. The pool was closing soon they told me, and their online schedule was wrong. I quickly told them of the events that had transpired in the past 10 minutes, as Kyle’s mom understood and accepted Louis’ Jeckle-Hyde behaviors. We stood outside trying to come up with another plan, which you know from the beginning of this story, we did. The change in plan, something I typically dreaded, was exactly what we needed. Louis managed to calm himself in the time it took to find a different pool, and agreed to try it out. Half-way there he agreed to change by himself in the locker room, or wear his wet suit home. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
At location B, Louis made no eye-contact with his friend or his family, despite their attempts to engage him, and would not leave my side. I swam with him in the big pool, where he finally joined his friend in short races to the pools edge. While I was happy about him playing with his friend, I sensed his continued anxiety, which came out in teasing, competitive remarks such as, “I won; I got here first; I’m better then you. I spoke in soft tones, encouraging him to replace his competitive remarks with supportive ones such as, “It was so close; that was fun; let’s do it again.” Then some aquatic acrobats which released more of Louis’ tension, until finally, he and his friend fully connected, hanging out in the pool together until the last second before closing, talking and laughing like old friends. Then it was over.
My husband and I have been dealing with a wide variety of serious behavior since Louis was a young 2-year-old, behavior that began shortly after his brother Aiden was born. Prior to this Louis had been a sweet, but semi-aggressive toddler, who would hit, pinch and bite other children sporadically. He could also play extremely well with other children, and appeared to enjoy their company. Louis was on track with all of his early milestones, from motor to language, to social skills, and I knew many toddlers who profiled like he did. I chalked his less than desirable character traits to typical boy energy, although my day care provider at the time told me frequently that 1 of Louis, was equal to 2 or 3 other children.
Louis has gone through a variety of changes since then, some positive, a few spectacular, many terrible, and has been assessed or treated by a total of 9 different developmental specialists since the age of 4. Seven of these professionals worked directly with Louis, while 2 child psychologists worked only with his father and I. At 4 years, Louis was assessed by a speech-language pathologist and occupational therapist, and while he never qualified for speech-language therapy, he received occupational therapy for 2 years, focusing on increasing delayed fine/motor skills, and sensory processing skills. At 5 yrs, Louis saw a developmental pediatrician, who gave him a diagnosis of “Anxiety Not Otherwise Specified,” and felt hopeful that because Louis had always done well in preschool, the deck was stacked in his favor. Louis currently sees a child psychiatrist, who after 2 years of therapy that began shortly after we saw the developmental pediatrician, gave Louis a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), in collaboration with his parents. He is also the doctor who prescribes Louis medication. Louis began a boys group last November that meets during the school year, with a focus on social skills, and is led by two child psychologists. A neuropsychologist assessed Louis last January in the areas of cognition, academic skills, behavioral/social skills and emotional intelligence. After several sessions of working with Louis and of writing a long report, this doctor also concurred with the diagnosis of ADHD, and in addition, added the new diagnosis of Non Verbal Learning Disorder.
Living with Louis is difficult, and some days, almost impossible. It has taken me a very long time to come to a place where I can feel hopeful about this child. I have always loved him, but have gone through long periods of not liking him, and even longer periods where I made it my mission to try to change him. I blamed Louis for his difficulties early in life; I shamed him, told him he was bad, and when past my breaking point, I have hit him. I am deeply ashamed of these behaviors, and of how I handled the early years, especially after his brother was born. While I am presently able to maintain more control when angry with him, I still struggle with my words and my hands. I still say things I regret, and still handle him too hard sometimes, leaving marks on his skin and causing tears.
Now I struggle to find peace within myself. I am full of grief and loss, that Louis is not the child I had hoped for, full of continued frustration and anger at the chaos in my house. But it is through this struggle that I have connected to the most elemental parts of myself, parts of me that I had glimpsed, but never lived. I am opening, ever so slowly, like the flowers in my garden, despite the hail and storms I have endured. Louis has been my gift. It is because of him that I am writing this today.
I did a lot of therapy before I had kids. I also wrote and did a lot of art, as a way of expressing myself. I have been deeply spiritual all of my life. I lost these skills during the most terrible years when I gave Louis every ounce of energy I had. Yet it is these very outlets; therapy, writing, art, and spiritual practice, that have saved me. I was so miserable when my children were small, that it compelled me to put my thoughts on paper, which eventually evolved into my memoir. When Louis was not quiet 3 years, and had been trying to kill his brother for almost 6 months, I realized that he was just a little boy and not my volatile mother, and that Aiden, my second child, was not me, someone who helplessly endured different forms of abuse and neglect growing up. This brought me back to therapy. I started a women’s group last year, that while struggling to find an identity, is something I created from me. I meditate or pray almost every day, which has soothed my soul in its worst hour. I am surrounding myself with inspirational writings, quotes and blogs all written by women, who have survived the hardships of life and gone on. We got a dog last June that I never believed in my wildest dreams, could be so healing for this family. I refuse to give into hopelessness, and despite my difficulties with Louis, try my best to focus on his talents and strengths. He is a loving, tender child, who can be funny, creative and incredibly helpful around the house. I continue to struggle on, even in my lowest moments, to find joy and beauty where I can. Even on my worst days I can walk into my backyard garden, and likely find a humming-bird zipping around, flying so close I can see its metallic green feathers and red plume on its neck. The hummingbird is a totem animal that represents beauty and joy, something I need to be reminded to find each day, no matter what darkness is happening in the world.
Take care until next time, and remember; while there is always tomorrow, or the next hour or the next minute in life, it is this moment that is to be lived, no matter the joy or pain. It is this moment in time that can nourish you if you let it, that can take you through the stages of transformation, much like a butterfly. There is not much to it, except to be present, now. The rest will happen on its own.