Critics Will Be Critics

Have you ever felt like no matter what you say or how you say it, there is that one person that will always find fault with you? Have you ever tried to please this person by asking how and why they are offended and try to change it? I have. The only thing I manage to do is make things worse. That one person usually ends up getting upset even further because the additional effort is viewed as offensive or I then looked like I was trying too hard. The truth is, there are people we can never do right by because they just don’t like us. Another truth, the more people we open up to means we are more vulnerable to these type of critics. If you want to test this, go to any article online and read the comment section. Find the most feel good story the Internet has to offer, scroll down to the comment section, and read feedback. Even the heart felt story about a little puppy who wandered away and was brought back home by the kind-hearted neighbors will be torn down by the critic who wanted to know how the irresponsible owners didn’t keep better track of their pet or why it took so long for the neighbors to bring back the puppy. There are people in this world that simply can’t be pleased.

When my friend and I decided to venture out into the blogging world, this was a natural concern of mine. In recent months, I have had to reconsider what and how I write, who I submit my work to, and what it is I want to accomplish with my writing. My primary focus recently has been the stories I have shared with The Mighty. There has been a flurry of negative feedback surrounding The Mighty in recent weeks. I submitted my first story to The Mighty in June of last year and since then I have had 14 stories published. I was shocked and proud to have my work shared on a bigger platform. Prior to these publications, I wrote only for myself. I didn’t write for an audience and I didn’t write to accomplish certain goals. After my first story was picked up, I continued to write as I had before; I thought could make a difference to others who could relate to my personal journey with disability or my journey as a special needs parent. I did begin to write more about my experiences as a special needs mom or an individual living with chronic illness because more of my stories were being picked up because I felt like I was making a difference.

In the last few weeks, some critics of The Mighty have used some poor tactics to drive their point home including plucking out and tearing down stories published by The Mighty by people like me. I have personally steered clear of these pages and care not to know of any attack of my own stories. I think the tactic is a poor way of demanding change. Change in my opinion is best served by open and honest dialog about concerns that effect numerous people. Change happens when disagreement comes and those from opposing parties can fight, but do so honorably. This is especially important when both or all sides are supposed to be working on the same goal: in this case tearing down the stigma of disability and disease. This current attack seems to separate members of the same team, further, attack people who are obviously already suffering.

I will make my statement clear, I write what I want because I believe in sharing my life, and yes, sometimes my life with my special needs child in an effort to help others. I read comments from people who think that parents like me share our lives with our special needs children to somehow promote ableism or write to make the masses feel better about themselves through our work through a tactic called “inspiration porn”. I can only speak for myself and I don’t know if my work falls into any of these examples, but I am simply writing about my own experiences and how they make me feel. I have no ulterior motives but the feeling that I am unwelcome to write as a special needs parent is hard to ignore.

Picking apart one article of one writer is a poor way to get to know that person and understand their experiences. I have a blog for this very reason. I have it because my life is full of unique experiences. They are spelled out throughout many posts that are sometimes written in a flurry of emotion or written calmly at the end of a day filled with inspiration. Yes, some stories are sad, exciting and sometimes just laughable. The bottom line is clear, they are my experiences and this is my life. I don’t write to please the masses, I can’t. It would be impossible for me to make everyone happy. At times, I’m not happy with even my own work but when I came across The Mighty a few months ago, I felt like my personal journeys could have a place in the bigger world. I felt like I could share even the messy, and nearly impossible parts of my life, and they could mean something. Maybe my struggles could serve a bigger purpose. Maybe the story I wrote about how I broke down while picking the kids up from school after a day of setbacks could help the mom browsing the internet with eyes swollen and red from tears feel like she isn’t the only one having a bad day. Maybe the person who just got back from the doctor’s office after hearing the severe pain they have been experiencing is caused by Rheumatoid Arthritis came across my personal journey with the same disease after typing Rheumatoid Arthritis into a search engine. Maybe most of my stories will sit on my blog and never get picked up by another website and never get read by another soul. It’s the most likely possibility and that’s okay with me.

I started a blog hoping it would help me deal with all that was going on in my life, and if someone happened to stumble across it and it helped them too, it would be an added bonus. I didn’t think any of my pieces were good enough to be shared by a bigger community but my first published piece has been shared over one hundred thousand times. That’s pretty amazing! It’s an honest piece about the feelings I have had as a special needs parent. Some may want to say I am complaining about being a parent to a child with numerous challenges and maybe they are right, but I also know how very blessed I am to have the opportunity to raise him. Reading more of my journey would make this point very clear.

It’s through our unique journey that I learn more about the type of person I need to be and how my son’s life has impacted mine in so many different ways. People may disagree when I write about how my son inspires my life, or they may say I shouldn’t use his life to inspire others. I write about his life, he just happens to be an amazing young man that deals with extraordinary circumstances. Someday I will read him every last word. He may not understand it and he may never be able to articulate his own journey, but I will continue. Why? Like any parent, I want to give my child all I think he deserves. If I write about my son’s journey and how it has effected him, maybe I can draw awareness to his disease, Tuberous Sclerosis Complex. No one will know of the disease or how it effects someone in real life if no one talks about it. I’m talking about it!!! I am sharing how it effects a real little boy who has real feelings, who experiences real hardships at the hands of his disease, and needs a real cure!

So, critics will be critics. I have read some honest feedback from the critics of The Mighty and I have made some decisions about my writing based on those who are like my son and grew up with disabilities. I appreciate helpful feedback, but not feedback that hurts the entire community. Not everyone is going to like me or like my work, that’s okay, I don’t like everything I read either. The Mighty may not be for everyone but I have no doubt the founder has good intentions. I hope those who have legitimate concerns continue to voice those concerns in a constructive manner and will stop trying to take down the entire mission of the site. The Mighty is on new territory and it can be a great place to connect with people who will help us all feel like we are not alone when dealing with the difficulty of this life. I guarantee every contributor already has difficulty and putting their stories out there for further scrutiny is hard. I barely have time to write, I have a full plate but you can be sure that my intentions are good. If all I leave in this world are a few stories about my life with my own illnesses and the life of my little boy struggling with his, it’s well worth it when I read that one comment that says, “Thank you!” In that one moment when that reader no longer felt lost, it became worth it. I know what it’s like to feel lost and afraid, several times over. I had never heard of Tuberous Sclerosis Complex and I would have done anything to connect with someone who understood our pain the moment we heard our little boy had that disease. I am still fighting to understand Rheumatoid Arthritis and how debilitating the disease really is. It helps me to connect with another person who found treatment when they too were feeling as hopeless as I do because they too were watching their body waste away at the hands of the disease. I am leaving what I am searching for, giving what I take…. and I won’t stop… I have a voice, I am going to continue to use it, and yes, I feel mighty!

*d*

Advertisements

Finding the Right Umbrella for the Rain

It has been months and my son and I have been standing out in the pouring rain. The intensity of the storm brought on by chronic illness and disease increased quickly and unexpectedly as we found ourselves gathered under an umbrella barely big enough to shelter us from a light sprinkle. I was praying for sunlight and more ominous clouds were on the horizon. I felt hopeless.

In it all, I was focused. I was focused on living my life as if I were dying. My health has been on the decline, as also the health of my son. Any opportunity to wake and enjoy another day is a reason to be thankful, even on a stormy day. So, I would wake and my thoughts would focus on things like if I’d be healthy enough to throw a holiday party or if he would be strong enough to participate in the next school activity. I’d try to remind myself to make the most of of today because I know tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. And what about next year? What could be assured to us 365 days from now? I thought through our circumstances. I was given this gift to appreciate the moment and live for today, but I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t meeting my life with the satisfaction I thought would be a product of this new way of thinking. How could this be? The answer didn’t emerge until recently. Out of fear, I was living like I was dying but I wasn’t focusing on the living. It had become so easy to focus on the worst case scenario. Here we were battered by a storm and I expected he and I would be swept away.

My son and I both live with life altering diseases. Both of us have weathered our fair share of storms, my little boy more so than myself. We now stood together and wondered if we’d see the sun again. He lives with epilepsy caused by Tuberous Sclerosis Complex, a genetic disorder that causes tumors (tubers) to form in various organs. Many of his organs are effected but the thirty-five plus in his brain cause him to have a severe form of epilepsy that has been becoming increasingly difficult to control. In the last few months the seizures have caused developmental regression and physically weakened his body. He often looses all bodily control post-seizure. He is now in need of a wheelchair to help us transport him when incidents like these occur. I have Rheumatoid Arthritis so I have difficulty physically helping him when he has these seizures that revoke his ability to move. I am having trouble keeping my own body healthy as my RA has destroyed enough of my joints to warrant three surgeries in my future; shoulder and double knee replacement. I am awaiting M.R.I. results on my other shoulder. I am hoping the list of needed surgeries does not increase to four. My son is waiting for an evaluation of just one surgery, neurosurgery.

We know what is coming within the next 365 days and it doesn’t look good. I know I will hold off any treatments I may need until we take care of him. We never wanted to come to the conclusion of neurosurgery. We have tried all other methods to control the epilepsy and all have failed. Neurosurgery is now his best chance for him to be seizure free and hopefully gain back what progress epilepsy has taken. There is hope but I am also scared. It’s this fear that drove me to take on the motto, “Live like you are dying.”

It was a bad feeling; letting our health issues dictate how I approached each day. Each time my son had a seizure and it left him unable to move, I’d nervously anticipate him regaining movement and I’d pray it wouldn’t be the one seizure to send him to the hospital. As I lay him in bed, I thought of those seizures I may not hear as we sleep. Moreover, I feared my own disease would leave me unable to care for my children, especially special needs son as he requires a great deal of care. I was determined to fully live out each day but when that didn’t go as planned, I worried, stressed or got overwhelmed. At the end of the day, I’d then be wrestling with regret. I was frozen with fear of the unknown and fear of what I couldn’t control. My emotions were dictating my actions and I’d allowed my emotions to end my days in regret. I’d finally had enough. It was time to live without the fear, live without fear of dying.

How could I accomplish this? I began with a smile. When I felt like giving up or giving into my negative emotions, I’d smile. When I felt like throwing my hands up, I’d throw them around someone. When awful things happen, like when my son is paralyzed by a seizure, I’d smile to comfort him. I’d wake in the morning and focus on the endless possibilities for joy and if I felt that regret at the end of the day, I’d remind myself how hard he and I fought through the day….. together…. I told myself I can’t regret our best effort.

Fear and regret gave us no shelter from the storm but smiles invited sunshine no matter how bad the storm. I didn’t need a motto to bring happiness, I just needed to try to bring happiness.

*d*

Letters to My Son

This begins a series as we prepare for the next step in the care of our special needs son. He is being referred for brain surgery in the next few months. To follow our journey, I have decided to express my thoughts about the process through letters I will write to my son. This is the first of hopefully many over the course of this scary and hopeful journey.

image

Letter 2:

image

Dear Little Buddy,

We are still waiting for the call to schedule your visit to the neurosurgeon. The longer we wait, the more I ponder the impossibility of this trip. There are so many things to consider; the expense, the logistics, the care of your siblings, and the possibility of being away from home for a considerable amount of time. I am very saddened that your declining health has made it necessary to go to this extreme but it’s not your fault and I don’t want you to feel bad. It can be easy to carry guilt when you need help due to your disease. I know because I also have a disease that has made it necessary for me to ask for help on occasion. I have a disease called Rheumatoid Arthritis and it has changed my life in many ways that mirror how your life has been effected because of your disease, Tuberous Sclerosis.

Since I found out that I have this disease, I have needed to take different medications, some very similar to medications you are or have already taken. One of my medications could effect my vision and I have to it checked every three months. It wasn’t that long ago when we were taking you to the optometrist for the same reason. Although our specific medications are different, I also take an anti-epileptic and a medication that is used to treat cancer in high doses. I look in the mirror and see how the appearance of my own face has changed just like yours did as an infant when you took a medication that I am taking now. The physical changes we both have experienced doesn’t end there, we are both weaker than we were a year ago. I have benefited from a rollator and we will be meeting to fit you for a wheelchair next month. It could all be a coincidence but I think it’s more. Through my struggles, I get a rare chance to understand you more.

It is also through these similarities that I can sympathize with the side effects of your medication, the frustrations when your body feels the effects of failed medications and therapy, and the never-ending rotation of doctor appointments. Unfortunately it also means all of these things double for our family. We spend twice as much time waiting at appointments, twice as much money on medications, therapy, and surgery, and double the worry over getting through each day. Those are big issues for us, but we care about you above all.

We are always thinking about how to make your life a bit easier. It is in these thoughts where I have struggled to help, and sometimes, understand you. You have done things that seem irrational; sometimes you scream, hit your face, beat your head on the wall, or you will hit me or someone else in the family. It wasn’t until I too started to feel quite irrational that I began to understand you. In the last few months I have had to start numerous medications and I didn’t anticipate the variety of side-effects I began to experience. Unlike you, I have a full understanding of what is happening to me and yet I still cried and wanted to shut down. Since you don’t understand your situation as I, it must feel like your life and/or your body is out of control. How can I expect anything but an occasional meltdown or outburst from you? I have nights where I can’t verbalize my own emotions, yet I have expected that from you. I have expected you to do more than I have been able to do myself, and for that my little buddy, I’m sorry.

I am sorry for all the times I haven’t been patient and understanding. I am sorry when I haven’t searched beyond your anxiety and outbursts. I am sorry when I haven’t been a safe place for you to fall. I know I have needed a safe place where I can have no fear rejection or judgement. You deserve the same. It has been hard for me when you have had terrible days and have taken it out on me. It’s hard to be hit or kicked by someone you love. It hurts my heart because I want to spend my time enjoying you, not fighting with you.

Don’t forget that little buddy! You are amazing. I may wish we could enjoy our time together without the some of the bad things that come our way, but I will take you and our situations just as they are as long as we can be together. I am also thankful for my own struggles that bring me a closer understanding of you. It makes me a better person and a better mommy. You have taught me a greater compassion for others and the value of patience. I also promise I will do my best to remember you are doing the best you can despite the mountains that stand before you. You have prepared me for all the difficulty I personally face because you have been an example of bravery. Yes, you are brave. You don’t have to know you are brave to be brave.

Thanks for being my companion in a journey two people rarely get to have together. I look forward to climbing the next mountain……together……because bravery doesn’t mean you have to do it alone.

*d*
(Mommy)

☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆

Dear Little Buddy,

It was about eight years ago when we found out that you were going to come into our family. You weren’t planned, but most miracles aren’t planned. You were born on a beautiful July morning. You were perfect. We brought you home and I imagined a bright future for you but some of those dreams quickly became lost. You were three months old when you had your first seizure and the words Tuberous Sclerosis Complex came into our lives. A few short weeks later and we learned you had also developed a rare and catastrophic form of epilepsy called Infantile Spams. These innocent looking seizures made it a very real possibility that you would experience developmental and physical delays. It was hard to imagine the same bright future as we did the day you were born. We were so very sad and the future looked as gray and solemn as our broken hearts. We had never heard of this disease and here it had changed the way we looked at you.

Yes our hearts were changed. We loved you even more and we were more determined than ever to help give you a wonderful life despite this new knowledge. Your disease was now a part of our family because it was a part of you. You weren’t the same kind of perfect we once thought you were, you were a unique and special kind of perfection. You see, sometimes the world can have a different definition of what perfect should be but that isn’t how we define it. We want to love perfectly with all our imperfections because none of us are perfect. Because you are loved so very much, this letter is now going to be even harder to write.

After seven years, we have been unable to control the seizures that are a biproduct of your disease. Daddy and I have tried very hard to get you every resource possible to help you in your fight. We made big changes when we decided to take you to a clinic that specializes in Tuberous Sclerosis. We did this so you could be in the care of neurologists that are the best at treating others just like you. We have spent the last seven years exhausting every avenue and turning over every stone to control your epilepsy and help you make the most developmental progress possible. You have worked very hard too. You have been in numerous therapies since you were a baby. You have fought hard after every seizure increase and every regression that happened as a result of those increases. We have all fought so hard together for a very long time. I am so sorry that we couldn’t make it all better. This reality makes me sad when I see the look in your eyes during a seizure. You want Mommy and Daddy to make it all better and we can’t. All we can do is be strong and comfort you.

Because of all of this, a big decision had to be made. We know the last few months have been hard for you. Your epilepsy has been making you weak. On school mornings, I see how hard it is for you to walk down the steps and up into the bus. I see how hard it is for you to do so many things that were simple to you just a year ago. I cry at night because I know it’s been harder for you to understand and communicate with me. I see all the terrible things epilepsy has done to my wonderful boy. But I know there is still fight left in you, I can see it. I see your fight every time you get angry and scream in frustration or have an outburst of anger. I cannot imagine how difficult it is to have so many things going with you and to you while having no control over what happens. I try to remind myself of this every time you get angry with me. I try to remember that you need me to be strong because you are still so little and you really have no way of understanding what has been happening to you. I will continue to be strong with you because we have one more fight we need to face together.

We are going to see another doctor in another hospital that may be able to give you another chance at living a life free of the seizures that done so much to you. He is a neurosurgeon. He may be able to get to the root of the problem and remove what is causing your epilepsy. It is a long trip and we may be gone a long time but there is hope. This is just the beginning of a long process and we have no idea how we are even going to make this happen. The wheels are in motion and it began with a referral to this hosptial. There are still a lot more details to work out and a lot of people want to help you little buddy. Many, many people would like to see you seizure free and making developmental progress.

image

Remember when I said you were a miracle? Well, you are for many reasons. At one time I thought a lot of good was gone from this world. I had lost a lot of faith in myself and in others. Then you came along. In the middle of all the tears, worry, and sadness surrounding your life, many people came to help. Friends and strangers alike reached out to give us hope. When we needed hope and love, someone was always there to show us that there was indeed good still left in this world. You taught us many wonderful things too. You changed the person I am and who I want to become. You make me see that every single day is a gift. Through you, I have a daily reminder that I can only appreciate those things that are here today. I wanted so badly to live in a future made up of my dreams. When you were diagnosed, I could no longer do that. At first I was sad that I could no longer clearly envision your future, but now I see the true blessing of living for today. Your life is a miracle because of how you have changed lives just by being here. You may be small, you may deal with more than most do in a lifetime, but you are capable of doing even more. We may be in charge of seeking the best help possible and doing it in a big way, but in the end, you will have the victory because you will win this fight.

I know I may never read this letter to you. I really don’t know if you would understand. I’d like to think that despite your developmental delays, you do hear and understand more than I know. So we will talk about the next battle we will face together. I will remind you of how strong you are and how much we love you. Your daddy and I would give all that we have to help you. It seems like an impossible journey but we will get there one way or another because you are worth it. Don’t ever forget that. Even when you have had the most terrible day and you take it out on one of us by hitting, screaming, or spitting, or even when you have a terrible meltdown because life is overwhelming, we still love you. We see the hurt under it all and we want to help. No matter what happens, you will always be our little buddy and you will always be loved. Remember this when the next leg of our journey becomes difficult. Sometimes we must decide to take the most difficult of roads because they lead to the most hope. I pray we get there and the best is waiting for you at the end.

Love,
Mommy
(*d*)

If a Photo Tells a Story

image

Here we are, my youngest son and me. It was as uneventful as it looks. We were waiting in the van for Daddy to come out of the grocery store. My buddy said he didn’t want to go in so he sat with Mommy. He did get anxious while we waited so I decided to distract him with one of his favorite activities, taking his picture. “Cheeeeese!!!” he said while sporting his best cheesy grin. Of course I didn’t like how I look in any of the photos. My hair has been falling out at breakneck speed lately. I also noticed his hair was getting a little long. I am glad his medication hasn’t been doing to his hair what my medication has done to mine. Anyway, he was overdue for his haircut. Although, he’s been doing better at getting a haircut, I thought I’d let him go a little longer before we’d give him one. Autism and haircuts don’t mix well at our house.

That’s how life is for us, things like a haircut that seem simple usually have a story behind it, like this photograph. What you don’t see in this photograph is how swollen and painful my knees were that day and how bad my shoulder hurt. My Rheumatoid Arthritis was causing me a lot of grief. The only other time I had left the house that week was to pick up my oldest son from school. By this time, I was anxious to find any reason to leave the house.

Leaving the house wasn’t what it used to be and I was wondering if I should apply for a handicap placard. You see my cutie in this photo has had a rough life. Here he is at the end of a very rough summer. He has been weaker than usual because his seizures had been increasing. He didn’t want to go in because he had a few seizures that day and he was weak and a bit tired. I wondered if I should get a placard for the times he may want to go in and a long walk to the store would be too hard for him. What about me? Some days I can barely make it down my hall to the bathroom but I worry because neither of us “look” handicap. I had a crazy vision where someone deciding to do their own sort of “justice” was yelling at me for parking in a handicap spot as I unload my kids since I may not give the world some sort of visual confirmation of our need for a placard. There is no membership card for a chronic illness club. I guess it’s best I wait. We’d be okay a while longer, I guess.  I try not to take the kids out alone, it’s too hard on my body. So I thought about another topic; how sad this summer was and how we really didn’t do anything fun. I apparently wasn’t being very positive on this day.

My thoughts were interrupted by my son spitting. Yes, he has a bad habit. I’m not surprised. He has autism and epilepsy, and I have Tuberous Sclerosis to thank for all of that. He does things to make his Mom squirm, like most kids do, it’s just a bit harder to convince him to give up a bad habit. I try to be as patient as I can because I know he has a lot going on. I am not the master of patience yet, but I was getting a lot of practice in the parking lot this day.

He wasn’t interested in much that evening, including his iPad. When we are waiting for a long stretch I usually play a movie for the kids. We got this van specifically for the DVD players. Unfortunately they stopped working. Not great news for me. It’s helpful for times like these when I am at the receiving end of spit. There would be no way we’d be able to fix the DVD system so I tried not to think about it. It would just make me mad. I pulled out the next best thing to the DVD players, my phone. Technology can sometimes be grand and seeing himself on my phone is always grand for him. We took our picture together. We are two peas in a pod, he and I….

The course of my disease is eerily mirroring the one he has already taken. He took a medication that required eye exams every three months to check for vision loss. I am supposed to do the same but we don’t have vision insurance, so I am hoping for the best. He moved on to another medication after that one failed. It is used to treat cancer. He has to have labs done every three months to make sure the rest of his body is okay with the medication. I’m right behind him with Methotrexate and looking to see if I can start, and most importantly afford, to continue to take it after the first of the year. With all of the gloomy thoughts, I’m thankful his smile can put a smile on my face.

I flipped through the photos we took and wondered if my face looked a bit more round than usual. I had been on predisone for a while and I’d rather blame the medication for any noticeable fullness in my face instead of my late night snacking. I noticed how tiny my son looks in the picture. We were at the store so his Daddy could go in to buy him his breakfast shakes. It’s the only thing he will consume consistently. We buy them to supplement his diet. It isn’t cheap but it helps him maintain his weight.

That reminded me to check our bank account. “I hope there is enough in there to buy what he needs,” I thought. I sighed and took a long look at the summer sun. It will be sad to see it go. I wished we both felt good enough to enjoy it. We did miss a lot but we do have this picture together. We can certainly look the part but rarely does anyone really know what’s behind a photo.

There is usually a story behind our photos, as there are stories behind many things in our life that no one knows about. I’m smiling but I am always thinking about our health, money, the future, and sometimes regret. I try not to be negative but it’s hard not to be on occasion. The great thing is that he can always find a way to remind me how to be happy despite the flurry of thoughts that often bring my spirits down. It’s as simple for him as taking a photo with his very best smile. Although it won’t be that easy for me, I am certainly going to give it a try. Someday we may look back at this photograph among others, and I want him to know there was a genuine smile on my face, and he was one of the reasons why. I am blessed for every last moment, even uneventful ones like this time when he and I can take a moment, forget our troubles, and smile. “Cheeeeese!!!”

*d*

More Than Just Coffee

Lately I have been wondering if I have been truly in love with something or just the idea of that something. For example, I decided at our last monthly grocery run that I wanted to try to be a coffee drinker. It isn’t that I haven’t had coffee before, I was one of those people who got a coffee maker for a wedding gift ten years ago and used it maybe twice. I love going to our local specialty coffee shop and indulging once a year but making my own wasn’t anything I was ever interested in. Now I thought I’d give it a try for a number of reasons; I would rather get a small boost of caffeine from a small cup of coffee versus pop first thing in the morning, my RA has had me running on fumes, and I love the smell of coffee. I have been spawned by long and large group of coffee drinkers. I would smell the lingering aroma of it from home to the home of a relative, and every Sunday morning at church. The Baptist couldn’t wait for a coffee fueled sermon followed up by coffee fueled fellowship. The thought had occurred to me that I had an emotional attachment to the smell, and not the taste. It’s probably true. We were between housing when we lived with my eighty-something year- old grandparents who brewed coffee in the morning, reheated it in the afternoon and anytime they got a chill, which was quite often for my late grandfather. I miss him dearly and my decision came upon the heels of a year since his passing.

So we’re at the grocery and I stopped and stood in the coffee aisle taking in my limitless possibilities. I admit that I was a bit shocked by the number of choices I had and I am not a decisive individual. My son cheered me on as any bad influence of an eight year-old would. Apparently drinking coffee is a huge thing for third graders at his school…. So after telling him to stop taking out every interestingly packaged coffee and coffee mug for his new habit, I chose a very girly vanilla cupcake flavor coffee. Heaven forbid my coffee would actually taste like coffee. One package of coffee filters and a over indulgent container of chocolate caramel creamer later, we were headed home.

I returned home more than eager to brew my first cup, but where was that coffee maker? I had a frightening thought that I may have pitched it in our last move. Why not? I never used it anyway. I kept frantically searching as I secretly began to repremand myself for throwing it out. I don’t like throwing anything out for this very reason, I’d have to buy another one and I know that wasn’t going to happen anytime soon. Finally, I found it! But then I didn’t know how to use it. Luckily the people at the girly coffee factory want to make sure all of us novice coffee drinkers could make a cup so we could thus get hooked. Great idea! I got it ready and began to unload groceries as it brewed. My husband thought I’d surely made it wrong when it only took a few minutes to brew my quarter pot of coffee. Then I had to find a cup to put this newly acquired liquid gold in. I certainly had some coffee cups as I am avid cocoa drinker in the winter months. One coffee cup is all I found. Darn. Then by chance I found an awesome mug fit for a coffee pro. I washed it, poured my first cup, and it was weak. I made it too weak. I was going to need more zing than that keep me going during the day. The second cup was amazing and I felt special sipping out of my fancy cup. For the next few mornings my coffee was already auto brewed by the time I came downstairs. I had a bit more zing in the a.m. and I began to see why people insisted on starting their mornings with this stuff. Then the disappointing happened, I started having terrible heartburn. I cringed when my mom suggested it was the coffee. After all that trouble, it was causing me heartburn that could be mistaken for a heart attack.

This afternoon rolled around and in the true spirit of the Midwest, it was below normal temperatures and a hot cup of coffee sounded great. I brewed it and it is still sitting there an hour later. I haven’t touched it. Do I dare chance the feeling of looming death for my newly acquired taste? Today I may be satisfied with my emotional attachment to the smell.

image

I am more disappointed that I once again can’t be like all the other “cool” people and start my day off with a jolt of girly coffee goodness. I can live with reducing my consumption but what about that smell? It reminds me of home, loved ones, and a church family that felt more like my real family. Maybe I need to think a little harder about sporadically falling in love with an idea because it seems like those ideas for me don’t pan out in real life.

My daughters have been playing together more as my “baby” is now a year and a half of busyness. She follows her big sister with her ride on toy, they play with the tea set together, and they frequently say “Bye!” as they leave for their pretend jobs . It makes me wonder what it would have been like if I had a sister. I have been in love with the idea of a having a sister forever. I have seen cute little posts on social media comparing a woman without a sister to one without an arm or some other nonsense. Like I had a choice about how my family dynamic played out. I hoped I’d someday have that faux sister that I could go shopping with, call on the phone, and we’d celebrate all of life’s joys together. But from what I see, it isn’t as glamorous as I had imagined. Sisters fight. I don’t like to fight. But I still wonder.

image

And then I wonder about all the things I may have missed out on; a college degree, a full time job, and all the dreams I watch others live out. Those notions are so much harder to live out than buying a four dollar package of coffee off the shelf. So I learn to accept life as I have it. I have notions about what I think life is all about and no one knows what my life is really like. So I keep dreaming about those little things. Are they what I really want or do I just like the idea of it all?

I am awful good at looking idealistic. I often seem like a pillar of strength or maybe a beacon of hope, but I complain about the circumstances out of my control just as well as the rest. Why does my coffee have to give me heartburn? Why am I not worthy of meaningful friendships with other women? Why am I sick? Why are we drowning in medical debt? Why are we not living out this dream life? And on and on….. The truth is, things aren’t easy. We spend time doing a lot of things we’d rather not. Last night we spent three hours preparing and sorting paperwork to fight social security. Yes, they want to take back payments from two years ago just in time for the holidays. My desk is full of paperwork only special needs parents or the chronically ill can appreciate. “Here is your half ton of paper work Mrs. M.! Good luck with all of that because life understands how easy you already have it.” Yes, nothing is easy or as it seems. I can be joyful in the face of adversity but I can be equally as disappointed in those things beyond my control. I just keep trying. I keep smiling and I try putting my faith in things that have a special place in my heart whether it be a friend as close to my heart as a sister or my husband who spends three hours on the floor digging through paperwork. As for the coffee, the trouble was almost worth that smell of home but then again I guess I can find a candle for that.

*d*

A Matter of Perspective

One of the biggest challenges special needs parents face is trying to unravel the complex issues associated with our children. Sometimes it’s asking, “Why won’t he eat?” to “Why is she so anxious during social events?” Parents like my husband and I not only have to deal with issues such as these but we are also trying to understand everything associated with him medically. All these things intertwine like a complex web and pulling at any part of this web will no doubt effect something else.

For example, my one of my son’s diagnoses is epilepsy and when his seizures become poorly controlled, we have to decide the next step in management. Most of the time we choose to increase the dosage of his current medication before trying another medicine or approach. We also know his behavior is directly effected by how much medication he is taking as he has been known to have a low tolerance for anti-epileptics at high doses. This has made finding the right therapy for seizure control challenging. We want control but we also don’t want to see him overly aggressive and causing harm to himself or others.

A few years ago he started a new medication to treat his primary diagnosis, Tuberous Sclerosis Complex (TSC). The medication is normally used to treat cancer but it has been found to be a promising drug to treat TSC. A year after starting this medication, he was seizure free but he also stopped eating. Feeding issues were not new to him but giving up eating was and we became concerned. After asking adults on the same medication, speaking to his clinic and a nutritionist, we have a better understanding of how the medication may be effecting him and a plan to help him get the nutrition he needs, but we still don’t fully understand how to unravel this complex issue. He could be refusing to eat because of his autism, medication, or behavioral issues. We also realize that we could be partly to blame for his finicky eating habits.

These two examples are not the only ones I could list but they are the issues that have caused the most conflict in our lives. It is particularly difficult for us to pull our son apart from his problematic issues and fully understand how to manage them, so trying to explain it to others is almost impossible.

I know my husband and I are not the only parents who are exhausted by the questions and unwanted advice over subjects we are trying to understand ourselves. We started our son in early intervention at four months of age. I have worked with therapist for years discussing his different habits and behavioral issues. We have spoke to his team of doctors, nurses, psychiatrist, nutritionist, and many more to try to give us the best chance of helping him live the fullest life possible. After seven years, there are many questions that we still cannot answer. There are many questions that don’t have answers. I want to share a few insights to what it feels like for special needs parents when conflicts arise over our child’s issues.

1: Unwarranted parenting advice makes us feel like we haven’t done enough for our children.
Although we have spent years with professionals to try to help our child work through various problems, there is no magic fix. There will still be times when he will have a meltdown, inflict harm on himself or others, and many other things we’d rather not see. This does not grant anyone the right to offer advice when it isn’t needed. The truth is, we don’t like seeing our children struggle either. That’s why we have been working very hard to help our children. Don’t forget that they are often struggling in ways we don’t understand. If you haven’t been working just as hard at helping, then stop the unwarranted advice.

2: Dictating to us about what you think our child should or should not do causes unwanted stress.
We have been there. There is a party and all the kids are lined up, ready to play a game and someone says, “Everyone plays, even (insert our child’s name here)”. We have even been told we HAVE to sing The Happy Birthday song to our son even though it causes him anxiety and will set off a meltdown. We do want to help our child test his boundaries but we are also well aware of those boundaries. We certainly don’t appreciate someone else making assumptions about what our child can or will do. If we choose for him not to participate, we have a good reason and if that isn’t good enough, prepare to get what you have asked for, anxiety from our child or a stern “no” from us. Asking before assuming is always the best approach.

3: Pointing out our child’s flaws is very upsetting.
I don’t understand why others feel the need to point out our child’s issues, like we are blind to them. We are obviously aware of these things, it is OUR child. Instead, try acknowledging the good things our child is trying to do.

4: Fixing our child for us undermines our parenting.
Trying to “fix” things, especially without our consent is not welcome. If we don’t offer our child fruit at the dinner table, we don’t want anyone else to either. If our child hasn’t had a haircut for a while, there is probably a reason for it. Don’t try to save the day with these “fixes.” We are not neglecting our child when we choose not to do or offer things that others may feel he needs. Sensory issues are usually behind the anxiety he feels over getting a haircut or being offered a new food (with a new look or texture) so unless you are a expert on sensory or anxiety issues associated with autism, please stop. The best thing to do is ask, “How can I help?”

5:  Ignoring requests associated with our child will indeed causes friction in our relationships.
My late grandfather meant well when he would ask my son if his food was “good” every time my son sat at the table with him. My son’s response to the question was always the same, he’d scream and hit himself. This never stopped my grandfather, he’d keep asking. This caused us a lot of anxiety because even getting our son to the table was an accomplishment. Mealtime is usually the biggest cause of anxiety for our son. It takes a lot of effort to get him to sit at the table for a meal and getting him to eat is an even bigger deal. After all the work involved, it would be undone with the same question from my grandfather, “Is that good?” Ignoring the obvious friction the question caused made mealtime a problem for all of us.
Sometimes an innocent question or action could cause anxiety for our child, so we ask our requests regarding our child be respected. Don’t be the reason for additional stress.

The bottom line is this; we need the support of those around us. We understand it’s hard for those who love our child to feel helpless because they want to help. The truth is, we feel helpless too but we are doing our best despite the fact that we don’t have all the answers. We want to be trusted to know what is best for our children. When we all work together, we have the best chance at helping these wonderful children have a happy future.

*d*

What is Important to Me in the Coming Election

Dear Presidential Candidates,

I would like to be very candid with you about my life because I am a representation of many silent voters who are watching you carefully. I am an American who is living with chronic illness and I am also an American who has a special needs child. It may be rare to have both a debilitating disease and a child with one but here we are and I want share 6 points that are important to me. By the way, I have Rheumatoid Arthritis and my son has Tuberous Sclerosis Complex. Neither disease has a cure so our problems are life long, so we hope for long term solutions to the issues that are important to us.

So, how can my life be important for your champaign?

1: My son collects Social Security Disability Income.
Thus far, I do not. My disease has become more debilitating since my diagnosis and some day I may choose to apply for Social Security Income, but the difficult process is enough to make me steer clear of it for now. Everything I have learned and experienced about social security is difficult. I don’t have to go any farther than my phone to realize how broken our system has become. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate this vital lifeline but we have developed a love/hate relationship with this program that was supposed to be designed to help children and families like mine.

2: We are directly effected by drug companies charging outrageous prices on medications.
My son was prescribed a medication for a type of catastrophic epilepsy called Infantile Spasms. We saw a huge increase in the price of this medication after FDA approval. He has since started a new specialty medication and because of the price, we are required by insurance to get preapproval every three months. This means I am a sick with worry every three months wondering if they will approve the only medication that has helped my son have an improved quality of life and seizure control. When has it been acceptable business practice to jeopardize lives to make money? The practice of specialty medications being distributed only by speciality pharmacies has also become an issue. The problems some families run into with these pharmacies is inexcusable. These problems range from allowing delay in medication shipment (even if it means the patient will run out of medication) and dropping a patient without proper notification (we have experienced both).

3: I refused medication to treat my own disease because I didn’t know if I could afford it in the future.
In January our high deductible insurance starts a new year and we still don’t know if we will be able to afford the out of pocket cost until our deductible is met. More private insurance companies are offering skyrocketing deductibles with H.S.A. accounts. They try to say we can thus control our own health care with an H.S.A. but this is false. In the end we are paying a premium, pushing money into an H.S.A. account, and we still don’t have nearly enough money to cover these huge deductibles.

4: My son and I have missed out on equipment, medication and therapy needed to help us live the best quality of life.
Everything comes with a price tag and if you have a disease, are disabled, or have been diagnosed with something like autism or sensory issues, expect a huge price tag. My son has needed protective headgear and a bed enclosure for his epilepsy and we needed help paying for these steeply priced products. He have lived without many items that would certainly make life easier for both of us because paying the price for these items would be nearly impossible, even with assistance.

5: Getting help paying for the variety of different needs is complicated.
Life is already hard with these difficulties and so many people have to navigate the paperwork and hoops to try to get what is needed and/or prescribed. How to get help should be clear and require minimal paperwork.

6: Families are choosing between health and cost.
No one asks to be diagnosed with something life altering. No one asks to live a difficult life made harder by the system that seems to work against people like me and families like mine. The government needs to decide if it actually wants to help or just talk about it. Cutting funding for critical needs programs is a low practice that needs to be stopped. In the end, you aren’t messing with dollars, you are messing with lives.

We are supposed to be living in the greatest county but many Americans are without insurance or reasonable insurance plans to pay for their medication and health care. It is a tragedy when drug companies can set their own prices and have no regard to the lives effected when the medication patients need is out of reach. If you don’t believe it, go to the local hospital and ask questions instead of taking pictures. I guarantee parents still have to leave the hospital empty handed and without what they need to take care of themselves or a sick child. The life of the sick should never carry a price tag. How sad. It’s time to consider what life is like for those who need the most help.

*d*