Alter Egos

Hello, Blog. It’s been a while. 

I had the beginnings of a long and confusing post, which was good to get out, but ultimately would not have made for very good reading. And then, what I need to say hit me as a simple concept:

I am Dr. Bruce Banner. Yes, the guy whose alter ego is the Hulk.

Bear with me here; it’s a metaphor I’m hoping to explain well.

As you may know, Dr. Bruce Banner was a (fictional) scientist, doing his science-y thing, when he somehow was exposed to radiation (gamma rays, I believe, but that’s beside the point). This radiation exposure changed his physiology somehow so that when he becomes overcome with anger, he transforms into a menacing green monster known as the Hulk. There’s some variation on this story (because comics), but I’m going to reference the Marvel Cinematic Universe here. In the movie The Avengers, Bruce is found in hiding, to minimize the damage he can cause as the Hulk. After being encouraged to help save the world, Bruce’s comrades wonder how he’s able to keep the Hulk under control, and they try their best to help him stay calm so the monster doesn’t have a chance to take over. Finally, at the movie’s climax, Bruce reveals what he has learned about living with Hulk inside him for years: “That’s my secret. I’m always angry” - and he willfully becomes the Hulk to help save Earth.

I’m not relating Dr. Banner’s story to my life in terms of anger, but in terms of depression. I was living my average life as a Bruce, doing my mom thing, when something triggered a change in me. I’m still not entirely sure what, but like the radiation, that’s beside the point. Soon enough, I realized I had the Hulk of depression taking over me. The monster came out no matter what I did, and blindsided me, so I isolated myself. I thought for sure, one day, I would be rid of depression’s grip forever, never “Hulking out” again. I saw it as an either/or situation. I couldn’t really be Dr. Banner if the Hulk was somewhere deep inside.

But, just like dear Bruce, there’s no getting rid of my monster. And it’s hard to accept living with a monster you don’t want and didn’t invite in the first place. However, I have a choice. I can live in denial, keep isolating myself, and do my best to never let anybody see the monster of depression in me. Or, I can accept that it’s now a permanent part of me, and live as a new version of myself. No matter how it may seem sometimes, I’m still me when I’m at my worst and will make it through. I’m not the Hulk every minute or even every day. I’ll have my good days and bad days, but the bad days don’t negate all the good I do for my kids and others around me. I can still live how I want and be a good person and a good mother, even though I never know when depression will have its firm grip on me again. I do have control and power, and I can ignore depression’s lies. I’m still working on embracing the Hulk I’m living with, and relearning how to parent in the process. But now I know it’s not all bad.

After all, Bruce and Hulk helped save the world.


Joy and Sadness

via Pixar Wiki

I finally feel to the point where I can write again. I don't know if it will come again any time soon, but thank you in the meantime for reading here. This blog has been a great blessing to all of us.

I think I, and many of us, often mistakenly think that as soon as we do this or that, or that thing finally happens, we will be totally happy...and then what? Over the last several months, I've learned we have to take happiness when it comes, because waiting often doesn't yield any joy.

We watched Inside Out as a family recently. It was a great opportunity to talk to Bug and Bear about emotions and what to do with them. Surprisingly, it was a great lesson for me. I learned (and hopefully this doesn't spoil much if you haven't seen it!) so much about the important relationship between sadness and joy (both of which are personified in the movie). I have had the wrong definition of happiness and joy in my head for too long: I thought it was the absence of sadness. But without the sadness, we wouldn't know happiness. We wouldn't see the true beauty of life if we didn't have the contrast of its low points for comparison.

This is an eternal principle that I have known, intellectually, for a long time. But the way it was illustrated in the movie hit me personally and helped me see my depression in a healthier way. Sometimes the happiest moments of our lives are borne out of sadness. Sadness doesn't push joy completely out of the picture, and vice versa. It's normal for everyone to have highs and lows, and just because my lows may be lower and my highs harder-fought (and often shorter-lived) doesn't mean that I am weaker than those to whom happiness seems to come so easily. Happiness isn't a contest or a race, and our worth isn't measured by the amount of days we spend full of joy.

I realized I was waiting for my depression to be gone, forever. But I don't think that's in the cards for me, at least not yet. That's hard to accept, but it's getting a little easier. I've got a better handle on how my depression works and what I need at certain points in the cycle. I'm trying more consistently to enjoy the happiness when it comes and not worry about the next low.

Most importantly, I'm trying to see all the good things depression has brought me. I'm learning to have more empathy and patience with others. I recognize what is truly important and valuable in my life. I'm making stronger and more meaningful relationships. Just like autism, depression has brought its share of difficulties and heartache, but it's something that can also teach and improve me and my family in a way nothing else can.

As we continue learning, I hope to share some ways I'm managing parenting, specifically with a special needs child, and my depression. There's not as much written about that out there as I'd like. If you have some experience with that or something similar, let's do this together! The last several months have shown me I'm not as alone as I thought, and we can all be a huge support to one another.


Finding Happiness, Part II

Well, it's been over three months since the last post on this blog. Since then, Bug has overcome some big hurdles we were dealing with in regards to attachment and rigidity, and he finished up sessions of feeding therapy and speech therapy, exceeding all the goals we set for him there. He also finished his first year of preschool and we have seen his social growth. But that's not what I want to write about today.

This is a space to talk about autism and about how it affects Bug; but we also want to talk about how it affects the rest of us, because it does every single day in major and minor ways. What I'm writing about has been in some ways intertwined with having autism as part of our lives, and in other ways, not.

I have been diagnosed with depression.

That may not seem like a major event, but it really has been. It was a long time coming and even though there were signs over a year ago, I never got a formal diagnosis and never seriously stuck with treatment. I'm happy to say that now I am finally feeling like me again.

I don't bring this up as an excuse for neglecting this blog a bit, or for sympathy, or for any other reason than I think it needs to be talked about more. More parents, more women, more LDS church members, more families with special needs children need to know that this can happen to them, and that if it does, it's not anyone's fault. If I can help at least one other person going through the pain I went through for so long, this is worth it. I will continue to write about my experiences with depression and how they have helped me with Bug in the future; this is an introductory post on the topic so you have some background for future reference.

(long post, so click through to read the rest)


The Balancing Act


Life has felt out of balance for me lately. I was feeling "off" for a while, and I've finally realized that's why - I don't have things in balance. I'm working on improving my personal balance with renewed goals and little improvements every day.

Of course, sometimes the hardest place to find balance is with Bug and everything autism brings to the table. Take last night, for example. I was feeling really proud of my efforts during the day (meeting some of those new goals!), and even felt like things were well in balance...until Bug woke up from his nap. He and Bear got into a fight, and just when I smoothed that over, Bug had a meltdown about the dinner I was attempting to make. I'm not proud, but I will admit that I was fuming for a few minutes (alone, after Dad got home). Sometimes, everything seems so unfair - that  Bear gets the short end of the stick because Bug's needs are greater, or that we can't go out on a date once a week (or even once a month...or once every few months) because our babysitting situation is complicated, or that we have to cook pancakes for dinner because Bug will literally scream about not wanting chicken until we relent and cook the darn pancakes.

Bug's neuropsychologist reminded me a few months ago that, really, life isn't fair and we can't change that. We just have to find balance where we can get it. Bear doesn't understand Bug's needs right now, but he will eventually. And we've started doing what we can now to give him some balance, like a weekly playgroup with kids his own age, and giving him oodles of one-on-one attention while Bug is in school. At times, we do have to micromanage things throughout the day to make sure Bug is alright (we all have bad days, Bug included - his coping mechanisms are just much different than ours), but the rest of the time we look for and take advantage of those opportunities to teach him new skills.

Maybe more than anything else, I need to keep working on my attitude. Find balance where I can, let go of the rest, and simply remember to step back to see how far we've all come. What we are learning as a family, and how each of us is growing every single day, is in large part due to Bug and autism - the very thing that can make life seem so unfair. It's truly a blessing to have him, autism and all.


Answered Prayers


The topic of prayer has been lingering in my head for a bit, and a wonderful lesson on it in church last week really helped sort out and add to my thoughts.

Prayer is one of those things we know we should be doing consistently. That consistency can be hard, and I have had my fair share of rough patches with praying regularly, or sometimes at all, in the last 18 months or so. Some of it has had to do with my attitude; being in a bad mood or feeling angry really puts a damper on a desire to pray. Other times, though, I couldn't see that my prayer was doing anything. No matter how hard I might pray for a meltdown to end or a long-standing obstacle to be overcome, nothing seemed to change. 

We are taught that God hears our prayers and that He answers them, too. I have had experiences that have confirmed that truth to me and I know I have a testimony of prayer. Why, then, would my prayers be unanswered? Why would God not remove difficulties from my, Bug's, our, lives? Was it just not time yet?

During that lesson last week, I was given the answer to my questions. God has heard and answered every single one of my prayers - but instead of addressing our circumstances and challenges, he has (at least tried, even though I may not have let Him) changed my heart. I have felt for a long time that Bug was born with autism and it will forever (on earth) be a part of him - then why should I pray for that to be changed or removed? When I was at my wit's end and desperately needed relief, I should have prayed for that to come not from an outside source, but from within.

That is often how prayers are answered: not by parting seas or a chorus of angels, but by a feeling of peace, or a gentle whisper heard only by a single person. I was praying for a grand gesture when all I really needed, and all I ever really need, is a change of heart, a change of perspective. If I focus my prayers on what I can do and what I need to face the circumstances and challenges around me, life doesn't seem so daunting. If I ask for the Savior's aid in bearing my burdens, He will make them lighter, but they may not be completely removed.

I've also learned a lot about prayer through Bug. He loves to pray. For a while, he let us help him, but now he does it all on his own. His prayers are mumbled, somewhat unintelligible, and short, but his heart is in the right place. God listens as intently to his prayers as He does to mine or anyone else's. Bug's prayers are an example to me of how I should approach God: with a sincere heart, unselfishness, and true faith in God. I should be as eager and happy to pray as my sweet boy is.


Bug's 2014

Each New Year is a funny thing. It's just another day, time going by in its usual fashion, but to us with calendars and goals and things, it can be a big deal. I honestly usually don't think too much about the New Year holiday, but this year is different. I've written several entries the past few months about how blessed we have been in 2014. But today, I want to acknowledge Bug and all of the ways he has amazed us. In 2014, he:

  • "Graduated" Early Intervention 
  • Started speaking in full sentences (not just 2- or 3-word phrases) and asking questions
  • Went from attending about 15 minutes of church on Sundays (usually walking around) to sitting and listening for a full 45-60 minutes, consistently, every week
  • Became more flexible about going to new places and into stores he was previously uncomfortable with
  • Decreased his meltdowns from 3-5 times per week to maybe 1-3 per month
  • Completed a feeding therapy episode (three months) in which he about TRIPLED his accepted foods inventory and became overall better at eating meals and trying new foods (we eat meals together as a family now!)
  • Showed us that he can memorize and recite books - which he can use in appropriate contexts to make text-to-real-world connections
  • Learned to count to 25, and to count objects
  • Started attending and loving preschool
  • After over a year of take-out, is once again able to go out with our family for a sit-down meal
  • Answered questions more often than repeated them (huge increase in using yes/no)
  • Learned all the short letter sounds - without any help from us or preschool
  • Started holding pencils/crayons/etc correctly and used them to draw shapes and letters
  • Went on our first out-of-state road trip after about two years, and had a successful, fun time at grandma's for a week
I am so, so proud of Bug. The day-to-day can get tiring and discouraging for all of us: I think it's so easy to stay in the moment, focusing on the short-term goals and the baby steps - which is important, don't get me wrong - but we can overlook the major milestones. And look at all those milestones! Bug truly is our superhero. For all the work we have done this year, he has done exponentially more. We've only begun to scratch the surface on what he is capable of doing.

I'd like to challenge you parents (and remind myself), when you feel like you're not making a difference, or things are just too hard, or you feel like nothing has changed, to sit down and list all the progress that's been made over a period of time. Sometimes, I just make a mental note of the good things that have happened in a day. The time frame doesn't really matter; it's the reflecting and tweaking your perspective that can turn your attitude around. 

Here's to a 2015 full of even more milestones!


Our Christmas

This year is Bug's fourth Christmas. Many other kids his age are excited about Santa Claus and all of the other fun stuff surrounding the season. Bug, frankly, doesn't care at all about any of that. I think a year or more ago, I might have been sad at the thought of Bug being like that, thinking that he would be missing out. But, I've found that he's  not missing out on anything - in fact, he's making our holidays better.

Bug understands things better when they are simple and concrete. So, we've simplified our holidays, which allows us all to focus on the most important aspects of Christmas: celebrating Jesus Christ's birth and life, spending time with family, and doing good things for others.

We've also been reflecting on the past year or so and how blessed we've been. As we have used our challenges and trials as opportunities to pray and try to be spiritually stronger, we have been blessed with a greater testimony of and closer relationship with our Savior. Yes, God sent His son because He loved the world, but He did it also because He loves me, and Bug, and each of us individually and unconditionally. Christ's example and atonement can strengthen us when we have sinned, when we are strong, when we have been hurt, when we feel downtrodden, and when we are living our daily lives. We've learned that better this year than any other time before.

This Christmas, simplify. Focus on the truly important parts of the holiday and don't worry about "missing out" on any of those extra things that, in the end, aren't the best part of the season. Enjoy your family. Be a little kinder. And, if you'd like to learn more about the first gift of Christmas and how you can be strengthened by Christ's life, view He Is The Gift.