I'm a mentally ill person raising another mentally ill person. With chickens.

Posts tagged ‘education’

An introduction

I signed up for Blogging 101 this month, to get my groove back, and the first assignment is to introduce myself. You would think that would be easy at my age, but it isn’t. I always hated it in college when professors  made you go around the room and say something about yourself.  I think they just do that to waste time, and in a half-assed attempt to remember your name. Even graduate school professors do this which is just silly. I was a grad assistant and I did NOT make my students do this.

I guess I’ve told a few things about myself already: I went to graduate school, I don’t really like speaking in public, or talking about myself, I taught at least one class, and I’m trying to get my groove back. Also, I seem to have a bit of bad attitude these days. 
I’ll see if I can be a bit more positive. Tomorrow is my birthday. I’ll be 43 and I’m actually pretty ok with that. Being younger no longer seems like that much fun, and I don’t feel too old for anything. I feel like there’s enough time ahead of me to do and see at least some of the things on my bucket list and I don’t feel like I wasted my youth.
I’m a mother of two: an eighteen-year-old son and a nine-year-old daughter. They could not be any more opposite. He is large, always was at the top of the percentile charts, and she is tiny. He likes to stay home, and to watch the same things over and over again, and to talk through movies and shows. She likes to go everywhere, she hardly ever sits still, she likes new things, and when she does watch the tv she doesn’t want anyone to talk. She is a dancer with five practices a week, he avoids exercise like the plague. He is on the autism spectrum, and she has ADHD. They are the joys of my life, and there is never a dull moment at our house.
I’ve been married for 19+ years, it’ll be 20 in July. My husband is not what anyone expected “back in the day”, but he is the perfect match for me. We’ve weathered many unexpected challenges over the years, and I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else by my side. He is never rattled by anything, he’s my rock. And he fixes things, which is something every woman should look for in a man.
I do have an abundance of education I guess. An undergraduate degree in English and a Master’s in Counseling. I’m not using any of it. I’m a stay home mom who gets a disability check every month. Sometimes I’m disappointed by the fact that I’m not working, but I’ve mostly come to terms with it. I have bipolar disorder type 2, and ADHD inattentive type. Those things do not make me a great employee, unfortunately. I’m a creative teacher and counselor, and I’m a good listener. But paperwork? I just get overwhelmed. I’ve never been as sick and exhausted as I was at the end of my counseling internship year. I finished everything and then I slept for roughly ten days. I knew I’d never be able to work like that full time. I did apply for a counseling job, but I’m a client at that agency so it was kind of a long shot. This is a small town, so I probably should have thought about that sort of thing before busting my ass in grad school and wracking up tons of student loans, but you know what they say about hindsight.
I need to find a focus for my blog. I’m not sure what exactly I want to talk about. I think the world has plenty of autism blogs, and plenty of mental illness blogs, and plenty of parenting blogs.  I can’t say what exactli makes my perspective unique, other than it’s mine, and while I hope others find it interesting and entertaining I am not sure what actually sets my voice apart from the masses. Something to continue to ponder, I guess.

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Thoughts on purpose

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.

Make your mistakes, next year and forever.”

–Neil Gaiman

I stumbled across that piece of Neil Gaiman’s commencement address today, and it suited my mood. Partly because I couldn’t really decide what to write about but I didn’t want to skip a day, and partly because of a conversation about mental illness and failure that I had with a friend yesterday.

He brought up the fact that he felt his life was a failure. And usually I can find something positive to say to things like that, but I didn’t want to give him a bunch of BS, so I told him the truth. I struggle with that too. He and I have similar stories: loads of education that was hard-earned, but that is now not going to use because we are at home receiving Social Security Disability benefits. And we need those benefits, because neither one of us can function without medication and regular visits to a psychiatrist. Before I had disability I went without insurance and medication for long periods, two of which ended in the psych ward. That is the reality of mental illness: it has to be treated like any other illness or it’s dangerous. But like any other treatment, psychiatric treatment isn’t without side effects. I’ve had meds that made my weight balloon up, ones that made me constantly nauseous, ones that gave me headaches, ones that gave me “cognitive difficulties”,  ones that kept me awake for days, and ones that made me sleep for days. Finding the right medication combination for a person is really an art, more than a science, and that is one of the things that makes working difficult. The other thing that makes it difficult is the illness itself of course.

I don’t always know that my mood is off. A lot of the time I think something is physically wrong with me because I will be sore or tired or have a stomach ache. But those things can signal depression too. Several of the times I’ve been fired have been for having too many sick days, and that’s more than fair, because I’ve thought I was sick, or maybe stressed myself sick, more times than most people. During my practicum semester at the middle school I had the stomach flu NINE times. And I wasn’t faking, my stomach did act up; I was very stressed out and unhappy and those are conditions that make for all kinds of symptoms to show up. I knew I had a mental illness when I went back for my Master’s, I just underestimated it. I assumed that because things had been quiet for a long time that they would stay quiet.  I hadn’t really challenged myself  in years, and it turned out to be too much. I can run on caffeine and hypomania for a while, but that takes a toll.

I ended up taking a part-time semester after the stomach flu semester and almost didn’t finish my degree. I probably shouldn’t have, seeing how much use it’s getting. But I had plans. That’s where the whole “my life is a failure” thing comes in. I had plans. My friend had plans. Being mentally ill was NOT part of those plans. I don’t know how to tell him his life isn’t a failure because it’s hard to find purpose in mine too.  Yes, I know, I’m a mom and a wife and those are important jobs, but they aren’t all I intended for myself.  In that semester that I cut down to part-time I took a creative writing class in order to still have financial aid and it was the most fun I had throughout my whole Master’s program. It was the most motivated I was too, I actually did assignments ahead of time. It’s been interesting to do this every day, because once in a while I remember little things like that class that was kind of an accident. Maybe it was a “mistake” that I needed to make, so that now, when I’m looking for purpose, I can remember that there’s something I enjoy?

As my son would say: f* off

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/10/29/holding-my-son-with-autism-accountable/

So this has been making the rounds of my Facebook page today. And I am a bit irked by it, but I’m not sure I’m irked by the article or by the people who are posting it. One of the them doesn’t have kids, she just works with developmentally disabled adults, which is totally not the same thing. The other two have autistic kids, but are also besties with my son’s teacher who I really have an issue with.  So I kind of question if they’re really thinking the article has something good to say, or if they just want to stick it to parents who they don’t agree with. One of them is the my son’s former middle school teacher, (and I would say my former friend, because I haven’t spent time with her in almost a year) and she tends to think a lot of  parents let their kids “get away” with too much stuff.  I have real issues with people telling me, or anyone else, how to parent. You don’t live in my house, you don’t live with what I live with every day, so don’t think you know how to do what I do and certainly don’t think you can do it better.

It’s not that I believe my son with autism SHOULDN’T be held accountable for his actions, of course he should. But who gets to define that accountability? I don’t limit my son’s screen time normally, that’s not a battle I’m going to have, but I do set parental controls on what he’s allowed to watch and I only allow certain video games into the house. I don’t much care if he swears randomly, but I don’t like to be called names or told to F* off. If he chooses to get angry and break something of his I figure going without whatever it was he broke is consequence enough so I don’t do anything further.

My issue with his teacher is that she puts him in situations where she knows he is going to fail.  She’s a die-hard ABA believer (Applied Behavior Analysis for those who don’t speak autism) and one of the tenets of that is to provoke a behavior over and over again so you can correct it. I think that is complete B.S. and I also don’t think that research backs up ABA (I can prove that if you want, but not right this second), but people who believe in it are like hard-core evangelicals or Tea Party radicals, you can’t convince them of anything else. So she continuously puts my son in situations that make him unhappy. He already doesn’t like gym class, and then she put the one kid he has never gotten along with in the gym class with him, so guess where a lot of his behaviors happen?  His first year at the high school he had a job doing laundry, which he liked, but when this teacher came she wanted everyone to do the same job (its part of the vocational element of the program I guess) because its easier for her to supervise so they cleaned the cafeteria after lunch. Alex does NOT like this, so we had behavior issues there last year until I pitched a fit at our IEP meeting, but he’s back there again this year, and still having behavior issues there. I called the job “demeaning” in our meeting last year, and the principal got mad at me, but I didn’t mean that custodial work was demeaning in general, I meant being forced to do it when you don’t want to because that’s all people think you’re capable of is demeaning. I still think that, and if that is the only kind of job skill he’s going to be taught, then I question what we’re doing there anymore.

The article says:  “Now is the time to give him every tool he needs to be calm, happy and productive as he grows into an adult.” and I do agree with that completely, but I don’t know that he is getting the right tools at school and I don’t know that he ever will. I do know that if your kid is practically non-verbal, or has no manners, or if you don’t have kids, then maybe you are not who I want to hear about accountability from.