My Progress!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Parenting Epiphanies on "fitting in"

I’m up tonight unable to sleep. I have so much going through my head; especially after a three hour conversation with one of my best friends, Nick. Son, honestly you need to go back to school and get a degree in psychology. I’m serious…I feel like I just had a power therapy session which is good because I had to put off my appointment with my therapist tomorrow. With all the work I missed while sick and the work Erik missed while I was sick, we are just feeling the pinch financially the most right now and I discovered that I still have a portion of my deductible to meet. The good news is that even with having to pay another $90.00 toward my deductible, the sessions should be much more affordable than what the other place was quoting me and honestly…while I’m still nervous, I’m also somewhat eager to get started again in therapy.

In the past few weeks I have vacillated between self loathing and self awareness on levels that surprised me at times. In regards to the self loathing, I was disappointed to discover that I could still sink to some surprisingly low levels. There were days when I could not quiet those voices in my head. There was no reasoning with them, bargaining with them…they insisted on echoing the voices of years ago; the ones that discounted any positive quality I might point to with at least three other negative qualities effectively canceling out any positive feelings I might be struggling to hold on to. Yeah, I’ve had some bad days.

But, I’ve also had days that, while not good exactly, allowed me moments of clarity I needed. Moments where I actually began to understand more about where I was at now as opposed to the me 20 years ago. While yes, I repeated many behavior patterns from years ago with Greg and in other areas of my life, I recognize that I was able to evaluate this behavior in ways I simply couldn’t do 20 years ago. I have a MUCH better understanding about where a lot of these feelings and behaviors come from and the awareness to PREFER time on my own to address them once and for all as opposed to trying to mask them or fill that void inside with a relationship or food or drinking or …whatever else I might choose to distract myself from the work I needed to do. When I’m thinking rationally, this is definitely something I can point to with pride; something that shows me I haven’t spent the last 20 years in some kind of emotional holding pattern. I KNOW better than this. I know that the woman I am today is so much stronger than the woman I was 20 years ago. The “me” today can say that last sentence and not feel the need/urge to discount it immediately whereas the 20-year-old Michelle would never have had the courage to say it out loud at all.

So, I’m going to try to get better about cutting myself the slack I’m always so easy to cut for everyone else. I’m not perfect, but I’m not entirely imperfect either.

Part of what prompted this post was an incident that happened with Tanner today. He had a horrible day at school. Apparently this whole week had not been all that great, but I had no clue. Sometimes, knowing how challenging it can be for parents who have children with severe behavioral/emotional disturbances, teachers will choose to keep what happens at school at school. Today, he had a complete meltdown though; the sort of meltdown that required two burly men to restrain him physically for over half an hour. This hasn’t happened in over three years. When he came home, I was shocked at how he looked. Dark circles under his eyes, marks on his face, a bandaid on his arm where he had bitten himself pretty good. The mother in me wanted to wrap him up because one look at his face told me that the inside was more broken than the outside.

He sat down and I asked him to tell me what happened. He began to talk, in the vacant voice he uses when he’s trying to avoid getting emotional. He just said that they made him mad. I explained that I understood he can’t help feeling mad, but he absolutely can NOT react the way he did today. It was then that his face just crumbled and he pretty much collapsed at my feet crying that he was a freak, he didn’t want to be deaf, he had no friends, nobody liked him, he wished he were dead…wished he had died when he was a baby and had meningitis. My own heart just shattered hearing him say this. He just looked so absolutely broken, exhausted from the day’s meltdown and broken spiritually and emotionally. I reached out and grabbed his hand, pulled him in for a hug and let him cry for a bit.

When I pulled away I told him he wasn’t a freak and asked him to think about all the deaf people he knew; the people he goes to see at Deaf Chat, the people he sees at church, his Big Brother Sam…where they freaks? Initially he said “yes,” but I told him that was ridiculous…that if he truly felt that way, he wouldn’t want to go to Deaf Chat or to church. He went because he liked them all and looked forward to seeing them.

I then reminded him of something I’ve told him from a very young age: “Not everyone is going to like you Tanner; and that’s ok.” Of course, like any teenager, he talked about wanting to be popular, wanting to have friends, wanting to “fit in.” I said “Ok so what, you are deaf…I’m fat…daddy was kind of a nerd…we ALL have something that makes us different, but in the end..that is what makes the world so interesting and beautiful.” I pointed out how boring it would be if everyone were the same. He insisted it would be great if everyone were the same, then they wouldn’t have to worry about fitting in. I again pointed out how boring it would be... if you were friends with someone, what motivation would we have to check out the person across the room if we knew they were going to be just like the person we were talking to…just like us for that matter. The exciting part of life is meeting new people, having new experiences, learning new things and then sharing those things, that knowledge with others.

I then started talking more about my high school experiences; how groups of boys would make earthquake noises as I walked down the hall or say the cruelest things right to my face just to get a laugh out of their friends. I told him how I would come home almost every day and cry into my pillow or on my mom’s shoulder because it hurt so bad. I told him I knew exactly what he was feeling. Then I said, “But you know what Tanner? My mom used to say this very thing to me when I was your age, but I would think ‘What does she know? She doesn’t understand.” “Now that I’m older, I can look back at that little girl and I can see all her amazing qualities…most of them still describe me today…I’m a good friend, my friends are my friends and they know that they can count on me through thick and thin. I’m also a very giving person. I’m funny and I’m fun to be around a lot of the time, etc. I then asked him if he agreed with all that, did he think that younger girl was a freak? He said “no.”

“I don’t either Tanner and you know what? You aren’t a freak. You are funny and charming and sweet and caring. Even with your challenges, you still have this amazing ability to endear yourself to people and that is a huge positive thing you have going for you sweetie. So, I think about teenage Michelle and I think ‘She wasn’t a freak and how sad that all those kids missed out on knowing her because they let the way she looked get in the way of them making a pretty terrific friend, don’t you agree?’” He did.

We talked about what a great guy his dad was, how funny he is and how much fun he can be; how special he is. I told him that in high school, he was painfully shy and withdrawn and a lot of people thought he was nerdy and uncool. Did he think dad was a freak? Of course he didn’t…he thinks dad is the greatest thing since sliced bread! Well, unfortunately there were people in high school that missed out on knowing the Erik we know and love, isn’t that sad? Tanner agreed.

I just looked at him and said “Well sweetie, that is exactly what I think about the unfortunate people who don’t take the time to get to know YOU, the Tanner I know and love. They will never ever know what it is like to laugh at your jokes or get a comforting hug or word from you. They’ll never understand what a good friend you can be or how thoughtful you are. I feel sorry for them because they missed out. But that is life tanner…not everyone is going to like you. If they have good reason not to like you, then you should work on changing those things, but if they dislike you for something that can’t be changed, for who you are, and they let that get in the way of getting to know you, well then…it’s their loss. I feel sorry for them."

By the time I was done, I could see that it was starting to sink in, that he was processing what I was saying and that it was really helping him. I don’t reiterate this here because I want kudos or a pat on the back. Some may not think I said the right things or would have handled the situation entirely different. I honestly can’t take credit for much of what I said. When I was telling Nick about it later, I told him…”This is one of those moments where I really think God was giving me the words Tanner needed to hear.” Something else I realized is that He was also speaking to me; giving me the words we BOTH needed to hear. In trying to help my son cope, I realized that I may have shortcomings, I may be imperfect, but I am not a freak. I am worthwhile regardless of my shell and yes, my inner self needs some work, but as long as I keep striving, keep trying to get there, that is all I can ask of myself.


Annette said...

Wow, I have only read one post, but I have a feeling I am going to be reading everything by the end of the day.
Thank you for your honesty in your writing, I know this will help alot of people.

Christine said...

my oldest daughter was teased mercilessly when she was 11 and 12. I told her one thing...i said "kate, school is temporary, life is forever" What I meant by that *and I did expound*...the things they were picking on her for, most notably her intelligence...which in their eyes, made her a freak...would enable her to go into the world and be fantastic. These people would be here, and then gone. Never to be seen again. People whose best years are high school are people to be pitied. Not emulated. Love the talk.

hailey said...

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Hailey William

Divine Noni said...