changes…

letitgo

I started this entry numerous times in my head, but never quite made it to print. These past two months ushered in some pretty big changes for me and I’m not good at juggling massive change with the day to day usual channels of communication and outlets. Anytime my routine is disrupted, all my energy gets redirected to focus on rebalancing. It’s exhausting, but if I don’t I get trapped in a perpetual cycle of anxiety and stress which is not healthy for me or anyone around me as meltdowns will inevitably follow. I needed time to let the dust settle and my anxiety dissipate before I could calm the chaos in my mind enough to articulate effectually and in full sentences. I am continuing to learn and understand so much about myself!

2015 ended with very mixed emotions. It was definitely a year of major highs and lows. Christmas proved to be more difficult than I anticipated. Every year we pack up and head to my parents for a day of food, conversation, and lots of laughter and shenanigans! I now understand the intense pangs of longing and why Christmas can be so difficult. The holiday evokes such an overwhelming emotional state of nostalgia that even without sadness, it stirs and tugs at the heart. Even the most untraditional adhere to their own unconventional habits; and when those habits are disrupted by an event as significant as death, the results can be catastrophic without a solid support system in place. I am so thankful for my family. We had a wonderful day! There was an unspoken determination to find the joy and expound on it. I was so proud of us as the day could have been consumed in melancholy; but I was also keenly sensitive to Dad’s absence. So many little instances pricked at my memories and caused tears to overflow unchecked. We did carve out some time that afternoon per my mother’s gentle prompting, to acknowledge his absence and celebrate his life through any memories or recollections that we wanted to share. It was the perfect ending to our new uncertain reality, full of laughter and tears and love.

I also married the love of my life last year. I’ve never known anyone like this gentle wonderful man I can now call my husband. I feel like I have been searching for him all my life and I am infinitely grateful that I am his. He is my best friend and confidant and has only ever expected me to be exactly who I am. His support for my journey has never wavered, and my diagnosis of Asperger’s did not diminish his acceptance of me. He is a gift, and I cannot adequately express how much I love him

2016 ushered in a major life change in my little fishbowl. I left my employment of the past five years to embark on a new journey. Exciting stuff! I mean it would’ve been exciting if my Aspie brain wasn’t so freaking freaked OUT! I deliberated over this new opportunity endlessly. Agonized. Weighed the pros & cons extensively. I’m pretty sure my husband thought I lost my mind. The job was a bit of a risk…and I am not typically a risk taker. I tend to dig in and get comfortable with the predictability of wherever I am at, even if it ceased to be a healthy coexistence. I always thought it was loyalty, but in truth, it is the predictability I covet, and my anxiety riddled mind was screaming obscenities at me for disrupting my predictable life.

It took A LOT of effort to calm the chaos and white noise; but the opportunity to get back into a field that I love and am passionate about overrode all my objections to stay predictable; and I am happy to report that thus far the disruption of my routine has been well worth it! I think my Dad would be proud.

expectations…

One of the things that I miss about my dad was his inherent lack of expectations. I know now that this was in part due to the way his brain was wired, and I also suspect it was consequence of the unmet expectations and disappointments in his life. Clearly, this presented a strange paradox for me, because I felt like he truly did not expect anything of me. On the one hand, I never knew if he was proud of me; on the other hand I never felt like I failed him.

Expectations exacerbate my anxiety riddled mind, and have plagued me throughout my life. More specifically, it is the feeling of not meeting expectations that I cannot seem to shake. For most of my life, I’ve felt like a square being forced into a circular peg. I did not feel like I was accepted for who I was…with the exception of my dad (a lot of thought and reflection went into that last declaration).  I am sure my behavior and meltdowns were frustrating to him, but I don’t recall him ever trying to change that part of me, of who I was at my core. I never felt like I didn’t measure up with him as I did and do with others in my life. Granted, I wasn’t ever comfortable enough to present the true colors of my spectrum to him, but in retrospect, because of who he was and the diagnosis he was unable to admit or accept, we both held each other at arm’s length. We both danced to the beat of our own drums. And although we were not comfortable dancing together, we did dance side by side; and we were able to forge a small significant connection in our own way, on our own terms.

My perception now of what our relationship was is completely demolished and I am beginning to view it through a fresh set of lenses; wide open and void of the judgment and preconceived conclusions I’ve held in the past. To the observer, our relationship probably exhibited itself as detached, unfeeling and lacking in depth. I enlisted with the Band Wagon in condemnation of our relationship because I had no knowledge of any other normal other than what bombarded my brain daily through societal norms and relationships I witnessed in other families. And because I was trying to assimilate and mimic what was considered to be the proper “normal” relationship between a father and daughter, I resented his failed “dad” attempts and his perceived distaste for parenting. Oh the understanding and grace I am able to bestow upon it now! My internal bulldozer has removed all the dirt and grime of what I thought our relationship was and is replacing it with fresh clean soil to replant my memories. The instances and circumstances that I referenced in previous blogs about my dad’s supposed uncommunicative indifference and callousness to me…all identified and measured against the barometer of what society considers acceptable and “normal” behavior are now measured against my new and ever-expanding knowledge, and what I perceived as negative, upon further deeper reflection is really…not.

We forged a comfortable coexistence, my dad and me. We could go months without communication. He gave me space….probably because he too, needed space. We did not feel the need or urgency to stay connected through phone calls or verbal dialogue; but whenever I did pop in to say hi, he was always thrilled to see me. I never felt pressured to stay in touch with him or felt like I disappointed him when I didn’t. I could always count on him to hold lively discussions on safe inane subjects, and I didn’t even need to participate most times. A welcome relief to the anxiety I experience when feeling coaxed and cajoled into deep intimate conversations. Our conversations rarely delved below the surface, but frankly, I preferred it. I abhor “heart to heart” conversations. They stress me out, and I typically need time to mentally prepare for them. As a woman, I realize that it presents a unique set of complications. Women, in general, are emotional…connect emotionally. I find this ritual to be exhausting and even somewhat annoying. It is another area in my life that required hasty adaptation and creation of coping mechanisms so that I can function in social situations. I still look to others to mimic appropriate behaviors and often will find myself as an observant comfortable wall flower, by choice, if I do not know what is expected of me. Dad never judged. I could sit there, completely shut down and non-communicative and he would natter on blissfully unaware of my nonparticipation, only requiring an occasional grunt in response. As much as his small talk grated on my nerves, I did and do prefer it to the probing, prying conversations I often find myself in.

In these months following his death, I’ve heard intermittent discussion that dad felt he failed as a parent. I am ashamed to admit that I was quick to voice my agreement. Not anymore. Given our diagnosis and the knowledge I am gaining, I am proud of him for adapting and trying to connect with us as much as he did. How exhausting it must have been for him! I will never resent those failed attempts again and am only dismayed that I was unable to grant him pardon while he was still living. My expectations were unrealistic. They did not meet him at his level. They were not indicative of how I truly felt, only of how I felt I must react. As I’ve gained insight into myself and ASD, I’ve also gained tremendous insight into this man, my father. I love him and miss him so much more as consequence. Forgiveness is a constant companion, ready to wash over our relationship at any given moment of recollection and acknowledgement; and it is incredibly liberating and exciting to feel like I am finally truly getting to know him.

still breathing…

LILY-OF-THE-VALLEY

I’ve had some time to digest the revelations I disclosed in my last blog, although I still am reeling at the implications of this discovery. The chaos in my mind has become louder and more persistent as memories and recollections bombard me seeming to shriek validation of my (and my father’s) diagnosis. I don’t even know where to begin…

As far back as I can recall I have been different. Felt different. Felt alien. There were moments growing up that I was convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was adopted (I wasn’t). What else could explain the self-imposed alienation I felt? My isolation was lonely. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t connect with others. I couldn’t retain lasting friendships. I escaped inside my books and my imagination and lived there for a long time. I learned very quickly, before I could consciously understand my actions, that society wants perfection. Demands perfection. There was no room for my perfectly imperfect self. And so I had to adapt…quickly. I vividly recall trying to mimic and emulate other girls my age in an effort to fit in…and was quickly branded a misfit. Most of the time, I felt like I didn’t even know how to be a girl. I was quirky and unusual, which did not bode well for me. Kids are cruel, especially to those they do not understand, and because there was no diagnosis, no explanation available to my parents to help me, I suffered. No child should be subjected to the tormenting I received for being different. It still haunts me.

I don’t remember exactly when my anxiety started. I suspect it was around kindergarten when I was thrust into the “real” world and out of the safe secure nest of my home, forced to socialize and interact with other children. I don’t recall my dad carrying me into my classroom almost every day or the sobs that would spew forth when he left me with these curious unforgiving little humans, but my parents remembered well and I would hear the story from time to time in the years following. I eventually adapted by creating my own coping mechanisms that I still utilize to this day if my anxiety gets too intense. My irrational fears never made sense to me until now. Frankly, a lot of things didn’t make sense to me until now. I keep traversing back in time to situations and memories in my life. My recollections are now evaluated and measured against this new-found knowledge, this Asperger’s; and the deductions serve over and over as evidence and validation of my placement on the Spectrum.

This diagnosis, thus far, has not ushered in any sort of sadness or melancholy for me, except perhaps the inevitable wistfulness of a timelier verdict. I am still me. Nothing really has changed, but the understanding that I am gaining is invaluable. I am saddened that my father chose not to accept this reality. The benefit his family would have garnered from this knowledge could have drastically altered our somewhat harsh perception of him. I know it has for me. I now understand some of the underlying compulsions of his actions. So much of my relationship with this man can now be explained. So much I now understand. I wonder if he would have accepted my diagnosis. Could we have discussed this? Would he have denied me the solace and colossal amounts of relief that seem to continually wash over me? He loved to fixate and obsess. Would he have been able to see the correlations? The similarities? What would he have done with this knowledge?

I have so many questions that can only be answered with speculation. I will continue to dig, to uncover, and to learn; but I am forging ahead with more clarity and confidence. There is much less turmoil in my soul to shadow my path. I am experiencing….peace.

discoveries…

I wasn’t looking for it. It wasn’t even a blip on my radar. I have been focused on and reflecting on this man I lost. Discovering my dad. Delving deep into the relationship we developed, studying the nuances, reliving the conversations…I never dreamed the life altering discovery would be my own. It happened without warning, without any sort of build up or suspense. It just…happened. Mom and I were reminiscing about dad and she casually asserted her suspicions about his placement on the spectrum. The Autism Spectrum. It wasn’t the first time we broached this subject, but it was the first time since his death that I gave it serious consideration. After all, if it could assist me in any way with greater understanding and insight into my father, it was worth a second glance right?

Mom had suspected for several years that dad had Asperger’s/Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). As she relayed some of the symptoms and traits and triggers associated with ASD that she witnessed manifested in dad, all the bulbs on my brain board started to light up and blink uncontrollably, as they do when I’ve happened upon a major new discovery about myself. My stomach instantly knotted and I realized that mom was not only describing dad’s disorder in perfect detail and relation to him, but she was also describing me. I needed to know more.

Thank God for Google. I devoured article after article describing Asperger’s and autism, my mind coaxing and encouraging me onward as if it knew this was something BIG, and it was. Every article, every journal I read and re-read described myself to me in painstaking detail. This was my answer to over 30 years of silent suffering. The social awkwardness, the proficiency with which I express myself in text, the endless fascination with details, the inability to organize and focus and prioritize effectively, the feeling that my brain is always in chaos and cannot be shut off …I could go on and on. Everything in the words I’ve digested so far is me. All my pain and confusion and self-persecution over the decisions I have made in my life have an answer. An explanation! Of course, it does not absolve me from my choices, but I am not crazy. I am not crazy! My wacky weird little brain just processes information differently than everyone else. I needed proof. I needed someone to validate this self-discovery, and I was terrified that I was prematurely and erroneously hopeful. Everything just fit so well in the patterns and formulas I mentally checked off in my mind. I received an official diagnosis this weekend and the relief that flooded and washed over me was overwhelming. I have Asperger’s Syndrome. I’m not ashamed of it. I am enormously grateful that I have answers to the seemingly endless questions that went unanswered for so many years.

Dad had it too. I am certain. There are too many correlations to ignore. Mom tried to discuss it with him, but as was typical with my father, he dismissed it. I am now reassessing everything about our relationship against this new found knowledge. I have to because my brain will not allow the pieces of the puzzle to remain displaced, and for the first time since his passing I am longing and yearning for him to be alive in this moment so I could thank him. He may not have believed anything was different about him, but he saved me a little. My puzzle pieces are slowly fitting together now. My life is making a little more sense and my dad played a role…Thank you dad.

milestones…

Milestones

It’s been a little over four months since my dad died. The day to day minutia of life has returned, and even though he still floats across my conscious every day, the pain is different and the tumultuous emotions that had previously accompanied the pain have dissipated. Time has appropriately medicated my heart and I wonder if I’ve reached a milestone in grieving. I’ve painfully acknowledged and accepted (again) his role and place in my life; but unlike my previous attempts to wade these waters without resolution, this time I am consciously…rigorously trying to redirect my focus on the good…because there was good. I can torment myself forever and rake my frail emotions over the coals of uncertainties and doubts and I will get nowhere. He is gone. I am now faced with the choice of how I want to memorialize him. And as easy and comfortable and familiar as it is to recall the anger and hurt and victimize myself over and over, it is not healthy. It is not healing. I am pragmatic, a realist at my core. I cannot live in a constant state of victimization and anger. It is not who I am…not who I choose to be. I have no rose-colored glasses to use when reminiscing and I will not romanticize our relationship. It was what it was. Nothing more. Nothing less. I loved him and I miss him.

And I am allowing myself to miss him now without the “but” attached to the end of sentence. It is a clearer purer emotion, not clouded by the other anxieties and complications that I felt I needed to focus on. I accept him for everything he was and was not to me. I realize that my anger and resentment was concealing the pain lying underneath waiting. It was easier. It was familiar. This is not. Once I started to let go of the anger and resentment, the emotions that remain run deep and penetrating. It is not the jagged aimless and unfocused tormenting pain of four months ago. This pain is so different. I am healing. I am letting go and it hurts. It hurts like hell. I am finally acknowledging the parts of him that I loved and the pain that accompanies that acknowledgement is exquisite, because he is gone. I can still hear his voice and I can still feel his bear hugs, and I would give anything to have one more inane conversation with him. I loved his laugh…and how you could literally watch the progression of his animation escalate when he was discussing one of his many passions. He would have loved his funeral service. Every minute of it. All the people he cared about and who were important to him in one room. His excitement barely contained! He would have talked to everyone. Every.One. No one would have escaped his infectious energy. His casket was loaded into the hearse and driven away after the service and right before his favorite part. My dad loved activity swirling around him and reveling in the thick of it. He would have been the last one to leave, not wanting the day to end, and in the days and months that followed he would have revisited that day over and over sharing stories and conversations with us. I miss that.

But he is still with me. I see him in my son. I catch glimpses of him in myself. These bits and pieces of him live on in me, and I don’t want to waste them. There is a sense of responsibility to give him a legacy, to seize the best parts of him that exist in me and to make the most of them…to finish what he started and was perhaps, too afraid to complete. I got this dad. Love you.

correlations…

faa
I can always tell when I’ve gone too long without emptying my mind of the jumbled thoughts and emotions that seem to fill it. I get anxious without being able to pinpoint why. There is a knot in my stomach that doesn’t go away and I get teary watching commercials on TV. My internal voice, which starts as a meek little whisper, turns into a shout demanding to be heard.

It would be easy to say I’ve gotten lazy and life has been busy, but that wouldn’t be completely true. I spent many evenings camped out on my sofa trying to decompress from the day and the persistent thoughts that seeped into my conscious were ignored and thrust aside. Intentionally. I just didn’t want to delve into it. Life is so good right now. I love being married to the man of my dreams. I love this time of year when the trees are displaying their true magnificence and preparing for the cold barren winter ahead. I love cheering for the Lincalope at his football games and dressing warmer and pumpkins and crunchy leaves under my feet.

Lincalope

And I’m tired of grieving. I’m tired of handing over the reins to the little girl inside me that desperately misses her dad. I’m tired of navigating the dark troubled waters of my relationship with him. It is far too easy to shove those thoughts and emotions to the far recesses of my mind and turn focus to the present day to day….but…

Eventually I am forced to confront the consequence of this intentional snubbing. My conscious is pricked. It nags at me to sit, to type, to bleed emotionally…hemorrhage if necessary…to heal. I remind myself that if I do not grieve, then I will not heal. If I stuff down this wad of sadness and confusion it will rear its ugly head and will destroy me. I have travelled this path before, and am a master of flight, not fight; much like my father. I’ve improved at confronting my emotions head on (thank you Dr. McBride), but I still instinctively avoid emotions too painful for my mind to process. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree…

Although dad and I had different stories to tell; my life is so similar to his. Our lives, as a whole, have not been easy. The decisions we made, the paths we took that defined who we became, resulted in much heartache and soul searching. I acknowledge that many of the decisions I made, especially regarding my relationships, were directly related to my father’s indifferent influence. I wonder if he also ever came to this realization; that his indifference deeply affected us. That the decisions he made influenced our life choices.

Up until a few years ago, I’d never been comfortable in my own skin. Up until a few years ago, I had no idea who I was. I think he struggled with the same obstacles. He did not share those intimacies with me, and only rarely let me catch a glimpse of the man behind the façade, but as an observer, it is clear to me.

under the microscope…

microscope

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been contemplating who my dad really was and what made him tick. What drove him to act and respond the way he did to the things that life presented to him. This has come under my microscope of scrutiny because I am my father’s daughter. I respond to things in very much the same way he did, and I am determined not to travel the same path. My life story was scripted and has acted out eerily parallel to his in terms of unmet expectations and disappointments. We did not necessarily live the same unfortunate set of circumstances; but we suffered the same feelings of inadequacy, of not quite measuring up, of the seemingly ceaseless combat for validation and possession of a voice. I know he struggled with being a good dad…a good husband. Emotions that, unfortunately, I also became all too familiar with on my journey.

Motherhood was not easy path for me. It did not come naturally or organically. I struggled with connecting and bonding with my son. It is a harsh consequence of my past, and something I strived laboriously to {still sometimes} overcome. I, too, was not immune to the judgement and opinions of those who felt they “knew better”. My love and consideration for my son was second guessed and questioned…harshly, without thought to the damage it inflicted on a new fragile mother. As a result I constantly doubted my choices and struggled to accept that I was a good mom and did know what was right for my son. On occasion, I will get trapped on that same merry go round again, and the vicious cycle of self-doubt and condemnation threaten to cripple the confidence I’ve cultivated through the years. But I know how to combat this now…how to prevent the incessant onslaught of internal damnation. I don’t think my father was ever given that armor. Our internal voices inflict immeasurably more damage and carnage to us, especially when we believe and accept the outward verdicts of those around us. My dad sought the approval and validation of those around him so I can only imagine the internal dialogues his conscious would force upon his mind and the battle that would ensue.

Looking back, I have a particularly clear memory of talking to dad about being more present, more involved as a father. He revealed that he was trying and would try, but it was so hard. It was so hard for him to be my dad. The statement was raw and painful and his truth; and I never completely understood…until I had a child and my place in his life was also questioned. I was confronted with a similar set of emotions. Granted, my own unique circumstances came into play, but it was hard. It was hard to be and to be present in my son’s life. The path I chose ushered in nearly 14 years of perpetual exhausting discord with my son’s father and the battle continues still…

I am so quick to point the finger at my father and his self-absorption, his selfishness, but what of my own? Were the decisions I made years ago not seeded in my own selfishness? My own need for validation and acceptance? These are the harsh realities that I examined years later to ensure I was not travelling the same road with my son. It was a painful truth to accept as the truth often is; but my son will not grow up resenting me, or questioning my love for him. This was and is my commitment to him.

My father’s apathy was not exclusive to his children only, and my parent’s relationship was always difficult for me to define or explain. As their daughter, I did not know all the intricacies of their story; but as a participant in their lives, I sadly became very tolerant with the dysfunction of their relationship. I did not know any different. I have the utmost respect for my mother who remained steadfast by my father’s side, but I also cannot discount the impact their relationship had on me and the partners I chose. My mother is a supremely strong woman. Recalling her relationship with my father now through the years, and even more so as an adult woman; I ache for the relationship she lost, not two months ago, but over twenty years ago. And yet she stayed. She persevered. I did not have that same strength. I processed and examined, tormented and emotionally flogged myself for years; and finally accepted and acknowledged my contribution to my failed marriages. And while I cannot in good conscious place all the blame at my father’s feet, he did play a part. Because I did not have a strong male presence or father figure to guide me and protect me, I had no idea what to seek in a partner. I did not know what behavior was and was not acceptable and I made very poor decisions as a result. Lessons of the heart are often the most painful to sort out and overcome. The scars I bear serve as a reminder of the exquisitely painful education I received. And again, the realization that parts of my father reside in me and I must acknowledge the selfishness I possessed. Acknowledge and commit to change. Something my father was unable or unwilling to do.

I only have bits and pieces of a larger puzzle to explain the complexities that were my father. All I am able to do now is seek to understand those parts of him that I have inherited. Perhaps by gaining a better understanding of myself, I will receive a glimpse into the window of his soul also.

dad reading