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Monday, 22 July 2013

Aspergers and alcohol

Worrying signs, recently, of a return to the dark days.
With Aspergers, there are always going to be difficult times, and perhaps more stresses and strains than you might find in an average relationship. But, a couple of years ago, Ethan’s Aspergers had taken us all to a really horrendous place. Ethan was drinking heavily as a way of escaping the depression and isolation he was feeling as a result of his Aspergers (as yet undiagnosed), I was too busy working to notice his struggles and only saw his drinking, his veering between aggression & (equally alarming) manic, heavy-handed ‘playfulness’ with the kids, his anger towards and detachment from me, and his seeming self-centredness.
It all ended pretty badly and dramatically – I won’t go into how. Our family was almost destroyed. But, amazingly, through gritty determination and a lot of forgiveness and understanding on both sides, we managed to start piecing our family back together again. Our relationship still hasn’t fully recovered from what happened but we we’re on our way. And without our lives unravelling as they did, Ethan would never have got his diagnosis.
But last week I discovered a half-drunk whisky bottle hidden in the filing cabinet. My first thought was ‘please, not again’. The same weekend, Ethan started being crazy and over-intense with the kids and freaking them out. The instantly-recognisable aggression of him craving a drink but not being able to have one because we were all in the way started rearing its head again too.
This time, I knew the signs. And I confronted him. Together we confronted the issues behind the need to drink. Ethan is going to start a course of counselling with a person who specialises in Aspergers and relationships (how we’re going to pay for it is another matter!).
Drinking, Aspergers and depression often come as a threesome. Like all of us, Ethan feels more confident when he’s had a drink, conversation flows more easily. It’s also a way to escape and unwind in a household that is constantly aggravating and overwhelming him (we’re a family of five with three young, loud, busy, messy kids – there are days when it is just too much for Ethan to bear). We had a long, painful conversation and we both confessed everything about how we’ve been feeling. We agreed that counselling for Ethan was a positive way forward (as was bringing his whisky bottle into the light and keeping it where both of us can see it - and monitor how quickly it’s going down!) We both re-committed ourselves to trying to make changes. And, overall, Ethan has tried really hard, particularly with the aggression.
But my heart did sink the very next day when, having given him the car keys and telling him where the car was parked after a school concert, he called me while I was trying to be light and jolly and chatty and breezy with the school mums, and said (you have to imagine an angry, aggressive, patronising tone here): ‘Will you just tell me exactly where you’ve parked the car, please?’ No matter that it was his inability to look properly that meant he couldn’t find the car (which, by the way, was a couple of yards away from where he was standing at the time of the phone call) he had to have someone to blame – and that someone was me. I was seething inside but had to try and hold it together for the mums I was with, as well as for Ava and Oliver who were already hot and cranky after school. At the time of being shouted at down the phone I was trying to carry three school bags, a clarinet and two lunch boxes, as well as cope with a screaming 3-year-old who didn’t want to walk and a whiney 8-year-old who wanted something to eat. Ethan was just strolling round a (small) car-park on a nice day with one well-behaved 5-year-old, trying to locate our car. I felt really, really badly done to.
I was just so angry that he dumps all his irritation, aggression and frustration onto me – even when the reason he’s irritated and frustrated is of his own making. In one sense, I shouldn’t have to put up with it. In another, if I don’t accept that sometimes I will be spoken to like this, we may as well give up now. Because however hard Ethan tries, he won’t always be able to keep up the act. Sometimes he will revert to auto-pilot.
And I can’t complain too loudly. The kitchen side that I said I’d tidy up so that our surroundings weren’t quite so chaotic, still hasn’t been done. And our bedroom is covered in clothes that I haven’t had time to put away. But I have booked him onto his first counselling session. I thought that was most important: for all our sakes.  

Monday, 15 July 2013

Aspergers and forging a new way forward

So, today Ethan and I had our last follow-up session with the specialist who diagnosed his Aspergers. The sessions were designed to help with the fall-out from the Aspergers diagnosis - to rant, moan, attack, grieve, wish-out-loud, resent and vent before hopefully reaching a point where we can start to see a way forward and begin talking instead about adapting, changing, accepting, relenting, agreeing, challenging, building up and carving out a new kind of relationship and a new kind of reality.
We talked about how I want to shout from the rooftops that Ethan
has Aspergers because I feel it excuses, or at least explains, so much. I feel less on edge around people that know about Ethan's Aspergers, less nervous about what he might say and how he might be received. It feels safer that, should Ethan slip up, he - and by association I - have an 'excuse'. Ethan, on the other hand, wants to keep his 'status' hidden from all but a select few friends and family. For the first time today I heard him speak touchingly, openly and honestly about why...
He spoke about the vulnerability of people knowing. Of the lifetime of hard graft he's had 'pretending to be normal' - just for that to be destroyed in seconds by admitting to people that he's not 'normal' after all. He spoke about the awkwardness of his cover being blown and people knowing that he's pretending to be normal - which defeats the object of pretending in the first place.
I think, for himself, he needs to have a reason to keep on striving to fit in. Perhaps he feels that if everyone knows, it'll be an excuse to sink into his Aspergers. Something that we both want to avoid.
By the end of today's session, I felt we could forge a way forward - if the commitment remains in us both. If we both continue to try to understand each other more. If we keep sight of each other's good points, if we communicate more and pray a lot! And, crucially for me if I'm really honest with myself, to care less about what other people think.
What choice do we have but to keep on keeping on? We've got three kids. And we've got a relationship worth working on.
So change it is.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

But the craft cupboard needs sorting!

So, we did manage to get through last week without any major arguments. It seems The journal of best practice and Ethan’s resolve work well together! He’s been calmer and more patient with the kids and has tried really hard to be generally more cheerful and engaged.
There was a tense hour or so on Saturday morning – the day of Ava and Sam’s summer fair. As I dashed around taking Sam to a friend’s house, baking a cake with Ava for the cake competition, getting washing hung out and getting the kids dressed, Ethan decided that now would be a good time to sort out the craft cupboard. He does this: has a thought or decides a job needs to be done – and has to act on it right then. Regardless of what else might be going on. He has a total lack of being able to plan, prioritise or organise. And he gets really irritated if I or the kids interrupt whatever he’s set his mind to. He finds it really difficult to see anything else or think about anything else until that task is done. Never mind that we have to be out of the house in an hour and he’s still in his pyjamas with half the contents of two drawers on the kitchen floor!
I shouted (a little bit) and, to his credit, he did manage to cut a few corners on the reorganising of the drawers and help me get the kids fed and dressed.
We reached the summer fair in time – all dressed (amazingly) and with a finished (and, it turns out, award-winning) cake that Ava and I had created amidst the chaos of the morning. And we’d managed to stay on speaking terms!
And, I admit, it is nice to have a tidy craft drawer. I just wonder why he couldn’t have done that one evening when the kids were in bed rather than on a busy Saturday morning when we have 1001 other things to do and somewhere to be.
Aspergers isn’t always logical!

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Aspergers and not thinking

What a difference a day makes!
On Monday morning, following Sunday's showdown, Ethan got up before the alarm, sorted out the kids' breakfast and got them dressed, all before I got up! Even more amazingly, he did it without shouting at them, losing his temper, pushing or pulling them. He even managed not to sigh (at least not loud enough for me to hear!)
 Today's Thursday and he's managed to maintain the transformed approach. It's partly due to the blowout on Sunday night (me saying we were all happier when he wasn't around might have stung a bit!) And partly thanks to a fantastic book Ethan's reading (and that I've dipped into a bit) called The Journal of Best Practices. It's written by a guy with a wife and kids...and Aspergers. I love it because: a) there are so many similarities to our life and it helps Ethan and me to see that, within the world of Aspergers/neuro-typical relationships, we're pretty 'normal'! I think the fact this guy has so many of the same issues, hang-ups, stresses and behaviours as Ethan, gives Ethan some validity and reassurance too. And it helps me to see that at least some of the traits that drive me mad in Ethan are due to his Aspergers and not due to the fact he's a rude, insensitive git! b) This guy and his wife have found a way to live with his Aspergers and still have a happy, productive relationship and happy, productive lives. And c) It's humorous. And, as the laughinghelps blogger reminds us, laughing helps. It really does.
But, getting back to the bit of the book that transformed Ethan's attitude this week, the author David Finch describes how he really wants to have quality, fun time with his kids but instead, when he plays with them for example, he finds his thoughts drifting off to analyse how he could better construct a Duplo tower, or how he could improve the quality of a particular toy. And that's it. He's zoned out. While the kids play, he's in another place entirely - physically there but mentally absent. Ethan has exactly the same experiences. Afterwards, he'll feel irritated with himself for zoning out when he could have been enjoying precious moments with his kids. But rather than this leading to him rectifying the situation, it just makes him bad-tempered so that, when the kids do try to connect with him, he's too irritated and wound-up to respond. Or, if they slightly step out of line, he snaps. In the book, David has the same problem. His advice is to shut off your thoughts before they have a chance to build: in his words 'Nothing numbs feelings like thoughts.' So, the answer? Don't think! At least not for that moment. If you've decided that now is the time to play with your kids, play with your kids. Take control of your thoughts. It's something we all need to practise, Aspergers or not. But having witnessed Ethan trying to live this way this week, I've seen the positive effect it's had - on him and on the kids, and therefore on me.
Maybe this is the week we'll get through without a big argument...3 days to go!