Nothing to See Here

Do you want to know why I haven’t been posting?

Are you sure?

Are you sure you’re sure? It’s not going to be pretty.

OK – if you’re absolutely 100% sure you want to know – here it is, the explanation for my lack of energy / inspiration, complete with the trampling of a self-imposed rule not to talk about my kids online, and a general airing of my dirty laundry. But hey, I’ve got to vent somewhere.

So let’s start with my daughter. Everything always starts with A, she’s like that. So she had a bit of a mental health crisis and ended up spending a few hours at the hospital, and this time I pushed the staff a bit. As in, can someone please assess her for X (a condition she ticks all the boxes for – every single diagnostic criterion)? Oh no, she’s too young to be diagnosed, they tell me. But we can say she has “emotional dysregulation”. Fine, but will that get her the appropriate treatment, the one she needs, which was specially designed for people with X? Blank looks. It’s suggested we try general talk therapy as, after all, she hasn’t actually been diagnosed with X…. you get my drift.

And then there’s the gut issues. She’s always had pretty bad atrocious eating habits, but when she started staying home from school complaining of belly-ache, I thought it was anxiety, or just A being A. But recently it got really bad. As in, belly aches daily, frequent trips to the toilet, not eating properly. The doctor hasn’t been much help so far but after doing a bit of googling myself I can understand why. There are more causes of gut issues than blades of grass in my garden. It’s a big garden.

Anyway, I decided to get her to keep a food diary, and try her on an elimination diet. We knew she was lactose intolerant already but we got stricter with it – no more ice cream or that gunk they call ‘soft serves’, only lactose-free versions of milk and yogurt. Bacon and sausages were out too, because of the preservatives. And we went (mostly) gluten free.

A digression: I’d always thought gluten-free would be incredibly difficult, but once I’d (spent a small fortune and) stocked up on the right food it wasn’t that bad. We even had a bit of fun baking our own g-f muffins and cookies. Which leads me to the next part of the story:

The elimination diet failed to clear up the problem (although it was hard to be sure because A being A, she hadn’t kept the food diary, and she kept breaking the diet). But I did note a particularly nasty episode relating to a multi-coloured iced cookie, which I strongly suggested she not eat after seeing 33 additive numbers listed on the back, and that of course she ate anyway. And my brain went down a different path: food additives <-> processed food <-> excess sugar <-> gut imbalance.

So now we’re onto diet version 2. Gluten is back on, lactose and bacon are still off. Processed and packaged foods are limited, and sweet drinks are not allowed. The idea is to get her eating ‘real food’ – the stuff that comes from plants, or the animals that eat plants (with inspiration from David Gillespie’s book of the same name: Eat Real Food). She hasn’t got the hang of it yet. Thinking to ease her into it, I left a few packaged items on the ‘yes’ list, such as frozen pizza, plain crackers and sesame snaps – so, of course, those are what she’s been eating.

Then on Friday I had one of those (not unusual) calls from the school saying A was feeling ill and could she go home, to which I agreed. Got home from work that evening and she had a very large and obvious tongue-piercing. Can’t say I was very happy about that – even apart from thinking tongue piercings are gross, how exactly is having a painful hole through her tongue going to help get some order into her eating habits? A’s boyfriend proceeded to tell me a colourful story about the drug-using habits of his family, the moral of which seemed to be that he was proud to come from such a family because he loves them for who they are, and hence I should be supportive of all A’s choices because I love her. It was, I have to say, an outstanding piece of Gen Z logical rhetoric. But no. Believe it or not, we Gen Xers are actually capable of separating love of the person from love of the holes they punch through themselves.

As always happens in this household, all the drama with A has resulted in very limited attention being given to my son and his issues – and oh boy, does L have issues. It’s mind-boggling that he recently turned 20. It’s like he stepped into a time-warp at around age 16 and got frozen at the same level of development. So yeah, while I’m first to acknowledge he’s got a brain the size of a planet (with a nod to Douglas Adams), I’m not holding my breath for L to learn anything practically useful in life, such as how to drive or get a job. We’re still working on the regular showers.

Now here I have a bit of good news, a breakthrough! But only if you know the background. That is, the two previous times I’ve enrolled him a course of study, only to have him fail to submit his assignments, from some combination of not understanding what was expected, not wanting to ask, and fear of failure. That last one is a doozy, because every time he fails to submit something it reinforces his belief that he is incapable, which renders him more wary of trying anything, as he is sure to fail. Paralysis by over-analysis!

Anyway, back in February I heard about this TAFE course in Cybersecurity that would be right up his street. I mean, this is a young man who starts conversations by querying one’s method of password protection and wondering whether quantum computers are going to take over the world (or something… it all goes over my head). At first he was like, I don’t want you to waste your money again, but when I pointed out that it was government-subsidised and he only had to pay $48, he reluctantly agreed it might possibly be worth applying.

Fast-forward through 3 torturous months of asking L whether he’d submitted this, reminding him to check his emails, realising he needed to submit that, reminding him to check his emails again, not understanding whether he’d got accepted on the course or not, asking him to actually read through everything in the emails this time, and eventually finding out he was on the course. Then asking him where and when his classes were, discovering he had no idea, reminding him to re-read the emails over again to find out, or call the tutor, and realising he didn’t have a clue who his tutor was either, getting him to watch the orientation video, and now the breakthrough – ta da! He attended his first zoom tutorial.

But Jeez. How long am I going to be managing his life for him?

And speaking of failing to manage one’s life… let’s just say that a lot of L’s personality traits didn’t come from his dad’s side. We’ve got the blind autistic leading the blind autistic here. Which brings us to the ongoing saga of ‘what the heck is wrong with me?’.

I suppose you might think dealing with the aforementioned kids’ issues may be affecting my mental health, and it does get a bit tiring. But A and L have been a constant in my life and I’m used to dealing with their personality quirks; there’s something else going on. My latest theory (and I found a published study to back me up) is that peri-menopausal hormone changes are exacerbating my autism. (Try saying that quickly). So what looks like an anxiety attack followed by depression would be better characterised as a meltdown followed by a recovery period. Biologically, it’s my body not being able to regulate stress properly, so there’s too much cortisol in the body leading to an adrenalin surge (meltdown / freakout), followed by depletion of the adrenals and low mood (recovery period).

Of course, the meltdowns tend to happen in the place where I have least control over stressors or opportunity to self-regulate – the office. If the work is of a nature that keeps my brain happily occupied for hours at a time, the way I like it, I’m usually fine. But recently I’ve had not one project I can concentrate on but a series of requests and emails on multiple projects daily. This completely stresses me out; it’s not what my brain was designed for! At the end of last week I actually got so paralysed by the overwhelm of trying to work out what to do first that I could do nothing useful at all. Then a computer glitch leading to the loss of my timesheet entries (normally not a big deal) triggered me into a freakout, and it took me all weekend and then some to recover.

The conclusion to this long post being, I’ve been too distracted managing my health and that of my kids to get the headspace to post anything here. And I’m only posting this now as a way of processing things for myself.

Especially, right now, I’m processing the latest in the work issue. I admit, I’m proud of my abilities at work – I generally see it as the only aspect of my life in which I function up to a normal standard, or even a superior standard in some aspects. Vested in work is much of my self-esteem. So it was incredibly hard to do what I needed to do and ask for changes to help me maintain my mental health. I basically had to admit that there are aspects of the job that maybe I shouldn’t be doing.

My bosses are great, they really are. I believe we’ve come to an arrangement to get me a long-term project I can concentrate on that will hopefully minimise meltdowns. Plus more help with managing my work in the meantime. It’s a win, of sorts.

But there’s a lot of grief also. Because while I’ve known for a while now that I wasn’t going to get to a higher level at work but would need to stick where I was, I did believe I’d be OK there. I wasn’t expecting it to keep on affecting me like this. Plus I’ve never so openly explained my limitations before; I’ve only ever danced around it in the past, telling them issues I was having with the work but not fully explaining the root problem. I wonder how much respect I’ve lost now, and whether they’ll think of me differently.

Perhaps this was a necessary adjustment. Ultimately, when one is on one’s deathbed looking back, which will feel better: to have achieved success and acclaim at work, or to have put one’s best effort into giving one’s kids the love and attention they deserve? It’s a no-brainer, right?

Still, these last few years have given me a lot to process. And they leave me puzzling even more over how one is supposed to respond when people come up and ask: Hi Kay, how are you?

What on earth does one say? Fine, and leave it there? Do people understand the subtext, that maybe I’m not quite entirely fine, but I’m still alive and taking things a day at a time and remain optimistic for the future, so, I guess… nothing to see here.

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