What the &$#@ were they thinking?

autism, mental health, parenting

Out of all the mysteries in life there are four that never cease to fascinate me:  the human brain, what happens after death, the purpose of life, and all the people that I wonder, “What the &$#@ were they thinking?”

It’s a whole list of people that extend from childhood friends I regret losing touch with, exes that I still don’t understand, politicians and celebrities that detonated their lives, people that don’t know how to navigate a busy sidewalk, and the creeps that take up two parking spaces.

These last few years have been tumultuous. This is unequivocally an understatement. Many moments this little world of mine has shifted on the axis and I can’t help but imagine a large hand tipping our globe off its stand and letting us roll under the couch. I’ve had hard times in life where I wasn’t sure how I was going to get through yet I did. Not without help, or humbling myself to be vulnerable, but I managed.

That’s what we all are supposed to do, right? Manage, keep going, hope it gets better. What does better look like though? Is that a way to live? What example am I setting for my kids if I’m perpetually in a state of hoping the next day will be better and simultaneously acknowledging that the present is unpleasant?

Here’s what I’m hoping better looks like. A school that my kids can safely attend. One that is accepting of them and cares about them that doesn’t cost $40,000 per child a year. Finding other families with kids on the spectrum that get it and get us. A house that isn’t falling apart. (I love you house but, c’mon, what the &$#@?)

Mostly, I wish I didn’t go to bed at night worrying about what might happen to my kids if something happens to me. I have no extended family that can support them. Friends that might but I hesitate to impose upon them such a promise. Any guardian would have to take on full time advocacy and coordination of care. I guess what I hope for, what I wish “better” looked like, was a world where I felt my children would be safe without me. It makes me wonder as I look at myself, “What the &$#@ was I thinking?”

Having kids is a cry of hope that the world will continually try to be better and do better. Let’s all hope that this is true despite our current circumstances in my little world and all of ours.

Then a moment came recently that reminded me again of how poignant an event can be with clashing emotions juxtaposed with bursts of clarity that leave you feeling like a small blade of grass weathering a storm, a rainbow, and the sun all at once. One of my dearest, most intimate friends, lost her spouse to suicide. I’ve never seen strength like hers. She weathered so much in such a small amount of time but it took my breath away to watch her take each of her children up to say goodbye to her deceased husband.

We manage and we keep going because there’s always more to discover, more mysteries to ponder, and more beauty to be found. She embodies this despite her doubts. She doesn’t see how strong she is but I see it every time she rallies against her grief yet still notices that her child needs their shoe tied, a nose wiped, a cuddle. Even as the darkest moments befell her and those sweet children they continued on, they found reasons to laugh, they cried, and they keep going. Storms pass, not everything can be understood, and you will always have people in your life that make you wonder, “What the &$#@ were they thinking?”

I don’t know where strength like that comes from. I don’t know why such awful things happen to such wondrous people or why mental health is still not considered part of our overall health. There are mysteries that bring us to tears and those that leave us in awe and there is beauty in both.

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It takes one moment.

mental health, politics, Times Up

“What?! Anthony Bourdain? Oh no! Why?!”

I said this aloud to myself as I read the news. My daughter looked up at me and asked, “What, mama?”

“Oh…,” how do you answer that a writer and celebrity chef you looked up to had suddenly died by suicide? How much do you share with a seven year old?

“A man I once met, who I looked up to, passed away because of mental illness.”

“He had a sickness in his brain?”

“I think so, baby. That’s what some people are saying but they don’t know.”

She thought about this and startled me with an insight only the young possess, “Did you see the sickness when you met him?”

I was at a loss for words. Not uncommon in her presence, “Honestly, no. He was gracious, funny, full of life, and generous. He bought silly grown up drinks for everyone and told stories….Not in a million years would I have thought…”

I trailed off as it hit me that maybe it isn’t shocking at all. We so often think we know someone, whether it’s family or an idol, and yet we only know them as well as we can. We see what they share of themselves and not the struggle or darkness laying below the surface of pleasantries. How often is there ever a clear reason as to why someone succumbs to suicide? How many of us judge them, reasoning that it’s a choice and label it “committing suicide”? As opposed to, what I’ve narrowly missed myself so many times, a moment of illness and despair.

My parental brain ached for his daughter, his ex-wife, his siblings,… One of my worst fears is having a loved one pass from suicide. No matter how angry or shitty the interaction, I always try to end the conversation with “I love you”, unless they’ve hung up. Then I text.

Because you never know if it’s the last time you’ll speak. You never know what someone else is battling in life. It’s not easy, but I try to forgive even when I can’t forget. I try to teach my kids the same. I try to show others the kindness I hope is in us all and rankle at the intolerance of others. Sometimes all it takes is one kind word to save someone’s life.

How many times have I been saved?

How many moments was I close to doing the same?

What are the words that can magically help?

Little arms hugged me and looked up at me, “You want a tissue?”

I laughed, “No, I’m good.”

She was looking at me intently.
“You want to play Minecraft, huh?”
Giggles, “Uh-huh.”

She dashed away with her tablet and I watched her retreat. As parents, how do we avoid this fate? How do we help our kids be healthy mentally?

I tapped her on the shoulder and she looked up at me with slight annoyance, “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Ok.”

She crawled onto my lap and, not for the last time, I thought about how this might be the last time she would do this. She’s growing so quickly and I’m fortunate to be a witness to her evolve. I pet her hair and murmured, “I’ll always listen when you ask for help and you can always come to me. I’ll never stop loving you, no matter what.”

She sighed, hugged me, and stared intently into my face, “Will you help me with my house?”

Damn you, Minecraft.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).