Bless her heart. I hope my daughter doesn’t kill me.
I have really been struggling with one of my children lately. There have always been issues, but lately her mental health has swiftly declined, and I have become her daily target of choice.
Actually, that’s not true. Her target of choice is the sibling beneath her in rank, but since I have to limit their interactions, I’m her second choice. The intensity and enthusiasm of her attacks, however, does not wane because I am the fall back. I serve as a buffer between the two, and the energy of separating, alone, is exhausting. What gets thrown at me once her attention shifts, though, is running me straight into the ground.
Aside from a hot wheel that may get thrown, her physical attempts have not yet gained enough strength to sound alarms. The verbal venom she spews, though, is taking a huge toll. I know her words come from a mood shift she is still learning to control. I know not to take it personal. I know she fills with self loathing, and hates herself when her mood resets. I know the whole ordeal is all a matter of her current state of mental illness, and not the real her. Logically, I understand it all. Emotionally, everytime a battle round begins, my automatic internal reaction starts to stir.
I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for years, but the word knives were subtly progressive, and spontaneous in timing. The erosion of my true self was excessively slow, and carefully calculated. I didn’t even realize what was happening, until one day I woke up and my self-esteem was at the bottom of a tub of chocolate covered pretzels. My daughter comes at me blunt and raw. She used to be episodic and occasional. Now she’s in my face, daily, from dusk until dawn. Once I “woke up” in the relationship, I ended it. I walked away and filed the chapter under lesson learned, growth achieved, cycle broken. It wasn’t easy, but broken down to it’s bare minimum, it was simple. There’s nothing to “wake up” from with my little miss. It feels like a nightmare, but there’s no sleeping through her tirades. I’m wide awake and very much aware. You can’t end anything with your child, though; nor am I suggesting that I would want to. I love her, 100% no question. I’m just battered and bruised, with no recovery time in-between the beatings. I am past my boiling point, but that doesn’t matter. She’s my kid. It’s hard for me to even think it, let alone acknowledge it as a possibility, but unless, against all my efforts, god forbid, she rolls into residential territory, I am charged with managing the chaos; somehow.
I do manage to keep my hands to myself, minus the necessary moments of restraint, but it tears at a part of me that would never let anyone else talk to me that way. Albeit moody, I am a very laid back person. I’m non-confrontational, and mellow. I love keeping to myself. However, there’s definitely some heat if you bite me; not the slow, or mild kind either. I don’t know if it’s my inner tauranian bull. I don’t know if my soul entered my mother’s womb through a fiery portal. I have two of the turningest cheeks I know, and I brush off most offenses. Direct, and aggressive verbal assaults, and or physical attacks, though, have never received a docile response. I think I must have been a ninja, or an assassin in a past life. Maybe I was somehow infused with my father’s “Martial Arts Master” energy; or my mother’s black belt energy for that matter. Again, I can’t offer the science behind it, I just know any reaction I can recount has been rather extreme, and involved moves for which I have absolutely no training. I really, really just like to be left alone, and you never have to worry about me initiating conflict. When people insist on bothering me, however, it has never ended passively.
I say all this to stress that if anyone talked to me the way my daughter talks to me, I would, instinctively, punch them in their fucking face.
She’s my daughter, though. That’s not an option. I’m not gonna lie, though, and say there’s never been a moment when I wish it was.
I am doing everything I can to get her the help she needs, and contrary to popular belief, discipline does not work in this particular case. All my special needs mamas reading this right now, can feel that sentiment in their core. If we had a collective nickel for every random stranger, or clueless loved one who’s broken down for us all the discipline how-tos of raising a perfectly well mannered child, we’d have enough money to buy several rounds of muzzles. If I’ve learned anything in raising four children, it’s that no discipline method is universal, and you have to tweak your parenting approach for each child. In this case, there are symptoms of Aspergers at play as well, along with other mental health challenges. (To the dismay of so many parents, whose child has fallen through the cracks, and lacks proper treatment, the DSM no longer recognizes Aspergers as a diagnosis. It’s symptoms, however, are still very real, and there are key differences from autism, that makes it irresponsible to place them together on one spectrum; in my opinion) It took 9 years to get her official spectrum diagnosis, but I still lean towards the, now outdated, term because it feels more accurate. No matter what you call it, though, there’s a developmental disconnect. There is a lack of understanding when it comes to cause and effect. She struggles to connect her consequences with her behaviors. Everything is present for her. Which may actually serve her well down the line, but right now it only adds to the challenge. In her mind, consequences shouldn’t exist once she’s calm, because, well, she’s calm. At that point, anything I attempt to enforce, feels like unwarranted torture for her. My heart completely breaks for her, at times, because I can see how much she’s struggling; that it’s not just defiance. Other times, I have to really fight to bite my tongue, and check my fists, because, in the moment, the struggle gets blurred by the vicious dialogue. It’s not even so much the words themselves, as it is the relentless repetition. I really try to block them out, and let them roll right off of me. No matter what I do, though, I can’t avoid the emotional sting. Because of my “take no shit” disposition, it’s also very difficult to let it go. To the demise of my own body, I simply internalize it all. I turn to chocolate and junk TV when the evening finally ends, she’s asleep, and my nerves can settle slightly. Herein lies my struggle.
I am a very logical person. When I’m struggling with something emotionally, I have to find a way to make sense of it. I have to pack it into a place, not of perfection, but of perspective, so I can wrap my head around it. It’s the only way for me to process what I’m going through, as I try to make it to the other side of the trial; cautiously assuming it’s a phase. I’ve mulled over this one for a while. For months I’ve come up empty handed, aside from the generic dramas that unfold when any human being leaves their thoughts unattended, “Life hates me! My daughter is trying to kill me! I must have done something super evil in a past life! God is on that ant hill, just giggling with his buddies and watching me burn!” You know, the usual reel we all pull from when we’re looking to throw a pity party. Well, I finally pulled myself from my funk, and came up with something. A coping strategy if you will. In the midst of all the daily craziness, I am committing to reminding myself one thing. One thing that separates my daughter from any adult who might ever disrespect me. One thought that has been changing my life since its inception.
My daughter is in Beta.
It may sound silly, but it has truly been pivotal. It really helps me find a sense of peace and ease. For anyone not familiar, beta is when something is in the process of becoming, but not yet complete. My daughter is in the process of becoming herself, but she is not yet the complete version; not that any of us ever really are. It does not give her a pass, but rather a timeline. Should she continue these behaviors well into adulthood, I would feel justified in creating a certain amount of distance, for my own well being. Right now, though, she’s young, and I am working diligently to arm her with all the tools and coping strategies to be a successful, healthy adult.
Although, it did not create the problem, the stressors of school, combined with her needs being dismissed and never met, have much to do with her recent decline. I am transitioning her to homeschool, and working my butt off to reverse some of the damage the school environment can do to children who aren’t suited to be enfolded within it. My baby girl is unique is some of the most amazing, and brilliant ways. A brilliance that is not always within social norms. Her spirit is unfiltered, and her truths are not always timely, nor are they appreciated by peers. She has a confidence I don’t think I’ve ever seen in human form. To be accurate, though, I should say she had a confidence. In her plight to appear “normal” she is suffocating her authenticity, and compromising her mental health.
Having your mental health take a turn towards illness does not necessarily have to mean a life sentence of misery. It needs to be acknowledged, and given attention and care that may not always be mainstream. Like any other malady, it is something that you have to learn to manage, but it doesn’t have to completely destroy your quality of life. Working with her as a child gives me hope. I have faith that by loving her unconditionally, with patience and understanding, her path does not have to go in the deviant direction. Her behavior is not a reflection of who she is, because who she is is actually the sweetest, most loving little girl. Her behavior is a response to being overwhelmed, overstimulated, and overloaded. It’s a manifestation of her imbalance.
That lengthy explanation, though, doesn’t fit nicely on a cute, embroidered pillow. It’s also not striking enough for me to remember in the moment. I need something that will cut through, when I’m in the midst of fielding the classics. Like, “I hate you! You’re the worst! You should just crawl into a hole and die” It may not always work when she levels up to deeper strikes, but “My daughter is in Beta” would make the cutest throw, and because it resonates so deeply, it’s now etched into my psyche. I carry it in my own personal tool box. It sits alongside all the deep breathing techniques, and disengaging strategies I use once that phrase has brought me back to ground zero; reminding me that raising my daughter past this phase is gonna take me calm, and on my A game. Not flying off the rails of a crazy train.