Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Reading The Signs

Owly by Andy Runton
When Colin was eight years old one of his favorite book series was Owly by Andy Runton. He used to tell me about some of the stories he read. I was stunned to discover the books relied on pictures and symbols and not words to tell stories. It was a real eye-opener to discover this after hearing the vivid descriptions my son had relayed to me about Owly and his friends' adventures. It was hard to believe how much my son was able to glean from using his powers of observation to pluck a detailed story simply from illustrations.

Oddly enough, due to the limited contact we have with Colin, I now need to use my detective skills to be able to piece together what is happening in my son's life. By using a combination of eavesdropping, emails from school, pumping the other boys for information, comparing notes with my husband and using my powers of observation, I have developed a certain fluidity in reading the daily details of Colin. I have become more patient and to try not to press our son for details. All will be revealed over time.Colin's time.

This is part of our new normal.

The Shut-Up Warning System

Colin continues to avoid any mention of what might agitate (trigger) him and it is hard to decipher what might be Misophonia as opposed to normal teen annoyance. I have not witnessed a single rage since he has been back home for almost two years now. Instead we are given simple verbal cues.

I have developed a "Colin Warning System" to categorize my son's mood.

Shush - a single shush indicates "No more talking", signalling the start of being bothered.

Shush, Shush - a double shush for " I don't want to hear a peep out of you. I am in no mood". This is sometimes done as a preemptive strike before a single word is uttered. It is best to avoid eye contact and go about your business. Quietly. And in another room."

Shut Up! - "I mean business. Go away and leave me alone. Not one more word. You have pushed the limit."

DIE! - "WTF? Did you not hear me? You have not heeded my warnings and I now want to kill you." At this point do not utter another peep and if possible run like hell to another room. Preferably on a different floor.

Verbal Jenga

Similar to the game with blocks, Verbal Jenga is played with words. I have learned before I speak to Colin, it is helpful to assess his mood. Ideally it is best to have him start the game ( conversation) and answer in as few words as possible.At any given point I will be shushed and the discussion comes tumbling to a halt.

If I make the first move, there are a few simple tips to prolong the shut down:
  1. Is the question or comment absolutely necessary? Do not make small talk.
  2. Am I relaying something of interest? You have better luck with topics near and dear to Colin's heart. 
  3. Try to assess mood before speaking. Good mood = Green Light, Unreadable=Proceed with Caution and Red=Stop and wait till later.
When Colin initiates contact, I try to keep my response short and to the point, however I sometime try to push my luck. This morning was one of those days.

Our dog was trying to cough something up and Colin yelled upstairs to me that Sumter was puking. I asked where he had barfed and came down to look. I could not find anything. After telling my son that there was nothing to be found, I started a new topic.

I had signed Colin up for for Lifeguard Certification classes that start next month and wanted to make sure he got my email and text from yesterday with the details. He will need to miss some of his Ultimate Frisbee team practices over the course of two weeks. I needed to hear that he was o.k. with that and totally on board so that I am not wasting money. I also wanted to give him the news that the pool where the classes were being taught need lifeguards, they hire 15 year olds and he could get a job there if classes went well.

As I was being shut down, I tried to write the news on paper. I grabbed a pen and something to write on.

"Don't even bother!" I was told. " I won't read it and I'll just rip up the paper".

Game Over!

 Team Effort

I have relied on my older boys to help relay information and for recon as to what is happening with Colin. We have been so lucky to have this. While eldest is home for Spring Break, I am having him pick his brother up from school. Yesterday eldest went early to participate in Ultimate Frisbee practice with his baby brother. It does my heart good to see the boys get along.

Middle-son has been coaching his younger sibling to apply to a summer program on Mechanisms of Human Disease that he participated in last year. It is a prestigious class with limited space and only the top students from the area are accepted. It is rare for a rising Junior to get in and middle-son thought Colin has a chance at this, especially as a legacy.

I saw two sheets of paper by middle-son's door this morning and picked them up. It appeared that Colin wrote two different essays for his brother to review. After reading them, I was impressed and took pictures with my cell phone so I would have a record. Middle-son caught me and asked me to delete them. He did not want to betray his confidence with his sibling. I apologized and complied.

Sometimes a mother has a hard time with boundaries. I worry about next year with both of my older sons away at school. We will be left with just Colin and his trusty canine. I have no idea what the coming school year will hold.

Will we be able to maintain the stasis we currently enjoy? Will we manage without mediators? What will become of us?........ Stay tuned!

As always, we are a work-in-progress!


Thursday, March 17, 2016

Time / Change

This past Sunday, we set our clocks ahead one hour and Colin set his ahead one year as he turned 15 that day. We seem to be maintaining a relative stasis and time seems to be flying by. The biggest current hiccup is being able to wake up on time as our internal clocks have not quite adjusted to the time change.

Schedule Change

I woke this morning and looked at my alarm clock. It was 6:50 and around the time I had wanted to leave the house. I jumped out of bed, took care of the dog, yelled to Colin, who was sleeping on the family room couch to wake up and I scurried up the stairs to get dressed and ready for the day. Before my ascent I reminded Colin that it was St. Patrick's Day and he needed to wear green, to which I was met with a "Shut Up!".

Today is also "Senior Skip Day" and my middle-son had made it clear he had no plans to go to school today. I woke my husband to have him deal with the drama as I did not want to add to my routine to have to take Colin to school.

As I was leaving the house, I looked at the living room clock. I was already more than 30 minutes off schedule. I loaded my belongings and the pup into my van and was ready to pull out, when Colin came running out of the house. He was half-dressed and shoeless. At least he was wearing a green shirt and coordinating tie!

"Wait!" he exclaimed. " I need to get to school early and am almost ready!".

I marched back into the house. I was told my son needed to be at school by 7:50 and my senior was stomping around upstairs. Forced by his dad to skip the skip-day and go to school, he was prepared to take his younger brother but there was no way he would get him there on time.

Exasperated, I asked "What do you have to get to school early for?" and Colin answered with four words that changed my attitude.

"National Honor Society Meeting"

Change of Attitude 


Due to our sparse communications with Colin, there are many details of his life that we are not clued into. The only hint I had that our youngest son was interested in joining the National Honor Society was an off-hand explanation why he skipped his Ultimate Frisbee Team practice one day last week. I was told he had an interview with two teachers for this prestigious society. While I was proud of our son, I have learned not to ask further questions and all would be revealed in good time, "Colin's Time".

I silently sighed as I finally made it out of our driveway and completely rerouted my morning. First stop: the boys' high school. There are far worse problems to have in life than a little extra driving. I reminded myself how truly lucky we are. *Moment of Gratitude*

As I pulled into the oval to drop my son off, I noticed the gas light was lit up on my dashboard, indicating I was about to run out of gas. I took a deep breath and told myself it would be o.k. but I still could feel my stress-levels rise a bit. I was ten miles from my next stop and driving a new mini-van. I was unclear how many miles to empty the tank was. 

I ended up getting gas at the nearest convenient station on my route adding a small additional cost to filling my tank. At least my stress-levels were lowered a bit. When I finally made it to my office I was an hour and 15 minutes off my desired arrival time. 

Putting things into perspective, life is good. I was not late for anything, did not run out of gas and my son is doing good. Make that GREAT! I won't be sporting a boasting bumper sticker, nor will I post this as a status on my FaceBook page. So you have an exclusive: 
It looks like my son is going to be a NHS Student!!!!!  #proudmommoment!

 Birthday Boy

Colin is still on a wonky sleep schedule and we continue to leave it be. On weekends he continues to live like a vampire, sleeping all day and up all night. His time-change / birth day was no exception. Tradition dictates that we take the birthday boy out to dinner and a movie of their choice. 

Colin woke up in time for dinner at Max & Erma's and then the movie "Whisky, Tango, Foxtrot" at 7:10 p.m.
Sunday night at the movies rewarded us with an empty theater. There were only two other people in the screening. They were seated in the back row and extremely quiet. It felt like we had the place to ourselves and I could not help but tell Colin that we arranged for a private screening. 

"Wasn't it nice that we rented out the entire theatre for your birthday?"

He cracked a smile at my joke.  On the way home, we picked up a chocolate cake. After lighting candles and enjoying a piece of chocolate cake, Dad brought a giant box in from the garage. Colin got a new computer for his birthday.

Colin was a bit subdued and politely thanked his father but added that all he really wanted was Lifeguard Certification classes so he could get a summer job as a Life Guard. I replied that he will get the coursework but not as a birthday gift as we had done the same for his brothers. Dad explained the reason for the new computer is that his laptop is a bit out-of-date and does not have enough memory to support all his games and computer programs.

In the end, it was a nice, somewhat normal birthday which in our world is extraordinary! The only thing missing was the presence of our eldest son who is away at college. We are all looking forward to his return at the end of this week.

Band Mom

Yesterday I was a volunteer driver for Colin's Jazz Band. This entailed waking up at the ungodly hour of 5:00 a.m. to get dressed and ready to chauffeur to a local performance. What made this task especially tough was the fact I had only a few hours of sleep. Our night owl came home right after school on Tuesday with his brother and immediately went into a coma from 4 - 9 p.m.

After a pizza dinner, Colin was up the rest of the night for homework and who knows what else. At 2:00 a.m. our son decided it was time to practice his trombone. I have no idea if he had the door to his room closed and did not have the energy to find out. Unfortunately half-way into his session, the dog started whining to go out. I was not destined to get any sleep.

I was rewarded with a chance to transport my son and two other boys to their gig and hear them interact. It did my heart good to see that not only did my son seem to fit in, he was in his element as the boys discussed Math and Latin classes.

I also had the chance to connect with another band mom. Part of our discussion turned to mental health issues. She has a teen daughter dealing with anxiety.  I briefly shared that we had faced some challenges with Colin due to some "Sensory Processing / Select Sound Processing" issues. We share a common belief that most mental illnesses have a biological basis and that brain research is not where it needs to be.

We originally started talking about her mother's Alzheimer's which led to the topic of brain research which then crept into mental health. She mentioned her daughter's struggles with Anxiety to explain her interest in the topic which made me feel safe to confide the reason for my interest. We found much common ground and felt we were destined to meet. There are so many similarities in dealing with Anxiety and Sensory Issues ( Misophonia). We both are obsessed with trying to help our children while facing the stigma of a disorder that falls under the umbrella of "Mental Illness".  

She has found support through her church while I have been fortunate to have discovered help online in support groups. We share the bond of having a stigma-inducing family issue that we don't often discuss with others. Fear of being unfairly judged and misunderstood forces us to try to maintain a stiff upper-lip.  I often wonder how many of my friends and acquaintances are facing hidden hardships. I pride myself on being an "open book". It is a challenge to keep our issues with Colin quiet. 

As I reflect over the past few years, I am extremely proud of what our son has been able to achieve, as well as our successes in navigating this tricky terrain on our own, without the help of pedigreed professionals. 

As always..... "We are a Work-In-Progress!