How Do You Embrace Vulnerability?

Showing your feelings to others can be difficult. There are fears behind it that others may not see and/or understand. Those fears and feelings can be used against you by the wrong people, which is one of the worst things that can happen to your emotional well-being.

This can make you want to withdraw into a shell and shut people out. It can seem easier to shut people out than to let them in and see your not-so-amazing side. Showing others your tears, anger or even your deepest thoughts, can be mentally tiring and tough.

A Big Word with a Bigger Meaning

It is hard to predict who will and will not be the right person to open up and be vulnerable around. Let’s start with the definition, according to Webster’s:

capable of being physically or emotionally wounded: open to attack or damage. (The third definition doesn’t apply to this situation)

Who really wants to be open to attack? Not me. I’m not a fan of being capable of being wounded either way mentioned. My immune system wounds me enough, thanks. I’ve been emotionally wounded enough for a lifetime, starting with my parents’ split when I was a kid and its aftermath.

Basically, my dad literally said in court that my mom could have my sister and I because he didn’t want us. To this day, we still aren’t very close. He didn’t walk me down the aisle when I got married in 2005 and has missed out on a lot of events.

That will mess a girl up and create some trust issues. If you can’t trust people, there goes the idea of vulnerability.

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I used to have a huge circle of friends, thanks to school, work and later college. This continued until 2015 when my life took a very sharp left turn. It took losing a lot of my friends after Jake’s death to realize who my friends really are.

Clue: it definitely isn’t anyone who flips on you at a funeral home. If someone asks you how you are doing (at the wake of someone you were in love with) then says, “This isn’t about you”, then maybe you should look into a new circle of friends.

I opened up to a circle of people that I shouldn’t have. They talked about me behind my back, didn’t believe in me at all, but I didn’t see it that way. I was too busy drinking away my problems.

In response, I blocked about 100 people from my social media and quit my job. I don’t normally recommend this, but it was a matter of my immediate mental health and I do enjoy having a clean legal record.

I have a bad temper, even after therapy, and I knew I would never make it back to that job without someone getting hurt. I also stopped talking to almost everyone that I still spoke to. I didn’t trust anyone and I wasn’t in the mood to try it again anytime soon.

Two things happened: therapy and Sara. She was the first person I was able to open up to in the time after my life blew up, and I had no idea if she was truly as nice as her cousins (Josh and Jordan) told me she was. Learning to be vulnerable again would have to start with her and Matthew.

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A Flower in Bloom

I consider embracing vulnerability as being somewhat like a flower in bloom. It starts out slowly because you have to take your time. It doesn’t happen overnight. This also requires patience, something Matthew had to learn the hard way. He didn’t understand that I couldn’t just forgive him and move on.

I needed space and time to deal with all of the events that made our marriage go bad, figure out if I wanted to stay and what we needed to do to change. This was a huge task to take on, with grieving Jake’s death added to it.

I had to basically relearn how to trust him with my thoughts, feelings and my body again. I also had to work on the anxiety of old thoughts returning, something that I still struggle with. Sometimes I’m like, “Did I really just say that? Is he gonna be pissed? What if he starts yelling at me?”

I learned, however, that if you don’t give yourself the chance to be vulnerable to others, people can see you as cold, as fake. They might see you as something that you aren’t, and that isn’t something you want.

Jake once told me that when he first tried flirting with me, I barely paid attention to him. I was so wrapped up in my own thoughts that I brushed him off repeatedly. He went home, rethought his approach (he was not used to being ignored) and talked to Jordan, who knew me a lot better. I felt so bad because that isn’t me. I apologized. Luckily, he kept speaking to me.

What can you try to be vulnerable to others?

  • Choose people that you can trust. Who is there for you? Who can you talk to about anything? Let trust build over time.
  • Start with small things. You don’t have to tell people everything that has happened in your life. Start with the smaller things- like if you’re having a bad day, if you’ve got a stomach bug and need soup, etc. This helps you build trust in others and realize it’s okay to show a softer side. Over time, it will be easier to let others in and be okay with risking yourself.
  • Remember that you’re not clingy or needy. Opening yourself up to others does not automatically mean that you are clingy or needy. There’s a difference.
  • There might be setbacks, but take the time to learn from them, pick yourself up and move along. This sucks. Mistakes are made. Feelings get hurt. You can and will get through this.
  • If you need to, talk to someone. This was a topic that I worked on for most of my time in therapy. For further reading, please see Rebuilding Trust in Others

If vulnerability is difficult for you, it may be holding you back from some great connections. Consider which parts are the hardest and work on them, either alone or with a therapist. This may take work and time, but your emotional wellbeing is worth the work.

Love Through Bipolar

This post might be triggering, as it discusses loving someone with a mental illness, so here is the official **TRIGGER WARNING** Topics discussed in this post include bipolar disorder and loss.

I Was Enchanted

I could go on for a while about all the good things about Jake because there were so many.

But yet, he struggled, like many of us do. When I met him, I really had no idea. Mental illness really isn’t the first thing most people talk about when they first meet someone. In fact, our first conversation was about Julian. However, ADHD and autism is a whole different story from bipolar disorder.

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Jake had beautiful blue eyes and a smile that would melt your heart. I didn’t know that he hid so much, even up until the very last day I saw him, the day before he died.

Meds and the Truth

I’ve tried many medications for migraines and one just happened to be Depakote. This is also used to treat mental health illnesses, including bipolar disorder. We were talking about this one day and finally…

I take that too, but not for migraines.”

What?? Was this it? I’d been waiting for Jake to say something. I’d seen signs of something going on, but I wasn’t sure what. Sometimes we would talk constantly and then go days without speaking. His birthday had just gone by and instead of wanting to hang out, he had said he’d rather be alone. He’d even told me he considered himself as a “project” for me to take on. I didn’t see him like that at all and made sure he knew it.

“What do you take it for?”

He looked away for a minute and then back. “Because I have bipolar disorder.”

Well, then, that was explained. He actually asked me if that changed how I felt about him (nope, not even a little). Apparently, this had caused issues in the past. Some people just aren’t equipped to deal with it, but that’s still really painful for the person involved.

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“The stakes are high, the water’s rough..” – “Ours”, Taylor Swift

Jake’s darker side did make a few appearances, but never once did he get aggressive towards me. We argued a bit, but that’s it. In two years, he only yelled at me twice. Me? More. But then, I’m just naturally loud.

Meds? It’s a well-known fact that many people that have bipolar disorder (and other illnesses) have compliance issues with taking medications, and he was one of them. Along with his brother, I tried to remind and encourage him to take his medications, but it didn’t always work.

Jake and I learned how to read each other- I have always been good at reading others. Thanks to this skill, I was able to tell when he was or wasn’t taking his meds, or when he was or wasn’t having a good day. This helped on his end when I was deeply upset and didn’t want to talk.

He tried so hard to hide this from me, but I still saw everything. I told him that I wasn’t scared of what he was trying to hide. I needed to see it to know what I was dealing with. There were days he just wasn’t the person I knew. He wouldn’t talk or return my texts, but everything was in his eyes.

In his manic episodes, he’d barely sleep, get paranoid (this went really bad a couple months before he died and we didn’t speak for a month), and other things would happen. In a depressive episode, he basically shut down. I would literally have to wait for him to come out of these periods.

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Google Became My Friend

I started researching. I knew a lot already about mental illness, but how to love someone with one? Totally clueless. I learned to give Jake his space, even though it hurt. I made sure he knew I was there when he needed me. I learned not to take everything so deeply, especially if he was agitated and it just wasn’t him. None of this was easy, and it hurt so much to watch him struggle.

This wasn’t perfect, not from the first day. Let’s start with the fact that I’m married. Jake was a huge flirt, and that’s a whole different post. I had to learn that just because he didn’t show me that he cared in the ways I thought he should have didn’t mean he didn’t care at all. He just cared differently. He made sure I took my migraine meds and had breakfast at work, asked me daily how Julian was doing, let me cry, and among many other things, he cared about me for me. That is the best thing he could have done. I did exactly the same for him.

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I know you can’t love someone out of a mental health situation, but you can definitely help them through it. Love helps with that. Jake was a bit quiet and distant in the days before his death, but none of us saw anything like what would happen on September 1, 2015, coming.

It is entirely possible to love someone with a mental illness. Just remember to take care of yourself, don’t let them get away with everything because of whatever they may have and as always, reach out if you need to.

NAMI

DBSAlliance

Looking Into the Future- Autism in Adulthood

I think a lot. My kids give me plenty of topics to ponder: dating, clothes, impending puberty. One topic will remain on my mind for a very long time- how will having autism affect Julian as an adult? Will he need help with managing daily life, or will he be able to do everything on his own? He’s not great yet at self-advocacy, so how will this affect him when he needs his ADHD medications adjusted? Will he find someone that loves him?

Sometimes these thoughts keep me up at night. I have to remind myself that we can only move so fast in life and that right now, I am just trying to get Julian through the 7th grade. He’s currently fine on his meds and otherwise, has friends and is growing- he is finally over 5 feet tall. I think he will be as tall as me soon. (I am 5’2″, but to him, this is EVERYTHING)

Bird nest

Letting Go of Your Baby Bird

Watching our kids grow up and move into their own lives is hard. My mom actually cried when I moved out. I often joke about being delighted when the kids are gone, but I will most likely be a sobbing mess when those days come. In Julian’s case, I have the feeling that I will be happy, but a new set of worries will begin. I won’t be able to help him as much as I can now. I am trying to teach him to speak up for himself in all aspects. He’s quiet and I worry that may hold him back or cause issues.

What about college? Julian has decided that he doesn’t want to go to college (see My Kids and College) and this is okay. For those whose kids want to go to college, remember that this is a time of growth and transition for everyone. Your child is about to be around a lot more people than they were around in high school, which equals more noise, smells, etc. This in itself can be an issue. The buildings are bigger, brighter, and further apart. This is something else to get used to.

College schedules are different. Making friends in college can be either difficult or easy, depending on your personality. In this case, it may be a bit more complicated. You, as a parent, may have to resist the urge to monitor their every step and wait for them to tell you everything they did in class, whether they are at a nearby community college or a thousand miles away.

However, some kids with autism struggle in college, mainly with organization. The extra free time can be an issue because they aren’t always sure how to maintain a routine. It can be hard just to get through the day- class, eating, homework and other essentials. It can be just as difficult to read social cues, as it was when they were children, and/or know what’s expected of them.

Most young adults age out of supports at age 22 (at the oldest), which means IEP, 504 plans, etc, are gone. There’s nothing to replace them. Transition planning usually starts around age 14 (depending on the state- Kentucky, for example, does start at 14- Julian will be a freshman). This is the time in which parents and teachers start planning for when the supports run out. The adjustment is still a big one.

The best idea for those who want to go to college with autism is to tap into organizational tools. This may consist of a planner, alarm clock, and most of all, be able to ask for support. Ask your college advisor for extra supports on campus- a group may be available, or other resources. Some of this information can be found on Child Mind

Autism Speaks provides a Transition Tool Kit for families. It can help you take the steps you need to ensure a smoother move into adulthood for you and your family.

Boy walking

Decisions, Decisions

College isn’t an option for every child with autism. There are other options. Day programs for young adults are becoming more common and popular- they enable the young adult to get out and participate in the community and go home at night. Participants also learn life skills.

Payments are either covered through a waiver, insurance, a combination of both, self-pay, or other options. I highly recommend looking at different places and comparing before choosing one, and of course, taking a tour. These are usually an option no matter where your child is on the spectrum, but all programs are different.

Another option is hiring part or full-time caregivers. I have been a caregiver (more often called Direct Care Providers) and honestly, it was a lot of fun. I worked with a 13- year- old boy that lived about 5 minutes from me. He was a blast to work with and always kept me laughing.

The caregivers can come in your home, meet you and your child in the community, pretty much wherever you need them to. They can help your child learn skills like money management, social skills, life skills and a lot more. I used to take one client to lunch at least twice a week to work on both money and social skills.

A third option is a group home setting. Again, I recommend looking around and considering what you can afford and what you can get covered. This can create a sense of community for your child- everyone needs that in some form. In most of these settings, they are asked to complete chores, go on outings (fun times!) and have other things provided for them. This information is also from Child Mind

What is Love?

Everyone feels love- even those on the spectrum. I’ve never been able to grasp the idea that people who aren’t able to speak cannot feel love. Just because they can’t talk doesn’t mean they can’t express how they feel.

They still think and feel, they are just unable to vocalize it. One of my favorite kids was completely non-verbal but she would squeeze your arms to say “hello”, “goodbye” and to show she was happy.

Relationships can be a bit hard to manage while on the spectrum. Cues are hard to read and many hate small talk, the kind you would have on a first date. It can be hard to enjoy yourself in a loud, noisy place when you are overwhelmed.

It can be even harder to explain that you have autism because of the myths and stereotypes. Even touching, like holding hands, can be difficult. Some people think that those on the spectrum resemble robots because they don’t show how they feel when it can be the opposite.

Most want a romantic relationship, but it is difficult because they don’t know how. Relationships while on the spectrum can be successful with an understanding partner and a bit of work. You can find this information at The Atlantic

In Julian’s case, he hates hugs, so I am not sure how he will react to a girl hugging him. I’ve explained to him that if a girl hugs him and he gets angry, it’s going to hurt her feelings. I suggested that maybe he should step away and tell her that he doesn’t like hugs, that he would like a shoulder squeeze. He looked at me like I had six heads, so I’m not sure if it sunk in.

Man working on car

Making Some Money

Working is an adventure and autism can sometimes throw a small speed bump into the process.

Finding a Job can help your child get on the path to finding a job that they can enjoy. There is a video on the page that is helpful.

There are issues that some run into while being employed. Two of the largest issues that workers on the spectrum face are the settings of the job itself (bright lights, noise, etc) and workplace bullying. Those can cause a lot of frustration, stress and even anxiety and depression. They can also cause the worker to leave their job unexpectedly.

Discrimination in the workplace is an issue and some have been fired as soon as they disclose that they have ASD. This is not only wrong, but it is also illegal. It’s usually tied in with complaints from co-workers and/or others, habits being seen the wrong way, or other workplace issues. This information can be read in more depth at The Art of Autism

The transition to adulthood is not an easy move for anyone involved- parents or kids. When ASD is involved, it doesn’t mean that the transition is impossible.

It means that we have to balance the need for letting go and still being nearby in case our child needs help. Maybe one night I will be able to shut these worries off and sleep. Maybe not? I’ll see in a few years.

Pics courtesy of Unsplash

The Day Before

*Trigger warning: this post discusses suicide. Please read with this in mind.*

I wrote about “A Million Little Things” when it premiered and thanks to the 1/24/19 episode, it gets another blog post.

This episode discusses the day before John, the main character, completes suicide. His death baffles everyone around him. In the episode, he gets into an argument with one of his friends, Gary and promises his wife, Delilah, that they will have a long-needed talk.

John was freaked out about finances. The walls were closing in on him financially. He told his assistant, Ashley, to take the night off.

I’ll stop there with the spoilers, in case you want to catch up on the episode.

“Call Me Blind/But I Didn’t See it Coming”- P.O.D.

August 31, 2015, was my day before. I went to work at the job I loved- a mental health associate at a mental health facility. I worked on a unit for kids with autism and other developmental disabilities. I was days away from filing for divorce – Matthew and I were barely on speaking terms. Jake had been a bit quieter than usual, but I thought maybe he was just in a depressive episode.

Many people who knew about us have asked if I saw any signs, but I didn’t. I could see many things just by looking into Jake’s eyes. This wasn’t one of them. If I had even thought of him taking his own life, I would have done anything to stop it. It beats the hell out of losing him.

Jake and I texted like usual until he went to bed. He worked third shift and didn’t go to sleep before about 9 am. We made plans to hang out in a few days when our schedules would match up- I didn’t know then that those plans would never go through. I meant to text him later that day, but I got busy after work.

Early the next morning, September 1, 2015, I sent him a picture of Tails. He had blue ink all over him from Cameron picking him up the night before after a pen bled all over his hands. His very last text to me read: “Poor Tails”. He was still awake after not being able to sleep the night before. I had texted him on my way to work.

That was it.

Jake died later that day.

The Worst Phone Call

I’ll never forget the pain in Josh’s voice when he told me about Jake’s death. It is one of the worst phone calls I’ve ever had.

The aftermath of losing someone to suicide is.. shattering. It’s one of the few words I have been able to find to accurately describe how Jake’s loss affected me. This kind of loss will make you question a lot of things– I questioned who my friends really were, my strength and of course, my marriage.

Living without Jake has been difficult- but I am here, living the life he made me strong enough to live and having finished the work he started in 2013. I hope so much that he is proud of me, from wherever his caring spirit is.

There is a post about the day after, and you can find it here

Today’s PSA: If you love someone, tell them. You may lose that chance. The regret is hard to live with.

Pics courtesy of Pinterest

Resources:

AFSP