Most of my work day is spent in my office with teenagers. Give a student a comfortable chair, the freedom to speak as he or she wishes and the safety of a non-judgmental space and the words just come. The feelings and thoughts they usually keep guarded inside, sometimes spew out before they can stop it. Teenagers feel lots of things, for lots of reasons: Friends. Stress. Family. Body Image. Cutting. Homework. Disappointment. Regrets.
I listen. I question. I challenge. I keep listening. I validate. I reflect. Then I listen more.
Sometimes the conversations are hard to forget because they are sad and painful to think about. Other times, the conversations are hard for me to forget because they resonate with parts of my story. Feelings are universal experiences. When a teary-eyed 11 year old is sharing their pain, I empathize. I too know pain; we all do. The advantage I have as the adult in the room is not the degree nor the answers to all their problems, it’s experience.
What has experience taught me so far? Life isn’t black or white.
While the blog posts are dedicated to this journey with Autism, the reality is that our life is so much more than the diagnosis. We have two other children to raise and two separate careers to manage. We have friends we still like to spend time with. Personal aspirations didn’t just fade away. Life doesn’t stop because of an Autism label.
We never asked for this to be part of our story, but we can’t control that. And just like I challenge the students in my office, I’ve had to ask myself: So, what exactly can I control? The answer seems simple, right? Some days I feel like a broken record having similar conversations with different students and parents.
I am in control of my thoughts, my feelings, my emotions.
I’ve arrived at the conclusion that life can be devastating and beautiful at the exact same time. I’m embracing the dialectical approach to life and I’ve disregarded the idea that it has to either be devastating or beautiful. I can walk alongside my husband as we actively advocate for our son and be entirely overwhelmed with the process. We can prioritize Jacob’s treatment and still be amazing parents to our other two who deserve as much attention and support. In this space, I am allowed to be both – confident and unsure – with no apologies.
We have a 5 year-old Kindergarten boy and an 18 year-old High School senior. Throw in the littlest one with Autism and the only way I describe my life to friends is: chaos. It is chaotic and wonderful. We maneuver from discussions related to methylation pathways to sorority recruitment. One minute my focus is on how many words Jacob is saying, to wondering if someone signed the Kindergarten folder, to thinking about what life will be like with only two kids under the same roof. Sad to have one moving away to college and happy to no longer be outnumbered.
Finding the “and” in our situation has been incredibly freeing. I attempt to point out cognitive distortions to students by using the dialectical approach, and it has certainly helped me process life since November 2018. I am grateful for my beautiful Jacob and completely shattered about what the diagnosis could mean. I am happy and worried all at the same time. I have no idea how all of this will play out in the end. Who knows what life in 5 years or 10 years or 20 years will look like? But I do know, that we have a lot left to experience together.
Signed with love, Kat.