Changes . . . Changes can be very difficult to navigate, especially for those who rely on routine and consistency to manage their daily lives. I have been living the last nine years of my life in what seems to be a constant state of flux.
My old teaching position was cut to less than half time due to budget constraints. This led to us having to move to a new area in a different part of the state, because we couldn’t afford the mortgage anymore and we needed a better school system for our children as well as be closer to their services. I went back to school to complete my first Master of Education degree. Shortly after, my ex-husband decided to leave us, stating that he didn’t want the responsibility of a family any more.
All of a sudden I found myself a single parent to two children with multiple disabilities who had been neglected and then abandoned by their father. I was in graduate school and working multiple part-time teaching positions. At this same time, both my children were no longer able to attend public school due to their trauma. This led to me becoming a home school teacher for six years on top of all the other things I was doing. I was barely able to pay rent each month and it was a struggle to afford enough groceries plus I had my own physical and mental health challenges that I was working through. I was only newly officially diagnosed at 36 and I was only beginning to understand what being autistic even meant!
Are you newly diagnosed?–> Where do we go from here?
These masks help me appear functional to those around me. They also hide my stress and fear as well as allow me to appear stoic. My “stoic mask” is the one where I can only seem to take it off in private. To remove this mask in public would put me in a vulnerable state that I am not comfortable nor ready for society to be witness to. My “professional mask” is a necessary one that allows me to appear confident and knowledgeable in my work place even when self-doubt creeps in. My “mom mask” lets me be more of myself, but I still need to maintain a sense of strength, resilience, and composure. My children are trauma survivors as well and I feel I need to be stable presence for them.
As a medical trauma and domestic abuse survivor, this uncertainty in my life led me to be stuck in a perpetual state of fight/flight/freeze/fawn. This is an exhausting state to be in. Just being able to truly relax is a luxury that I have rarely been able to experience.
In order for me to start coming out this exhausting state, safety must be established first. When I feel safe to be myself, then I can start taking off my masks.I can be more myself with my life partner. Without even realizing it, he projects a sense of safety by just being himself. I can breathe a sigh of relief when I see him, because, when it is just us, I can take much of the weight of my masks off. I can be more of myself in a way that I don’t feel I can in other situations.
He was one of the changes that came into my life over a year ago that I had to learn how to navigate through. I hadn’t been in a serious relationship in a very long time and I wanted this, so slow and steady we went. While at the same time this was going on, COVID-19 hit. The joke became “finding romance in the time of a plague”, but we did. Now we have blended family days once a week with both our children together for a family dinner, games, or a movie.
More recent changes that have happen involved graduating with my second Master of Education degree. This lead to a new job in a field that I was familiar with, but had not directly worked in before. I am still working with schools, but more coordinating community, home, and school services into a structured supportive unit. This change has allowed me to combine my three education degrees. Unfortunately, even after three weeks, I am still struggling to find balance in my life/work schedule with this new work routine as well as getting used to working in a more office-based setting rather than a classroom.
Fortunately, the office has three large windows and my office mate appreciates that I like the lights turned off. My office is also on the second floor, so I don’t have to listen to people walking above me on hardwood floors. I still, however, am on edge when I hear people walking around on my floor, because I can’t see them and have no idea if they are going to open my door. This is where that fight/flight/freeze/fawn response is still on high alert. I hear footsteps coming towards my door and my body jumps. Not fun!
Even with the sensory issues, I am looking forward to this full-time job. I have been unemployed or underemployed for much of my career. Teaching is a difficult and stressful career to be in for anyone, and then add in an environment that is typically not conducive to the needs of an autistic person. School teams struggle just to get the needs of autistic students met. Traditional school settings were not designed for neurodiverse students and teachers.
I have been in a consistent state of burnout since I started my career 22 years ago. Learn More Here–> Ever Present Exhaustion.
The education system in the United States is broken and has been broken for generations. I have tried to fix the system while as a classroom teacher. I couldn’t. I tried to fix the system as a Parent Resource Coordinator working on the edges, but still in the system. I couldn’t. Now I am working in a position that has taken more out of the system with the goal coordinating care for youth with behavioral challenges, which involves the system, but with a community focus.
Part of the job requires that I have lived experience working with mental health services. Both my children have been receiving services for 12 years. They are both in college now and have taken over their own coordination of care. This brings me to another change that we, as a family, will be facing in the fall. Due to the pandemic, both my children completed their first year of college online while still living with me.
We are all vaccinated now and the universities that my children attend are opening up their campuses once again. They both need to move into the dorms in the fall. This means one child will be moved to the western part of the state and the other is being moved to the southern part of the state. As a mother, this terrifies me, but I know I need to let both of them spread their wings and live their lives on their own terms. My job is to provide roots for them and continue to be their Supported Decision Maker for as long as they need me to be. I wrote more about my fear as a mother in 2019 –> The Love of a Mother and the Pain of Transition.
Changes . . . I know there are still more to come. Life is not static. Life is a dynamic and ever evolving journey. According to Songfacts, David Bowie’s Changes “is a reflective song about defying your critics and stepping out on your own.” I have realized that I have been working through this process of defying the external and internal critics in my life and figuring out how to step out on my own that allows me to be truly me.
I still have work to do, but I feel more grounded, more present (not disassociated), and more confident in my abilities than I can remember. Long story short, I feel more comfortable in my skin than I ever have. This is another change in my life, a change that I am embracing. The feeling that comes with this change is one I have been working towards since I started my journey towards healing and self-acceptance. I had no idea what this feeling would actually be like. I have had no experience with it prior to now, but it is a welcomed change. I am looking forward to seeing where this particular change takes me.
“The journey is never ending. There’s always gonna be growth, improvement, adversity; you just gotta take it all in and do what’s right, continue to grow, continue to live in the moment.”
– Antonio Brown