Susan's Blog

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Control? Get Smart!

I have an excellent therapist. She has been with me all from the birth of Max forward. That means she saw me through The Diagnosis. What you may not know is that she also saw me through OCD, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Back then, when Nat was 2 and Max was born, I was in the throes of OCD, probably using it to mask the pain of my world slipping out of control. I found it easier to imagine that I was going to die of some rare disease than to face the fact that my little son was not quite what I had expected out of a baby. Those days, I cleaned and cleaned, a veritable Lady Macbeth on germs. I checked and rechecked. I looked for stuff that wasn’t there. I felt utterly and miserably responsible for terrible things that never even happened.

Maybe I’m not supposed to say this so publicly? Will it make y’all squirm? Will people think I’m a nutcase? Honestly, any number of my posts will help strengthen that assumption!

No, I’m not a “nutcase.” God, what a horrible, insensitive word. As if someone’s existence could be boiled down to being a box of nuts, say cashews, or walnuts. Nuts are delicious. And good for you. Actually, there are worse things a person could be. Think of them yourself, and you will see what I mean.

I am sane, but I have my quirks. I am sane, I think, because of this woman. With her quiet, still manner, her unexpected laughter, and her common sense, she gently shoved me back over the line. She repeated things to me, simple facts, that led me to realize I was safe, even though I could not be certain. She cleared away that dirt so that I could look at what I really was supposed to look at: my sons needed me, badly. My husband needed me. I needed me.

Today we talked about my difficulty letting go, which still surfaces every now and then, but now it is more in the form of how I deal with people. My therapist suggested that being raised to believe I was to control everything I could meant also that I was raised with the sense that any problem could be licked (beaten, overcome). This was the empowering side of how I grew up: believing that I could decide for myself what was what. I could decide to be a thin person. I could decide to transfer to U Penn, and get in if I wanted to. I could be a writer and get published. I could, through rigorous care and exercise, bring my genetically high cholestrol under control. I could decide how best to reach my autistic son, the experts be damned.

Totally empowering. But implicit in that body of beliefs is a kind of uber-responsibility for what happens. If first I don’t succeed, try, try again…and again, and again? My therapist referred to my need “to wrestle to the ground every monster that comes along and tame it.” To never give up, even when all evidence says I should. To make every schmuck who enters my life live up to his/her potential and Be Good. She suggested that if I cannot wrest something I want under my control, that I find that nearly impossible to tolerate. Because I was raised to be In Control, and not to be in control is my own fault. If someone has wronged me, it is somehow my fault. I should be able/should have been able to set it right.

In reading Expecting Adam, I am learning of a similar woman who believed at first that the world worked in a rational, if-then, mode. If I am a smart person and follow the rules of a good diet and a healthy lifestyle and have my kids young, I shouldn’t give birth to a retarded child.

It’s magical thinking, however. Life just bursts out of its seams, like stinky toes from a sock, no matter how well darned. Birth defects happen. People act stupid. Good people do bad things sometimes that make no sense. You can’t make them understand how they hurt you. You can’t make someone else change unless they really, really want to. But then that’s not you doing it: it’s they who are doing it.

The other side to this rich coin is that just as you can’t control everything, you also can’t have everything your way just because you worked really hard and tried really hard. You can have a lot, but you can’t have it all.

Ned likens my inability to let go to my behavior with cake. He reminds me that ever since following hardcore Atkins, I have lost my ability to digest cake without becoming ill. Yet every time we have a birthday party and there is cake, I forget all the illness. I see how almost sexy that slice looks, springing back just a little from where it was sliced by the knife, firm yet soft, layered in colorful shiny icing. I cannot resist. I think, “Maybe this time, I won’t become sick. Maybe it will be different.” I eat the cake, and I become sick. I regret eating it. I vow “never again.”

So maybe now that I know all this, it will be a little less alluring next time and I will be able to resist the destructive gorging. And one day, the memory of cake will fade altogether from my mind, remembered only in a flicker of faintest desire, a remnant of my crazy, driven younger self.

My therapist says, “Yes, this is how it will be.” And I know she is right. She told me, all those years ago, that once I could walk past something upsetting on the ground and not check it out, just keep going, I would know that I could always do it. And she was right. That is how I walk now. I just go from place to place.

Now, the place I’m going is realizing I can’t do it all, I can’t have it all. And it is not my fault. I will just keep walking, happy with what I’ve got.

And hey, it ain’t bad.


I’m an OCD checker. Seriously. It really took control a few years ago. Phone messages. Email. It was hard to leave the house, or the job without checking if the locks were really locked, if the safe was really closed ad locked. A very confining lifen. I’m better now, except for the email 🙂

So no, you’re not nuts at all. maybe not that nuts, I don’t know!

Just watch out for cake, have a cookie. mmm, cashews 😉

— added by Someone Said on Thursday, September 28, 2006 at 1:05 am

I have a severe anxiety problem. I get that feeling that you would get if a kid or a dog ran right in front of your car, and I get it when I think about scary things that could happen to the kids or someone in the family. It happens many times a day.

I think that when a person has so many balls in the air all the time (I call it juggling time bombs), there has to be something that “gives”. Autism is terribly stressful for the parents, as I am sure most of us know already. There are so many demands on us all the time. For me, one of the demands is to hold my temper and not be ugly to Charlie when he has a meltdown or just screams for no apparent reason.

It is helpful to me to know that others deal with similar issues.

— added by Mom on Thursday, September 28, 2006 at 8:12 am

While I don’t have OCD I do have a best friend who does. Nuts are great!

I also share your attraction to a piece of birthday cake. Can’t say no.

— added by mumkeepingsane on Thursday, September 28, 2006 at 4:54 pm

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