In my opening blog-resurrection post (*woof*) I mentioned things coming to a crunch. Here’s the short version of that crunch, written by my partner theChimp…
Having kids is hard. Having a kid right at the top end of the autism spectrum, with ADHD, OCD, Pica, and assorted other ‘labels’ is hard. Imagine looking after a baby. One who has no awareness of danger, or consequences. Even if the consequence is death. Imagine that he doesn’t care where he wees, or the fact that cats don’t like it if you push on their eyes or that eating one mouthful of something then demanding something else, something else, something else, then deciding that your own pyjamas/socks/pants/poo actually taste better anyway even though it will make you violently ill as a consequence or that running into the road is as fine and normal as climbing out of your bedroom window.
Imagine that child is ten years old, yet still does all these things. And imagine that this child only makes noises, a bit like a car alarm, for the entire day/night, and doesn’t have language, doesn’t understand language. Imagine this child can only communicate using action, not words, uses pointing, dragging, giving. Imagine the frustration when he cannot make himself understood. Imagine the tantrum. Imagine having to try and restrain a ten year old boy with muscles so strong from all his ten years of tensing up because of tics and involuntary coping mechanisms which has actually given him the strength of a 14 year old. Imagine having to restrain this boy who has no perception of consequence to himself or others, who eventually treats it as a game, a stimulation that he likes, and wants you to do it again, again, again! Imagine having to do this whilst not being able to explain to him why you’re doing this, knowing full well he will do it again, and again, and again. Imagine being on edge every second of every day, watching like a hawk, assessing, risk assessing, and coping with the fallout…
Having split up with the ‘other parent’ of that child is hard. Especially when the ‘other parent’ of that child has completely buried their head in the sand about what’s wrong with their little boy and does only the minimum required so she doesn’t get reported to social services so that someone will turn up on her door step and start ‘judging’ her. Help and money have been thrown at her. She accepts some, especially the money, but not the help. Not the help her little boy actually, desperately, needs. Not the help that her ex-partner actually, desperately, needs but can’t get because he works for a living, not reliant on benefits, because he is not ‘the main carer’ of his own child, which is apparently based on hourly rate. No matter the considerable time he does spend with his child every week, as well as working full time, having to spend hours undoing the overstimulation his mother’s environment provides, even though she’s fully aware of his needs yet chooses not to do anything about them. No matter the time spent researching, reading, listening, Googling anything and everything to do with his son’s condition, little tips, tricks that might help. As well as reading about the diversity of range on the spectrum, and the fact that absolutely no child is the same, and one size does not fit all, and it might work for you, but it might not, we’re not really sure. No matter that he knows even if he did all these things to try and help his son, his mother wouldn’t follow them through when he’s with her, therefore the child has no chance of learning anything. How heart breaking. Hopeless. The guilt.
Having to deal with all this, and then trying to maintain a new relationship is hard. Thinking that this person has to take on all of this baggage. What if this person can’t cope? Does he then feel resentment towards the new partner or the child? Can’t have one without the other. Surely she’ll get fed up. But the constant wear and tear of life treads on the self’s confidence, especially when the ‘other parent’s’ family will very readily kick anyone’s head in, and you’ve previously been stabbed by her brother. Who do you stick up for? The child? Your partner? Yourself? None, is the answer. Because you can’t. If you live in constant fear, sandwiched between hopelessness and lack of support (because you’re not allowed to access it) then what the hell can you do? You internalise it. Try and cope. Try and please everyone, and end up pleasing no one, just as depressed as you would have been had you walked away and left it all behind. Heart breaking. Hopeless. The guilt.
Being the ‘step-parent’ in that relationship is hard. Especially when you’re not even a parent yet. Dealing with a child who isn’t your typical child, and isn’t YOUR child, is hard. The feelings aren’t there to help you not to hate them. The pain they cause the person you love. Misdirected anger envelops you, and all you can do is leave. Get out of the situation. The constant struggle between ‘I don’t have to deal with this’ and ‘I have to be here for my partner’ is like being torn apart by wolves. The anger towards the ‘other parent’ for the anguish and frustration the ‘other parent’ is causing by not accepting help, by remaining in blissful ignorance, who thinks that wafting her new baby by another partner in front of my face is a really good idea and isn’t going to provoke any thoughts of KILL THE IGNORANT BITCH NOW at all!
Then there’s our relationship. Us. Us should mean two, but it doesn’t. Us means the three of us. There can’t be any other way. I am constantly reminded that I knew the situation before I got involved. But that was eight years ago, and lots change when a kid is growing up. Lots is realised about the people involved, including yourself. Being the last in the chain, the one with no rights whatsoever, having no say about something that absolutely controls every part of our lives together is frustrating to say the least. Even more so when your partner doesn’t do anything about those frustrations. Won’t stick up for himself, the child, me, or us. Because he’s scared. He’s depressed. He’s out of options in this hopeless situation. And he might get stabbed again. I’d say that’s a pretty good excuse. Still, doesn’t make our situation any better. And the hopeless I feel when he doesn’t want to admit that’s what he’s doing. The excuses instead are to do with her, me, the authorities, and the ‘that’s just the way it is’s’.
So I’m guilty of not accepting that’s the way it is. I’m causing a problem for him. I’m making him feel bad. In the end he’ll resent me. He already does. In the end I’ll resent him. So I make allowances. I accommodate this situation by removing myself from it, by doing what I’m told, which is to go and do what I want to do, don’t worry about me/us. Not that easy. What’s the point in being in a relationship when you have to remove yourself from it during certain times of the week and then don’t get to have any kind of relationship outside those times because everyone’s so bloody knackered and depressed to think about anything else. Time is precious. There must be lots of it to do nothing. Nothing is the goal. The brain must have a rest from this all-consuming situation. He needs it. So I must accommodate it. All the things I do do to try and make it better go unnoticed. They are trivial things. Unimportant, to him. So I stop doing them, either because I realise it’s just making me miserable by doing them and getting no return, no smile, no genuine feeling of happiness, or he tells me to. He didn’t ask me to do them.
We talk and talk and talk about this over and over again, and the same conclusions are reached. Positive ones, I think. But nothing ever actually changes. One moment you think there’s hope on the horizon. She’s accepted that the child needs respite care (which he should have been getting many years ago), then she just ignores the phone calls, so none is arranged. He, the father, THE FATHER, is finally being invited to school meetings and assessments about his own son (which also should have been happening many years ago), then it stops, or, oh, sorry, I forgot to tell you. Lip service from the school, who are equally at a loss if they were being totally honest. They’ve got enough to do just filling in the violent incidents reports and ‘your son MAY have eaten this [insert random thing that shouldn’t be eaten] today’ notes.
It seems to go in waves. Something happens. We get upset. We talk about it. We resolve a solution. The solution doesn’t work. We attempt to regain some kind of positivity by effectively ignoring what’s happened. Then something else happens, then it repeats. The thing is, by the time you get your head round the ‘something that’s happened’ there’s something else happening, something else he’s doing that he shouldn’t be, some other obsessive compulsion, some other tic, some other thing he feels the need to eat, something else to replace because he’s eaten it (mattress, windowsill, carpet – seriously), or something else Her Majesty of Stupid is doing which affects all of us, not that she’d notice. It’s overwhelming. We’re drowning.
I’m effectively here to pick up the pieces. To support. To watch all this happening and accept that I can’t do anything about it. To tag along. The problem is, I’m only human. I’m not a robot. I feel too. I need too. I work full time in a crap job that I hate, but allows me the freedom to choose my own hours so I can concentrate on my writing, which I’d eventually like to get paid for doing. Essentially I’m trying to do two jobs at once. I don’t have my own space at home to do this. My work space is also the child’s bedroom, so it must be packed away every weekend. You can’t leave anything out because he will either tear it up or eat it. The house effectively is a no go area when he’s here due to his high pitched vocalness and general stomping around wherever he wants to go (you try stopping him!). So I’ve had to find a space away from home to do my writing. I’m effectively not able to use my own home how I want to. Now I have to find the money to pay for that space within my woeful self-employed earnings. In the face of injustice what do you usually do? Speak out? No. Not allowed. Don’t want to upset/hurt someone who feels perpetually guilty already about so many different things, including you. Hopeless. The guilt.
It was inevitable it was going to get to a point where self-preservation kicked in. If you want me to go do what I want, then I will. Fed up of having the same conversations and nothing changing. Fed up of putting the effort in and not getting the effort back. I think I’ve given it a fair chance. Eight years’ worth of chance. Eight years’ worth of new ideas, suggestions, how about trying this, that, the other, how about trying it again, how about asking so-en-so, how about… You get the picture. Pointless. Self-preservation. The guilt.
Fortunately, this time, something snapped. He snapped. He cried. An only-ever-seen-twice-before moment (in eight fucking years!). The man, with his social anxiety, his slight Asperger’s, his empathetic lack, hard faced, logical, scared bloody shitless, just deal with it attitude, admitted everything was not all right and he needed some help. And, the best thing about it is he’s actually gone and got that help. He’s spoken to a doctor, cried in front of her. A stranger. He’s filled in the forms, been given antidepressants, and is in the process of organising counselling. It may sound an easy thing to most, but this step for him is like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in one huge stride.
I thought it was too late. I still don’t know if it is. The fact it hurts to eye blurriness to say that must mean something. I am relieved. I feel listened to AT LAST! I feel so proud of this man.
At the start of the beginning of him becoming better, my main thought is that it doesn’t matter about me, it doesn’t matter about the child, it doesn’t matter about the ‘other parent’. What matters is HIM. Everything grows from there. And all my everythings are thoroughly crossed.
I love her dearly. It’s time to not be scared.
Are YOU a step-parent in a similar situation…? Any advice for either of us…?