Saturday, 16 April 2016

Find your People.

Last week we visited a friend. (The same friend who introduced me to "You can't educate pork")
Visiting this friend is very easy. For ease of writing, let's call her M. M is one of those rare people who you can be yourself with. 
Even my 10 year old boy with PDA loves to visit M, which is something of a rarity as he mostly dislikes any social meet up unless it is strictly on his terms (she also keeps donkeys, which helps).

Before social interactions it is important to have some time to build up to the visit. 
I don't know about others' methods of preparation, but mine usually follow a pattern of avoidance, intense planning and anxiety.

Avoidance of other commitments to allow enough energy to focus on and enjoy the planned interaction, or if it's a Dr's appointment, to be able to communicate the reason for the visit and still have energy left over to take in what the Dr says back to me. Ideally for me, one or two social visits or appointments a week is the limit, and means that I can still function adequately enough to be nice to my children! Too much, and housework and parenting slips and I spend a disproportionate amount of time with earplugs in, ignoring everyone. 

Intense planning of conversations, remembering anything that was said last time, things I shouldn't have said, how to get certain important points across, going through bizarre scenarios which, with the rationale of hindsight, I know will never happen, but feel of utmost importance to think about so I know what to say and how to react if it does happen (it never happens).  I also make a mental note of the weather and major news events or local happenings, which generally means I'm prepared for any small talk, although if a topic is brought up that I haven't prepared for, or, heaven forbid, someone tries to be jokey, I will be thrown and have to work very hard to take in what they've said, process it and say something relevant back, or I end up standing looking gormless.

Anxiety as a result of all the planning, of knowing that you may have let other people down by avoiding them, anxiety of driving to a new place (cue hours on Google maps and street view to memorise road numbers and imprint images and landmarks in the brain so the drive there feels familiar), anxiety of saying the wrong thing, anxiety of the things that could (but mostly don't) go wrong. 

This is all before the visit has taken place. When it is over, there's another pattern of recovery, which can take anywhere between a few hours to a few days, depending on how taxing it was. 
Again, I don't know if this is how it is for others, but for me, this is avoidance/solitude, intense post mortem, and anxiety. 

Avoidance/solitude to allow my battery to recharge. 

Intense post mortem, the time spent going over and over the things said, processing the visit and making sense of things that passed me by during the visit.

Anxiety as a result of fatigue, as a result from wondering about anything I may have said wrong, or shouldn't have said. 

As you can see, it is hard work. It is exhausting.

Add into the mix parenting a child who has similar, if not more severe, issues, then you come to realise that everything that happens has an impact on the child, on you, and therefore on the whole family, and you need to understand the things that can help. For my family, being careful about the number of social activities we have, and allowing plenty of time before and after has been very helpful. 

And now I'll get to the point (there is one, I promise). 

When I visit M and others like her, although there will still be the need to recover after a visit, I find that because I feel so comfortable with her, I can be more spontaneous. I can skip the intense planning stage, and the anxiety stage. Although a visit can still be tiring, at the same time it is comforting and rewarding. I can say stupid things and it doesn't matter. In a way, this makes me think of her almost as family. A visit to someone like M is well worth it.

Some people can be more difficult to be with, because there's always the risk that they just don't understand. This isn't their fault, but when you either need to act more to cover up your feelings, or you start to monologue to try to explain, or you simply think "You can't educate pork", it's  a disappointing exchange, which then increases the anxiety and fatigue you are already suffering from through simply visiting them in the first place. Most of the services we have been involved with have been like this, which is doubly disappointing and anxiety inducing, because they are supposed to be the people trained to recognise the problems and work with the family to help improve things. 

I've come to realise how important it is to have people around you who understand you and your situation. People you never have to justify yourself to. People who won't judge you. People with whom you can be yourself, so that the social difficulties, and consequences of those difficulties, are fewer. 

I've found these people in real life and on the Internet.
And life is better for having them there.
Even though I've never met most of them, and probably never will, they are still there, going through the same things with their children, having the same struggles that I have, understanding and never judging. They may not know it, Hell, they don't even know me, but they are incredibly important to me and are a big part in my life and how I feel about my family and myself.

I'm sure anyone reading this, a blog predominantly about autism and PDA, will be some way to being with their people, and will be amongst someone else's people.
Not only are you important to your families, you are also important to people like me, faceless strangers on the Internet, doing our best to live under tricky circumstances, doing our best to navigate  largely inefficient services. You are there on the days when a quick "I get it, you're doing fine" means the World.

Thank you. 

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