Chef hates attending medical appointments himself, and he isn't big on me attending mine either.
Last Tuesday, Chef needed to go over to our neighbour's place in the morning until the school bus arrived. I had to be at appointments about an hour away. Chef has always found it difficult to manage if he knows I'm not feeling well or have medical appointments. His anxiety is heightened during such times, and there's always a delicate balance between preparing Chef for possible changes to his day (if he needs to go to respite due to appointments) and keeping his anxiety at bay otherwise. If Chef is told too soon about a change, it heightens his anxiety which is usually spilled out in various ways til the event happens. If he's not told til the last possible minute, there's a risk of anger/mistrust over not being told earlier.
In hopes of providing enough time for Chef to process his feelings beforehand and not take out his anxiety on our neighbours, I told Chef two days before my appointment that I would be leaving on Tuesday morning and he would need to go to our neighbours' place til the school bus arrived. Chef asked a few questions about when I would be back, where the appointment was, and how I felt about the appointment. I'm always matter-of-fact with those types of responses with Chef - I wouldn't be back til after Chef was home from school but his sister would be waiting for him at home when he got off the bus, provided the name of the hospital and general location, and told him I was looking forward to the appointment because it would help figure out what's happening with my leg because it doesn't feel right sometimes. Chef nodded. Over the next couple of days he seemed unsettled and a bit on edge and asked a few times for the same information about my appointment. On Tuesday morning, he seemed to be in good space when he went over to the neighbours' house. When I called to make sure he'd gone inside, my neighbour said she'd been teasing Chef a bit about having heard him going up and down the stairs the night before (we live in a townhouse and share a wall). She said that Chef had told her that he wasn't making any noise on the stairs - "It was Mom throwing books." When the neighbour told him she knew it was him going up and down the stairs and not books being thrown, he kept to his statement. I told the neighbour she could go ahead and let him know that she'd told me his story so he knows we're all on the same page, then we chatted a bit and hung up. An hour later when I got to the hospital, there were numerous calls from my neighbour on my cell phone so I called her back while I was walking through the parking lot. Chef had run off. He hadn't waited for the bus and she didn't know where he was. She had tried calling the school only voicemail was available in the resource dept, and she didn't know if she should call the local police. I reassured her that I would call the police (who help us search when Chef disappears) and the school. Eventually we learned that Chef had shown up at the school! As stressful as that half hour was, it was equally shocking (and reassuring!) to learn that Chef had shown up at school.
Chef let his resource teacher know that he had run off because he was angry with me for going to my appointments.
It's difficult for kids like Chef. When things don't work out, he blames me. When his choices cause problems for him, he blames me. When he no longer has something because he wrecked it, he blames me. It almost seems like an extension of the need for an external brain. He does, however, occasionally show that he is slowly learning to accept responsibility for his choices. But the interesting thing is that for all his blaming and all his feelings of hatred and all his anger, he feels a lot of anxiety over my health. When I am down with a cold/flu, he usually does "act up" quite a bit (anxiety, change of routine, uncertainty of what to do) but he also dotes on me with numerous offers to make me some tea and to cook supper. He has also occasionally shown anger when I've said no thanks to the offers (wants to help, feels rejected), but he does go out of his way to be caring if I'm sick. And when he isn't having to deal with problems caused by his choices or deal with his anxiety, he can be a very caring family member. It sort of seems like a meadow of wildflowers being paved over with asphalt - every once in awhile the asphalt cracks enough to let the sun through and a flower eventually surfaces. That meadow is still there, it just needs ways to get through to the surface.
As Chef's Mom, it's interesting to see the changes, shifts, movements in my own journey. There was a time when this past weekend would have felt extremely heavy while it was happening and for a number of days afterwards. Now, it's just the way the weekend went. It certainly wasn't a pleasant weekend, but Chef is showing signs of growth and development and for that reason, it was a meaningful and successful weekend. It's barely one day out of this past weekend, and it feels ok. I know that Chef's support at school this year is the best school support he's received so far towards helping him learn how to live a healthy, appropriate, successful life. I know that Chef is growing and developing, and even though he is still struggling with honesty and good choices and taking care of his body, he isn't "rejecting" all of those things as strongly as he seemed to be rejecting them in the past. I know there are community members and friends who are available to help when Chef follows his impulse to run off from somewhere when he's dealing with anxiety (or just wants to go downtown for candy, though that hasn't been his focus this year), and that there are now more folks around who have a better understanding of Chef's needs and the needs of kids who live with similar challenges. But the biggest piece in the okay-ness is seeing Chef learning to work through issues and learning to address them appropriately in a healthy manner. Yes, the tantrum was over an hour long - but it was less than two hours and didn't heighten to an "outside-only" or "chat with the police" level. Yes, it took all weekend to get the dishes started - but Chef relearned and accepted the importance of good attitude and appropriate communication during a time that was very frustrating for him. It was hard work - but he worked at it.
It all takes time.
This blog was initially set up as a means of communicating with my son's team. Since then, I've heard from other parents with similar stories. If you are living with challenges or journeying alongside someone who is, you are not alone. There are many of us. I'm a single adoptive Mom (http://richesofsimplicity.blogspot.com/) of a young man who lives with many abilities and many diagnoses. We have journeyed together through many challenges and a few adventures over the years as my son has tried to find space in this world that makes him feel more comfortable, an attempt made especially difficult when living with Attachment Disorder, PDD-NOS (Autism), Developmental Coordination Disorder, ADHD, prenatal substance exposure, etc. Some of the strongest elements used in this journey have been music, visual arts, therapeutic parenting, team-connection, boundary-setting, boundary-setting, boundary-setting, communication skills, community-building, continual lifeskills training, and elements of Theraplay. (Click here for some written resources.) On this journey, there is laughter and tears and growth and hope. The greatest of these is hope.