How funny. I never have writer’s block. But I’ve started this post three different ways, and erased all of them. I keep starting and stopping, staring at the blank screen, trying to think of the right way to put this.
Six years ago I returned to Melbourne with our young family. The kids were 3 and 4 then, and I knew, even back then, something wasn’t quite right. It has taken those six years to finally get a diagnosis of what the problem is with one of my children. I won’t share the label/diagnosis here, or the gender of that child, because that is private and it is not mine to share.
What I will share is the impact those six long years has had on me. Because it’s the truth, and not telling the truth is making me leave big, vacant holes in my stories, holes that make me feel inauthentic, and holes that need to be filled.
The first few years back in Australia, I was very near the edge. I couldn’t see a way out, a way forward. Each morning, I woke up to blackness and despair. Was it post-natal depression? Post-traumatic stress? I don’t know. It was probably both. My husband had finished work and had been diagnosed with a spinal tumor. The surgery left him with a permanent limp, and a tendency to fall over. Instead of working, I was home with my kids for the first time. So was he. We’d had two domestic helpers in Hong Kong; now it was the two of us, and I didn’t know how to do this role.
One of my children was wonderful, loving, smart, all the things a parent could want. The other, who I tried desperately to love, would greet me with, well, would greet me with violence. They had no words. They were severely speech-delayed. But they did have fists and feet, and they used them on me; I was the punching bag, and I had nowhere to run because I was Mom and alone in this foreign country. My parents had died; I was born in New York but had left there fifteen years ago; our friends in our small town in Australia were new, and I couldn’t share the truth with them. It was me and my husband facing this battle, and though he did his best to help, he couldn’t fix what was wrong. I was the target for the aggression, and I couldn’t explain how bad it made me feel. I felt I’d done something wrong as a parent, and that I deserved it. On the darkest days, I’d hold onto the fence of the level crossing as a train went by, afraid of myself, afraid I’d step in front of it if I let go of the fence.
I took my child to various doctors but was told the same things I already knew: speech delays; behavioral difficulties; an inability to express emotion or to empathize. A child psychologist was suggested but they were an hour’s drive away, and my child screamed during every car ride, and took off their seat belt. Nothing could get them to put it back on. It was impossible. I went on; we went on.
It took me two years but I found a caring psychologist who supported me, who helped build me back up. She was perplexed by the behaviors I described in my child and saw how difficult my life had become. She let me cry, and told me I was courageous. She stood by me, and listened. But she was not a child psychologist, so a piece of the puzzle was missing.
One day, the Salomon Trail Series was announced. I missed trail running deep in my soul. It had been my passion while living in Hong Kong, and suddenly there seemed a light here in Melbourne, a hope. I began to run towards it.
Since then, I’ve kept running. Through three Salomon Trail Series, a few half-marathons, adventure races, a marathon, and finally the North Face 50km Ultramarathon last year. Each step, each trail run, has brought me peace in the face of the disaster that much of the rest of my life, periodically, seems to become. The strength I found through running helped me finally seek the support of a child psychologist, and find some answers.
I can’t lie. Some days with my child are just so hard. I get told “I hate you”; I get spit at; I get rocks thrown at me when we go for family walks; the child whispers things in my ear so my husband can’t hear and scold her, whispers horrible scalding words that make my eyes fill with tears. We didn’t travel for five years because we were too afraid our child would sneak out of a hotel room and disappear. We have to hide things in our home because boundaries are meaningless and unenforceable.
Some days, I want to run away and I study airplane flight schedules. During school holidays, I take an extra hour in bed to shorten the day. I look in the mirror and I wonder where the self I worked so hard to create has gone. The PhD in psychology, the two books I’ve published, the classes and seminars and radio shows I’ve done. I long to see joy in my eyes, for my husband and I to stop snapping at each other because we’re both under such stress.
I hold on. I try to notice flowers and autumn leaves. I pet my cats and take our dog for walks.
I run. Sometimes I’ve run too far and injured myself, and my last bastion of support and strength has crumbled beneath me and I have to hold on by my fingernails to survive. I am teaching myself to play piano because I find I can lose myself in the music and this also acts as a salve.
The dark days have become less regular, but they are no less dark when they do occur. School holidays brings on a lot of them, because there is a lot more time for conflict to occur. I go quiet then on my blog, because the truth is hard to share.
I study the label that has been applied to my child by several psychologists now and see some truth in it, but I know that people change and that this label may not fit in the future, and I don’t want to stick my child with it forever because then that child may feel they have to live up to it somehow. I keep seeking help for us, through Occupational Therapists, Speech Therapists, Psychologists, through aid at school.
I am not alone in this battle. Hundreds of parents face it. This I know. I hope by sharing my truth of how hard it has been, I help one of you. I get knocked down. Regularly. But I’m going to keep right on getting back up.
Trail running is one place I go to salve my wounds, to fill my soul, to howl the tears that need to be howled. Sometimes I go quiet. Please know that it is hardest to write when times are most dark. I am still here, fighting the good fight, and I will write for you again. I will tell you stories of joy and running, of battling, of courage in the face of great disasters.
And I will tell you the truth.