Meditating away the blues

It’s the first day back to school for my soon to be 15-year-old.
I have a consultant appointment later in the day. It’s taken two years to get to this point.
The 5-year-old wakes up with a gastric bug and is expelling bodily fluids from both ends all over my brand new bedding.
The soon to be 15-year-old is complaining that her hair is too “soft”. She has Autism so this is a genuine complaint and not a delay tactic to avoid school.
The cat has got her self-stuck in a tin cylinder in the bathroom and I don’t know how to get her out.
The doorbell rings. It’s the postman with a parcel that I need to sign for. The 5-year-old is covered from head to toe in bodily fluids and the postman won’t let the soon to be 15-year-old sign for the parcel. I swap places with the 15-year-old and rush down the stairs, most of it on my elbows and ass.
I return to find the soon to be re-homed cat trodding through the expelled bodily fluids and evenly distributing it on the two piles of freshly folded laundry.

FUCK. THIS. MOTHER-FUCKING. SHIT, I growl at myself in the mirror.

That was pretty much the theme for the rest of the day and I had to reschedule my appointment which I was really pissed about. As a single mother to three, two of them on the Autism Spectrum, days like this are a regular feature. It can get chaotic at the best of times and my sanity clings on for dear life as I try to juggle the tasks and unexpected fuck ups of my day while trying to create an environment of calm for my children.

Mindfulness meditation is the only way I get through it all.
It’s so strange to even hear myself saying that when I think back to my first encounter with mindfulness meditation almost 20 years ago.

A longtime mentor was running a group for young mothers to help them explore and develop their education options. Come along she urges me. There’s free childcare. You can relax and unwind. You don’t need to ask me twice Dee, I’ll be outside the gates waiting for you in the morning!
A group of eight young mothers and two education facilitator’s fit snugly into a room that was no different from any living room you would find in our neighbourhood. Comfortable sofa’s with scatter cushions. Low lighting and soft rugs on the floor.
Dee explains that they start every group session with an opening circle. A therapeutic check-in with each member of the group sure helped me to unwind. There is always something so liberating with shedding a load you weren’t even aware you were carrying until it was lifted. A seamless transition takes the group straight into preparations for phase two of the opening circle.
A guided meditation!
I had never done meditation up until that point and I found it to be the most uncomfortable and terrifying experience of my life. Being guided to close my eyes and focus on my breathing sent me into a head-thumping panic. The other girls sat at ease and looked increasingly relaxed as the guided meditation went on. Me? Oh, I looked like I was about to give birth on a crowded train!
I desperately wanted to get up and leave, but the silence and calmness made even the sound of my mouth drying up feel like I was chewing crunchy nut corn flakes. I swore to myself that once I got out of there I would never go back.

But I did go back. I went back every single week!
As uncomfortable as the meditation was to experience it in that moment and in that environment, I was fully conscious of the calmness and clarity I felt for a day or two after it. The weekly meditation was the gateway to my curiosity about the powers of meditation and prayer.

Over the years I explored all kinds of ways to meditate and find calmness. I changed God’s five times. I avoided wearing certain colours. I placed crystals in every window in my home and went through a period of only having red light bulbs in every room in my home to ward off depression. Oh, and I cleared the house of electric magnetic energy twice daily with divine rods made from coat hangers and organic autumn straw.
I even spent 7 days and 7 nights at a monastery in the South-west of Ireland on a meditation retreat where we only ate rice and peas and couldn’t talk for the whole entire time. We could only communicate by using our intuition or expressing our emotions.
I talk excessively and don’t express my emotions too easily so that retreat was extremely challenging but equally rewarding.

Each method benefited me in some way, but not as much as somebody else may have benefited. It was all about exploring and trial and error to find a method that worked for me. I’m a visual person. I need to have my eyes open so that I can get the full benefit of my mindfulness exercises. I’ve also got a busy mind with constant chatter going on night and day. In order for me to lower the volume of the mind chatter, I need a visual distraction. By focusing on an object or picture I can lower the volume of my mind chatter enough  to concentrate on getting the full whack out of my mindfulness breathing.

 

All-focus
My Mindfulness wall

This is my little oases at the end of my bed and its were the magic of mindfulness happens for me. I focus my attention here whenever I want to shut the world out or just calm my racing mind and slow down my breathing. As you can see there are lots of things to focus my attention on, but each one has a specific relevance for me. A visual reference of a calm ocean, a place to let my worry drift away from me. Butterfly’s to encourage a feeling of joy or courage in facing a change. Buddha’s for prayer and a word board to remind me to breathe at full capacity; filling my stomach as I breathe in, and empty it fully as I breath out. For me, a meaningful affirmation or quote can skyrocket my motivation and inspiration, so I always keep a fresh supply on my mindfulness wall for that instant kick in the morning.

I am a person with Autism and have a variety of sensory overload triggers. Sound is one of them. Trying to follow a guided meditation with background noise drives me nuts. Most meditation music gives me the same sickening sensation as being on a roller coaster. The high pings and the low bongs and that god damn frickin annoying low tone humming with fluctuating volumes? Christ! Just thinking of it is driving me insane.
When I am doing mindfulness meditation at home I like to have something from Beethoven, Mozart or Tchaikovsky playing on a low volume in the background to drown out the white noise of silence when the kids are asleep or in school. When I’m out on a mindfulness meditation walk I like to listen to anything from The Revivalists to Linkin Park and I can still achieve the same level calmness and clarity as my friend who sits cross-legged on a yoga mat half-naked in the middle of a forest tapping his fingers and chanting Oomm.

The point is, I work with techniques that suit my needs and ability’s and can still access calmness and clarity without the need for a yoga mat or swamping my house with sage.

But why engage in mindfulness at all?

Well, What if I gave you 50 party balloons filled with helium with no string attached to them and told you that your ability to feel calm depends entirely on you being able to keep those 50 balloons on the ground?
Logic would tell you that it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible, right?
What if I handed you a large piece of netting and told you it will help you keep the balloons on the ground!
Would you use the netting or run around frantically trying to gain control of the balloons and keep them on the ground?

The 50 party balloons represent all of the shit that life throws at you. The bills, the car, the in-laws, the house, the kids, the job, the school, traffic, the diet, the annoying neighbour, the lost or stolen debit card… The list goes on and on and is unique for each and every one of us on any given day.
The netting represents mindfulness meditation. It helps us keep our shit on the ground so that we can manage it in a calming environment. The shit is still there. The Zen zone is not all pink fluffy clouds and unicorns. You still have your 50 balloons to deal with. But having a good strong netting helps us to manage and contain those balloons so they don’t fly away taking our calmness with them.
Even 10 minutes of mindfulness breathing every day can help maintain the quality and strength of your netting. The stronger your netting is, the less time you need to spend running around chasing your balloons and the more time you can spend in the Zen zone where the environment is more calmer.

That’s why it is important to engage in mindfulness every day!

Practising regular mindfulness every day is the only reason I managed to get through the day from hell. In the past, the negative feelings from a day like this would have followed me around for weeks. It was one bad day on top of another all building up and eventually exploding.
Don’t get me wrong, I cried, I felt sad, I had a thumping migraine from stress. I’m exhausted and fragile.
But a short burst of mindfulness breathing throughout the day got me from one point to the next, and onto the next and before I knew it, the kids were in bed, the cat was fed and I had made it to bed in one piece.
The house looks like it has been trashed and at tonight’s bedtime story we pretended we were ogre’s living in a smelly swamp.
I suppose I’ll have to hope that you will trust me when I say that I feel calm and relaxed as I focus on my mindfulness wall to give gratitude for today and set my intentions for tomorrow. Then I intend on having a good nights sleep.

If mindfulness hasn’t worked for you in the past, I recommend you explore different methods and find a technique that suits your needs and ability. Not everybody can sit cross-legged on a yoga mat or tolerate the pings and pongs of meditation music. Whatever method you use, remember to breath at full capacity; fill your stomach as you breathe in slowly, and empty it fully as you breath out slowly.
10 Minutes a day. As they say… Practice makes perfect!

I send you all wishes of an abundance of happiness and calmness.
Thanks for reading.

Jenny

Spectrum Validation

A nice cosey read from another Moms perceptive on the Autism Journey. Very relatable to many.

Naptime Nancy Drew Podcast

To truly know me, is to know that I over analyze. Everything. Worry. About EVERYTHING. Ah, anxiety. It’s a real son of a bitch. When I became a mother, that anxiety became unbearable at times, until I sought treatment for my Postpartum Anxiety. That’s a subject I will open up on in the near future. I’m mentioning this now because when I started to notice milestone delays with my son, these observations got attributed to my anxiety initially. So I want to share my son’s journey thus far with autism, in hopes that it helps other parents to trust their gut instincts regarding their children’s well being.

Hank was a little over two years old when my worries about his development really started increasing. Not only did he have an obvious speech delay, but a regression in his speech that began around 18 months. It became a huge challenge…

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Communicating with the enemy

I ran into an old enemy recently. We first met at a mother and toddler group when our youngest children were just under two years old.

Back then **Dennis had major development delays and little to no communication skills. He would go days without making a single sound, not even a cry!
The other mothers would be delighted that they had successfully toilet trained their kid and I would be awkward as fuck but delighted none the less that my kid could finally pull himself up into a sitting position and clap his hands together. Oh, oh, and he can say shoe. Ok, it sounds like he is saying poo, but trust me, he is definitely learning to say shoe. Like, randomly. Not meaningful in any way. But fuck it, he is learning to talk and I’m over the moon.

It was difficult times. New territory and I hadn’t a feckin clue how to cope with it. When your child has a development delay you can feel organically isolated from parents of typically developing children. But one particular mother, Mrs perfect parent, made my time in this group a living hell.

While she fully accepted that Autism was a neurological difference, she had the strong opinion that the developmental delays were largely due to lazy parenting.
This lady was far from shy and bombarded me with criticism of how I was parenting Dennis, or in her eyes, how I wasn’t parenting Dennis!

She had no moral difficulties in telling me that I was failing in my duty as a parent by not withholding play time until Dennis learned to sit through a bedtime story.
“Reading to your child is important for language development. You can clearly see he isn’t getting enough story time” she would scorn at me.
She would constantly urge me to follow her parenting advice. “Stick with me girl and I’ll show you how to combat those development delays”.

Oh, Fuck off you Twat! Would be my silent response.

I eventually reached my limit with her bullshit. I’d love to say I slapped her across the face in a big showdown, but I just quietly slipped out the door and never went back.
Life can be isolating for both a parent and a child with Autism. Society has a strict door policy and people with a difference of any nature are refused entry.
I took solitude in the isolation and directed my attention to getting the best out of autism intervention.

The first three things I learned about caring for a child with Autism:
1: Autism is a neurological difference. A person who thinks and process information differently.
2: Find different ways to encourage independence.
3: Let your child set the pace.
This was sweet music to my ears.
We were going to go at Dennis’s pace…which was excruciatingly slow. Not only was this fully acceptable, but it was actively encouraged.
I had found my tribe!

We needed to discover how Dennis wanted the world to communicate with him.
There are three ways in which a person can process information. Verbal, Audio and visual. Some people process information best when they speak out loud. Some process information best when they listen, and others, like Dennis and myself, process information best when we see something in action or by doing it ourselves.

Dennis can only absorb new information in visual format. Once he has a visual concept, he can then process small bursts of verbal and/or audio information.
You can repeat yourself a million times like I did, but Dennis won’t be able to process a single word you are saying unless you give him a visual reference or simply by doing something yourself and encouraging him to copy your actions. It’s literally a case of “Monkey see – Monkey do” with Dennis.

Over the next three years, Dennis’s intervention plan was tweaked and moulded to suit his individual needs. Dennis was in full control of the pace and was soon learning, absorbing and retaining information at a slow, but steady rate.

It wasn’t long after we discovered how to communicate with Dennis that he was able to show us his amazing reading ability. He couldn’t drink from a cup or click two pieces of Lego together, but he could read exceptionally well. Our local library became a frequent feature in our weekly routine.

Dennis, now 5 years old had made considerable progress. A chatterbox, adventurous and always up to mischief. He still has lots of autism-related development delays but his independent skills are starting to take shape.

Outside of school, Dennis doesn’t have much opportunity to socialize with kids his own age. The library can often be a great place for him to be around other kids, even if he doesn’t interact with them. It’s also an opportunity to encourage his independence.

Dennis takes great pride in being able to complete the entire task of returning his books without any assistance. I find an armchair and give Dennis his library card and books to be returned. Never more than a few feet away from me, I bury my head in my book and leave him to it.

Dennis is more vocally confident with communicating with adults and with each visit the dialogue gets longer and more detailed as the librarians have become familiar with his conversational quirks.
This particular day I notice a family are next in line at the counter but I don’t pay much attention to them. The librarians know how to end the conversation with Dennis if he is holding up the line.

Eventually, Dennis ends the conversation and goes to browse the bookshelves.
The waiting family move up to the counter and the mother and the librarians swoon over how “sweet and polite” the little boy was. The mother’s voice was so familiar but I couldn’t place it with a face.
The mother goes on to comment that it was wonderful to see the boy being mannerly and polite and how it was fantastic that he had that level of independence. Then she exclaimed…”That’s a sign of excellent parenting skills”!
I nearly choked on my own saliva when the penny finally dropped. That’s Mrs fucking perfect parent from the mother and toddler group!
Oh. My. Fucking. God.
Her face is going to look like she is trying to push a cactus out of her ass when she realizes that’s my son she has just complemented.

I compose myself and walk over to sit down beside Dennis to gloat.
I immediately feel her eyes burning into the side of my head. Her face was exactly how I imagined it would be and I could see she was having difficulty with the knowledge that this polite and independent child reading a book out loud was my son.
I could see her face twist and turn as my body language and facial expressions screamed: “Fuck you, Bitch”. I prayed that the envy would cut through her like a knife and I wasn’t one bit ashamed of it.

That feeling didn’t last long and my moral compass kicked in when I noticed she was struggling to calm down her 5-year-old who was pulling books onto the floor in a temper tantrum. Her 10-year-old was also looking for her attention as she needed help on the library computers.

I’ve been there. Every parent on the planet has been there, special needs child or not. The one thing that makes us insecure as a parent is the judgment from other parents, and that judgment is what escalates our stress levels when our kids are being dickheads in public.

Now I’m not going to lie. I had an internal struggle of my own. Seeing this woman brought back vivid memories of the vile criticism she had about my parenting skills. At times it felt like she went out of her way to criticize me personally.
A large part of me desperately wanted to take advantage of the situation to inflict judgment and criticism on this woman’s parenting skills…or lack of ability to calm her child down.
I really, really, really wanted to let out a very animated laugh. I fantasized about it being enough to send her over the edge and cause her to break down in a pool of her own snot.
Retaliation was mine for the taking. But I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

I was fully aware that the reason this woman’s anxiety and insecurity was escalating was because of our “history”. She was in an insecure rage because the rolls had reversed and she was anxiously anticipating the delivery of my criticism of her parenting skills.
I looked at her falling apart and I understood exactly how she was feeling.

Was it Karma? Some might say it was.
But if I took advantage of this situation in a negative way, I was only going to create negative Karma for myself in return.
But Judging by her tone, if I offered her parenting advice she would probably lunge at me…spewing vomit…like yer wan from the Exorcist.

My silence seemed to provoke her even more. “Your loving this aren’t you? Come on then! Say what you want to say” she roars across the room at me.
“We are on the same ship. I don’t have battles with my shipmates. Welcome aboard” I calmly responded and went back to reading my book.

A few moments later she had managed to bribe her 5-year-old with a game on her phone and although not fully relaxed, he had stopped pulling books off the shelves.
He had managed to empty several shelves and at least 200 children’s books littered the floor.
Dennis had at least 10 more pages before he would accept human interaction again so I offered to help clean up the books.

You could see and feel the full weight of her insecurities and humiliation and it was difficult to not have empathy for her.
I attempted to break the ice and tell her the short version of how Dennis caused €25 grand worth of damage during a meltdown in an electrical shop.
But she wasn’t interested in the humour of that story.
“How do you manage him with his meltdowns? Like, how did you get from him biting other kids in toddler group to sitting over there calm as a cucumber reading a book?”.

I’m socially awkward, I’m a visual person, so I had to ask her to clarify if she was genuinely interested in my parenting advice or if she was just making small talk?
She sat down on the floor facing me. “Come on then shipmate! What’s your secret?” she said with full attention.

“The power is in the communication” I start.

The game changer in managing Dennis’s challenging behaviour was to tell him what I wanted him to do rather than what I wanted him to stop doing.
For example “Don’t throw stones. You’ll hurt somebody”.
The only words Dennis was processing was throw, stones and hurt. So, you guessed it! He continued to throw stones with the purpose of hurting somebody.
Now we say “Stones on the ground. Kind hands”. Dennis can instantly process the commands I want him to do and he drops the stones on the ground and gently strokes his arm to show kindness.
Our trips to A&E reduced by 80% with this new way of communicating.

“But that’s just for communicating with a child with Autism isn’t it?” she asks.
“Nope!” I grin. Yeah ok, it’s necessary to communicate that way with a child with special needs, but the techniques are transferable and work EXACTLY the same for people of all ages and abilities.

We all tend to automatically use “stop” and “don’t” commands when we are in the vortex of stress or anxiety.
How many times do I have to tell you to stop!.. sound familiar?
See!… we all do it without even realizing it. It’s unintentional criticism and only escalates the situation.
The only time we should use the “stop” command is in an emergency.

Several times during our conversation she has scolded her 5-year-old and told him “Stop kicking the chair or I’ll take the phone away.”
I asked her to change the command and ask him to put his feet on the ground, and reward him with a praise like thank you or well done when he had done as asked.
Yep! I leaned back as I fully expected her poltergeist vomit to spew out at me.
But she calmly gives the command ” Feet on the ground, pet. Thank you”
She scolds herself for giving the praise before he has done as asked.
She did nothing wrong. Her delivery was perfect. Her son, without any retaliation or ever lifting his head from the phone puts his feet on the ground. No further bribe required!
“Say well done, Say well done, quickly” I urge her.
“Well done, pet. Good boy”.
“ Thanks Ma!” came a faint reply from her son.

She started giggling in shock. Feck off! What the hell just happened? Change can’t be THAT instant she asks.

Well, yes, it can! It is easy once you are aware of it. But the difficult part is learning to undo our previous way of communicating. The “stops” and “Don’ts ” are our default command so you just need to rewrite it with “Do’s” and “Thank you’s”
The key thing to remember is to avoid feeding the negative behaviour at all costs and don’t use threats of taking things away. That will just provoke fear.
Tell them what you want them to do and reward good behaviour with plenty of praise.
The more you practice the new way of communicating, the less energy you need to spend on the negative behaviour. The kids will naturally gravitate towards the good behaviour in return for praise. The environment also naturally becomes calmer.

She giggled some more. This is crazy. So simple. So obvious. So subtle. I love it! she exclaimed.
Oh, wait! What do I do when he is being an extra dickhead? Do I take his things away then?
Nope! You give him a “Timeout”. Don’t call it a naughty step. That suggests negative behaviour and all you’ll do is escalate the situation.
Send him to an isolated spot at home or in public and tell him he can leave Timeout when he wants to show kindness and calmness. It’s entirely up to him how long he spends on Timeout. They usually calm down after a couple of minutes and it teaches them to self-regulate and take responsibility for their behaviour….over time of course. But you need to be consistent with it, every. Single. Time.

She stares at me with her eyes wide open, then cracks up laughing. You’re crazy. I can completely see it’s plausible and I’ve no idea why I’m doubting you because that whole thing makes sense. But why is this not common knowledge? Why are we all grounding our kids and banishing computer games?

It is common knowledge. Some people just can’t absorb it because it has been presented in a format that’s not compatible with how they receive and process information. I only discovered this information last year when it was presented to me in a visual format.
I’ve been using this technique over and over, building up the layers every time and that is how Dennis is sitting over there calm as a cucumber reading his book ….and also why my 20-year-old is at home having a temper tantrum because I asked him to clean up after dinner.
He missed out on the good parenting. #FirstKid #TrialRun

She giggles hysterically. You are absolutely crazy. Your right! You’re so right it makes the idea of it sound crazy.
You are Ireland’s version of Jo Frost.
We both fall over laughing hysterically.

It might sound crazy and too good to be true….But try it for yourself and see if it makes a difference for you too.

Lol that rhymed and I didn’t even try. That reminds me of someone! More on that next time 😉

The power is in changing how we communicate with ourselves and others. All ya gotta do is ask what you want them to do and not what you want them to stop doing.
Please, Thank you, Your welcome, is all you need to close off the transaction.

I wish Happy & healthy communication to you all.

Thanks for reading.
Jenny.

** Dennis is the nickname given to my son due to his personality resemblance of Dennis The Menace….The remake, not the comic.