Stopping the Snowball

I love to serve others. I love taking meals around to a friend who’s just had a baby or is ill. I love tidying the house thinking how happy it will make my husband when he gets home (not in a 1950s way, but in a, “I know my husband loves a tidy house so although it doesn’t bother me, I’ll clear as much as I can for his sake”). I love being involved in church activities, whether by holding a house group in our lounge, or teaching in Sunday School, or giving a lift to church on Sunday.

These things bring me joy, especially as I know I am fulfilling the Lord Jesus’ command to love him and others.

But yesterday I hit a wall. It’s been looming for weeks, months even. I’ve been struggling to maintain the level of service that I’m used to. I’m tired all the time, depressed, can’t sleep, cry easily, get angered easily, and yesterday I phoned my mum in desperation because I knew I could not have the kids at home all day. My arms and legs were aching and wobbly, as if I had flu, but I’m not ill. My head ached. I couldn’t talk, couldn’t listen, and got furious when my daughter wouldn’t put her shoes on.

I’ve reached burnout.

I’ve done it before, perhaps not to this extent. Being highly sensitive means I’m generally overloaded just by an ordinary day, but Son#1 has been so awful recently and my daughter has reached the age of 3 (which has always been far harder than 2 in my opinion); my husband has had multiple health issues for two years, and at one point was rendered helpless by a back injury – leaving me to pick up all the child care and housework for a good 2-3 months.

On top of all this we were trying to serve our church, my husband as a deacon and music leader, myself running the creche and just trying to serve individuals who needed help, while hosting a home group, a seekers Bible study for women, and also trying to find help for Son#1.

I’ve been telling people for months that I’m struggling. I found a counsellor, tried to find someone in church who would pray with me or us regularly (failed).

I’ve been trying to give up different things, looking for someone else to take the creche off my hands, but in the end found there was nothing really that could be surrendered.

I’ve been telling myself what I’ve heard from others that actually we struggle when we are depending on ourselves, not Jesus, but when I tried to pray I would just end up sobbing and pleading for help, and telling Jesus all the things that were too hard to carry. Hardly constructive communication.

I felt like I was trying to stop a gigantic snowball that was racing down a hill, gathering up more and more Things To Do as it went.

We’ve agreed, husband and I, to take November off (as far as possible). We’ve arranged it so we’re not on any rotas for two full weeks, and we’re going to worship at other churches for those weeks, so that we can just be together in God’s presence as a family, as a couple. (Normally I’m strongly against ‘church hopping’, but desperate times call for desperate measures).

We’re also intending to take a couple of days together, one to go Christmas shopping – we did it last year and had a really good day together. The other day we want to spend a lot of time praying, stripping ourselves back and rededicating ourselves to Jesus.

Because here’s what I’ve realised. That snowball didn’t start rolling by accident. I packed it heavy at the top of the slope, picking up service here and rotas there. And trying to pry them off again was difficult.

Partly because our church is small, and there are not many local people to serve.

But mostly becauseĀ I love people to see me serving. I want people in my church to admire me. I want people to hold me up as an example of a Christian woman. I want people to see my heart for God, and know that I love Jesus deeply.

Ugh. I’m very sick of myself right now. Very tired of my sinful heart that hides and sneaks and betrays me, even when I think I’m being ‘good’.

So I’m hoping this month to strip back my pride, my desires for admiration, my desire to be noticed. I want to get back to that pure heart, the one desire, the one thing that matters. I want to put down my serving tray, and with it my heavy, burdensome desire to be noticed, and I’m going to accept the humble service that nobody sees.

I’m going to remember that the only person who matters sees everything, and is made glad. He noticed the widow giving everything she had, when everyone else thought she was being cheap. He noticed Mary sitting at his feet, when Martha thought she was being lazy. He notices me, he knows my physical limitations and my desire to please him. He also knows my desire to please others, but he came to remove burdens and he loves me anyway.

He loves you too. He sees you too. Let it be enough.

Diagnosis Story

Most of us resist labels. In an individualistic society we dislike being boxed in, classified with groups of other humans as if our stories are just the same as everyone else’s. Labels can restrict, altering others’ perceptions of us.

ADHD means ‘hyperactive’, ‘troublesome’, ‘difficult’.

Autism means ‘odd’, ‘low intelligence’, and ‘socially awkward’.

I think of the labels I live with. ‘Stay-at-home-mum’ for some means ‘lazy’. ‘Depression’ can mean ‘weak’, ’emotional’, and again, ‘lazy’.

Labels are freighted with associations, and this is why we fear them, because not all of those associations apply to the individual who wears the label.

Yet labels can also bring freedom. Freedom to be ourselves. Rather than always having to hide the things we struggle with, labels allow us some grace. Someone can explain that ADHD sometimes means they blurt out an inappropriate response. “I’m working on it, I don’t mean it personally. Please let me be me, and don’t reject me.”

I feared labelling my son. I did not want people to treat him differently, either by excusing behaviour or assuming negative things about him before getting to know him. But slowly we began to realise that the issues we hoped he would grow out of were not going away, in fact they were getting bigger, and having more of an impact on his life as he got older.

They were also having a greater impact on our family life. His anger is an onslaught, and rises with very little provocation. Far less unpleasant, but just as draining, is his inability to not interrupt, or to wait when he wants something.

Also troubling is the difficulties he has relating to his peers. He shows a noticeable lag in emotional development, and went through a stage of being called ‘annoying’ by all his friends. That seems to have passed, but he still struggles to get involved in games where his rules and ideas are not listened to. He wants control, and gets upset when friends won’t listen.

With high school approaching in September, we realised that he would need help. Homework demands will increase, and at the moment he has meltdowns over a single sheet of maths.

It is intensely frustrating to me that because he shows no educational lag, no one would take us seriously for a long time. If anything he has high intelligence, and is ahead of many of his peers in the classroom. For this reason, the professionals are ruling out ADHD at this moment. I’m not claiming to know more than they do about neurodevelopmental science. But I am an expert on my son. I have observed him, and lived with him, for ten years. I love him deeply. And the autism spectrum disorder which they are leaning towards just doesn’t fit, from my perspective.

Admittedly, he has some traits that flag up concerns – but these all remain in the social development side, and can be exhibited by people with ADHD also.

I’m finding it difficult to convey in brief appointments the feelings and instincts I have. It seems to me that the USA are much further ahead of the UK in terms of research and understanding of these issues, and have broken down ADHD into more streams. Here in the UK we recognise only three. One Dr in the US identifies seven types of ADHD.

Right now I know we have to go through the process. I have to pray, and trust, and wait for the professionals to check every avenue, even if they only rule things out in the end.

But it is my son, and I love him deeply, and I am afraid of them getting it wrong. I am anxious for him. I am anxious for myself, because of the freight of these labels. Autism (even mild) feels terrifying. What will it mean for his future? Will he be employable with that label? Even if it is only mild, and he manages to get to university and gain a first in science? Will it frighten people?

Even ADHD … what will it mean for his long-term relationships? Will anyone want to commit their lives to someone so difficult? So challenging? How will he be with his children? Will he be intensely involved one minute, then distant and engrossed in his work the next?

I know that worrying about the future is unhelpful. Each day has enough trouble in it. I tell my soul to listen to Jesus on this one. The future is in his hands.

But the questions drift like ghosts in the back of my mind. I don’t fully trust the professionals. I feel that the forms we fill in give only a partial picture. And how can a family’s life be condensed into an hour-long appointment?

The educational psychologist will evaluate him in school next week. And right now all I can do is gather information, evidence for what I believe, in the hope that someone will listen.

Off the Map

I promised to explain why I’ve been so quiet for so long.

My husband has been having some issues with his thyroid – a condition called Grave’s Disease. His thyroid goes into overdrive, and it has a profound effect on his whole body. He becomes agitated, irritable, and his heart pounds and races. He can’t sleep, and this makes it hard for him to get out of bed and to be involved in family life.

It kicked off about two years ago now, and tablets brought his thyroid under control. But now it’s happened again, and the doctors want to do a more permanent treatment.

While all this was happening, my husband kept injuring his back. He would be in excruciating pain, and even less able to help out with the kids and family life.

Layered over these issues, we have come to the slow and painful conclusion that Son#1 has ADHD. We’re going through the diagnosis process, which could take a whole blog of it’s own to describe, but from what we have read we are fairly certain that this is what the problem is.

Son#1 has been particularly difficult for many years, but his aggression and persistence seem to be intensifying. Having an explanation helps at one level, but I’ve also been trying to process what on earth this will mean for our family, and for Son#1 in particular. How is he going to cope with high school (starting in September 2019)? What will his life look like when he is fourteen, eighteen, twenty? Will he settle down, or will this be something that dogs him his entire life, limiting him, and damaging relationships?

My mind runs in circles as I go over these issues. At one level it is such a relief to have an explanation (other than that we are terrible parents) for our son’s difficult behaviour, and apparent inability to learn simple rules and manage his own emotions. At another level, finding a diagnosis brought an end to my hope that he was just a difficult kid and would outgrow his behaviour. ADHD seems to be a very unpredictable animal – in some people it’s long-term effects are devastating. In others, it adds some strain to daily life but not enough to prevent someone from holding down a steady job and caring for a family.

I feel like I am just emerging from a black hole, or a vicious storm. I’ve been very depressed for quite a few months, just trying to process everything that has happened to us. And through it all, when we have reached out for support from the church we have been turned away.

I’ve shed a lot of tears. I went through a patch of being unable to pray. It felt as though God had just closed the door. I tried very hard to listen to my head and to believe the promises of the Bible, but my overwhelming sense was of being utterly alone.

If you are living in a family affected by ADHD I hope I can offer you a story to relate to so you feel less alone. I have found little online for Christians living with ADHD, particularly for the partner/parent without ADHD.

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This feels like a very muddled blog, and probably isn’t all that clear. I’m hoping to break the issues down over the next few weeks and write them out one by one, providing a clear resource. But right now I’m just relating where we are. I feel a bit like a shipwrecked traveler, washed up on a strange beach. I have no bearings. We are off the map in terms of marriage and parenting, dealing with issues no self-help guide really touches on. Perhaps I can provide some direction to those who follow, to guide you on safer paths than the ones I have trodden.

Public Isolation

I’d forgotten how isolating suffering can be.

It feels like the worst thing, to be walking about with an invisible weight resting on your chest, so heavy you can hardly breathe, and no one notices.

To feel as if you are screaming and sobbing inside, and no one can hear you.

To feel as if the weight of life is just so heavy that you can hardly take another step, and no one wants to help you.

And smiling hurts. It hurts because it feels so fake, so false, to be pretending you are fine, when you feel as though your life is crumbling in your hands.

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So you try. You pick one or two people and stammer out that things have been really difficult for a long time, and now it feels as if no area of your life is really functioning and you don’t know what to do. But because you’re nervous and don’t want to be a burden you laugh and try to make it seem less of a problem than it is, so the real issue isn’t fully expressed.

And because people are busy and overwhelmed themselves they don’t usually take the time to really delve deeper and ask what the problems are, and to imagine what it must feel like. I’ve been there myself, had a conversation with someone, walked away, and only later has it struck me just how difficult their life must be because of some seemingly small thing they shared.

Or sometimes, because people are busy and overwhelmed themselves, a look of cornered panic crosses their face unawares, and you realise that they don’t want another problem to be burdened with, another need to meet, another struggler to carry, they are just keeping their own head above water and that’s enough.

So you feel like no one really understands.

And sometimes, what really, really hurts, is that you get more kindness from someone who doesn’t even know Jesus than those who do, and are supposed to know better.

I’m going to come back and explain why things have been so hard, and why I have’t touched this blog for months now. Right now that task is a bit beyond me … there are so many issues I don’t even know where to begin.

As always I’m looking for something to take away from this experience, even this depression and hurt.

I think sometimes God pulls us aside and takes away every person we are depending on. This feels like unkindness, but it’s not. Because he wants to be everything to us, knowing that only then we will find peace and strength. People will always let us down. They were never designed to carry the full weight of our need, let alone in this broken world where sin so readily destroys. Only God can fill the eternity gaping in our souls, and he longs to do it. So he makes us feel that need by pulling away every false prop.

So if you are feeling alone too, lean into him. Cry the messy kind of sobbing and tell him that you need him. Let him bind up your wounds. You know, sometimes that hurts too. Oil on raw skin stings. But later it soothes and heals.

And then be the person you long to meet in your darkest hour, the one who pulls up a chair and listens, who isn’t afraid to ask the probing questions, the ones that draw out the pain. Yes, even when you are hurting yourself. Offer kindness instead of politeness, love instead of reserve. Sometimes God sends us pain so we learn how to help the many others in this world who are crying out for love, and truly have no one to turn to.