At The Heart of Darkness

Posted by on Apr 17, 2013 | 3 comments

At The Heart of Darkness

I am a generally happy person. I try to find the humour and joy in everything, even when it would appear that there is none to be had.

It’s been difficult to find my smile lately.

I should elaborate. I have many reasons to smile daily, all day long. I have four amazing children, my beautiful, beautiful boys, whose every breath is reason to be joyous. I smile, but there is something lurking behind it. Something dark and sad, something I’m trying my best to understand.

I am anxious. I am depressed.

I have suffered from Post-Partum Depression (PPD) after each of my children’s births, in increasing severity. My youngest son was born in October and this time it came over me like a tidal wave, the worst yet. Many people and medications support me, but the dark cloud persists. I feel like I’m going through the motions, watching my happy life from the outside.

I’m trying to put my finger on it. Baby blues? Could still be, my child is only six months old. Four children seven years and younger? Of course. There is stress in wrangling them here and there, getting them into bed, entertaining them, feeding them. They eat a lot. Seriously, a lot. But all of those things are part and parcel with motherhood. All of those things are expected. If I didn’t think I could handle this job, I wouldn’t have applied, and kept applying. My entire life brought me to this point, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

(Ok, in a perfect world there are things in my past I would have done a whole lot different, but we don’t get do-overs. It’s easier to accept that the decisions I’ve made in life, for good or bad, have created my life today. And I kind of love my life today.)

Autism? Autism is a huge part of our lives. It’s pervasive, and up to now, we’ve made it work. I realize, however, that things are changing. It’s getting more difficult. Jack is getting older. He’s getting stronger and smarter. A lot smarter. And he’s busting through all of the tools I’ve used to help him – and myself – cope. So we’re at a plateau of sorts. Or maybe diverging paths. Jack is heading into his future, and I am scrambling, trying to keep up with him. Trying to get us back in sync.

I’m flailing.

Another entity has also invited itself into our family, or is trying to. ADHD*. We are having one of our sons assessed, and I’ll be surprised if that’s not the outcome. It’ll be a few more months and a few more doctor’s appointments and a few more assessments until we know for certain, but I want to know for certain. I don’t like ambiguity, especially in my home, with my children. I am staring down the barrel of this the same way I did with autism. If my child has a challenge, I want to know what it is so we can get going. Get a handle on it. Get ahead of it. Early intervention is the best solution in any situation involving a child. Involving anyone, honestly.

If that were the only issue, I would be fine. But no, ADHD didn’t want to stop there. In the process of understanding what’s happening with my son, I started realizing something about myself. The doctor we saw last week asked me something that threw me for a loop. After going over our family’s medical history, she asked a simple question. One I hadn’t ever heard put in quite this manner.

“Does his behaviour resemble anyone in your family?”

I looked at her, stunned. The sky opened up, the clouds parted, a window of clarity descended upon me.

Or maybe I blinked.

Yes, in fact, it did resemble someone in my family.


Insert montage of snapshots of my life: my elementary school report cards describing in detail how I couldn’t sit still, talked too much, couldn’t focus; a trip to the doctor as a small child, with the word “hyperkinesis” ringing in my mind; family members telling me I talked too much, sit still, calm down. I was obsessed with candy (the bad kind, not the kind I give my kids now). I stole money from my mother’s wallet and my father’s bureau. I couldn’t handle not getting what I wanted, and screamed and banged my head when I couldn’t deal. Punishments didn’t mean a lot to me, as I was somehow always able to adapt. I lived in constant anxiety about one thing or another. My main recollection of myself as a child? Obnoxious.

That is how I always thought of myself, until one day in high school I looked in the mirror and decided I wasn’t going to be that person anymore. I embarked on a long journey of figuring it all out. Teaching myself how to take turns in conversations and not only talk about me and mine. Working to tune out the sensory overloads that hurt my head. Putting myself into social situations and act accordingly, even though I was deathly afraid. Trying, desperately, to become a “me” I could look in the mirror and love.

That’s a lot to carry around.

I pulled out those report cards not too long ago, and read them all in detail. And I cried. I cried for the little girl who never really understood why she was in trouble. Who didn’t know why she did the things she did, but couldn’t stop herself from doing them again. Who desperately wanted to fit in somewhere, anywhere, but just… couldn’t.

And I cried for my children. Because I don’t want them to ever feel what I felt. I want to shelter them from the awkwardness, the self-consciousness, the underlying feeling that they don’t belong.

I want my sons to know what is within them that makes them do things differently sometimes, and to understand not only how to manage and cope, but to know and believe that they are perfect exactly the way they were born.**

I’m not under the illusion that I can save my children every heartbreak, every hurt. Part of growing up is experiencing the things that will make them into strong men, whole men. Heartbreak and hurt are a part of the deal as much as love and fulfillment. Yin and yang.

at the beach

If I can do anything to keep my children from feeling the confusion I had, I will. If I can tell them every single day that they are beautiful and confident and awesome just the way they are, they might believe it. I can try. I have to try.

In the moment when the doctor asked that simple question, I realized that my child is very much like me. He’s the only one of our four boys who really looks like me (the other three are clones of my husband), and now I know he shares more than my features.

The most important thing I took out of that meeting was the very real possibility that if my son has ADHD, I most likely have it, too. It’s genetic, so it’s entirely possible. The most damning evidence, though, is that word I remember so vividly from long ago. Hyperkinesis. I’ve known it all of my life, but never really understood what it meant for me. I know now that hyperkinesis is what they called ADHD before it was ADHD.

I know that after my mother took me to the doctor and we learned that word, she put me on the Feingold Diet and cut out all artificial colours and flavours. I don’t remember anything else, though. No medications, no more doctor’s visits. No more addressing the elephant in the room.


Sadly, my mother has passed away, so I can’t ask her all the questions that are running around in my brain. My father has told me as much as he recalls, but there’s more. I’ve been questioning myself since Jack was diagnosed almost five years ago, and now it all seems to be making sense.

I want to know more. What can I do to get more focus? Would medication help? Is the medication I’m on making it worse? I want to banish the ambiguity.

So, I think I’ve discovered the source of the darkness: I am overwhelmed. I have several very large balls in the air, and I’m afraid if I drop them, I’ll fail my family. Autism. ADHD in my child. ADHD in myself. The anxiety. The unknown.

I am strong, I have been through worse. I just want answers, and I want clarity.

I want to help my son navigate his life with autism.

I want to help my other son cope with whatever is challenging him.

I want to get ahold of myself so I can live my life free of this weight that’s pressing me down.

I want to smile.

my heart


*There are some who may hear ADHD and think, “Oh, that’s not so bad, it’s not as bad as autism.” No, it isn’t, it’s different. It’s still a challenge, both to the individual who has it and the family that supports them. It’s work, on top of lots of other work. Not impossible, but difficult nontheless.

**I feel it’s important to note that I do not blame my parents in any way for the way I felt, or the way they handled me. This was forty years ago, and an entirely different world. If anything, my experiences have informed me well to guide my own children.

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