Thursday, November 26, 2020

Autism Answer: I'm Thankful My Best Friend Is (Still) Alive


I'm thankful for my best friend. And I'm thankful she's still alive.
My best friend and her husband were hospitalized and fighting for their lives this past summer. COVID-19 positive and in the ICU (one blessing, they were together) they were in pain, struggling to breathe, and having intense conversations about their possible death: What should we do for the kids before we die? Why have we not told them so many of the things they need to know? Not so much about our love for them (my friend and her husband talk openly and often with their children about their love) but about logistics and specifics and what to do with unfinished business. 
My friend is a nurse and until that time I hadn't really thought about the part of her job that puts herself and her family at risk for the health of others. I mean, I had sort of thought about it, but I hadn't felt about it.
While they were fighting to breathe I was thinking and feeling about it.
And after they were permitted to go home, doing better and no longer contagious but still needing oxygen machines and working at getting stronger without pushing too hard, I visited and we talked and talked about it. And about why it is worth it to her. (We also talked about fun light hearted stuff, laughed a lot, ate fun foods, and danced in her living room to our favorite playlists. After all, we believe in a holistic healing approach.)
First responders and health professionals are walking into danger in order to help us out of it. This we all know, but it is worth it to take time to feel it too. 
And to listen to them when they take a moment to tell us what we might be able to do to help them.
When I talk now with my friend she just wishes we would be willing to gather in small groups and wear masks when we go out. She knows it's not fun, but she and her coworkers are exhausted, forced consistently to turn people away when they're sick (there are not enough nurses and doctors, and there's not enough space in her hospital) and they are getting sick themselves, so are their loved ones. 
At the moment my friend's mom and sister and niece are all COVID-19 positive. They can't taste things, they're aching and sick and have a hard time moving around, but they're doing alright. No need for the hospital. It's been a couple of weeks and though they are barely better they are not worse, and that's a big thing. My friend's mom works with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 yet refused to wear a mask so it's likely that's where the illness spread from. But, of course, it could have been so many other sources. 
And this morning, around two in the morning, my friend got a text from her son - "sorry mom I can't make it to the house for Thanksgiving because I have a fever and I feel sick." My friend called to talk with me about it on her way to work where she offered to pull half a shift because they need nurses. They are always needing more nurses now. More people to walk into the risks in hopes that they can bring us out. 
She offered to do only half a shift because her husband will be home today. He's rarely home, though they don't complain about that. He was at risk of losing his work when this pandemic started but then after he had COVID-19 and didn't fully recover it was an absolute. Luckily, he found work in trucking and - though he is rarely home and making far less money - he knows to be grateful. In fact, their youngest son is still unable to find work. He was doing welding work (on pipelines, I think?) but he's been without work for over six months now and has not given up actively looking. He's had a great attitude, and that's awesome, but he still doesn't have a job. 
Now my friend is going to chat with her husband about keeping everyone away from their home this Thanksgiving. You see, her son is sick with COVID-19 symptoms and he lives with his brother. Who had a visit with their other brother just yesterday. Soooooo.... all the boys have been in contact with each other and though it is quite possibly just a flu or other illness, they are aware it also might be COVID-19. And my friend is uncertain whether she and her husband still have the antibodies, so she wants to be extra careful. Even though asking her kids to not come over for Thanksgiving sucks and hurts her heart and is unfair to her husband who rarely sees them. Even so, that's where she's leaning. Just in case it isn't just a flu.
A problem with COVID-19 is if you do contract it, experts are still unsure how to help you. If you get the flu they know what to do. You're unlikely to die from the flu if you get help on time and are relatively healthy. But COVID-19 just isn't like that. It's still leaving nurses like my friend and her colleagues feeling impotent and uncertain and, of course, exhausted. They care about their patients and they care about their families and they care about their jobs and they care about their skills in treating illness. They care. 
I'm so thankful for my friend. For what she does at work, for what she does for her family, and for what she does for me. I'm grateful that she shares her work, her family, her time and ideas with me. 
She doesn't ask for much, but she does wish we'd wear our masks and do whatever we can to slow the spread of COVID-19. Smaller gatherings, being willing to shift our traditions to accommodate this new threat, being a brave lone mask wearer, or saying no to invites when we must. She knows it won't stop us from spreading COVID-19 but she also believes it will slow the spread. 
She's just one nurse with one voice. But that voice almost died, has nursed her husband when he almost died, has visited her mother and sister and niece (all geared up in PPE of course) to offer support and check their vitals, is going to talk to her kids about not coming to the house for Thanksgiving because she believes it might make a difference. Oh, and she lost a childhood classmate to COVID-19 just yesterday as well. And that voice talks to me often and with thoughtful candor and grace. 
I love that voice and I will do anything I can to hear it and keep it alive. 
Including sharing that voice with you and giving you my version of her words and ideas. I hope you choose to hear it and help me keep it alive as well. 
P.S. : Thank you for sharing this space with me, friends. And feel free to invite as many others as you want, mask wearers and non-mask wearers alike! It is a neat thing that we can gather here and discuss our ideas without risk of spreading COVID! Of course, spreading ideas has it's own risks and dangers. But, you know, that's an idea worth gathering here to talk about. 😃

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Autism Answer: Seeking a Safe Way to Be Open and Accepting


Me and my Brother

“I just wanted to be nonjudgmental and accepting.”

My brother was looking at me expectantly, his big sister who always had something to say about the things he had to say, and had to wait an uncharacteristically long time for my reply.

His confession had caught me off guard and left me momentarily at a loss for words. I was too deep in a thick fog of feelings that understood and feared and felt and didn't know the right answer.

My brother had been assaulted in his apartment by a man he had opened his door to, despite the late hour and unlikely explanation for it. Of course my brother had opened his door to this stranger knocking at an inappropriate hour with a weird reason, that was who my brother himself often was and didn't he only want people to open their doors to him and hear him out?

Oh, my heart was aching and my ideas lacking.

I find myself wrestling often with this question of balance. Not judging too harshly, being open and accepting and helpful and willing to open doors or accept ones opened to me, while being safe and careful and teaching my children to do the same.

This is a big important thing and once I was able to fight out of the fog of feelings and find words, I admitted as much to my brother.

We talked a long time about how valuable it is to strive for a world that isn't so focused on defending itself that it won't risk opening doors when people are reaching out to us in unusual ways at unusual hours. There are so many people like my brother who struggle with social cues and norms and end up craving company and kindness at unusual times and in unusual ways. We talked about how hurt he himself felt when he would knock on a door at an unusual hour asking if he could look at the old cars in the yard only to have the person call him cruel names and threaten to hurt or even kill him if he ever came back. And I reminded him that it wasn't necessary for the people to open their doors and let him in for him to feel less hurt. Had the people – as some had – asked him to come at a better time and not immediately reacted by speaking to him in anger, that would have been accepting.

But there are so many grey areas here. And in the end each situation will be different and often difficult and it's just easier to push people away when they are strange or unlike us. And it's even sometimes safer in the moment.

But in the bigger picture, in the world where we keep kindness alive mostly only during business hours and when we understand easily the problem (dead car battery, missing animal, not quite enough money at the checkout) and push or react in anger when the person doesn't make sense to us and we feel overly inconvenienced or inadequate, or where we overcompensate by being ridiculously (and temptingly) generous and yes oriented, we are not building a safer world.

You know, I don't want you to open your door to my brother when he knocks at 10PM asking to peek in the windows of your cool looking old car. Not unless you want to. But I also don't want you to threaten to kill him or call him a f*&%ing lunatic either. I think you can simply tell him to leave and that it's too late for him to be there. You can tell him that you aren't comfortable and even that you don't want him to come back. I hope you will tell him these things, because I also don't want my brother to knock on your door at 10PM asking to peek in the windows of your cool looking old car. It's late. I'm generally in bed by then and maybe you are too.

I talked with my brother about this and more. I gave him specific tips about not opening his door or inviting people in at certain times or when he doesn't know them or simply if he just doesn't feel right about it. He can simply say no. Or pretend he's not home. There is nothing judgmental about that.

I don't know if the man who assaulted my brother would have moved on to assault someone else, had he not been granted access to my brother's apartment. I don't know if that one “no” would have stopped him that night, maybe even prevented other nights. That is possible. Not permitting the harming of others is part of how we teach not harming others. So, it's possible. Though not promised.

But had my brother not granted access, I do know it would have prevented his own assault. And in this specific instance it is my brother that matters to me. Not society, not the story of how that man ended up knocking on a door to rape my brother, not you and your cool looking old car in the yard, my brother.

I wish he would have known he could say no and still be nonjudgmental and accepting.

And since that day we have practiced and both gotten better at it.

I admit, it's not easy to know how to help when people are extremely unlike us. Or struggling in unusual ways. Movies can make us want to be the one who reached out and calmed a situation down or helped an outlier or struggling person during an extreme time of stress or hurt. But when we're not in a movie we generally have no clue how to truly do that safely or correctly.

It isn't easy. It isn't obvious. Not for most of us, anyway.

But I'm proud of my brother. He was able to pinpoint where he went wrong, he talked with courage to the police about what happened, he leaned on me and our mom to get through it but also took the reins on his own healing and chose lessons to learn. The learnings didn't make the assault a good thing, being raped in your apartment is not ever a good thing, but he did good things with the hurt that happened to him. I'm proud of my brother.

I hope he'll always let me talk and learn with him in similar intense and important ways.

And I hope he and I will continue to grow safer and kinder and a little bit smarter together. 

Hugs, smiles, and love!!