The Truth About The Mask Of Mental Illness

So it turns out I haven’t quite finished writing about masks. Today, however, instead of talking about clinical masks, I want to talk about a different type of mask – that is, the mask that society forces people with mental illness to wear.

Sad woman with paper mask over her mouth with a smile drawn on it.
Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash






It’s the mask of being well – that many of us expect them to wear, even now, in spite of the progress made in terms of awareness.

You see, mental illness is still viewed by some as a made-up illness, or a weakness, or something we should feel ashamed about. And while there are all those wonderful memes that float around the Internet to remind us to be kind and empathetic to sufferers, the reality can be very different.

It might surprise you to know that it is still rare to find a work environment in which you can admit openly that you suffer from depression or a neurological disorder

I’ll be honest, each time someone admits to me they don’t believe in mental illness, I want to scream at them for their arrogance and ignorance. And here’s why. Because, today, with my son’s permission – I’m going to give you an insight into what it is like for him to live with it, and the effect it has on his loved ones.

A few weeks ago, we planned a long overdue family weekend away. It was overdue for many reasons, such as Covid, the cost of taking away a family of four adults (and our very practical concerns about our bar bill), and our annual leave restrictions. However, the main reason the trip was short was because of Kurt, our twenty-three year old son.

He hasn’t really left Sydney over the past two years for all the usual reasons: his bartending job as a casual – which makes it hard for him to make his rent (let alone splash out on weekends away); the organisation involved in planning and booking time away with his ADHD; as well as, erm, certain dependencies he uses to alleviate some of his ADHD symptoms, that are not (shall we say) very transportable.

The main ones, though, are his crippling anxiety and OCD

The outside world may not see what it takes for people like him to leave the house, but trust me, it is no mean feat. There are rituals that his brain insists he must carry out before any transition, there is his fear of change, his laundry (so much laundry), sensory considerations, and an elevated sense of imposter syndrome. In other words, as soon as he steps through the door, our son has to put on a mask.

In other words, he looks like a normal, functioning Millennial, who smiles a lot and converses seemingly naturally. The truth is, however, he would prefer to never have to leave his bedroom.

Few would be aware of the rituals that chain him to his home, his fear of change, or the mental effort it takes to keep himself on track

The reality is, our son doesn’t travel much because his mind won’t let him and last weekend was as much about celebrating mine and our daughter’s birthdays as it was a test for Kurt. It was an attempt to get him to push back from a negative way of thinking that is getting stronger by the day, and as a fellow sufferer (but less severe), I am aware of the dangers of letting anxiety win.

“Avoiding what makes you anxious provides some relief in the short term, but can make you more anxious in the long term. Try approaching something that makes you anxious – even in a small way. The way through anxiety is by learning that what you fear isn’t likely to happen – and if it does, you’ll be able to cope with it. ” Beyond Blue

A few days prior to our departure, he decided not to come and I persuaded him to rethink. Genuinely, I believed the change of atmosphere would do him good. As a result of changes due to Covid, he has spent a lot of time on his own of late – which is not good for over-thinkers – and I was excited at the prospect of exploring antique shops together, experiencing the hotel’s leisure facilities, and enjoying the sense of togetherness that other families appear to enjoy.

I’m his mum and selfishly, I suppose, I wanted him there with us, not only to push back his anxiety, but to help me complete the faux image of the perfect family unit I aspire to

Mental illness is often inaccurately portrayed in film. Many films focus on the quirky charisma of the neuro-diverse or mentally-ill characters, rather than the often terrifying complexities of mood disorders. While we are shown aspects of the darkness, there’s very little of the day-to-day reality of living with the illness – the self-harm, the anger, the police involvement, the desperation and the tears.

When our son is on form, he lights up a room; but when he is overwhelmed, it’s like waiting for the White Walkers to break through the wall

I don’t have any photos of the first twenty-four hours of our trip when Kurt couldn’t look at us or speak to us because he was so angry with me for persuading him to come. He was even madder with himself for “being such a cunt.” (His words).

Ahead of our trip, I thought I had prepared for every eventuality and nothing could go wrong. And yet on our first night, I booked a table at a restaurant in town (because the hotel restaurant was extortionate), and that triggered Kurt’s anxiety. He joined us, but he sat in the restaurant, stony-faced, his earphones in, and as soon as he finished his food, he left by himself. Returning to the hotel bar, he set himself up at his own table and refused to join us when we returned.

I know better than to think I can prepare for every eventuality. The unpredictability is, perhaps, the hardest part about mental illness. The three steps forward, and the inevitable four steps back

That night he texted us to say he would take the train home the following morning.

Even now, he cannot explain what triggered his overwhelm and need to isolate, but it lasted until after lunch the following day, when somehow he managed to pull himself back and block out the voices. He apologised to us profusely, told us how much he loved us and hated himself for his behaviour, and our second night together was memorable – one of the best nights we’ve shared as a family.

When family and friends ask us how Kurt is doing, we put on masks too

We wear protective masks as well – from the judgement of being bad parents, weak, enablers, and pushovers – even though we can’t fully defend our actions, out of respect for Kurt’s privacy.

What I will say, though, is that unless you walked in our shoes, you cannot understand – in much the same way that I would have a limited understanding of how to cope with a child with a physical disability or terminal illness.

A person with mental illness may look exactly like you and I most of the time, until the mask slips

That judgment forces people with invisible illnesses to wear masks, and when they slip, society is unprepared for what lies behind it, in terms of both support and resources. But in the same way that there is no shame in having gastro, there is nothing wrong in admitting that your head isn’t well. Everyone feels sad or anxious at times, but it is the magnitude of those emotions that is so different for people with depression and anxiety, or with neurological conditions that make normal life more challenging.

They can’t “snap out of it” to make the rest of us feel better

Most of the time they don’t ask for our help, nevertheless, they deserve our compassion. My desire to paint a perfect family picture of our weekend away made my son very unhappy and his mask slipped – like he warned us it would. Fortunately, this journey together has made us stronger. We have learned not to blame ourselves (or him) for poor decisions, and I’m certain that sometime in the near future we will give the experience another shot.

The outcome may be similar, but the hope is that each experience is one step further away from surrender, and one step closer to recovery.

Pity The Parents Whose Boomerang Children Have Been Forced Back Home By COVID-19

One aspect of COVID-19 that is rarely mentioned on the news is the impact on families who – due to recent job losses – have had grown children return back home.

Some of you, I imagine, view the bounce back home of our Boomerang Generation as an opportunity to rebuild relationships, fatten them up and dry them out as one of the few advantages of this lurgy, but for others who have children like our second-born, Kurt, the predicament is a little more complicated.

Photo by Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash

Some of you might remember Kurt – our ADHD, larger-than-life adult, son from my earlier blog posts – because he was one of the main inspirations for this blog. He was the child who launched so many parenting curveballs at us on his journey through the teenage years that eventually – approximately one year and twenty-eight days ago – he left us no choice but to evict him for his and our safety and for the sake of our own mental health.

We didn’t evict him, really. Fortunately, around the same time we decided that the only course left open to us was to leave the country, our son decided that he’d had his fill of us as well, which made it a darn sight easier to convince him to that independent living was a blast.

Anyway… four moves later, after several fraught dealings with landlords, numerous police visits, a tenancy record, and a steep learning curve when it comes to budgeting, I will admit that the experiment has been an interesting, if not convincing one.

Suffice it to say, our boy gave it his best shot, but once the restrictions COVID-19 were enforced and he lost his job (in hospitality), it was impossible not to notice the deterioration in his mental health caused by his isolation with only four walls for company for the foreseeable future.

Kids like Kurt need to talk connection, which is why (like many families out there facing similar difficult choices at the moment) we’ve made the tricky one to bring him home. Emotional ramifications aside, he can’t realistically live on benefits and pay the high rent still expected by Sydney landlords during this virus – however generous the government has been – and from our own financial point-of-view, his rental offering will help us buy toilet roll should it ultimately find itself the black market.

He would agree that our renewed cohabitation is not an ideal solution, but he assures us that he is not the same boy who left home a year ago. Hence, new rules have been agreed, boundaries reinstated, and the lock has been taken off the bar.

Needless to say, it’s hard not to feel anxious about this change when some distance had improved our relationship with our son, but I am trying to stay positive. I’m endeavouring not to show my resentment at having to sacrifice my bedroom – our choice – in an attempt to maintain our sanity. Anyone who knows someone with ADHD will understand that some of them are huge personalities with a tendency to be nocturnal, so a relatively self-contained space of the house seemed like a sensible option.

And noise was a driving factor in our Kurt’s original decision to leave. Our son is naturally exuberant, musical, and (I can only assume) partially deaf – although unfortunately his musical knowledge does not seem to stretch to the term sotto voce. Added to which, he has inherited my father’s Chris Hemsworth baritone voice that gets louder whenever he is excited – which is often – like a puppy dog. By locking him down providing him with a self-contained room, the hope is that his nightly visits down our creaky stairs to raid the fridge, use the laundry, play guitar or to organise a rave for the neighbourhood kids should be restricted.

Inevitably, there have already been casualties: the dog has lost her leftovers; there are some mysterious new drink stains on the carpet; and the addition of a hideous pink velvet retro armchair to my Hamptons living area. There was also a skateboarding accident that in normal times should have received proper medical attention, a disastrous midnight head shave into a Mohican, and a noticeable twitch in my left eye each time I hear the theme tune to Endgame.

I love my son and I can see that Kurt is trying his best to behave like a normal human being, but for us sleep is probably the biggest issue caused by his return back home. It has meant that the old man and I have been forced to share the marital bed again, and while I have tried to put on a brave face about it – by justifying my stoicism as a necessity of this war – there is a limit to the number of times I can listen to him toss, turn and sniff in bed next to me without feeling the desire to stab him.

The Meaning Of Life: And Why People Who Live In Hot Countries Suffer From Depression Too

Kurt experienced a few personal setbacks a few weeks ago and because I know that many of you follow this blog because you too have young adults who struggle, I thought I’d take you through what we’ve learned from it. Obviously, I won’t go into precise detail about what happened, but suffice it to say that after more than a year of giant leaps towards a balanced, happier life, his world came crashing down around him and he felt unable to cope.

Man looking out onto world.
Photo by Larisa Birta on Unsplash

We’ve all been there – those parts of growing up when it feels like life is conspiring against us, leaving us no way out. But it’s worse when you have a disability and the lack of a good emotional skill set and resilience to cope with it.

His cry for help coincided with my first day in a new position at work – a position that I know is within my field of expertise, even though my anxiety consistently tells me that I can’t do it – so, needless to say, I was already in an emotional tail spin that morning when he started calling me. In hindsight, I think that I may have over-reacted to the situation.

My therapist tells me that anxiety can be contagious in some families, like a chemical reaction, where the molecules keep bouncing against each other, escalating it. Apologies for my simplistic interpretation but I never took Chemistry seriously at school. However, I did manage to stop my eyes glazing over as she was explaining what she obviously believed was a useful analogy to me. And I know that I use this expression all of the time in this blog, but sometimes it really does feel (for a lot of us) as though we will never get our shit together and that life takes some perverse enjoyment out of kicking at us when we’re already on the ground. Fortunately for us oldies, though, maturity and experience help remind us in those moments that we will (most likely) get back up on the damned horse, whereas Kurt is still young. He has yet to understand the difference a year, a day, or even an hour can make to how he is feeling in that moment, or how different those areas of his life that he struggles with today may look in ten years time.

When you’ve been misunderstood and had to fight for acceptance for most of your short life, resilience is hard to build.

However, a week on, I am happy to report that he is in a very different headspace. In fact, a few nights ago the family got together for dinner – Waltons-style (not quite) – I watched the light return to his eyes as he held court at the dining table, and it was almost impossible to believe that this was the same, broken young man from the week before.

Watch any documentary or reality show on the topic of depression or suicide ideation and you will see that most people regret their attempt if they survive to be given a second chance at this crazy thing called life.

We live in a crazy world, and not even maturity hands over all the answers to our reasons for being here. So it’s understandable for an over-thinking twenty-two-year-old, whose brain is still developing, to lose his way; to question if the pressure and suffering are really worth it, and (perhaps, more importantly), why the shit seems to be dealt out so disproportionately.

Hence, the rise in mental health issues in our youth.

I constantly question what we can change for this boy of ours to help him believe that overall the good outweighs the bad. That is the problem with depression – it is not something that you can fix by throwing money at it. On paper, Kurt has everything he should need to be happy. He has family support, a job and that sort of energising personality that Robin Williams had. ie. a convincing mask.

When the old man and I watched Chernobyl this week, I found myself looking at the bleakness of the Russian landscape in disbelief, wondering how any population could enjoy their lives beneath the heaviness of those grey skies and such an unforgiving political regime – let alone a dodgy nuclear reactor – and I decided that it is because they have known no different. But I was wrong. Happiness doesn’t come from the tangible stuff in our lives. It has less to do with blue skies and much more to do with living in a supportive community and having friends. It’s why the poorest in Africa and India are still happy. Seriously, Indian people are the most rounded, happy people I’ve ever met.

Blue skies help, but people who live in hot countries suffer from depression as well.

I keep telling Kurt that dealing with life’s crap makes you more resilient, even though I’m still trying to convince myself. I’m not comfortable using “stronger” in this instance – there are many days when I feel far from strong, but I hope that he builds the resilience to hang in there long enough to experience the good bits about this world. Ie. the myriad of wonderful relationships and experiences that are within his grasp if he allows his stars to align. But then that does require a certain level of positivity, hence the Catch 22 fuckery of my parental wisdom.

I suppose that the real crux of the matter when it comes to the meaning of life is that, in truth, there is no real alternative.

You Don’t Have To Fit Into Society’s One-Size-Fits-All Box

As, once again, we compile the memories of twenty-five years together into boxes ahead of our next move, it seems appropriate to have a discussion about them.

Dog climbing out of a packing box.

Boxes.

Because I’ve noticed how good society is at putting people into them, as NC reminded me the other day when we were discussing the assumptions people make about her personal choice to become a vegetarian.

Whenever you choose to veer off the straight and narrow or do something different, it seems to encourage the more cynical to shout louder from their soapbox. To use the example of NC, she is often criticised for those rare occasions she indulges in fish, even though her vegetarianism is nothing to do with animal cruelty. Sometimes her body craves fish, and she can’t resist tuna and salmon Sashimi and my smoked salmon and cream canapes at Christmas. As she is a vegetarian for sustainability reasons, she doesn’t see a problem with this. Her detractors, however, suggest that she isn’t a “proper” vegetarian.

Haters gonna hate.

It’s the same with feminism. The uneducated like to put feminists in the box for people that stand against inequality between the sexes, grow out their body hair, and hate men. I wax… and I don’t hate men because of their gender.

In the same way that not all Muslims are radical terrorists, not all feminists hate men.

Making assumptions and boxing people into a group is a lazy path to take. It is also naive and potentially dangerous. For those who don’t bother to look more carefully at a person’s reasons for their beliefs and behaviour, their premature judgment can have have life-long repercussions.

Society – and the old man and I must take some responsibility as well – has tried to fit Kurt into a box for most of his life – an expectation that has made him miserable. The sad truth is that society only provides one box for everyone to fit into and so those that can’t fit comfortably in it risk being ostracised and isolation. The laws of society have limited tolerance for “difference”, which means that there is not enough “give” in the box for the neuro-diverse, the traumatised, or the outward thinkers.

Anyone who has made a profession out of moving house and packing – like the old man and myself – will know that some things don’t fit in standard-sized boxes.

Women, in particular, have always struggled to fit comfortably in the box, because it was designed for men. Meghan Markle is experiencing the claustrophobia of that situation right now. A bi-racial, divorced woman, she is attempting to fit into a box of privilege that has little desire to move with the times. Hers was never going to to be a smooth transition – a plight that Nikki Gemmell summed up in her brilliant piece, “The Audacity of Meghan Markle”, in The Australian last week.

Personally, I hope that Meghan doesn’t make a smooth transition. I hope that she lifts the lid off that bloody box and sets it alight with her critics inside.

We need more Meghans. We need more Kurts and NCs and people prepared to stand up for their beliefs, for those that don’t fit squarely into boxes – whom in many cases, are demonised by society. We should be encouraging society to think outside of the box, not closing the lid on it.

9 Reasons Why Empty-Nesting Is So Much Better Than I Expected

Since Kurt left home – the last of our young adults to leave the nest – friends keep asking us how we are coping with our loss, how much we miss him, and whether we’ll get another dog?

Black and white image of young man looking to view of city.
Photo by Caleb George on Unsplash

And my diplomatic answer is a resounding YES – of course, I miss him terribly. The house isn’t quite the same without his raw energy, and I still feel that pull on my heartstrings whenever I notice something he left behind; or that queasiness in my stomach when he doesn’t pick up my calls or return my texts.

But I can’t lie – it is also quite liberating not to have that pile of twenty or so extra towels to wash each week; it is much easier to sleep without earplugs; and I have found this wonderful new window of opportunity of approximately two hours each week when I don’t have to replace toilet rolls.

Most of all, I don’t miss the silent judgment of healthier-than-thou mums in the supermarket as they glance at the Kurt-food in my trolley.

In truth, the old man and are having the time of our life. And while I know that some of you experienced empty-nesters out there will wince at that rather self-centered admission – and I am prepared for those times when I sit down and sob over a guitar pic I discover under the sofa or the hidden box of dinosaur nuggets in the freezer – here are my reasons for it:

  1. Our relationship is better with him now. Luckily for us, he appears to have forgiven us for fucking him up, and, even more amazingly, he appears to want to stay in our lives. We spend short bursts of “quality” time with him now, rather than extended “nagging” time.
  2. The house is really clean and tidy. It’s not that he was a grub – but, well… you know how intolerant you become in middle age about empty glasses left around the house, clothes drying on the back of your favorite chairs, and (did I mention?) permanently empty toilet roll holders. The old man also doesn’t miss Kurt’s free access to his wardrobe, either, and the daily search for a pair of clean socks.
  3. SOME of the anxiety linked to our responsibility to turn him into a responsible adult has gone, along with that albatross around our necks of having to be his role-model all of the time. We can get pissed as farts, watch porn and swear at each other with gay abandon. Hell! We could even smoke weed if we wanted to – strictly for medicinal reasons, obvs. We remain delightfully ignorant of the ingenious ways our child is sticking up his middle finger at society now – hence we are sleeping better. We don’t wake up to the stress of getting him out of bed to go to school or work – he is managing that by himself now – and quite honestly, I hadn’t realized how exhausting “enabling” him was, or what pathetically easy pushovers we were.
  4. Our food shop has halved, which means it takes me about fifteen minutes to zip around Aldi. It also means that with spare dollars to spare, I can sneak into Woollies now and then. The best part is that we can eat what we want!
  5. We can walk around the house in whatever state of deshabille we want. There’s no need to lock doors when we’re in the bathroom. There are no more screams of disgust at the sight of our old, sagging bodies, and best of all, we can nap in the afternoon – without someone prodding us to check if we’re still breathing or what’s for dinner.
  6. We can eat out in nice restaurants again now without having to consider fussy palates or the cost of paying for four adults. We can go out later – after the babies and toddlers have gone home to bed.
  7. The silence is golden. No door-slamming, rapping or sibling arguments.
  8. Our wine and beer stash has a longer lifestyle, as does the loose change in my purse.
  9. We don’t argue about the kids as much or judge each other for how we parent them. We have assumed roles for who deals with which issue when they call – the old man deals with money, while I share my limited advice about cooking and how often to clean sheets – which has always been NEVER unless someone is coming to stay.

This period feels eerily like that rose-tinted stage of parenting right after I gave birth. It is similar to that sense of euphoria I felt as I looked down at the faces of my newborns for the first time and felt so damn grateful and proud that I had got through it. Just before I remembered that the thing in my arms was real and that I couldn’t hand them back when it got too tough or if I changed my mind.

And The Progress Prize For Best Father This Father’s Day Goes To…

conner-baker-480775-unsplashI’d like to say an early “Happy Fathers Day” to all those men for whom fatherhood hasn’t been quite what they expected, perhaps due to their own issues, the pressures of “toxic masculinity”, or perhaps because, (as in the old man’s case), they produced a square peg.

First of all, I should probably justify my use of “toxic masculinity” in this context, which The Good Man Project defines as: ‘the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly “feminine” traits—which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual—are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away,’ because I want to make sure that you don’t think that this is another attack on men. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Rather, it is an explanation for why some men struggle with relationships, aggression, depression and even suicide, because of the expectations leveled at them by society. It is why videos of tearful men cuddling newborns and greeting their dogs after long periods apart make women weak at the knees; it is why videos of sons coming out to accepting fathers are the best.

Margaret Mead said that “Children must be taught how to think, not what to think,” which (I believe) highlights the fine line between advising and judging our kids’ choices, as parents. We have to guide rather than direct. We have to be their consultants.

And let’s be honest, for some parents that’s easier than for others. While some parents rise to the challenge of a kid that is not textbook and who refuses to listen to a darn thing you say, some fall face down in the mud for a while before they get back up – like the old man has, in his struggle to accept Kurt’s unbridled passion for life and magnetic attraction to trouble.

That’s why I’m nominating him for a “progress prize” on Fathers Day this year.

It’s a sort of apology for all the times I used him as a boxing bag for my fears about our son or ignored his input because I was scared.

It hasn’t been easy for the son of a middle-class, ‘normie’ family (as Kurt describes neurotypicals), who was brought up in a traditional, white-picket-fence environment and for whom a crisis was when one of the boys kicked a ball over the neighbor’s fence and someone had to retrieve it. Parenting this larger-than-life son, who has turned every one of his old-fashioned values on their head, spat in the face of just about every law and convention ever created, and defied every parenting strategy, has been a learning curve for this mild-mannered man who can’t even book a table at a restaurant. It has probably taken the full twenty-one years of Kurt’s life for the old man to reach a full acceptance of him, as well as taking twenty-one years off his own; but he has been there, he has stayed the course.

There have been altercations – many vocal, some of them physical – and visits to the police together. He has been roadie, banker, and advisor to a child that has pushed him to the brink of his patience in his attempts (mostly futile) to knock some sense into educate our boy – and let me draw your attention  once again here to the fallacy that we are only given the stuff we can handle – and yet, while Kurt may not be the child either of us envisaged, I truly believe that one day the old man will thank him one day – if for no other reason than the shitload of content he has provided him with for dinner parties.

Parenting is the greatest and most arduous of journeys. It provides an education like no other and at times it is far from plain sailing. Our journey has been a rocky one, with lots of motion sickness along the way, and yet finally, I can see dry land on the horizon, and the old man helped get us there.

 

I Must Thank My Son For His Mental Illness

baby-864137_960_720

The boy turned twenty-one last week, and while part of me wants to scream and holler with excitement, pride, and relief, the other part wants to sit in a corner, rocking and licking my wounds.

Many of you will be familiar with our journey with Kurt, our son. It was one of the reasons I began to write this blog, and I suspect that some of you follow it because you too have kids with mental health problems. You’ll also know that life with them is not what you signed up for, not by any parenting manual standard.

Some people say that parenting brings out the best in you and there have been times, particularly over the past six years, when I’ve wanted to rip that statement apart, over-analyze it with a few bottles of wine and then say “Fuck You!” because parenting is hard, and because there have been so many times when I have hated the person it has turned me into.

Before I had kids, I believed that being a parent was something I was born to do, and I made the assumption that I would be good at it. That naivety and arrogance have made the past twenty-one years feel like a very long and hard road at times, with its highs and lows, the steps forward and backward, the silent condemnation, and then more steps backward.

I’m not seeking pity or consolation. This is my honest acceptance of some responsibility for our journey, because perhaps if we’d done certain things differently, the outcomes might have changed. But we were amateurs at this parenting lark, carrying baggage from the past and the false expectations of others. And we’ve made it. We’re not out of the woods, but we can see the lights of the pub at the end of the road as we approach the start of the next phase of his life and the signs are that phase horribilis is drawing to a close.

My son is officially an adult, and as I draw the curtains on the past few years, I owe it to him to thank him.

I must thank him for shredding my heart strings and teaching me how vulnerable all of us can be – for which there’s nothing to be ashamed of – and for showing me how strong we can be when needed. This experience has opened my eyes. I have learned and grown from it more than from any other experience in my life and it has inspired me to write, develop compassion, get to know people before I judge them, and to form a concrete understanding of difference, unconditional love, and mental health that I will take with me into every other decision I make. 

This experience has shined a glaring light on what I see now was confusion in my younger years about what really matters.

Some God said that we are only given the stuff we can handle, and there have been times over the past decade when I was certain that I couldn’t handle being my son’s parent – or even why I should. You can lose sight of who you are when you have kids, and when you become the parent of a kid with special needs or a maverick, (or in our case ‘that kid’), there are times when you feel resentful about your needs being usurped by theirs. Instead of triumphs and awards, you get calls from school, the police, and the parents of other kids, and the pressure to keep pretending to be a professional at work (when your home life is falling apart) requires your finest thespian skills.

Not all of us are Mother Theresa types, with their long grey hair, premature lines, and a forgiveness in their heart for whatever shit life throws at them. Some of us lie in bed at night feeling broken, rallying against the unfairness of it all, thinking ‘why me?’

No one could have loved my son more than I have, and yet it’s hard not to think about how he might have fared with parents that were more liberal, or less anxious people than us; who might have come to the party with fewer middle-class expectations and ill-informed judgments. Poor kid. Although with fewer boundaries, who’s to say how he would have turned out.

As a parent, you can only follow your heart and do what you think is right.

At seven, I never thought my son would read and write; at twelve, I never thought he would have any friends; at sixteen, I thought he would kill himself; at eighteen, I thought he would end up in prison; and at twenty-one, I am still worrying – because what mother ever stops worrying about their kids?

But I am so proud of this young man. He has fought his own demons to stay here with us when others have given in, and with his fiery temper and big heart, his abounding energy and gentleness, his optimism in the face of constant rejection and his childish vulnerability, he has shaped me into who I am now – a better person.

And like every mother, I believe that he will go on to do great things – in his own time, (because Kurt has only ever done things in his own time). And I don’t mean GREAT things, necessarily,  I mean that he will do something extraordinary that is unlikely to fit squarely with society’s view of what is great; yet somehow, I have a feeling that it will be memorable.

 

Car Insurance, Teens, And Just How Far Parental Responsibility Extends

key-791390_960_720Insurance is one of those dirty words that you only have to deal with once you grow up – kind of like calories and tax – and as a serial procrastinator, I always found that it was best left well alone until I needed it. But from my perspective as a parent, it is an issue that gets entangled in the question of how much we continue to support our kids once they become adults – and a tricky one. For as much as we want to support their growing independence, in certain areas such as car and health insurance, the penalties for youth are unfavorably high and that decision may not necessarily be the right one, for any of the parties involved. 

Married to an accountant, I’ve never been given a free hand with the administration of our personal finances, (nor have I ever had very much money to spend), but we have taken a stereotypically gender-based view of who deals with which insurance. I tend to sort out the house stuff because I know exactly how much our eighteen-year-old Ikea furniture is worth (sobs), while he has adopted car and health insurance.

Insurance becomes super-complicated once your kids pass their driving test, as anyone with young adult drivers in the house will testify. Super-complicated, as in super-fucking-stupid-expensive, and while on the one side, you want to encourage their independence, (in the vain hope that they’ll move out quicker), on the other, you’re not sure why you have to remortgage the house for them to trash your car. 

If you looked too closely at the statistics of accidents caused by young, inexperienced drivers, you’d never let them get behind the wheel of a car (and certainly not your own). And while the statistics for young adults are terrifying, the statistics for young adults with ADHD are Roseanne Barr-on-Ambien-terrifying, hence the reason we refused to get in the car with Kurt for a very long time, in spite of him being a naturally fast adept driver as a result of his online twelve-year apprenticeship with Top Gear.

We have regretted that decision many times over the past year as each corner of the old man’s car has been reshaped, (although neither sibling has taken responsibility as of yet), and Kurt has accumulated more parking and speeding fines than earnings.  But fortunately, Australia is a nanny state that doesn’t take kindly to free spirits – quite rightly in this instance – and as such, it is unlikely that Kurt will remain in the driver seat for much longer. A fact that didn’t stop him this weekend from going out with a bang. Literally. A minor one, fortunately, thanks to the robustness of the undercarriage of the old man’s car and the softness of the terrain of the roundabout he chose to bypass on his midnight hunt for Coco Pops. However, one that will seriously dent the wallet with an excess on our insurance policy that equates to the cost of Meghan Markel’s wedding dress, meaning anniversary plans may have to be scrapped, and the old man has yet to utter a sentence without a liberal sprinkling of the F word.

Kurt will pay for the damage, over time – no doubt via interest-free installments over the next decade to the bank of mum and dad – and I know I should be grateful that he (or no one else) was hurt, but it has taken all of my strength this week not to call those parents in the US who sued their son to get him out of their home, for a lesson in just how far parenting responsibility extends.

The Awkward-Scale For Teenage Boys When Shopping With Mom

I went shopping with my teenage son yesterday, whereupon he bestowed upon me one of the greatest honors of my parenting life when he told me that I was (and I quote) ‘a nightmare to be seen in public with.’

 

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‘Oh, and these ten packs of condoms and tube of lube for my son over there, please.’

 

Job well done, I say; if not for the niggling suspicion that the nightmarish aspects of my company had rather more to do with my senility than my embarrassing-mom qualities.

 

Although many men people would have us believe that men and women are very different, in my opinion, the only time there is a palpable difference between the genders is when it comes to clothes shopping. Now, before all you male fashionistas jump down my throat, let me explain. I have based this opinion on the two socially-anxious males in my house, for whom malls are almost as terrifying as attending a feminist rally in a Trump tee-shirt – something I blame on my mother-in-law, who used to chain-smoke her way around shopping malls just to get through the torture. Oh, how she would have loved online shopping – although I suspect that she understood even less about technology than the dangers of passive smoking.

 

Anyway, as such, clothes shopping with my son is, shall we say politely, is something that I avoid at all costs.

 

Perhaps a little more elaboration is required here. For not only does Kurt have a deep-seated hatred for crowds, bright lights, the smell of German bread (!) and the overwhelming choices that shopping throws up as a result of his ADHD, he is also incredibly fussy about what he puts on his body from a sensory processing perspective and his side order of OCD.  His wardrobe is lean, and any clothing lucky to make the cut into its minimally perfect world has a very limited shelf life. In general terms, that generally means he has a single outfit on the go at any time, and he washes it daily.

 

However, recently re-employed, (thank you, God), yesterday he was forced to beg the Bank Of Mom to tide him over with some new work clothes, and while I worked out the interest rate on my loan, he got to grips with the idea of a mall trip with mum, her symptoms of early-onset dementia, lack of filter, embarrassing approaches to every female she thinks is potential daughter-in-law material, zero sense of direction (particularly in car parks) and her middle-aged intolerance to just about everything – but particularly poor service. In other words, the afternoon did not bode well.

 

Rest assured, we lived to tell the tale and for your entertainment, the following are invaluable lessons that I learned, based on an innovative scientific scale – the awkward-scale or AS – that I have invented for this exact purpose:

 

DO NOT go into a pharmacy with your teenage boy because (apparently) any hot shop assistant will think you’re buying him condoms – AS 8

 

DO NOT drag your son to the till to pay for his new undies, because there is some awkward (perhaps sexual – Ewww) connotation in that as well – AS 9

 

DO NOT complain about anything, ask for a different size or ask for assistance in any shape or form – AS 7

 

DO NOT attempt to accompany him into the changing room, even if he walks around naked at home – AS 9

 

DO NOT express your disgust loudly at your usual Mexican lunch outlet and then try flirting with the hot, young assistant (your son’s age) when he tells you that they have started charging $2 for the avocado topping – AS 10

 

Learn how to use the self-service checkout – AS 8

 

Never discuss any medical/biological/sexual topic over coffee, especially when you know your voice has the phonic capability of reaching the Northern Hemisphere when you get over-excited. NEVER use the word moist – AS 10

 

NEVER feel the end of your son’s new shoes to check for growing room, especially when the girl serving him is future daughter-in-law material – AS 210

 

But the crime of the century should probably go to either, a) my appalling parking skill in public, in front of hundreds of shoppers/witnesses, because it is difficult to maneuver a family-sized vehicle around a column with Kendrick blasting in one ear and your son screaming in the other, ‘learn to drive, will you!’ Or, b) losing the parking ticket and having a very loud conversation with the man in the machine at the barrier, while everyone queued behind us.

Why Won’t Our Kids Let Us Mold Them Into Who We Want Them To Be?

 

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“You will find as your children grow up that as a rule, your children are a bitter disappointment – their greatest object being to do precisely what their parents do not wish and have anxiously tried to prevent.”

 

“Often when children have been less watched and less taken care of – the better they turn out! This is inexplicable and very annoying!”

 

(The words of Queen Victoria, taken from History Extra – author Denys Blakeway)

 

Queen Victoria was a lucky woman, for, in spite of having nine kids, she only saw them when she felt like it or had to as a PR exercise. I’ve been glued to series 2 of the same name over the past week because the queen’s fetish for getting pregnant is all the more impressive when you find out how little maternal instinct she possessed. She also had a son like Kurt – Bertie – who ended up being a decent King, which means there is hope.

 

If indeed, it was easy-peasy to raise children, child psychologists and writers of those lying, fucking parenting bibles, would be out of a job. And if Queen Victoria can have one of those kids, what hope is there really for the rest of us? While the old man and I plod along (what should be) the home stretch of parenting, astoundingly we are still confronted by those occasions when like Queen Vic, I would prefer not to do this job at all, and the other night was one of those.

 

Some of you might have picked up my leaning towards being a bit of a control freak, worry-guts and helicopter parent, and that night was one of those that I’m sure will resonate with most parents of teenagers. Tossing and turning in bed, praying that my son would return home safely; promising God a lifetime of attendance at church if only he took care of him; and then as soon as I heard his key turn in the door, I was down the stairs like a crazy woman, berating him for his selfishness.

 

Such nights are less common now that NC has abandoned us and Kurt has survived his teens. Either the sleep medication really does work, or somewhere in my sub-conscience, I have accepted that my children may be adults and let go…a little. It’s sexist I know, but you don’t worry as much about boys, especially when they are of the puppy dog variety like my son, who would rather eat their own shit than throw a punch.

 

That night’s insomnia, however, had less to do with a fear for his safety and much more to do with the visceral disappointment and bruising realization that our son was going to let us down again. Parents of children such as our son will understand this feeling, although I imagine that parents of normal children will secretly condemn me for my honesty. I’m sorry, but if you haven’t got the tee-shirt…

 

It confirmed that I will never be able to mold my son into the adult I expected him to be. I adore him and I know he loves me, but he adamantly refuses to let me turn him into an upstanding citizen of society with the moral compass that we had at his age. He is fundamentally a good person, but convention, abiding by laws and keeping promises are just not his bag, and no matter how many sleepless nights I have, or how many times I try to clip his wings or lock his shackles, he breaks free of them, usually with greater aplomb.

 

When we plan our children, we have all these loopy ideas about how they will turn out while secretly praying that they will inherit the good bits from each of us. The reality is, we consider all the physical stuff at length, then glaze over the personality stuff and make assumptions. I remember that my hope was that our kids would inherit the old man’s brain and my skin and the old man hoped that they got his brain and his motor skills with a remote control and any type of ball. Genes, however, can have a distorted sense of humor and ignore those best-laid plans, claw back into the murky depths of the family tree and fuck you up with a child that resembles great-great uncle fuckwit who lit the Great Fire of London and bred those rats in his home-made lab.

 

Like their mother, neither of our kids can catch a ball.

 

How your children turn out is a lottery. I’m not saying that nurture and education are ineffective, but in some cases, the genes are simply too powerful.

 

I won’t bore you with the intricate details of how my son tested the last vestiges of my endurance the other night, or as is his want, made the bloody deadline by the skin of his teeth in spite of it. Just not in the way I would have approached it. There was no planning, no sense of responsibility or urgency, no anxiety or anal preparations; he had about two hours sleep the night before and on the day, instead of the loving support of a family who would have willingly packed him off with his lunchbox and a pat on the shoulder, he got the cold shoulder.

 

I don’t know why he makes life so hard for us on himself. Perhaps the frontal cortex of his brain should shoulder some responsibility; perhaps he is simply a pig-headed idiot with some growing up to do who will always do things his way and worry about the consequences afterward. All I know is that he does things differently to us and when I moaned the next morning about how he had kept me up all night, he told me that was my problem.

 

And perhaps he has a point.

 

All I can hope is that one day he proves us wrong and out of the ashes will appear a phoenix, a rehabilitated version like Russell Brand, and I will have to eat my words as I proudly tell my friend’s, ‘that’s my son.’

 

 

The Lost Opportunities Caused By ADHD

Sadly, the main take-home from the ADHD conference I attended last week was the pervading sadness in the room at the mention of “lost opportunities”.

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Unlike other neurological conditions, ADHD appears to leave a bad taste in the mouths of some, and as such, the condition attracts unfair criticism. There is some truth in the criticism that certain sufferers of ADHD make it difficult to help them – in part due to mood and conduct disorders, which can make them oppositional, angry and self-defensive. But that reaction can be just as easily blamed on self-defensiveness, borne of a lack of support from a society that stigmatizes or completely refuses to acknowledge the existence of the condition.

A personal reason for my attendance at the conference for adults with the condition was the sneaking suspicion that I sit somewhere on the high-functioning end of the spectrum. Other reasons were my ongoing research for my manuscript – the main protagonist being an adolescent with ADHD – and my hope of gleaning some new advice in relation to my continued support of my son, Kurt.

There are certain givens when you put two hundred people with ADHD in a room together:

  • The event has zero chance of running to time.
  • It will be noisy.
  • Questions are never left to the end, even if the speaker requests this.
  • There will be a continuous background noise of bodies shifting in seats,  fiddling and whispering – in other words, a plethora of distractions to distract the easily-distracted.
  • The cakes disappear very quickly.
  • The queue for the smoking area will be longer than the queue for the toilets.

This annual conference, run by the “ADDults With ADHD” group, is a lifesaver for Australians who suffer from the condition and who qualify for little support from the government. This, in spite of the inclusion of ADHD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Many of the adults will have been diagnosed on the back of their children’s diagnosis. Research has shown that there is a genetic link, and between 40-50% of children who have parents with ADHD will inherit the condition. Which means that a lot of people will have gone through life feeling “different” and facing the unending criticism and trials that are pertinent to the condition.

And yet, there is a wonderful sense of community, relief, and support when you put a band of these people in a room together, each seeking answers, the latest advice, and dare I say it, validation. 

ADHD and its co-morbidities represent one of the “invisible” mental illnesses that for a long time have been unrecognized, even though the neurological condition has been chartered since the 1800s. As such, it currently sits where depression and anxiety sat until a few years ago – condemning its sufferers to a life of shame, failure, and regret, as a result of the missed opportunities caused by that small difference in the development of the frontal lobe of the brain.

As millions of high school kids begin their HSC exams today, it is worth remembering that there will be children who miss the milestone because of their. Some will have dropped out of school due to anxiety, depression or bullying; others will be excluded due to truancy, non-completion of course requirements or other behavior-related issues.

Whilst every speaker highlighted the good that comes from the condition – the ability to hyperfocus, (when employed in the right way), the big hearts, intuition and sensitivity (that make them great carers and teachers), and the ADHDer’s leaning towards creativity – inevitably, mention had to be made of the negatives linked to the diagnosis, as well.

For every ten comments a child with ADHD receives each day, nine will be negative. So, it’s little surprise that the condition wreaks havoc with the mental health and expectations of a child.

The minute the term “lost opportunities” left the mouth of one speaker, an audible sigh went around the room from the audience. In the same way that parents grieve for the missed opportunities of their child, the newly-diagnosed adult with ADHD grieves the loss of their own.

‘Don’t tell your employer you’ve got ADHD,’ was the damning advice of one psychologist – an appalling admission in this age of so-called equality. For the same reasons that it is inadvisable to acknowledge depression, HIV, or your sexual preferences in the workplace, it is still safer to keep schtum about your ADHD.

The condition, (we don’t like the word “disorder”), continues to be stigmatized by the media as either an invention by pharmaceutical companies to make money, or by bad parents to excuse poor parenting – this, in spite of the medical evidence and the statistics that indicate that up to 50% of the male prison population have the condition. And with suicide on the increase, it is hard not to make a connection with ADHD, when anxiety and depression are known comorbidities.

Conferences such as these are a promising start to support people with ADHD – to peel back the layers of negativity that surround the condition and to rebrand it. In the same way that disability is recognized among the physically sick, it is time to change the rhetoric around invisible disabilities like ADHD.  Let’s remove the stigma that clouds our judgment when it comes to invisible conditions and provide the equal opportunities and recognition of the struggles that its sufferers deserve.

The Power Of The Voice

crawl-1076324_1920I shared an article on my MY Midlife Mayhem Facebook page the other day, written by Clementine Ford, called “We need to move past the idea that everything is up for debate”.

 

For those who don’t know Clementine, she is a writer, a leading feminist and advocate for equal rights in Australia, as well as a graduate of gender studies. She has had several books and numerous articles published on the subject. The reason behind this particular article was her dismay at being pitched against a panel of similar experts (?) in the field recently, in front of a live audience, that turned out to be completely ill-informed on the subject.

 

As she says, ‘fair and balanced commentary around, say, climate change does not mean that we have to counter the weight of an actual scientist and their quantifiable research with the opinions of someone who loftily refers to themselves as a “climate change sceptic. It’s an insult to the time and energy spent by people working at the forefront of their fields to suggest their expertise is little more than one side of the story.’

 

Thanks to social media, each of us has a voice now as well as a forum to use it, which fundamentally, I still believe to be a good thing. Even if the majority of Trump’s tweets make us wince at their ickiness and ignorance, some insight into the machinations of the crazy brain that is currently leading the Western world has to be useful. (Let’s ignore the Trolls for a moment – the bullies and aggressive naysayers, who have nothing to contribute but bile ie. the abuse of the empowerment provided by technology).

 

NC and I were at a talk the other night by Anna Krien,.who recently published an essay about climate change called The Long Goodbye. She raised a similar point on this topic when challenged (again – yawn) about whether climate change is real. For a lot of reasons – many of them political and therefore the result of spin – some people still continue to argue against the scientific evidence behind global warming that has been determined by years and years of research and government investment and carried out by the top brains of our countries. These people believe that because their voices are louder – or because they have the verbal dexterity to spin their words better than the average nerdy scientist locked up in a lab all day – that what they say is right.

 

I have a similar analogy as the parent of a child with ADHD, and the cynicism from teachers, medical professionals, and FRIENDS levelled at the condition and its validity – that, in spite of the millions spent on research, the documented evidence of the condition since the early twentieth century, or indeed its inclusion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It seems that if the Daily Mail says the condition is a myth that has been a) invented by bad parents or b) created by the large pharmaceutical companies, then it must be so. I do wonder if the same journalists that have poured petrol on the fire ever consider what that cynicism does to the parents of these kids, who are already falling apart at the seams?

 

For the record, I parented NC as badly as I have Kurt, and she is now model child material.

 

Not that we want the pendulum to swing the other way or for our voices to be shut down. Anyone who is lapping up The Handmaid’s Tale like I am and trying to ignore the uncomfortable comparison of the Republic of Gilead to our own society will understand how dangerous it can be when that happens.

 

What I am trying to say, (and as Clementine Ford much more eloquently put it), is that we are entitled to an opinion and we have a voice to air it publicly. However, that opinion needs to be substantiated; to be informed by facts and evidence.

 

I’m not saying that every scientist is right all the time. They make mistakes, too. You only have to look as far as the atom bomb and Thalidomide to know that. (And let’s hope Bill Gates isn’t right this time in his prediction that bioterrorism could wipe up out 33 million people in less than a year).

 

Now, I am no expert, but the following are facts – substantiated by research:

 

Fact: The Barrier Reef will die, no matter how many plastic bags we replace with paper. If we do switch to renewable energy, we might save twenty percent of it – max.

 

Fact: ADHD is a real condition. The naming of the condition is unfortunate, granted – and I will hit the next person that tells me how active their child is – but these children’s brains do not function in the same way as ours, in much the same way that the schizophrenic’s mind doesn’t.

 

Fact: Trump is a racist, bigoted c**t.

 

 

When Your Millennial Wants A Birthday “Gathering”

Kurt is having a birthday “gathering” this evening, to celebrate his exit from the second decade of his life, and as we hurtle into his third with unbridled excitement and anticipation. This has been a particularly long stage in (our lives) his development and you might sense the resignation/fear, or hope in my voice when I say the word “gathering”, which is what we have agreed after lengthy Brexit-style negotiations, which historically are disbanded around 9 pm. 

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My idea of Kurt’s party.

 

 

I’m not sure why we have agreed to this “event” – he has promised me, IT IS NOT A “PARTY”  – and Kurt’s ‘chill, Mum,’ each time I freak the fuck out, has done little to assuage my innate terror.

 

If I look up the parenting strategy of “consequences” in any of the thousands of parenting manuals that adorn my bookshelves gathering dust, the cancellation of this “gathering” should have been a triumphant “win” moment for us. But it’s never that clear cut with kids with ADHD, and the thought of his one childhood memory being that time his bitch mum canceled his party, is something even the bitter old menopausal witch inside me refuses to contemplate.

 

Not that he’s really a kid anymore, as he glides into his third decade with all the panache of a bull in a china shop. It is recognized that there is an ADHD age, usually three to four years below the norm, and that makes much more sense.

 

His mates are a good bunch of kids, really, and they’ve stuck with him. They all hate me because (they’ve only heard Kurt’s side of the story) of the years they’ve endured my wrath and frustration at not being able to mold my child into what I expected and each abortive attempt to teach him right from wrong that failed. They have been pawns in our wars – banned from our place at times, kicked out onto the streets at unseemly hours of the morning. I like to think that I’ve helped make them streetwise.

 

None of them have a great respect for rules; they’re not the Polo shirt and loafer crowd I used to yearn for, more the stick n poke tattoo crowd who prefer to pierce each other, “hang” out together, talk about music; way too cool for clubs and looking up girls skirts, thank God.

 

He has told me there will be six of them, maybe seven, which means up to twenty, and he is going to warn our neighbors that his mum will march out in her dressing gown and bed hair ranting and raving (like she did last year) to shut the gathering down at 11.30pm. And then they’ll carry on – quietly, they think – until they decide I really mean it.

 

Meanwhile, the old man and I will hold a private celebration, for endurance, for the prematurely grey hair I’ve earned (and he would have earned), for the fact that our son continues to tell us he loves us (usually when he needs fags), and in spite of the tornados that have pushed us against the walls of our home so many times, that have nothing to do with climate change. And because, very occasionally, he does what is asked of him… and there is only one dent on the car. We may also make a toast to this, our last house party for our young adults… until next year.

When It’s Time To Motivate Your ADHD Child, No Matter What The Psychs Say

One of the reasons I gave up my day job recently was to motivate Kurt to get back on track with his life. He’s had a difficult transition over the past two years since he left school and has suffered periods of depression and self-doubt at times, countered at other times by the ADHDer’s insatiable desire to experience the most of life by being irresponsible, drunk and fancy-free. adventure-1807524_1920

 

Which means that to the outside world, I guess, it looks like he’s functioning. Sadly, though, things are never that clear-cut and the rules are simply not the same when it comes to ADHD kids. You can do everything by the book, and it is still impossible to get them to learn from their mistakes, even with consequences. And oh, how I wish that “tough love” had worked, but it doesn’t or hasn’t so far with our son and when you really think about it, rehabilitation programs for depression and other disorders are about giving those people love, time and compassion through therapy. 

 

I read a wonderful post recently written by the mother of two children whose first child was “parent manual perfect” and whose second was a “monster”, and how it feels to be the parent of “that child.” For the most part, kids are comparable to each other once you leave the poisonous environment of “mothers’ group” competition and can accept that they develop in different areas at different stages. The author had a friend called Jenni at the stage that she was in the throes of preening over the perfection of her first child and Jenni was struggling with the child hell, and she admits now to privately maligning her friend for bad parenting. That was until she produced her own little bundle of horror.

 

I can identify with Jenni – although now that Kurt is older and I no longer have to deal with the daily condemnatory attacks from school or too many direct comparisons with the children of friends, I am more at peace with it. And anyway, I don’t feel as responsible for his choices and differences now because ultimately he has to take responsibility for himself.

 

If it were that easy. The problem is, he doesn’t and each time we put that on him, the result is a crisis of confidence leading to emotional breakdown. Medical professionals such as psychs and pediatricians and your GP understand mental illness, but they don’t know your child the way you do. And I’m sorry, but when you witness your adult son in genuine distress, you have to make a call and question if tough love is the only solution. Any parent would do the same thing.

 

A few weeks ago, after almost two years of the tough love strategy, imposed in the main to combat addiction issues rather than mental health issues, and with no tangible results to show for it, the old man and I decided to try another approach, as we watched Kurt hurtling towards his next crisis. We decided that instead of berating him for his lack of focus and achievements and nagging him daily to make steps towards progress/being normal – (even though you know those steps will be small, because your expectations change when you have kids like these, even though you need ear muffs to block out to the judgements of others who continue to accuse your ADHD kid of being naughty or lazy) – we decided to cut him some slack.

 

Yes, ultimately he does have to manage independently in the real world, but perhaps, we decided, we need to accept that journey is going to take him a few more years. And we are tired, and surely daily combat in your own home is no good for anyone’s health.

 

Anyhow, we decided to focus on what steps we could help him with to get him back on track, and decided to start with his driver’s license, in an effort to build his self-esteem and give him a taste of the independence he so desperately craves.

 

Attaining your driving license is a grueling process here in Australia – rightly so, after the loss of so many young lives before recent regulations were changed – and kids have to do 120 hours under supervision before they can take the test. Fortunately, after ten years of back-to-back viewing of every season of Top Gear, Kurt has always had an enthusiasm for the concept of driving and is, in fact, a natural driver, so we knew it would make him feel good about himself to pass his test. This, in spite of my knowledge of the appalling statistics of accidents of kids with ADHD.  

 

And after three weeks of intense arguments instruction, he passed his test. First time.

 

The old man and I teared up the center, he out of pride, and me out of abject fear for what this achievement meant. But within a couple of hours, Kurt was on the road, solo, so I did what any proud parent does and put out a warning with his number plates to all my friends and followers on social media.

 

It was a small shot in a long game.

 

Fortunately, we’re mature enough not to let the fine for driving in a bus lane ($285) that happened TWO HOURS AFTER HIS TEST and the parking fine ($285) the next day demotivate us. I hasten to add, though, that in the spirit of recently reinstated tough love, he will be paying for both.