Thanksgiving 2017

Hard to believe it is that time of year again. It seems the years are going by so quickly now. This year though I have so much to be thankful for. Over this last year I have really learned that I need to take time every day to be thankful for not only the major things in my life but for the small things too.

Today I am going to write about just a few of things I am thankful for. Even though I may hate the cold weather I am very glad I am still here to throw snowballs at my children. I think about that every day. How I enjoy the smell of freshly cut grass and my skin drinking in the warm sun. To hear my childrens laughter and wipe away their tears. Thankful for all the people I have in my life who help in small or big ways to cope with my disabilities when I struggle to do it on my own. Who push me when I need to be pushed and show me I am stronger than I think I am. That have faith in me when I do not have it in myself. I am thankful for finally finding the medication that is helping my son with his asthma so he is doing better. I am thankful I have found the right medications for myself. I may not always like taking them but I have realized how much I used to struggle and it is not worth it. I can see a happier future even when things go wrong. I am thankful my grandma is finally at peace even though I will miss her so much. She is with the love of her life now. She taught me so many great things that I will carry with me and gave me many memories. I only hope I can be as great of a grandmother as she was. I am thankful my kids are healthy and happy and I am most thankful for my grandkids. Who knew you could have so much more love to give. Now that I was able to get a better car I can now see those beautiful grandkids more. I have so much to be thankful for.

Even when life gets hard there is always something to be thankful for. It is just sometimes you have to look really hard for it. It might be something very simple. Some days that is just all that got me through. I hope everyone has a Happy Thanksgiving!!!


My Veterans Day

I know this is a little late but as we all know life can get in the way sometimes. Every year I expect Veterans Day to be the same old thing…just another day. This year I was pleasantly surprised and it really touched my heart.

My 17 year son never seems to remember me on Veterans Day so I really did expect the same thing this year. A few days before he had given me a big hug because my grandmother is dying and I was crying. He told me it was going to be okay, he was here for me. This Veterans Day my 17 year old, who never gets up early, got up and made me coffee. He told me Happy Veterans Day but the best part of the whole day was that he told me he was proud of me. That was the best thing I heard all day.

My 8 year old gave me a big hug and told me Happy Veterans Day many times that day. He tried to find little things he could do for me just to outdo his brother. I loved those little arms around my neck.

I miss my time in the service almost every day. There are so many things I learned from being in and people I met. If I could I would do it all over again. I am also very thankful that I did join because I do not know how I would be able to do the things I am able to do now or get all the help I do now with my disabilities had I not been in. I am proud to be a Veteran and proud of all my fellow Veterans for everything they have done.




No One Brings Dinner When Your Daughter is an Addict

When my wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, we ate well. Mary Beth and I had both read the terrifying pathology report of a tumor the size of an olive.  The surgical digging for lymph nodes was followed by months of radiation.  We ate very well.

Friends drove Mary Beth to her radiation sessions and sometimes to her favorite ice cream shop on the half-hour drive back from the hospital. She always ordered a chocolate malt, extra thick.

Our family feasted for months on the lovingly prepared dishes brought by friends from work and church and the neighborhood: chicken breasts encrusted with parmesan, covered safely in tin foil; pots of thick soup with hearty bread; bubbling pans of lasagna and macaroni and cheese. There were warm home-baked rolls in tea towel-covered baskets, ham with dark baked in pineapple rings, scalloped potatoes, and warm pies overflowing with the syrups of cherries or apples.

Leftovers piled up in the refrigerator, and soon the freezer filled up too, this tsunami of food offerings, an edible symbol of our community’s abundant generosity.

Although few said the word breast unless it belonged to a chicken, many friends were familiar with the word cancer and said it often, without flinching.  They asked how we were doing, sent notes and cards, passed along things they’d read about treatments and medications, emailed links to good recovery websites and the titles of helpful books, called frequently, place gentle, if tentative hands on shoulders, spoke in low and warm tones, wondered if we had enough food.  The phrase we heard most was: “If there’s anything I can do…”

In the following months, after Mary Beth had begun speaking in full sentences again and could stay awake for an entire meal, the stored foods in the freezer ran out, and we began cooking on our own again. Our children, Nick and Maggie, sometimes complained jokingly about our daily fare.  “Someone should get cancer so we can eat better food,” they’d say.  And we actually laughed.

Almost a decade later, our daughter, Maggie, was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and diagnosed with bipolar disorder, following years of secret alcohol and drug abuse.

No warm casseroles.

At 19, she was arrested for drug possession, faced a judge, and was placed on a probation program. Before her hearings, we ate soup and grilled cheese in a restaurant near the courthouse, mere booths away from the lawyers, police officers, and court clerks she might see later.

No scalloped potatoes in tinfoil pans.

This question is rarely heard: “How’s your depression these days?”

Maggie was disciplined by her college for breaking the drug and alcohol rules. She began an outpatient recovery program.  She took a medical leave from school.   She was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, diagnosed, released.  She began years of counseling, recovery meetings, and intensive outpatient rehabilitation.  She lived in a recovery house, relapsed, then spent seven weeks in a drug and alcohol addiction treatment center.

No soup, no homemade loaves of bread.

Maggie progressed well at the treatment center. When the insurance coverage on inpatient treatment ran out for the year, she was transferred to a “partial house” where she and other women slept at night then were returned by van to the facility for full days of recovery sessions, meals, volleyball  games, counseling, and horticultural therapy.  This daughter who once stayed as far away from my garden as possible lest I catch a whiff of my stolen whiskey on her breath was no planting a garden herself, arranging painted rocks around an angel statue donated by a counselor, carrying buckets of water to nurture inpatients, petunia, delphinium, and geraniums.

Friends talk about cancer and other physical maladies more easily than about psychological afflictions. Breasts might draw blushes, but brains are unmentionable.   These questions are rarely heard: “How’s your depression these days?”   “What improvements do you notice now that you have treatment for your ADD?”  “What does depression feel like?”  “Is the counseling helpful?”  A much smaller circle of friends than those who’d fed us during cancer now asked guarded questions.  No one ever showed up at our door with a meal.

We drove nearly five hours round trip each Sunday for our one weekly visiting hour. The sustenance of food, candy, and fiction were forbidden as gifts to patients at the treatment center.  Instead, we brought Maggie cigarettes, sketchbooks, colored pencils, and phone cards.  Any beef roasts or spaghetti dinners we ate were ones we’d prepared ourselves or bought in a restaurant on the long road to the center.

Then, late one night in June, Maggie and another patient were riding in the treatments center’s van on the way back to their house after a full day of the hard work of addiction recovery. The number of patients in the partial house had diminished from six a few days before, after a scandal involving small bags of ground coffee some smuggled from the house to the center and sold as though it were cocaine to addicts craving real coffee.  (The center, like many, served only decaf)  Dozing off and comfortable in the seat behind the driver, Maggie might have been thinking of those coffee dealers who had been returned to the main facility or dismissed.  Or maybe she was thinking about the upcoming wedding of her brother, Nick.  A light pink bridesmaid’s dress waited in her closet at our house.  Her release from the center was scheduled for two days before she and Mary Beth were to fly to Wisconsin for the wedding.

That night, an oncoming speeding car hit the van head-on.

The medics radioed for helicopters, and soon the air over Chester County, PA, was full of them, four coming from Philadelphia, Coatesville, and Wilmington, one for each patient. The accident site was soon a garish roadside attraction of backboards, neck braces, IV tubes, oxygen tanks, gurneys, strobing lights, the deep thumping of helicopter blades , and the whine of turbines.

A newspaper picture later showed five firefighters, all in full hear, lifting a woman from a van-only her feet and an edge of the backboard visible.   The van’s roof, dark and torn and jagged in the picture, had been removed by hydraulic cutters while the huddled victim’s, Maggie unconscious among them, were carefully covered with blankets.  One of her front teeth lay in the puddle of blood on the ground.

When we saw her in the hospital, her face was a swollen mass of stitches, bruises, and torn flesh.   Brown dried blood was still caked in her ears.  Mary Beth carefully cleaned it with a licked paper towel, as if she were gently wiping Maggie’s face of grape jelly smudges or white donut powder just before Sunday School.  At first, Maggie only remembered headlights, but soon she would mention “a cute EMS tech waking me up,” and the muffled chattering of helicopters.

The day she was released from the hospital, Maggie insisted on returning to the rehab center to complete her program, a heroine in a wheelchair among heroin addicts and alcoholics. On the way there, we stopped at a restaurant for lunch, where Maggie ate mashed potatoes, a little soup, and sucked a mango smoothie through a straw held carefully where her tooth was missing.  Back at the center, we rolled her out to see her garden.

While Maggie was in the hospital, cards and letters filled our mailbox at home. For the two weeks that Maggie remained in rehab, and even while she flew to the Midwest, then wore her pink dress at Nick’s wedding and dance triumphantly with her cousins, offers of food crackled from our answering machine and scrolled out on email: “If there’s anything I can do…”


Written by Larry M Lake

Why This Commonly-Spoken Phrase About Autism Is Actually Offensive

As someone who has historically suffered from OCD tendencies, it irks me when people use a serious mental disorder to describe a completely normal, human experience. People say they’re “so OCD” because they like to have their desks tidy, or they’re bothered by that one slightly angled pencil in a line of otherwise perfectly parallel pencils. It makes me want to shake them and scream, “You know nothing of OCD!”

But it’s not just OCD that is subject to this phenomenon. Other disorders—including autism—are, too. Ever heard someone chuckle as they find themselves settling into a normal routine (for example) and say, “Oh that must be my autism?” Or have you ever heard someone say, “Well, aren’t we all a little autistic?”

This kind of talk can be offensive to actual autistic people for the same reason flippant OCD talk offends me. It trivializes a legitimate and difficult experience. While autism offers strengths and is often a part of a person’s complex identity, it can also present a lot of challenges neurotypicals couldn’t even begin to understand (largely because society isn’t “just a little autistic!”).

However, some people will say “Aren’t we all a little autistic?” as an expression of solidarity and a way to say, “Hey, I can relate.” It’s well meaning, but still incorrect. It is true that there are certain aspects of autism neurotypicals can relate to; after all, we are all human beings, and certain parts of the autistic experience are common among the greater population. Anxiety, for example, as well as a preference to be alone at times. Some of us tend to be socially awkward or find sensory stimulation overpowering. During times of high stress we may come unglued. Some of us may be aversive to change and prefer routine.

But unless these things directly impact our daily lives to a significant degree, we cannot claim we are all “a little autistic.”

Case in point: if we were all “a little autistic,” the world would be a radically different place. Strobe lights, if ever even invented, would have been quickly thrown away as a terrible idea. People would say what they mean and mean what they say. There wouldn’t be all these silly, unspoken social rules and expectations neurotypicals have put into place. Autistics would never be told to have “quiet hands,” and stim (help for sensory stimulation) toys would be seen everywhere. Schools, office buildings, and grocery stores would all have quiet rooms where people could seek refuge if overwhelmed.

We are not all “a little autistic.” And I think Chris Bonnello over at Autistic Not Weird said it best:

“Next time you want to show off your ‘autistic traits’…first go through the years of social isolation, the lifetime of not fitting in, the confusion of people’s comfort zones, the feeling of being the ‘wrong’ kind of person for not being like everyone else, and the years of having anxiety forced upon you by others. Then you can talk to me about ‘your autism.’”

Written by: A. Stout