Thoughts on BBC Drama The A WordThe much anticipated and talked about BBC drama The A Word is causing quite a stir among the autism parenting community.

Whilst I found episode one insightful, realistic and an honest portrayal of what life can be like for a family with a high function autistic child, episode two disappointed me.

I was originally going to save this post until the entire series (six shows in total) had been aired, but given that today is World Autism Awareness Day, thought I’d share my thoughts on the first two programmes.

*warning: contains spoilers*

The aspects I feel they nailed

The relationship between the parents. As painful as some of it has been to watch for me, because it’s so close to home, the parents are very believable as far as I’m concerned. They have only just had a diagnosis, and are desperate to find ways that will help their son. They are flustered, they are sleep deprived and they are beaten down by life. Their interactions with each other flit between being filled with genuine love, to sheer frustration. They make frantic and erratic decisions, and are clearly trying their best, but also make blindingly obvious mistakes. 

The older neuro-typical sibling. She appears to be taking everything in her stride; she is totally cool with her little brother’s diagnosis; she’s not judgemental, nor does she care for the idea of interventions and special schools. She is also, largely, ignored by her parents, while they focus their attention on their autistic child. Again, I can only relate this to my personal experiences, but it’s bang on the money. In our family our eldest daughter is autistic, which changes the ball game completely, but the outcome is the same. Our two younger children often get sidelined, and their needs are behind hers, because her needs are usually greater and more immediate.

They haven’t been OTT about the boys autistic traits. They could have quite easily have painted the 5yo boy as the next Rain Man, but haven’t, which is a good thing. Our girl is bright, but she can’t recite the alphabet in Mandarin and she didn’t memorise her times tables by the age of three. The main character has subtle quirks, such as closing and re-opening doors before walking into a room, and his music is his comfort blanket to the point of being obsessed by it. They haven’t gone over the top though, and he doesn’t look or (mostly) act like anything but a regular five year old would.

The aspects I feel let down by

The home education storyline. The way the mother pulls the boy out of school without consulting with the husband first is ridiculous. The way the granddad takes the boy to the pub is laughable, in a very unfunny way. I think they are (again) trying to convey the desperation that autism parents find themselves feeling, but their execution was exteremely poor. The BBC had an opportunity here to show how wonderful home education can be for autistic children, but instead have really let the home ed community down.

Hiding the autism from people outside of the family. They wandered into dangerous territory here. By the mother hiding the autism, and making up lies as to why she pulled him out of school, it is telling the watcher that she is ashamed of her son’s autism. I’m hoping that by the time all six shows have been aired, she will have had time to process the diagnosis and what it means, and will have come to accept it for it is. I find it hard to relate to parents that are in denial in this way, because our own diagnosis almost a year ago was a welcome relief. I’ve had the time I needed to go through the various stages of processing it, which they will more than likely do throughout the show (I certainly hope so anyway).

Is the sister-in-law’s affair necessary? I can’t work out whether The A Word is a play on words for autism alone, or autism and affair. Either way, I’m not entirely sure it’s a necessary part of the show.

I’m sitting on the fence here, and looking forward to seeing how it develops. 

So, that was my two pence worth. What are your thoughts on The A Word?

BTBY stack of booksI was absolutely thrilled to see another five star review on Amazon for Become the Best You this week, which has been left by an Amazon Top 500 reviewer. 

5.0 out of 5 stars. Very readable and relatable. Helps you break from destructive repeating behaviour.

By thehappymeerkat TOP 500 REVIEWER on 29 Mar 2016
 

“I received this book for free from the publisher in return for a review. The following is my honest opinion on this book. 

Many people have a happy, well-adjusted upbringing. But plenty of us have had a dysfunctional childhood, a past that haunts us and causes us to create a repeating pattern of negative behaviour. If you feel like you’ve been stuck in this pattern of self-destructive behaviour, feel you are repeating the mistakes of your parents or just want to be able to let go of the past then this book is for you.

This book is an easy read and at 104 pages it won’t take long but the advice given will inspire anyone to motivate themselves to change. I’ve picked up many self-help books in the past and a lot of what I’ve read in this book I have already read in others, but what makes Renee Davis’ book unique is that she herself has had a dysfunctional past. The whole book isn’t written from the perspective of a therapist or trained professional who knows what to advise but hasn’t experienced it, no, Renee Davis is just a normal person who has gone through the process of breaking from her dysfunctional past and now she advises us how to do it too.

Renee is very open about her past and her own dysfunctional and destructive young adulthood. It is because of this openness that the book is really readable and relatable. While you may not have gone through the exact same things as Renee you really feel as if a friend is helping you deal with everything rather than a tone of being told what to do, which many other self-help books can be like.

Each chapter of the book starts with an inspiring quote to get you motivated.”

Have you read Become the Best You? I’d love to know your thoughts if you have! 

mental health pre kids

 

I’ve wanted to write this so many times, but have always been afraid to, just in case it was taken the wrong way and there was a backlash. This fear of others misconstruing my words has led to censorship, which is ridiculous. I can’t call myself a pro-blogger and allow myself to be censored at the same time, so I’ll be taking a big deep breath as I press the publish button.

I’d like to credit Alice who writes at The Filling Glass. After reading her brilliant piece The Chicken and Egg of Positive Parenting, these words started swirling around in my head. So here they are, come what may. 

A story about mental health

There is no beating around the bush here, when I left home and emerged into adulthood at 15, I was seriously fucked up. How could it have been any other way? Although I had a mother who loved me, she was very much reeling from her own miserable upbringing throughout mine, and made a whole load of terrible decisions that negatively impacted (damaged, destroyed, stole…) my childhood.

Lying to me about who my father was; moving so much I went to eight schools where I was often bullied; inviting randy teenage boys into our home who would take advantage of me… The list could go on and on, but this blog would end up being the length of a book.   

I could never have been described as fresh faced and innocent, but I definitely was naive, which led to me making more than a few bad decisions of my own. Especially after drinking, which I did regularly and heavily in those days. All the partying inevitably led to me having very little in the way of respect for myself, and this more than anything else perpetuated the cycle of bad decision making.

In the first decade of me living independently, I attempted suicide, suffered countless bouts of depression and anxiety, and had two full on mental breakdowns.

After the first breakdown I started seeing a counsellor who opened my eyes to how damaged I was. She also made me realise that it wasn’t my fault. This is the thing that us survivors of abuse usually carry with us you see, the guilt. I didn’t even realise until that point that I was as damaged as I was, or that I even felt guilty about my childhood, but believe me I was and I did.

She made me see that I needed to bury those demons of mine once and for all, if I were to move on and lead a happy life. 

In order to heal, we must face up to the past

My healing process was long and painful. It involved cutting ties with my entire family, and going through a second mental breakdown, which was triggered by hitting rock bottom and coming exceptionally close to losing everything I cared about.

Counselling was the very start for me, and although it highlighted a lot of my issues and why they existed, it still took me over four years to realise that my own self-destructive behaviour was at the centre of a lot of my current-day problems. Irrespective of why I was fucked up, the point is I was fucked up.

The only way I wasn’t going to be fucked up any more was by digging deep, and changing every aspect of my life that was causing me dramas. Nothing is as important as our mental health well being, but it can be difficult for us to appreciate this.

Taking responsibility for our lives not panning out the way we want them to can be a tough truth to accept, but it’s not about blame. It is about not allowing those demons to destroy our chances of happiness for a minute longer.

Everyone’s demons are different of course, and the changes they will have to make will depend on what is driving those demons. As for me, I quit partying, had a three month booze break, started eating well and doing more exercise. I disassociated myself from negative influences, and created lifelong good habits. During the course of six months, I worked relentlessly to turn my life around. It was the hardest yet most rewarding thing I had ever done at that point. 

You’ll never know how messed up someone is, until you try to love them

Exactly halfway between my two breakdowns, I met my husband. He has always been stable, confident in his own abilities and an all round rock solid guy. I still did my best to push him away though, and sabotage the chances of our relationship surviving. We broke up a few times in our earliest years, but ultimately he stuck by me and refused to accept that I was ‘too fucked up to be loved’.

The turning around of my life came after we had been together for almost three years. He proposed on our fourth anniversary, and six months later I fell pregnant with our eldest. To say we’ve faced lots of challenges since becoming a family, would be a huge understatement. From a horribly traumatic first birth (thankfully much nicer experiences second and third time!); to kids that don’t sleep; to having autism to contend with; and most recently, deciding to home educate. Once again the list could go on… 

How do you cope? 

In the six and a half years that we’ve been parents, we have certainly had our fair share of ups and downs, which is what inspired me to create this blog almost three years ago. I get asked on a regular basis how I cope, considering I have very little in the way of help day to day.

I truly believe the reason I’m able to cope as well as I do, on the small amount of sleep I get most nights, is because I went through the process of dealing with my demons when I did.

I faced up to the past, I changed the necessary and I buried those monsters good and proper. I put coping mechanisms in place that would see me through the toughest of times, and it means I am able to focus on present-day challenges. I have essentially compartmentalised the painful elements of my past, so they can’t hurt me any more. 

When I made the decision to turn my life around back in November 2006, I didn’t have a clue that I’d be implementing changes that would directly impact my mothering abilities.

That is exactly what I was doing though. 

Untitled designSo what next?

If you’re reading this and know in your heart of hearts that you have demons stemming back to your childhood, then you must acknowledge them.

The next step is to forgive yourself and anyone else you need to for them.

Then you need to let those fuckers go. You hear me?

Work out a plan to rid yourself of them once and for all.

Believe me you will have never felt lighter in your entire life.

Do it for the sake of your kids. Whether they are already here, or they’re a mere thought at the back of your mind. 

It’s going to be hard work, make no mistake about that, but it has to be done.  

I’ll be cheering from the sidelines, and wishing you all the luck in the world on your journey!  

 

My publisher asked me to write some guest posts to go out to high profile blogs in the run up to Become the Best You being relaunched this week. I dutifully did so, even though time is sparse and it always takes longer than you think to write these things. 

I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to feature on the prolific self-improvement site Steven Aitchinson, and wrote a post about the main things I did in order to turn my life around.

For those of you unfamiliar with my story, I’m the survivor of a dysfunctional childhood. I was abused in many directions and left home at 15 after a punch in the face. I spent the following decade in self-destruct mode; drinking too much, partying too hard and doing things I’m not very proud of right now.

Exactly ten years ago my life was literally in tatters. I was living in Cambodia, mourning the loss of my family, whom I’d become estranged from earlier in the year, slowly losing the plot. I’d written myself off and deemed that I was too fu**ed up to see a normal existence on my horizon. 

When I finally hit rock bottom in 2006 I realised that it was on me change my life. I needed to make peace with what I’d been through as a kid and truly move forwards. This was never going to be a possibility with my family in my life, and I stand by my decision to cut ties. I know it was the best thing I ever did. 

I genuinely do not hold grudges, and have no animosity towards them. Those that have read my book will know that I don’t bad mouth them at all. I understand why they were the way they were, but I also know there isn’t a place for them in my life. After years of playing the role of parent to your own mother the charade will drain you of your energy and destroy your soul.  It certainly did me. 

I wasn’t expecting to receive such negative comments on my guest post. I’m wondering whether the main commenters even bothered to read the entire article, or whether they just read the five sub-titles. I definitely don’t think they checked out Become the Best You or looked at this here blog of mine.

Some of the comments were lovely, and one of them is utterly heartbreaking. A 56 year old woman has walked away from her family in the recent years after all this time of trying to fit in and never being accepted.

I always thought I would lie firmly in the camp of not feeding the trolls, but the writer in me just can’t not respond. So this post is for you LJ Scott, and any one else who thinks I’m the dysfunctional one!  

Click here to see the full guest post and comment thread. 

Would you feed the trolls?

 

BTBY is out nowAs I may have mentioned several thousand times over the past few months, my book Become the Best You, has been given a make over by the fabulous publishers Austin Macauley, and is now available to buy. Order your copy directly from them for only £5.24, or download it to your Kindle from Amazon right here. Alternatively look out for it in a book shop nearby. 

I’m also super chuffed to tell you that I’m guest posting on the awesome blog Steven Aitchinsonso please do have a look.

Just in case you aren’t familiar with my story, I’m the survivor of a dysfunctional childhood. The book is part memoir, part self-help and takes you on my journey of making peace with my painful past; ditching negative influences and behaviour; and creating good habits in order to turn my life around. 

If you’re still in need of a gentle nudge to buy the book, here’s a little excerpt. You can also listen to the full version of this chapter via podcast over on the Joy Chaser

“I was mostly dragged up. After her own unhappy childhood my mother had a baby (me) aged 18, because she wanted someone to love her. By the time she was 25 she had three kids. I had a different father to my siblings, but she felt it was best to tell me their dad was also mine. The official lie being that he was in prison when I was born, explaining why he wasn’t on my birth certificate. I would eventually be told the truth after leaving home. Turns out my biological father was engaged to his current wife when he got my mother pregnant. To this day she doesn’t know I exist.

My step-father had an horrendous childhood, and was a cold man. It was no wonder he became an alcoholic, manic depressive and emotional bully. Growing up it was obvious that he didn’t love me as much as he did the other two. He wasn’t around much, and although he provided extras which supplemented our benefits income, my mother was awful with money. The phone and electricity were forever being cut off, and the cupboards would often be rather bare. I grew up thinking that her life must have been utterly miserable, and knew early on that I would do things differently when I was older. 

Being the eldest I was regularly left alone to babysit the younger two from a very young age. One distinct memory shines through the rest of the garden catching light one night when my mother was out. I was nine years old and seeing fire through the living room doors was absolutely terrifying. Fortunately our neighbours across the road were home and came to our rescue. Shortly after this my mother took in a friend’s 16 year old son and he lived with us for a while. He would take advantage of me when she wasn’t home which lead to me having an unhealthy attitude towards men for many years afterwards.

We moved house over a dozen times, and I went to eight different schools where I often endured bullying for being the new girl. The abuse I suffered in the last one was significant, and lead to a suicide attempt. By my last year of high school my self esteem and confidence were at an all time low, and I hated going in. I’d do anything for a day off and subsequently fell behind with my work.

My step-father was a bit more of a permanent feature in our lives by then, and it’s clear to me now that he was a deeply unhappy ‘functioning’ alcoholic. We got into a fight one morning about me not wanting to go to school, and he punched me in the face. He was often harsh with his words, but usually kept his fists to himself. He almost broke my nose, and this became the catalyst for me leaving home. I was fifteen, had no qualifications and £50 in my pocket. He said I’d be pregnant and living in a hovel within the year. I went to stay with an aunt in her two bed maisonette where I slept on the floor of her kids room, between the cot and the bunk beds. It wasn’t ideal, but at least I was safe. From that day forward, I was on my own in the big bad world.

No-one escapes the psychological fallout of a childhood like mine. I went through major bouts of depression as a young adult, and lived life in self-destruct mode for many years to numb my pain. I’d go on all-weekend benders and sleep with people I wouldn’t have even looked at when sober. Eventually I had a breakdown aged 22, and sought help via an amazing counsellor. She taught me that I needed distance from my toxic family, that I deserved to be loved and how to respect myself. Although she tried her hardest, she couldn’t get me to tackle my love of booze or partying. That would come later, along with breakdown number two.”

So what are you waiting for? Go buy it. Right now 🙂