Raison d’être

6 Jun

I started writing my own stories earlier than most children, in huge block letters at age three, at a time when Efren Montes and Vilma Santos were the rage on television. (I wrote a story about being his girlfriend, silly, precocious me). In grade school, I automatically drifted to the yearbook organization and the literary club, where I horrified my teacher with a very graphic story on decomposing, maggot-infested flesh (hey, I was eleven!) long before I learned all about blowflies. In high school, I was co-editor-in-chief of the school paper (the “co-“ part  because I didn’t have enough years behind me as member of the paper; in fact, the year I joined the paper was the year they made me co-editor-in chief). And in college, I applied for apprenticeships in local newspapers and got them, only to back out at the last minute because my parents did not favor a career in journalism. (Haha, I married a journalist instead!)

Writing in long handWhen I went on an indefinite hiatus from medicine many years ago, it was without expectation of a definite date of return. Somehow, the farther I strayed, the easier it was not to look back. I kept myself busy by writing in journals, documenting our lives as we transitioned from couple to a family of four within three years of marriage. As I found the courage to listen to my own voice, I found the same courage to put that voice in paper. I ventured into professional writing  by happenstance; one particularly blessed day, I sat down to write about our family’s early years with autism and this got published in a local paper. Later, this same story would be included in one of Dr. Queena Lee-Chua’s series of Blessings books.

As my expertise in technology grew (ably guided by my then-five-year-old’s natural talents) Col. Buzz Aldrin on the moonI started writing for e-magazines too. Aside from the thrill of actually having a second career, it was the easiest way to make a little money for a stay-at-home mom like me. Days, I took care of the kids, did the household chores, and home-schooled my son with autism; nights, I bled my heart dry on those virtual pages, writing about our lives, and about music and movies and books. In one of those wonderful experiences, I even got to interview my personal hero- Col. Buzz Aldrin!

I suppose the leap from online writing to blogging is a natural evolutionary step, seamless, logical and smooth. Yet until late 2007, I hadn’t seriously considered taking the plunge. But things happen for a reason, and in my case, it was the events of a year before that, in late 2006, when our lives turned upside down again, that I felt like a lost a big part of myself. I stopped writing. Completely. I was emptied of everything I was then. It’s difficult to explain in a few words what happened, and I include this not to horrify you about my life, but to give you a sense of where I came from.

October 2007:
“I was living a writer’s dream late last year. I had regular assignments. I wrote from the home and went out a few times a month to do research and the occasional interviews. Balancing this dream with my real-life responsibilities as a fulltime mother and primary caregiver to my sons was a total breeze, it seemed. Alexander, my eldest, was wrapping up the last few months of the seventh grade. Alphonse, my autistic son, was thriving beautifully under strict routines and schedule at home. We were so hopeful that Alphonse’s developmental gains were becoming permanent that we had even begun decreasing the doses of his medications. Then, tragedy struck.

“With a little more than a week’s notice, our ABA provider removed our therapist, essentially depriving Alphonse of his most important foothold to normal life. Unable to provide us with immediate replacement, they could do little but check in on us occasionally. There was no one else left to continue the teaching program except me.

“It was a task I willingly shouldered. In truth, it was just a minor sacrifice in the big scheme of things, but Alphonse had severe difficulties adjusting to the new situation. Still, I did not feel too bothered at first. Alphonse had his nannies and me and we strove to make him feel like nothing was amiss. But each day, he would wait for his teacher to come at nine in the morning. He would bathe and dress up, sit outside in our plastic lawn furniture, a bottle of bubbles in hand, and wait. And wait. And wait. I could not coax him to come inside the house. He simply wanted to wait.

Scared“As the days wore on and still no teacher in sight, he would be, in turns, disappointed and distraught. Some days, he would cry a bit and flail against our attempts to calm him down. Other times, he would wail pitifully and ask to be shown the empty doorway over and over again, as if to make sure that there was really no one there. I decided to move his sessions outside because he would not go inside the house. He still wanted to wait.

“Barely three weeks later, his nannies left this time. Now there was only me. Truly inconsolable in grief and bewildered by the sudden changes in his previously orderly life, Alphonse finally snapped.

“How many blows can the human head withstand before it finally gives in? How long can a human body sustain itself against beatings? I found out the answers the hard way.

“For days and weeks and months thereafter, Alphonse beat me with his fists. In the head. In the face. In the abdomen. He would strike me repeatedly till all his anger was spent. I parried his punches with great effort but I was no match for his relentless fury. Each time his punches connected, it fueled his anger more. Once, he punched me so hard in the face that my eyeglasses broke into pieces of glass and twisted metal. Another time, he viciously struck me in the neck that I threw up all over myself. My life was a flurry of blows I could not stop.

“My husband and my eldest son tried to shield me from Alphonse’s anger. When A came home from work, he took charge of Alphonse himself and gave me time to cry and breathe normally again. He skipped his lunch breaks so he could come home and check up on Alphonse and myself. And Alex, my dear stoic son, would hold on to his brother for dear life when Alphonse would make attempts to hit me again. Sometimes, in an effort to get away from their restraints, Alphonse would momentarily shift his focus on them and hit them too until he could get at me.

“By January, I sported so many new bruises and cuts that it was difficult to see where the new ones were. I had to cut my hair real short this time; where Alphonse would pull at my hair to hold me down while he beat me, there were bald spots that were shamefully and painfully plain for everyone to see. My arms, from the shoulder down to my fingers, were always tingling and painful; my neck was always stiff. The blows to my head and neck had caused considerable trauma to these areas.   

“I started binging. I could not eat a single bite during the day; I had little appetite. I vomited from the stress and anxiety of each waking moment. But when Alphonse would fall asleep from exhaustion, I forced myself to eat without thought or reason. I stuffed myself full while I cried myself hoarse. I gained 25 pounds in two months. I was miserable and depressed. Those days, I simply waited for the last blow to end it all.

“I asked for help but no one seemed to know what to do. Professionals who handled Alphonse’s case gave us potent medications but some of them made him zombie-like, stuck in one pose for long, uncomfortable minutes, drooling, and staring vacantly into space. As much as it hurt us to see him like that, we had no option but to choose the blank, drug-induced state over his raging violence. We thought we had lost Alphonse completely.

“Alphonse’s developmental pediatrician and his psychiatrist removed the new ones and put us back on his old medication. They increased the dosage in increments until his aggression was once again blunted. It took weeks to get the dosage right but as important as it was to keep him under medication, it was more important to put normalcy in our lives and get him back on track.

“I looked for new therapists to help me out with him. One teacher we tried lasted all of three days and quit after getting a few blows on the head. Another lasted a week but left too when he received a resounding slap. We interviewed potential applicants but they were all unable to commit themselves to dealing with an aggressive twelve year-old. One day, however, the clouds over our heads parted long enough for a sliver of sunshine to come through. Teachers R and P came into our lives when we needed help the most; we finally found people who were willing to brave the odds and help us in the road to recovery.  

“By April, Alphonse was no longer hitting me constantly and I could go for days without wearing my protective helmet and neck brace. In May, Alphonse started smiling again. My sweet, loving child was finally back, awakened from a long terrible slumber.

“My wounds ran deeper this time. For many months, I could not sleep as I relived moments of terror. I had nightmares long after Alphonse started to get well. There were also times I found myself flinching unconsciously when he came near me. One particularly shameful episode was the day he tried to hug me and I was so scared that I almost jumped out of my skin. Alphonse was startled and confused that he cried. I silently berated myself then; how could a mother fear her own child?Van Gogh\'s On The Threshold of Eternity, 1890
“Worse, I could not write. I was totally empty. I could not articulate what my heart and my mind were screaming to say. I would sit in front of the computer and pretend to write, but nothing came out — not my grief or my pain. I could only come up with unintelligible bits and pieces of tortured thinking, and these I scribbled feverishly in my journal.

“It isn’t really completely over for me, I think. However, I am deeply grateful that we emerged at all from these experiences, though I would gladly exchange those months in a heartbeat. And these days, while my soul has yet to be completely restored to health, I think I have recovered enough to start finding the words I lost not so long ago. …

“I am trying to cram everything we missed in those long months of darkness, soaking in as much of the sun as possible. Little steps, baby steps, but I am taking them. Yes, it is still a lot harder to just sit down and write in white heat, much like I did in the carefree days of the past. Nowadays, I write in longhand first, in a ratty old journal that has obviously seen better days. I go cautiously slow, like I do in real life. Then too, in the past month, I’ve started blogging to get the fog out of my head, to shake off the inertia, and to rid myself of writer’s block. And when I still feel completely overwhelmed, I resolve to take it one day at a time. Maybe even one word at a time….”

I lost my “voice” in those long months of grief and fear; sometimes, I think, I even lost the loving part of me, drowned in sorrow and anguish.

Someone once sent me a message, in the midst of our family’s grief, and I quote, that “When we come to the edge of the light we know, and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, of this we can be sure … either God will provide something solid to stand on or … .. we will be taught to fly.” Cocooned in my small home, blogging helped me find a community of people who became my friends, who heard my voice, and who listened to my heart. When I finally let go of my fear, I found my way back to my life again. I grew wings; I learned to fly. And I found  my words again.  

And this is why I blog. Not for hits. Not for money. This is far too personal.

I write for my self. I write for my life.


The Blog Rounds This is my entry to TBR’s 13th edition hosted by Doc Remo of The Orthopedic Logbook.


11 Responses to “Raison d’être”

  1. ness June 6, 2008 at 1:56 pm #

    Thank you for sharing that moving story, KittyMama.

  2. Joey June 6, 2008 at 3:00 pm #

    KittyMama, I was speechless for a while, then moved by the whole experience. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Awi June 7, 2008 at 12:07 am #

    I’m glad you got your groove back because you are a truly gifted writer. I do not visit your site that often but everytime I do, I can not help but admire your beautifully written blogs.

    Reading about the challenging phase that you had to undergo brought tears to my eyes. As a teacher, I have been a constant punching bag for a couple of my students as well. And these students are unbelievably strong (sending one of my aides to the hospital & had to rest for a couple of months). My arms are full of permanent marks from these students who lashed out their frustration on my skin. However, never did I think that I cannot handle all these beatings any longer. More than anything, pity engulfed me whenever my students are in their aggressive mode because they do not mean to hurt me –it’s just that they cannot express their frustration appropriately. But, do not despair, miracles happen. One of the most challenging students in our program is now behaving appropriately (thanks to visual supports, social stories, reminder tones and other oh-so simple interventions). It takes a while to find the right mix of strategies to employ for each child but with patience & persistence, the last major trauma to my skin was 6 months ago.

    I am going home in December for a short vacation. I was wondering if I can meet you & Alphonse just to see if some of the strategies that I use as a teacher will work on him. It’s truly amazing that once behavior is under control –so many wonderful things begin to unfold.

    We miss your posts at Autism Pinoy… hope to see you there soon!

  4. gigi June 7, 2008 at 4:33 am #

    can’t even say i’m moved, gripped is more like it. i envy your courage. thank you for sharing this story.

  5. Kittymama June 9, 2008 at 3:42 am #

    Dear friends, (Docs Gigi, Joey, Ness, and Ma’am Awi)

    Thank you for commenting on this post. The truth is, I didn’t want to put the last part in because I didn’t want people to think of my baby as a monster. He’s not, just a lot confused about the world. The fact that he’s nonverbal makes things harder for him. Of late however, we see remarkable restraint and control in him. And despite the many things that are difficult for him to do, he continues to keep trying, my little Sisyphus who rolls his own stone up the mountain of disabilities, day in and day out.

    But thank you again, for your kindess and your compassion. It is your friendship and camaraderie that fuels my strength. I am an just an ordinary mother, gifted with an extraordinary child.

    God bless, everyone!


  6. kokegulper June 11, 2008 at 3:00 am #

    Kittymama, I’m speechless…you are a gifted mom caring for a gifted child…truly, an inspiring story…
    OT: Would you want to host TBR’s 14th edition? This will be for next week. TBR 12 1/2 and TBR 13 is coming up this week.


  7. kokegulper June 12, 2008 at 12:18 am #

    Kittymama, sorry correction. Your TBR hosting (should you accept it) would be TBR 15. Em Dy’s hosting the 14th ed.

    Sorry for the mix up!

    Doc Remo, sent you pm already. 🙂 ~♥Kittymama

  8. megamomph June 12, 2008 at 2:40 pm #

    KittyMama, you know I’m still working on my blog ‘klog, so sorry if I’m going backwards in my reading and commenting.
    This is a truly, truly inspiring story. I know I’ve already previously expressed my awe at your courage and fortitude, but I just have to say it again. I am awed!
    My friend, I am proud of your many accomplishments, most especially those as a mother.

  9. Bone Doc June 18, 2008 at 1:17 pm #

    The Blog Rounds 13th edition is up too, in my newly “uncluttered” site, The Orthopedic Logbook. Read the some sort of survey, here.

    And please don’t forget to vote ( yep, the poll beside my tag board widget, on the second column of my sidebar) about TBR’s round up frequency.

    The Blog Rounds 12.75 Edition is also up at Meloink’s Blog, The Philippine Daily Idiot. Lets get the nosebleed out of PMA!

    Lastly, Em Dy’s deadline for the 14th edition for TBR (paging Doc Hollywood) is fast approaching. Don’t forget to submit your post s for this TBR edition.

  10. MerryCherry June 19, 2008 at 11:25 am #

    At first I thought I was going to cry, then I was too caught up to even cry, then in the end, I was simply in awe.

    Thanks for sharing this Kitty Mama. I am amazed at your courage for sharing this, and for being one great mom.

    God bless.

    Thank you! 🙂 ~♥Kittymama

  11. MerryCherry June 19, 2008 at 11:29 am #

    By the way, may I link you up in my blog, under the PMD bloggers? Thanks 🙂

    I hope you will also grant me the same honor. 🙂 ~♥Kittymama

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