I could have grown up hating Mum, here why I’ve forgiven her instead.
When I was a young girl, my mother was told that I could be autistic. I was shy and I avoided eye contact, I also played alone, had an unusual style of play and had a preoccupation with horses – all signs of which, my mother was told, pointed towards autism.
Growing up, Mum tried time and time to get me diagnosed, all ending in failure and some paediatricians even going as far as to tell my mother that she was neurotic. Of course, my mother didn’t listen, she was convinced.
Interventions were set up at school. I’d have my own individual cookery classes set up once a week with a handful of personally chosen classmates who would later go on to become my friends. We’d be huddled off into a small, quiet activities room where we would bake no-bake recipes like ancient Egyptian tiger nut sweets, chocolate edible Easter bonnets (recipe to follow!) and iced digestive biscuits. The idea was that my classmates would become my friends, and they would then hang out with me in the school playground. What actually happened was that these children would be sworn to spend time with me, not want to spend time with me (usually because we couldn’t all agree on a game to play) and they would take off while I spent time hanging out with the dinnerladies instead. After three sessions, these baking classes got cancelled on grounds that they cost too much and were seemingly ineffective.
For one reason or another, I’ve just never really bonded with my peers. I had a few friends that I could talk to with for a while, but we never really gelled in the way that BFF’s are meant to. From quite a young age, I was smart, opinionated and fiercely independent.
At the same time, I had a lot of likes and dislikes. I had (okay, have) textural dislikes and I hated planes flying over. If a plane flew over, I would drop on the ground, face down, and cover my ears. Even as an adult, I now hate peas and my brain thinks bell peppers feel like what raw human flesh might feel like to eat. I have no idea what raw human flesh might actually feel like, mind you, that’s all in my nuggin.
But there’s also seeds, and where there are seeds, there has usually been a flower, and I’m not putting anything even remotely flower-like in my mouth with my flower phobia. Alas, I digress.
Still, all of these, Mum was sure, were markers for autism. And it was something that she wouldn’t let go of until we had a diagnosis. She even insisted that she would take it to the grave with her that I was autistic. That’s how convinced she was!
I should point out here, that I have nothing against autistic people. Autism is a very real condition and the people who struggle most with its symptoms should absolutely be given as much support as they require. But while I was passionate about helping individuals with sensory processing disorders integrate successfully into society, I was sure that I myself wasn’t autistic. I liked talking to people at school, I just didn’t make any age-relevant friends.
I remember the day we went to the doctor, the last time. We weren’t like a mother and daughter, we were like boxing opponents. In the blue corner we have Mum with the autism (okay, I think the idea was Aspergers) diagnosis, and in the red corner was me. After a short wait, we were finally called into the doctor’s office.
“And what do you think?” the doctor asked me, leaaning forward slightly to engage me. Instinctively, I looked up to him, holding his gaze and ready to engage in conversation.
“I personally don’t think I’m autistic,” I began “I have friends, I have a boyfriend, I go clubbing..” that was about as far as I got before my mother stormed out of the building.
For years, tensions between us have been very tough. I’ve since discovered Highly Sensitive People and I know know that’s what I am. I love being a HSP! I’ve met some truly nutty, truly crazy, wonderful, caring HSPs and we are alike in oh so many ways. Everything, from the detest of loud noises to not liking blood and gore. On Elaine Aron’s Highly Sensitive Person Test, I scored 23, compared to a score of 11 (of the required 34) on the Asperger’s Quotient. Anytime I tried to demonstrate these facts to my mother, she would shut me down again. The last time it got raised, she even offered to pay for private screening. I refused, citing that I didn’t want her to waste her money.
When my father passed away, I saw my chance to show my mother that I really am capable of love and empathy, despite her never believing it was in me. I wanted her to see that I know people, that I understood people, and I did that in the most simplest way- by being there for her as much as I could be. My plan (albeit rather naughty of me) worked, and my mother broke down and told me that she never thought I’d be capable of understanding ideas like love because I’d never shown affection as a child. From there on, she began to see me a little differently.
Today, I opened up to Mum about one of my sexual assault cases, the incident with a man more than twice my age. It was bizarre, because the way I delivered it was like I was recounting a chance meeting with a family friend earlier in the week, except that he wasn’t and I wasn’t. All of a sudden, my mother stopped me with with a tap on the knee.
“Oh isn’t this nice?” she gushed, “you’ve never really opened up to me like this before.”
“That’s because I was always worried that you would judge me” I said softly.
“Oh my god! No, Helen.. your father would have killed him! And what do you think I would do?!” she said, almost shocked.
“No, because of the autism thing” I said, visibly pained, “I always felt like I couldn’t open up to you fully without you judging me.” Mum’s face changed.
“I’m sorry. I’ve never been a very good Mum to you, have I?” she said through tears.
“It’s fine!” I said, pulling her to me, “You did your best, you and Dad did. You worried because you care, and I forgive you” I reassured her.
“You understand why, though?” she asked, drying her eyes with a sleeve. Seeing my chance to make her smile, I decided for a joke.
“Because you’re neurotic” I said with a smile and a wink. She laughed. Quick to turn it around, she pointed out why she wasn’t completely neurotic, I still had some disabilities. Borderline ones, anyway.
“So you can forgive now?” she said softly, trying to sound more assured.
“As long as you can accept that I am a HSP” I said, stating my terms. I hated to attach a precondition to my forgiveness, but forgiveness meant ripping up the status quo. Forgiveness meant turning a new leaf and starting anew, with her regarding me for what I can do, rather than what I can’t do.
“You know where you get it from, though?” she asked.
“Of course! You and Dad” I replied, as though she’d asked asked an utterly ridiculous question. Mum nodded.
Both of my parents are, or were, highly sensitive. Mum openly admits she cries at almost any movie and Dad was always prone to moments of overwhelm. If Dad was overwhelmed, he would shut down and take off, usually for somewhere with nature, somewhere quiet and calm.
Of course, cultivating forgiveness isn’t something that we do overnight. Words are easy, but actually forgiving someone takes a lot longer. I believe that forgiveness is a two-step process. The first bit, the easy bit, is being able to forgive someone. The second part, and the harder part, is being able to move on. People are people and people do make mistakes sometimes. However, we owe it to one another to award the same amount of compassion and empathy to each other that we would want shown to us. We need to trust that those we hold dearest won’t make the same mistake twice. Or as my father would say,
“Once is an accident, twice is on purpose and three times is a pattern.”
I hope you enjoyed this post and I shall see you back here tomorrow for Wicked Wednesday!
How forgiving are you? How easy do you find it to forgive someone for past mistakes? Why not let me know in the comments?
Stay safe & have fun,