Dysregulated: Excavation and Big Feels

I am sad and oh so dysregulated.

In some ways I don’t feel like I have a good reason – not when I compare what is going on for me with what so many others are currently experiencing in this world.

Perhaps though, it is a layering in with so many other things that tipped the balance for me.

But let me start with a little background…

My family lives on a flood plain, on the far eastern floor of the Fraser Valley (in British Columbia), close to where the mountains converge. Last fall this area experienced catastrophic flooding. We were fortunate that we were spared the kind of damage that made our home unlivable, but the ground water was too much so now we have serious ongoing issues with our foundation.

For a time we had a lake in the backyard and in the basement. The ‘lake water’ subsided, and the weeds and moss and grass recovered. The basement didn’t fair so well.

So then began months of dealing with insurance, a restoration company, and looking for a solution to the actual problem. There is little point in restoration when the cause still exists. The details and frustration and complexities are kinda irrelevant to my story, but needless to say it has been ongoing and stressful, with many moving parts and variables. I have had to learn about groundwater and hydrostatic pressure and more… and then navigate companies with a plethora of (often conflicting) advice on how best to deal with things, which all feels like it is soooooo not my skill set…

Anyway, to move this tale along, we are getting perimeter drainage, which involves digging down to the footing of the foundation around our entire home, including the side of the house adjacent to (and under) the drive way, and the side under the back patio, and the front walkway.

And… this next part is the most difficult for me… the excavation must also be done under the gardens at the front and back our home. The hardy hibiscus, the giant camellia that was given to Craig and me a million years ago as a wedding present, a rosebush given to me by parents at the school where I taught when my son was born, the sprawling lilac with the trailing pink show that is spectacular in the early spring along with the now dormant bulbs of tulips, and hyacinths, and other happy making spring flowers, the peonies I have nurtured, and the perennials I’ve collected, and those ancient bits that predate our 25 years of living in our circa 1957 home – all of them must be removed.

You could ask why I didn’t move some of them? Why I didn’t plan better? I am wondering that as well. Some were simply too large to be relocated, particularly in the heat. I also learned that some of the larger shrubs and trees are probably making the drainage problems worse. And, in truth, I didn’t even think about the bulbs until I wrote that last paragraph – and now I am kicking myself. Gah!!

But shifting and uncertain timelines, and pandemic, and heatwaves, and one of the worst mosquito seasons I can remember, and simply a lack of executive function and not knowing where to even begin, well it made all of that more than I could manage.

On Tuesday, we worked to move some rocks we have collected over the years – precious to us – each one collected and dragged home in the back of the car, or in bulging pockets, that have over time become the drainage under the back yard water taps.

The excavation began yesterday (Wednesday)… and I began to understand that we couldn’t possibly move/save it all…

I didn’t realize I would feel so sad – so dysregulated – so flooded.

So ya… I am letting go… and working through the intensity of big feelings.

And here comes the important part… there are people in my world who GET that this is difficult for me. They are not diminishing my feelings, they are there and offering support. One lovely friend offered to take our labradoodle puppy, Ridley the Wildling, to hang in her yard and play with their dog for the day, since they understood that our yard is now pretty much a danger zone, complete with yellow CAUTION tape, mountains of dirt, and a rather impressive moat (I mean – like if I wanted a moat).

Other friends are so encouraging, and have kindled my excitement to be creative, offering to share bits of their garden’s perennial treasures to plant in the fall.

Sharing that I am struggling is giving people the opportunity to offer support.

Let me say that again…

Sharing that I am struggling is giving people the opportunity to offer support.

That is kinda huge. It shouldn’t be… but it is.

How often have I held things close, gathered my resolve and taken the next step, never sharing the struggle I experience? How much have I hidden away – denied – even to myself?

And the messages that accompany such a hiding are not healthy ones – and there are a variety of reasons behind my thinking.

Part of this is tangled up with internalized ableism and how my determination and fortitude are central to my way of being in the world and to what I feel I have to offer. I wonder at the sense of value that I have claimed for myself, that is too closely entwined with being so fucking strong, and not admitting when I am struggling, even to myself.

I would be appalled at the idea that if someone needed support or help with something that they were somehow less. Should I also be appalled that this is exactly what I do to myself? (That’s rhetorical; yes – the answer is yes!) I have been digging into my double standard, undermining strength…

It is slow work.

I keep finding things hidden away that I didn’t expect, digging down to my own foundations in places covered with gardens or walkways, where I perhaps haven’t looked.

And too, there is an inherent problem in that as a Neurodivergent and otherwise disabled person, covering up when I might be struggling, creates an illusion about the smoothness of my world, including strength and fortitude that is profoundly inaccurate. I struggle – a lot.

I have been intentional about making visible the scaffolds of support I employ for myself when I work with educators or speak to other groups. When I work with teacher candidates, or pre-service teachers, I share my access needs and what I am doing to meet them, particularly around focus and sensory needs. I encourage educators (and others) to share what they do to support themselves, so that understanding access needs might become a part of our practice, and a way of making visible and modeling this for our students. I explain that of course there will at times be conflicting access needs, but that navigating these can create an opportunity for understanding the experience and perspectives of others, and for creative negotiation and problem-solving, in a way that builds community.

I rely on lists – and lists of lists: sticky notes, electronic lists on my phone, in the pages of my old-timey paper planner book, and notes and ideas scrawled on a napkin of a scrap of this of that.

I have a plethora of alarms on my phone, and I use timers (often working remotely alongside friends) as we work to accomplish tasks. Some people call this body doubling, I call it co-momentuming.

I have become pretty open about the supports and strategies I use to get shit done, but when I am upset, troubled, stressed, overwhelmed, or in turmoil, my tendency has long been to keep this to myself. I am intensely private, which perhaps sounds weird for a writer/blogger, but ya… when things get hard… I have hidden it away.

I am also learning that when I share the hard stuff, it doesn’t feel as difficult. Some of the stress and pain seems to leak away and lose intensity. Connection works like that. And of course I know this as a practitioner, and as someone who is adept as supporting social emotional learning, and who has a deep understanding of the importance of completing the stress cycle.

I am taking it out in my yard – working physically to move a few precious plants that I was able to save from my garden, and I am also paddling on the lake (which I don’t think I have written about before, but that’s a story for another time). Movement helps me regulate and process the big feels.

Another important aspect is that I am finding that when I share what is difficult, I have people in my life that offer support. They cannot do that if I hide.

So ya – I am digging into a complex ball of internalized ableism, and internalized capitalism, and maybe even a response to past trauma, that reinforces that I have to control everything and I cannot rely on others. But I am learning…

I am learning that strength doesn’t mean going it alone.

I am learning that I am deserving of support.

I am learning that I have people in my life who are fucking amazing… and I am grateful.

Image: colour photo of rather nondescript 1950’s home with a digger and giant piles of dirt covering the grass in front of it. Trees and blue skies are visible in the background as well as portions of neighbouring houses.
Image: Photo of a 6 foot trench alongside the front of our house, that leads up to the old cement front stairs. This was formerly the front walkway. There is yellow plastic tape with black lettering that reads “CAUTION” cordoning off the area. The tape is upside down, which I find amusing for some reason. I keep reminding myself not to leave out the front door, and may need to post a bit of that yellow tape inside as an additional safety measure.

About Leah Kelley, Ed.D.

Leah Kelley, M.Ed, Ed.D., Writer, Consultant, Activist, Speaker, and Educator, working with Teacher Candidates at UBC. Authors blog: 30 Days of Autism. Projects support social understanding, Neurodiversity paradigm, Disability Justice, and connecting Disability Studies in Education(DSE)to Educational Practice. Twitter: @leah_kelley Facebook: 30 Days of Autism: Leah Kelley
This entry was posted in ableism, ADD/ADHD, Disability, Disclosure, executive function, neurodivergent and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Dysregulated: Excavation and Big Feels

  1. Susan says:

    We are on the same wavelength it seems. This resonates so very much.

    Change can be opportunity when we are ready to meet it that way.

    sending love & faith in your ability to nurture all that is vital and life-giving and release all else with gratitude for the joy it brought you.

    Liked by 1 person

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