Tina Szymczak

Growing up I knew without a doubt that my mother loved me. I also knew that my mother was easily agitated, had high anxiety and suffered from debilitating migraines that could last days, even weeks. I learned early on how to take care of her, to try to keep stress to a minimum. I can’t say my brother and I always succeeded, we were children after all, but I think I did a fair amount of care giving at a very young age.

It was difficult for my mother to go into social situations. She would worry obsessively in the days leading up to any event, even those she genuinely was excited to attend (such as a family gathering). Once there (if she didn’t get sidetracked beforehand with a migraine from the stress) she would settle herself in and talk and talk and talk and talk. To an outsider it would look as though she was an extrovert, quite comfortable in her surroundings. But if you were to listen in you would overhear her saying things that others wouldn’t have said. Sharing deep personal information with virtual strangers. Making a blunt observation about someone – a comment that others might think but would not have uttered. We joked often about her not having a filter between her brain and mouth.

She also had strong likes and dislikes. She HATED the colour green. She HATED the coffee from McDonald’s. Don’t even get her started on Rich’s creamer. Crowds were overwhelming for her so she stayed home many times while my dad would take us to the Toronto Santa Claus parade and other exhausting but exciting venues as children.

It wasn’t until I became a mother to a son who exhibited many of the same characteristics that I began to see my mother in a new light. I began to understand and appreciate the lengths my mother went to try to overcome the challenges she faced in her life. It was important to her that I not feel as socially awkward and isolated as she had as a child. She signed me up for Brownies and when I began to balk at going, getting migraines from working myself up with worry, she put aside her own anxieties and became a Brownie leader. Of course I didn’t understand then how hard that must have been for her. To this day, those Girl Guide outings and camps are some of my best memories. I became so comfortable going that I moved on to Guides and my mother was able to fade into the distance.

During first grade I began to experience stomach aches and frequent headaches. My parents took me to the doctor, had my eyes checked and it was determined that these symptoms were due to stress. I was stressed – I remember being worried all the time that I was doing something wrong or was going to get in to trouble. I had this free floating anxiety for much of my life – not really being able to pinpoint what I was worried about. I told my mother I was afraid of failing. She spoke with my teacher and nothing could have been further from the truth but through that discussion it was decided it might help me if my mother had more of a presence at the school. So once again my mother offered to volunteer and she began to help out in the school library. It must have helped having her close by because all of the “symptoms” began to fade away.

How hard that must have been for my mother to put herself out there. But how devoted she was to me. That makes me tear up today. We are pretty sure, having gone through the assessment process for Corbin that my mother likely has Asperger’s as well. To think that she repeatedly pushed through her anxiety and other difficulties in her attempts to help me is an amazing testament to her devotion. I know she often berates herself for not being a better mother. But when I am faced with the most difficult times for Corbin I think back to the sacrifices my mother made for me. When I feel like I cannot possibly fight one more fight for Corbin I am bolstered by all that my mother did for me. He deserves no less – a lesson my mother taught me.

Update 8 years later – In 2013 my mother was indeed diagnosed with Asperger’s. While it doesn’t change who she is it certainly answered a lot of questions that everyone had, in particular hers.  I am re-posting this here to reaffirm for her that I do understand and appreciate the mother that she has been to me. 

May 13, 2018

Lessons From My Mother

Growing up I knew without a doubt that my mother loved me. I also knew that my mother was easily agitated, had high anxiety and suffered from debilitating migraines that could last days, even weeks. I learned early on how to take care of her, to try to keep stress to a minimum. I can’t say my brother and I always succeeded, we were children after all, but I think I did a fair amount of care giving at a very young age. It was difficult for my mother to go into social situations. She would worry obsessively in the days leading up to any event, even those she genuinely was excited to attend (such as a family gathering). Once […]
May 11, 2018

Finding What Matters

The last few years I have been on a path of self-reflection and discovery. Many hours in therapy, in silent contemplation, in writing, in conversing with family, friends and co-workers. One of the things I have grappled with is my health – over the years I truly let myself go and often cancelled doctor and dentist appointments over and over. Case in point: after focusing on overall mental and physical well being all week at work I decided it was time to finally make my 3 month follow up diabetes wellness appointment with my doctor. I keep cancelling it because I say I am busy but really it is because I don’t want to do the blood test because I […]
April 2, 2018

An Awareness Day

When I look at my son, when I watch him when he doesn’t know I am watching I see friendly kind thoughtful sensitive inquisitive smart outgoing creative talkative agile For all these reasons and so many more Take the time to get to know my son, who will always be my boy even though he is a man. Do yourself a favour and speak to him a while . . . it will change your life like it has mine. The fact that he has Autism, Bipolar Disorder or an Intellectual Disability does not define him. Diagnosis do not define him – these qualities listed here and many more – those help define him. Take the time to get to know my son for […]
March 27, 2018

Eating Healthy with Chefs Plate

A few weeks ago I decided to try adulting and made a decision to sign up for a meal delivery program. Friends of ours had ordered through Chefs Plate so that’s the one I went with. They had a special that made the first order 50% off and you can skip a week or cancel at any time. We are really frugal with our money (we have a couch in the basement that has had a large hole in it for 10 years). But I wanted to mix things up at home. The first week I eagerly awaited our first order and was happy to return home to it sitting in my kitchen. The box is insulated and has ice […]
March 16, 2018

A New Normal

So where have I been the last 6 months? Good question . . . mostly at home, lol.  In September I took an online course in an attempt to gain entrance to the Master’s of Social Work program at Waterloo. The class was the last of 2 classes I needed before applying. Of course I left the two classes I didn’t want to take until the end. It was about Social Research and I just sucked at it.  It was a lot of statistical information (which I have never done well with) and concepts that I just could not get to stick in my head.  Aside from Anthropology in first semester of my first year as an undergraduate – this […]
September 3, 2017

Impossible Things

Imagine you have a job that requires you to do increasingly harder tasks each day that you go there. Let’s say you are working a desk job but every day you are expected to do 50 sit ups. You haven’t done a sit up in years and you have a bad back from a previous injury. But everyone is required to do it so you give it a try and you maybe get in 2 or 3 before you give up. Your boss critiques your performance and gives you a Level 1 – the worst level there is. He also decides that because you can’t do sit ups you probably can’t do a lot of other activities the job entails. […]