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  • Robin Kastengren

When I was 8, my mom let my dad lie about me.

She let him take away my speech therapy and put me in a class I couldn’t keep up with. It was a good idea since we had to go to school with her brother’s kids. What could possibly go wrong when you take away a kid’s communication skills? Better than the parents embarrassment, I’m assuming. I’ve never tried it.

When I was 14, my mom looked me in the eye and told me I was lying when I said I couldn’t yell when the boys were coming for me.

When I was 15, I was desperate enough to ask my dad for help. All he had to say was to stop being such an easy target.

When I was 16, I gave up on them both and went to my aunts for help. My mom told them I was dangerous and crazy. That way, she didn’t have to tell them that I was acting out because my father abandoned me from inside the house and she couldn’t stay sober for more than 10 hours at a time.

When I was 17, my mother lied to my face and said everything would get better for me. Then she put me in the basement bedroom and never saw me again.

When I was in my 20s, it was my life vs. her alcoholism and you all know she doesn’t like to lose.

When I was in my 30s, I had children of my own to protect and a husband to protect me. I was so grateful for the peace and the safety that I didn’t want to rock the boat. I wanted my kids to have grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins. Big family Christmases. Fun birthdays. I kept the previous 30 years between me, my therapist, and an increasingly large medical team.

Why so many doctors? Two chronic illnesses and an autoimmune disease, for starters. I’ve had my thyroid gland partially removed. I’ve had a hysterectomy. I’ve had three cesareans, and have bladder damage as a result. I have very serous PTSD from all the physical and sexual abuse as a teenager and a young woman. I’ve also learned about CPTSD, which certainly applies to my first 17 years.

Plus, I just found out a couple weeks ago that I was diagnosed with autism in 1983 when I was in kindergarten. I had extensive speech therapy from kindergarten until the middle of 3rd grade. I loved my speech classes. I got to write, I learned poetry, I got to win a spelling bee. I had a poem published. I had a short story published in the HIGH SCHOOL newspaper in second grade. I changed schools in third grade because we moved. At the new school, they said “gifted” meant accelerated classes, not speech therapy. My dad jumped at the chance to hide his shame and my mom let him.

When I was 44, I went down as hard as I’ve ever gone down in my life. My demise began with a relaxing nightmare in January, stuck in a house three hours from the airport. It was at the top of a hill, accessible only by a muddy, one-lane road that took 30 minutes by car with an experienced driver, located in Fuck Me, Jamaica. With a drug-fueled lunatic as the party planner.

I wasn’t the lunatic. I know what she says, but I found the Rasta Man and kept to myself most of the time. Which was really difficult since they “forgot” to book me a room and I spent the week sleeping outside on a pool chair or crammed in someone’s room on a broken blow up bed. I feel like that would have been enough to JUSTIFY me being the lunatic, but I kept it together most of the time.

Anyway, everything that could go wrong on a flight home went wrong. I had to find my own way home.

I’ve already told everyone who needs to know about what happened with two of my children and the monsters. The only remaining relevant detail to share here is that I had a full-on meltdown because I could not handle the stress of my mother and sisters failing to keep my kids safe when I was barely alive myself.

I asked for help. They hurt me instead. I lost my shit. Now, my mother would like you all to believe that I am simply an unmedicated bipolar person and if I would be a good boy and take my meds, she wouldn’t be so humiliated by me all the time. The truth, however, is that I was horrifically triggered in virtually every way an autistic person with a lifelong, in-depth history of abuse can be triggered and it just about killed me dead.

Have I seen my mother any time in the last three months? Only the one time I brought her here to entertain her. She’ll always come and be entertained by my dancing monkeys. Did anyone stop in to help with the kids? They were pretty fucking scared. Anyone come sit with me and help remind me that I’m real and that I’m alive so my husband could get a break from that insanity? Not a soul. Anyone come and help me try and keep my kids clean and fed while I wasn’t even sure I was real and my husband had to go earn money and health insurance?

The only people who even offered have big families of their own to tend to. The ones who don’t do fuck all called CPS and then they called 911. They pretended to not know anyone’s address or phone number to block me from contacting anyone else. They came to my son’s 17th birthday party EMPTY HANDED after I asked my sister to bring my mom and help make a party since I’m not well enough to do it. He fucking cried after his birthday party. The one thing I swore would never happen.

But, and this is the important part to me, we’re fucking fine over here. The kids barely even know anything is going on. They are going to school, doing their concerts, going to the mall just got cool again. One of them has a line on a potential scholarship with a great program after high school. Another got invited to a summer music clinic that isn’t usually presented to musicians her age. The third loves video games and fart jokes and pop tarts.

Ok, so WHY am I so fucking mad about all of this RIGHT NOW?

Because the moment my brain told me I was dead and it was time for me to choose between the light and the dark happened right after I tried to talk to my mom about my autism for the first time since I was a child, and she replied with “Ain’t none of that you.”

Boom. Melted brains. Panic attacks for days. PTSD at 3000. Full on skill regression and everything. But, on the outside, I was just sleeping for days. Not continuously, but more like how a person with the flu “sleeps all day.” You move from your bed to some other good spot during the day, watch your shows, doze. If you’re the mom, you’re still doing laundry and dishes, and working the Instacart, of course.

Medical advice for people in this type of situation is to radically reduce the size of one’s life. Pull up the drawbridge, put alligators in the moat, get the doctors on telehealth visits, and take a leave of absence from work. Rest as much as humanly possible until you can function again.

Good thing I have a whole husband with extra paperwork attached.

One feature of my panic attacks were to reach out for help. What came out of my hands was fucking TERRIFYING. For me too. I could’t make it stop once it started because it felt inside my head and my body that whatever was coming out of my hands was the only thing that could save me. That’s not bipolar. That’s not lunacy. That’s a fucking panic attack.

My mom got the brunt of them. A cousin got a relatively light version. My therapist enjoyed a few. Eric probably just changed his phone number on day two. It was a struggle because I had to have my phone because I was basically homebound. Instead of just getting rid of my phone, I had to get to the bottom of what was CAUSING the panic attacks and get rid of THAT so I could have a phone.

You’ll never believe what it was.

Wait. I was answering why I’m so mad RIGHT NOW. I’m mad because I had to do this alone. My family was afraid of me because of the lies my mother has been telling about me all my life to cover up her alcoholism. I was fooled by her current “sobriety.” She talks up and down about how sorry she is for things and accountability and blah blah blah. Has all the fancy tokens to prove she is right and I am the lunatic.

The only people in my family who reached out to me with anything looking like kindness are the ones who have only known me since I was 30 or those who met me when I was 8 and watched it all happen from their front row fucking seats. Except my Fairy Godmother, of course. She heard me calling and she came for me like she always has and always will. Nice try on that one, mom. (And don’t worry, I see YOU and YOU, too, but your dignity and agency are worth more than my truth in this moment.)

Everyone else is treating me like the dangerous criminal my mother needs me to be so she can die sober and happy. Well, fuck you. You know it’s fake so have fun pretending.

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