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David Finch’s The Journal of Best Practices – An Asperger Marriage Review

As I sit down to type this post, five children are running wild in my back yard. Two are throwing dozens of colorful plastic balls over the net enclosure, while the other three bat them right back out. A few balls will likely land over the cement brick wall, resulting in tears, anger, and ultimately laughter as stories are made about Crazy Ed pulling “magic circles” out of his pool filter.

As the coffee hums, the cell phone rings, the house phone follows in suit, and dinner sits uncooked on top of my kitchen counter, I think of my husband: My very organized, methodical, practical husband.

For starters, there would be no children over on school night (my son still has a bit of homework to do.)

For seconds, how much longer am I going to trade services – taking Miss L home a few days a week in exchange for acupuncture? Wouldn’t less chaos be equally as effective in calming down Stink’s tics?

For thirds, why are two of the neighborhood boys here and why are two more kids playing basketball in our driveway? “Don’t they have a home?” he might wonder aloud, to which I’d respond, “Yes, but it’s nice having life in our home. We have to be flexible.”

Depending on my mood, I might be furious with my logical mate. While he means no harm by his comment, I might view it as insensitive. When he married me, I was a vintage wearing/cat eyed sporting/card-carrying WGA TV comedy writer. He wasn’t saying, “I Do” to Ms. Homemaker U.S.A.. These days, the only thing funny is my sense of domesticity – and believe me – we’re not always laughing.

On some days, I might blow his comments off. “That’s just Rex,” I might chide, too happy with my writing gigs or $12.75 Ebay windfall to really ruminate on his remark.

On other days, perhaps after nights of 5 hours sleep and dealing with Stink’s tic upswing, I might feel sad. “Why can’t he just get that life isn’t as easy to compartmentalize as the file folders on his work computer?”

But these days, I often think something else. What if he’s not being a selfish male? What if he just can’t help it?

David Finch’s wife knows a bit about this question. She was fed up with her rigid husband who threw baby tantrums over anything from dishes not being done correctly to having to deal with any change in their schedule that came with children. After five years of marriage, they were no longer friends and teetering on divorce.

Kristen, who Finch describes with endearing affection and admiration throughout his novel, sat him down one night and had him answer questions via an online diagnostic test. “Do people think you are aloof and distant?” (check) “Do you have certain routines you must follow… Do you tend to shut down or have a meltdown when stressed or overwhelmed?” (check and check again, and later, check check check….)

Finch scored 155 out of 200, and then responded with what can only be seen as outrageous aplomb. “I have Aspbergers? I have autism?! I mean… holy shit, right?”

Unlike a lot of folk who might ignore these results, Finch got an official diagnosis from a doctor. Instead of freaking out, he felt relief. He finally realized that his need for control was not entirely his fault: he was wired that way. But perhaps even more astounding than his acceptance of this irreversible condition was his determination to transform his marriage in spite of it.

The result? A New York Times bestselling book. He titled it, The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man’s Quest to Be a Better Husband.

Published by Simon and Schuster, Finch spares no details in walking us through his transformation. Using a detailed list of observations he’d written to himself, Finch came up with a set of best practices to elevate him from the dog house to beloved man of the house.

Some such rules included taking over kid chores without complaining, taking everyone’s clothes out of the dryer (not just the socks he needed) and not ruining he and his wife’s vacation because of a forgotten dental syringe. (He did eventually find one, but only because his wife was kind enough to stop at a supply store with him. He won brownie points for making due until then.)

Aspergers can take on many functions, but the hallmark of this disorder is monumental self-focus. Another way of saying this is that the person does not, inherently, possess empathy.

As a creative person who feels everything from a wacky gleam in my mom’s eye to the way a dissected frog might feel before being diced in two by a seventh grader, I used to think lack of empathy meant lack of feelings. But when I look at some of my own husband’s responses to life situations (sobbing in the driveway when my daughter was being whisked off to emergency for a chest cough, or breaking down over the birth Stink) I realize now how wrong I was. It’s not that folk with Aspergers don’t feel – they just can’t always put themselves in someone else’s shoes and sense how they feel.

On a logical level (and Aspies are nothing but logical) how can one get mad at someone if they aren’t being anal retentive on purpose? What if they are just wired that way, like our kids, who can’t help but tic? They are genetically built to do so. (Not to brag, but a long time friend once commented that I did, indeed, get that stick half pulled out my husband’s ass. I’m a rock star, I know.)

Understanding on a cerebral level is a far cry from acceptance on a soulful one. Marriage to someone like this can be taxing to say the least. One wouldn’t be human if they didn’t find it maddening. A spouse can feel cheated. “Isn’t a relationship about give and take?” many neurotypical mates might balk. Finch’s response is yes, and so is mine.

What Finch succeeded out so brilliantly, both in real life as well as on the written page, is realizing while he might not be able to understand his wife’s needs on an intuitive level, he can respond in a practiced way that honors her because he loves her.

It’s the same with my marriage, and perhaps yours. Aspbergers or not, all relationships have issues that can’t be wrapped up in a shiny happy bow.  Like a tic, you never know what’s going to pop up out of the blue. We simply need to respond well – and sometimes that takes practice.

“Rex does not have Aspergers!” some friends or family might say. “He’s just being an extreme male!” That is quite possible. But like my son’s Tourettes, I can’t change what is. Either my mate is just very very very set (we’re talking “footprints that have dried for ten years in cement” set) in doing things a certain way or he has Aspergers. Unless he’s diagnosed, I’ll never know. I can only change how I respond to it. Like Finch’s wife, I hope I’m doing so with love, honor, humor, gentle pushings toward change and a whole lot of grace. I can only hope my husband continues to work toward understanding me the way Finch did his wife. I might not get a best selling book out of Rex, but it would be a lovely new chapter for us.

Until then, for those of you who are also dealing with Aspergers with your spouses or perhaps your sons or daughters (it’s often a co-morbid condition with T.S.) please take hope from Finch’s book. It is not the end of the world. It’s simply a different way of thinking. Life isn’t always easy, but it can be challenging, interesting and, as Finch’s writing attests to, hilarious.

As I wait for my husband to return from a 12 hour work day, my son is complaining about leaky liquid coming from his arse. I have seven children waiting to eat tacos. I have 2 articles due and I’m PMSing like a crazy person. If my hubby can come home to all that, I can accept some of his quirks. He loves me. I love him. Like Kristen, I’m in this marriage for the long haul. With Finch’s book, I’m joyful to know that it’s possible to have less survival and more thriving. I wish the same for all of you, both in T.S., marriage and all of life’s challenges.

More on Finch’s book can be found at his websitehttp://www.davidfinchwriter.com/

Also, special thanks to Simon and Schuster for sending me this book and allowing me to sing its praises. Here’s a fun promo of what turned out to be one of the most insightful books I’ve read this year.

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5 Ways To Face TS and Tics In 2012

I’m excited to bring you my very first post at my new website domain! Like my son’s favorite present from Santa, I hope my site can be a treasured gift to you so that you can find joy despite a diagnosis you may not be thrilled with. If there’s something you disagree with, let me know.

For those of you new to my blog, you can catch up on my TS journey at my old site here. But like Tourettes, despite good and bad days getting used to my new platform, this is my new home. Welcome!

For my first entry, I thought I’d cut and paste an entry I wrote in response to a friend of mine who was worried about her son’s new facial tics. She, like many new moms at the beginning, has moments of complete devastation. Sure, there are times when she feels like she’s okay with her son’s diagnosis (like the time when her son’s tics are the most minimal – shocking, I know.) But just when she feels like maybe she’s accepted his condition, a new twitch starts. With it comes fear, riding on a raging horse.

She wrote that she felt bad about, well, feeling bad! Like somehow she should be more accepting! Other moms in our group, it seems, are “over T.S.” and she isn’t.

For those of you who might feel like you are alone – that other folk can handle T.S. (or any disorder) and you’re in a fetal position in the corner drowning your sorrows with Two Buck Chuck from a sippy cup (hey, I resemble that remark!) rest assured – we all have our off days. Or weeks. Or months. Just hang in there – you will feel better in time.

Here’s my two cents on the subject. I edited my response a bit for the purposes of this blog.

I have been better lately for a variety of reasons.

1. Time: I have been down this road for FIVE years. I get the waxing and waning. I’ve done it all, from food and diet to supplements and possible medication options. I’ve done the holistic docs. I’m starting acupuncture. I have gotten to a point where I accept that Stink has TS and I”m doing my best. I don’t feel like ‘why can’t I fix it’ because I know I can’t 100%. But that leads me to #2.

2. A Plan.I have one. I’m going to do Brain Balance. I need to make some money to do that. This means selling some articles, teaching some online writing classes, Ebay, etc. Doing what I’m passionate about not only makes me joyful, but it has the added benefit of making me think less about the tics so I can actually change something I have control over: my attitude.

3. My Faith – Hope: Christianity has been a tremendous source of support for my up and down emotions.

* Note: Where I ramble like a Bible Thumper –  Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” This passage is a source of great hope for me. It means that my “suffering” is not in vain.

That tics are just like a puzzle piece. For a while, like when Stink was first diagnosed, the puzzle pieces seemed jarring. It felt like they would never fit together. Slowly, with my plan, I got the border put together. That was my emotional balance.

Now I have some of the middle put together. I can see a beautiful picture despite some missing holes. With faith, the holes can be filled in with a picture I create. That picture is a life where Stink is happy, healthy, funny and over T.S.. And if he’s not over T.S., it’s not in vain, because his character, and mine, was shaped from it.

* More thumping: And a sidenote!  I encourage all of you to find your own personal road to faith! Romans 5: 3-5 promises “And we rejoice in the HOPE of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our suffering, because we know that suffering produces perseverance: perseverance, character: and character, HOPE. And HOPE does not disappoint us.” (Hooray for hope! I love hope!)

4. Finding my Passion: My writing has been tremendously helpful to me. It’s my love. I can’t form sentences and write blog posts while, at the same time, obsessing about tics. It’s simply impossible. In writing this blog, I am serving others as well. I have bad days like we all do, but in lifting others up, I am selfishly lifting myself up also. The key for me in helping others was realizing that I can’t just serve when I’m feeling okay. God can use me when I’m feeling like a piece of spit out gum stuck to the sidewalk. Before long, I’m blowing good bubbles of encouragement. And I even forgive myself for stupid analogies like the one I just wrote.

* Last thing on serving others: This is not meant as some do-good Christian tip. I don’t care what your religion is or how you feel. Taking your eyes off yourself, and putting them on someone else, is the cure-all for anthing. Don’t believe me? Try it. You’ll get hooked.

5. Acceptance: I accept that some days I’m just down. I don’t like the verbal tics any more than you all do. I have moments where I can’t be in the same room with Stink. I need a break. I have to fight for my “me” time and my “down time” and work on my marriage to do this. It’s created a wedge between my husband and me, at times, as I’m no longer the “yes” person where he gets all the breaks after his hard day at work and I continue to slave. Yes, I have down time while the kids are at school, but I also do a hell of a lot of work while I’m at home alone. I know… I KNOW… I’m worth some relaxation. Rex is starting to understand that. It’s not been a fun road, but he’s getting there, and that is all I need. Love is not a feeling – it’s an action. It’s a verb.

To help with all five points above, I am not ashamed to say I take 75mg of Zoloft every day. It’s evened me out enough to take my head out of my ass and face life the way life is. I hope to not be on it forever, but if I need to take it, I will. My good friend, Chrissy, sent me a link that talks about depression better than I could.

In closing, please know I’m here for all of you. I hope you’ll consider making a plan for yourselves to then get a plan for your child. If it’s meds, go for it. If it’s back to work, go for it. If it’s exercise, go for it. But know this: if it weren’t TS, you’d face something else at some point in your life. Perhaps your mom would die, throwing you into a tailspin. Or a husband who cheats on you. Or your child could have some other illness or you could be diagnosed with something.

I truly truly believe, now, that TS is the invitation we all need to accept life on life’s terms and do the best we can. I pray that you all find peace and are not so hard on yourselves. I’ll take the same hope for me, too.

Until tomorrow, remember my motto: A kid who tics with confidence outweighs an insecure  ass wipe any day of the week. (I should probably consider revising this tagline, but for now, the sentiment remains! Hug that ticker today!)