Chaper 1 – Pressured, Distracted, Angry
“I want you to do a 24 day Christmas challenge” Dr. Sheer says, gazing carefully at me, judging my reaction. I keep my face blank, but inside I am rolling my eyes in a mixture of boredom and derisement. I had no interest in finding out what his challenge entailed and the familiar instinct to escape any way I could rose within me. Forcing myself to stay grounded, I feigned interest and ask him what his challenge entails.
He seems glad. Arse! I think to myself.
“I want you to choose one new thing to try for each day leading up to Christmas” he rests his chin on interlocked fingers and surveys me closely, “I thought it might help if you chose something related to Christmas, since you said how much you enjoyed the holiday during our last appointment”
I cringe, resenting myself for telling him anything personal about myself. I knew he’d find a way to use it against me, but, as always, I just couldn’t help myself. It’s not even like I’m a chronic oversharer either, at least that would explain it, I just have this complete inability to listen to my own gut, regardless of the consequences. Story of my life I internally moan.
I suddenly realise he’s been rambling on and I haven’t listened to a word he’s said. Endevouring to pay attention and hope I can work out what I’ve missed, I echo back to myself every word he speaks.
“…out the chart, I’m sure we can come up with some doable activities for you”.
I’m sure we can come up with some doable activities for you
“The important thing is to push through your resistance and try to complete as much of the activity as you can” he babbles on.
The important thing is to push through your resistance and try to complete as much of the activity as you can my internal voice repeats, like a voice recorder being played back.
“I’d recommend easy activities that you would enjoy, but ones that you haven’t done before. I’ve made a small list of possible options, shall we go through them now?”
I’d recommend easy activities that you would enjoy, but ones that you haven’t done before. I’ve made a small list of possible options… wait, what, how dare he! anger floods my body, indignant at his daring to presume what I may or may not like. A memory flashes through my mind of Dr. Sheer instructing me to sit with my emotions when I’m triggered, that I should accept them without becoming embroiled in them, and then let them go without acting on them. While I know this to be a valid idea, right now the thought of even trying to just sit with the feelings just makes me even angrier, I struggle to keep a lid on my emotions. The clueless doctor hasn’t even noticed my internal struggle and is busy trying to show me the list of ideas he’s come up with. This alone makes my anger multiply and I quickly move my hands so I’m sitting on them.
“What do you think Ms Tyler?”
“Oh…um, I don’t know” I manage to mutter, feeling my cheeks burn.
Finally noticing my discomfort but completely misconstruing it, he asks me if I’d prefer to take the list home and read it in my own time. Seizing the opportunity to escape, I bark out a “Yes!” and grab the paper, shoving it haphazardly into my bag.
“Well” he says, “I guess that’s our time almost up. Is there anything you’d like to talk about before we schedule our next appointment?”
Fuck no! I think but manage a polite “I don’t think so” instead. He takes his time checking his calendar while every part of me itches to run. Finally he finds a blank space in his packed diary and asks me if the 20th is okay. How the fuck should I know I internally scowl. “Yes that’s fine” I mumble.
“Great” he beams at me, writing my name in the space, “10:30, same as always?”
“Yes” I grimace back. As soon as he’s finished writing and indicated that we’re finished, I grab my bag and shoot out of the door, accidentally banging into my chair in my haste to leave. Once outside I breathe a sigh of relief. The icy air immediately cools my flaming face and I turn my mind to what I’m supposed to be doing next, attempting to avoid thinking about what just happened.
Shopping! I need to get food in for dinner. I start walking briskly down the road. As I walk my mind conjures up a picture of a masked attacker, leaping out of a bush and charging at me, knife in hand. I push the image away away and deliberately keep my walk steady, but inside I’m shaken. The last thing I need after an exhausting therapy session is paranoid thoughts.
It takes half an hour to walk to the nearest supermarket. Normally I love seeing all the decorations in the stores and the Christmas music playing, it always gives me a buzz. But today it makes me angry, and I feel resentful towards the Dr. Sheer for spoiling my favourite time of the year.
Bastard! I think, Why did he have to come up with that stupid exercise? Now I have to find some way of getting out of it. I spend a good few minutes walking around the store thinking of all the excuses I could use. Maybe I can break my leg, or feign an illness. But what if he comes out to my house to check on me? What if he still insists I have to do the stupid project even when I’m ill. Maybe I can put myself in a coma until the holiday is over, but then I’d miss Christmas, and who’d look after Abby? Guilt grabs at me, shaming me for even thinking of hurting myself and leaving Abby alone, especially at Christmas, the loneliest time of the year for many. The all too familiar feeling of depression edges it’s way into my brain and I feel like just lying down on the store floor and going to sleep. That’s when I realise I’ve forgotten to pick up a basket.
Damn it! I rage at myself, then feel exhausted, I don’t have the energy for this. I consider heading back to the entrance to pick up a basket, but it seems such a far walk. I think about just going home without buying anything, but then Abby would want to know why I hadn’t bought food for dinner. There’s nothing at all to eat at home, I checked before we left in the vein hope of avoiding shopping for another day. It’s no good, I tell myself, I’ll have to buy something. I take out the list I’d made in a moment of motivation and start trying to find the milk. I don’t normally visit this supermarket, so I’m unsure of where everything is. After a long walk around where I get side tracked by the toy aisle, looking at things I neither need nor can afford, I arrive at the tills with my arms laden down and feeling rather foolish for my stubborn refusal to get a basket. I join the shortest queue, and within seconds a staff member, smiling in a way that can only be described as terrifying, approaches, indicating to my full arms “why don’t you use the self-serving tills over here”. As she smiles she bares sharp white teeth, and I get the impression she’d fit better in a horror movie rather than a brightly lit shopping store.
“No thank you” I smile back, almost gritting my teeth.
“But it will be quicker than waiting, and you can do it all yourself” she says sweetly.
Yeah, I know, that’s the problem. I hate the damn things and I’d rather suffer through having to speak to the lady at the till than use those annoying things, I say to myself. “I’m fine waiting, thanks” I mutter instead, hoping she takes the hint and fucks off.
“If you use the self-serving till, you can put those items down straight away rather than waiting, it’ll be easier for you” she bares her teeth at me, acting like I’d be doing her a favour by moving to the self-serve tills. This makes me strangely more determined than ever not to use them.
I’m tempted to ask ‘What, do you get paid per customer who uses them?’ I can feel my anger rising again. I shake my head, trying not to speak. I’ve had a very stressful morning and this woman really isn’t helping my mood. I fear I’m going to blow up on her if I dare open my mouth.Unfortunately she insists on persisting. “I’m sorry, is there a problem with our self-serving tills?’ she asks in what sounds like a nice way, but I can hear the tone of threat underneath. My arms are really starting to hurt now and this lady is really pissing me off. I glance over to the till and see an old lady struggling to get several boxes of mince pies into an already overloaded reusable bag.
“Perhaps we can get the manager over to sort out the problem for you” the staff woman is saying in her overly patronising voice. I suddenly have this image of myself standing in front of the till, arms full of ‘not thought this through’ chocolate indulgence biscuits and ‘I’m obviously single and sad’ double chocolate chip ice cream, dressed in dirty joggers and stained sweatshirt, with unwashed hair that needed it’s roots doing months ago. A feeling of patheticness washes over me and before I can do anything, tears fall from my eyes onto a packet of iced doughnuts I don’t even remember picking up. The tears make me feel sad and angry at the same time, and suddenly I’m shouting. I don’t even know what I’m saying, I’m having that out-of-body experience people describe happening when they die. All I know is the words make no sense and I’m practically frothing at the mouth.
Everyone is looking at me, the old lady panics and hurries to pay her bill so she can leave. I’m crying so much I’m sure the doughnuts will be soaked but I no longer care. I growl at the staff lady until she backs off so much she bumps into the display behind her and some kitkats fall onto her head. A bizzarre laugh erupts from me and I quickly turn away. The old lady is done and gives me a terrified glance before rushing off with her overloaded bags. I dump my items on the conveyor, squashing the doughnuts, and move along to grab two of the reuseable bags from their peg. Credit to the till lady, she does her job efficiently while trying her best not to make eye contact. I pack my items, shove my card in the reader, punch the number in then grab my stuff and haul ass out the store like the devil himself is after me.
Back home I dump the shopping on the living room floor then head to my room. Flopping onto my bed, I fall straight into a deep sleep.
Bringgg bring, bringgg bring.
I startle awake to the sound of the phone. Trying to hurry, I flop out of bed, banging my head on the floor. Moments later I stumble into the living room in a bad mood. I’d completely forgotten about the shopping but was quickly reminded8 when I tripped over it, nearly falling into the coffee table. Picking up the phone, I mumble a ‘hello’ while trying to work out what time it is. My blood freezes when I hear the unhappy voice of Mrs. Oldham, the head teacher of Tow Hill Secondary, Abby’s school.
“Miss Tyler, it’s 3:37” comes the voice I always dread hearing.
Shit! “Yes, sorry, I’m just on my way now” I say guiltily.
“This is the third time this week Miss Tyler” her stern voice frowning through the phone.
“Right, it won’t happen again”, I promise. She sighs, we both know that’s a lie.
After I hang up I waste 5 minutes searching for my shoes before realising I was still wearing them. I grab my bag, pull open the door and slam it as hard as I can behind me.
10 minutes later I’m outside the school gates, breathless. The Headteacher is standing at the entrance with Abby, a frown causing deep lines in her face.
“I’m sorry” I say as I approach, “I’m not feeling very well”.
Surprisingly her frown turns to a look of worry, “You don’t look very well either, perhaps you should get someone else to pick Abigail up tomorrow”
“Right, yeah, will do” I smile. Abby tuts and walks past me, bumping into my shoulder as she passes. To be fair, I did deserve that. The Head clearly disagrees though and she starts to open her mouth to say something. I quickly chirrp “Right, thanks again. Better be off”. I give a quick wave and race after Abby who is stalking away as fast as her legs will carry her, which is rather quickly.
“I’m sorry” I say breathlessly when I catch up to her, “I was at the doctors”.
“Your appointment was at 10!” she snarls. Half ten I silently correct her, I know better than to say it out loud though.
“It overran” I lie.
“What? By 4 and a half hours?”
“Ahhh” I search for something to say, then I remember “I went shopping!”
She stops to look at me critically, “Really? Did you remember to get my curry?”
“You forgot! You fucking stupid bitch!”
She stalks off angrily and part of me just wants to stay here on the pavement alone. But I know I can’t do that, so I scramble after her, making sure to keep further than arm’s length away in case she decides to turn and punch me.
When we get home Abby slams the front door behind her, nearly hitting me in the face. I want to refuse to open it but I remind myself that I’m the adult here, I should act like one. Once inside I take my trainers off and dump my bag on the floor, I then head into the living room ready to put the, hopefully not gone off, shopping away. I notice Abby standing in the centre of the living room holding a Chicken Vindaloo ready meal and a confused look on her face. Far too late I say “surprise!” and smile hopefully. The look of disgust she gives me says it all. Practically throwing the Vindaloo on the table, she stalks off to her room and slams the door. Moments later the delightful sounds of heavy metal blast through the door, the floor beating in time to the beat.
I sigh and begin unpacking the rest of the shopping. I bung the ice cream in the freezer, aware that I should be annoyed that it will now have ice crystals in it, but I’m too numb to feel anything. I go through the motions, making dinner and washing just enough of the dishes for us to eat off. The thought of eating from dirty plates doesn’t even bother me, I just can’t face the disappointment and hatred in Abby’s face anymore.
Not for the first time I think about death.
After dinner, I take my doughnuts and plonk myself in front of the computer. Once it’s booted up I waste 10 minutes checking my email, seeing messages that need urgent replying too and quickly log out.
My life’s a mess, I think to myself, running my hands through my hair.
Sighing deeply, I pull up Google and type in ‘why is my life so shit?’ The results include the usual unhelpful ‘you need to be positive’ self help crap and a bunch of complaints from others on how shit their life is too. I allow myself a glimmer of satisfaction at the fact that I’m not the only human on the planet living a shitty life, before remembering that I’m the only person I know who can’t even wash some bloody dishes once in a while.
Next I type in ‘how do I make myself do stuff’. Unsurprisingly nearly every result has the word ‘depression’ in it. I’m NOT depressed! At least if I were then it would explain things. My life hasn’t been the greatest but aside from that period after Simon’s death… I choke back tears, even after 11 years it still hurts to remember. I slap my hands against my cheeks, cursing at the sting, and the tears stop. I can’t afford to wallow in self pity.
I open Facebook and browse through my Friend’s posts, pictures of happy families doing normal, everyday things just make me feel even worse. So I close Facebook. Swinging round in my chair I chant “bored, bored, bored. I’m so fucking bored”. My brain reminds me of the activity Dr.Sheer gave me and suddenly I decide to check out the news online.
My brain does this, whenever something important turns up that needs dealing with it decides there’s some mundane task that is far more interesting that requires my full attention. It’s largely responsible for the mass of unpaid bills and piles of housework that dominate my life.
An hour later an I’m all caught up on the apparently important things happening in the news. I really should go have a bath. The second the thought crosses my mind my fingers are moving, clicking on some random link and I find myself reading about how straws are going to destroy the planet unless we ban them right now. Rolling my eyes, an ad at the side of the page catches my eye.
‘Does your child refuse to do what you tell them?’
I snort. Well duh! Whose child doesn’t?
‘Does your child avoid doing everyday activities?’
Yeah… but who wouldn’t avoid boring, everyday stuff.
‘Do they even avoid things they want to do?’
‘Is your child manipulative, controlling and defiant? Then they could have a rare condition called Pathological Demand Avoidance. Read on to find out more on this troubling disability’
What? No, I won’t!
I scroll back up the page, hiding the ad, then scroll back and reread the wording. ‘avoid things they want to do’ ‘controlling’ ‘manipulative’ ‘defiant’ all words her teachers had used to describe Abby. I hated those words, and all the other negative ones. She was just struggling because of Simon’s death, wasn’t she? Surely all her attitude and difficulty getting on at school were due to her father’s sudden death, she did witness it first hand after all, that would fuck anyone up. Granted Abby was difficult before Simon died, but then all 3 year olds are, aren’t they? And then It happened. Of course it would affect her.
But it has been 11 years, a voice inside me whispered, and she had therapy for it, they said she was fine. I shake my head.
Well, it can’t hurt to look anyway. The mouse arrow hovered over the ad, the words ‘read on to find out more’ kept jumping out at me. Scowling, I closed the tab and opened a new one, typing into the Google search bar ‘pathological demand avoidance’. A bunch of results appeared. ‘I think my child has PDA’ ‘how do I tell if my kid has PDA’ ‘Does anyone know if there are any adults with PDA as I think my husband has this’.
I scroll through until I find one that looks like an information site, helpfully titled ‘what is PDA’. I click on it and begin to read.
Several hours later and my mind is blown. I’ve read nearly everything I can find on the subject and my head is throbbing with a headache. But I’m elated, estactic, excited. I think this thing fits Abby, maybe, I’m not sure. But more than that, I think it fits me!
Everything I read I nod along to. ‘Struggle to do everyday tasks’ tick, ‘Struggle to do things I want to do’ tick, ‘Struggle fitting in and making friends’ tick, ‘seen as a problem child’ tick tick tick.
I ignore some of the words, no way am I manipulative. I’m definitely not controlling. Yeah I like things a certain way and get anxious when people touch my stuff, but who doesn’t? I also don’t understand why they say it’s linked to Autism, that bit doesn’t make sense to me. Neither of us (Abby and I) are the least bit Autistic, we can talk for starters. Maybe they got that bit wrong, I think, nodding to myself. The rest fits though.
I stand up, intending to go knock on Abby’s door and tell her about my new found discovery. It’s then that I realise just how quiet the place is. I glance at the clock and jump when I see just how late (or should that be early) it is. It’s nearly 3 in the morning, I need to be going to work in a few hours. Yawning, I switch the computer off, contemplate a very late bath but instead hobble to my room and collapse (still fully dressed) into bed.