Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Meet me in Holland

Emily Kingsley's poem Welcome to Holland is standard reading for any special needs parent. Upon diagnosis 58 people will immediately forward you this poem.

It's a beautiful poem describing what it is like when you find out your child has special needs by using the metaphor of planning a trip to Italy but landing in Holland. We grieve our plans for Italy while we learn to love the wonderful things about Holland.

I really do love this poem.
There is just one thing that doesn't work for me:
We still land in Italy.

Our itinerary has changed and our guidebooks are no longer relevant - but make no mistake we are still very much in Italy.

And in Italy we are surrounded by all the other tourists whose trip is still going as planned, and who still believe trips go as planned.

They see us but can't understand the shell shocked expression on our faces because hey, we all landed in Italy!   Salute!

Sometimes I wish I actually was in Holland with all the other displaced would-be Italian tourists like myself. Sometimes I think that would be easier. Easier than the lonely Holland bubble we now move through Italy within, bumping into one another once in awhile as we navigate Italian roads with our obsolete maps.

In Holland we would be together. All of us feeling lost, but lost together, so not alone.  Belonging now to each other in our new status of not belonging.

Our expressions of confusion and grief would be mirrored in the faces of our fellow refugees, along with astonishment and wonder as we each learn to find our footing and take in the unexpected landscape.

Sometimes we might still talk about Italy. We might once in awhile share what we had planned and say to each other "Oh that sounds nice..." but it would just be a memory of a plan - not reality playing out before us each and every day.
"Holland has tulips."

In Holland we would be the norm.

And Tulips and Rembrandt's wouldn't stand out for being different, they would just stand out for being beautiful.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Appreciating my Husband's P-ness

~J loves P~
In 2004 I was in a master's program studying Marriage and Family Therapy.  One of our classes taught us how to use personality assessments in pre-marital counseling. This was fitting because at the time I was in what I hoped was a pre-marital relationship with my then boyfriend (now husband) Wes.

One class was based on the Meyers Briggs personality assessment, a widely used personality inventory based on four scales: introvert-extrovert (I or E), sensing-intuition (S or N), thinking-feeling (T or F) and judging-perceiving (J or P).  After taking the test you get a four letter personality "type" derived from the four scales.

I arrived to that particular class equipped with mine and Wes's personality profiles (ISFJ and INFP respectively), ready to hear the verdict on our relationship.

Our professor began her lesson going through each scale and explaining how similarities or differences on each could be a positive or negative in a relationship.

First Scale: Both introverts (I). No problem! Similarity is compatible in this category - we will be okay. Phew!
Second Scale: Me sensing (S), Wes intuition (N). Again - not a problem! Differences in this category can be a good thing - we are good to go!
Third Scale: Both feelers (F). Bingo! Compatible again! Order the wedding cake!
Final Scale: Me judging (J), Wes perceiving (P). "Now this category," our professor began, "is where there can be a lot of problems if there is a big difference."

Eeeeeek, what???  There IS a big difference - I'm a high J, he is a high P - we are very different!  J's need rules, J's need structure, J's need a plan. P's on the other hand need flexibility, they want to adapt in the moment and leave things open ended...so, basically the opposite of a J.

"Sometimes," she goes on to say, "when couples are very different in this category I encourage them reconsider moving forward with the relationship."

I am devastated. The "J" rule follower part of my personality is responding exactly on point and I have lost all hope. Our relationship isn't following the rules, therefore we are doomed.

My professor continues; "All I can say to JP couples when they decide to stay together is that they will have to learn to appreciate each other's differences."  Okay, yes I can do that!  Got it!

Class ends, I throw my things in my bag and am dialing Wes's number before I even get out the door.

"We are going to have problems!"  I tell him.
"You are a P and I am a J and my professor said we are barely compatible.  Our only hope is for me to learn to appreciate your P-ness."

"Well," he calmly replies in true P fashion, "that'll help!"

Fast forward 10 years, one wedding, one birth, several diagnoses and two miscarriages later and I will admit
my professor was right. Our J and P sides have been where we disagree the most and where our approach to life is most varied. But she was also right in her prediction that appreciating each other's differences would be the key to making it work. It would also be the key to surviving, for me at least.

Life hasn't gone as I "expected"  by any means, and initially my biggest struggle with this was suffering through the feeling that I had lost the control I once thought I had over what happens to me. While I realize now that my beliefs about control were immature, arrogant and delusional - at the time that was my struggle and my panic and my issue to work through. And thankfully I married someone who could help me.

Wes didn't have that type of mindset about controlling life to begin with, so while he's struggled in different ways with the challenges we've faced, he has been a good role model for me, teaching me that it is okay to let go of the "plan" and embrace what comes our way. He's taught me that flexibility and adaptability are requirements for surviving the unexpected and beyond just surviving, I will actually enjoy my life more when I can embrace those qualities rather than fight them.

In trying to appreciate how he is different than me I've learned to embrace my life.

Two J's and we would both have ulcers or heart attacks by now.
Two P's and we might not have ever made it to the wedding in the first place.
But a J and a P working really hard to appreciate each other's differences - yeah, that works!