Stubbornness. Pride. Obstinacy. Willfulness.
This is the characteristic that often describes our heroes and heroines in our stories. They are convinced they have to handle every crisis on their own, to manage every corner of their own lives and everyone else’s, and that they can’t display the slightest bit of weakness.
Didn’t you know that “help” is a four-letter word?
As authors, we like to cultivate that stubborn streak, to stretch it out until readers’ hearts break (and our own, too, often) and your characters learn the error of their ways. Finally, they decide they can accept what’s being offered to them, whether it’s a brother’s assistance, a mentor’s advice or a potential mate’s heart.
As you might imagine, it’s not only our characters who have this problem. Sometimes it’s the writers themselves, in their real–not imaginary–lives.
What? You can’t be talking about me?
I am talking about you–well, me, actually. Our home life has been difficult over the past several years, since my husband’s three children (who I adopted many years ago) are all diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders, among other things. The oldest, who’s now 17, has Asperger’s, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ADHD, and probably Reactive Attachment Disorder (from long-ago problems with his birth mother). He grew increasingly erratic, tearing the household apart, lying, stealing, hacking computers, and creating a generally unsafe–and unhappy– place to be. For all of us. We often thought we might end up on the end of an angry rampage like we’d seen in the news.
We tried to deal with it for almost a year until the situation was pushed to the ridiculous. Our house was practically an armed camp with alarms on the doors and visits to the local magistrate and the line being drawn; “You do this one more time and you can’t live here any more.”
Most kids, faced with that kind of ultimatum, would step back and reassess their situation, because being thrown out of your house is pretty darned serious. But not this one. He did it again. And then we were stuck.
My husband set up a tent in the backyard and sent the boy to live there. We figured it would last maybe one night. Possibly two. He had meals, hot showers, etc., just like the other kids, but he wanted to stay out there. He didn’t have to do his chores there. He could screw around and not be responsible there. Of course he liked it.
Obviously not a long-term answer.
So, after a series of difficult decisions, we sent him first to therapeutic foster care, where he was prescribed to go by his doctor after consultation with the family, and then into foster care with the county when he refused to cooperate with the therapists.
We get lumped in with all the neglectful parents and abusive parents and run through the court system, even though we have taken him for evaluation after evaluation and therapist after therapist and turned our household upside down to accommodate the three kids’ needs. (At one time when the kids were younger, we had 70 hours a week of therapy prescribed for them. 70. That’s as much as two full time jobs.)
It’s pretty painful, especially because I work with the agency as part of my day job. It’s embarrassing and feels like getting kicked when you’re down.
But we have to choke back that stubborn, obstinate streak and look at what’s best for him. He doesn’t take our direction seriously, thanks to his mental health issues, so he’s got to learn proper behavior under the tutelage of others.
Does it matter where the help comes for for him, as long as he gets it? I guess not. Obviously I want him to be the best adult he can be. If that means taking that helping hand, then so be it. I just hope this time he sees the benefit in it. Or else come December, he’ll turn 18 and be out on his own, with little or no skills to deal with life.
Do you know someone with autism or Asperger’s who’s struggling? Here’s some helping hands they may need:
http://www.autismlink.com/ (Cindy, at this organization, walked us through the first stunned months of our diagnoses–she and her helpers are AWESOME.)