I have an anonymous relative who wonders if he makes enough saliva. This thought prods him at night, his mind whispers, “Is there enough? Will my mouth dry out? Or will there be too much? Will I strangle in my sleep?”
He is a logical, rational, respectable man. If you met him you would find him amiable, genuine, and enthusiastic. He knows these thoughts are absurd, but at midnight, they are deafening, almost convincing. A brilliant man, with multi-disciplinary doctoral degrees, is brought to his knees by thoughts of spit.
My secret terror is driving, an ironic agony, because I love long roads and flashing scenery. Ever since I was a child, road trips thrilled me. However, as an adult behind the wheel, my mind reels out Final Destination moments with numbing frequency. The images are vivid, immediate, and triggered by tractor-trailers.
Whizzing by me with monstrous wheezing engines, I shudder–not because they will slurp me and scatter my bones behind them–but because I see myself steering under their grinding wheels ( though I would never, ever do such a thing!).
The event is not an impulse or a wish but a horrible, unspeakable image my brain slings at me. As semis thunder by, part of my brain forces the other to watch Clockwork-Orange style as I turn the wheel. The vehicle fragments. I meet a pulpy, splintery-red death. And my son. Unspeakable.
These bouts of intrusive horror peaked after my son’s autism diagnosis. The diagnosis did not unsettle me, but the headshaking therapists did. I could not reconcile giving up hours upon hours of precious motherhood for A.B.A., Occupational Therapy, and Speech and Language Pathologists.
One day, I pulled off the highway, past the gritty shoulder, and into a worn meadow. My head was so rushed and crushed with interfering images, I felt unsafe to drive. I called my husband for emergency mental health relief.
He did not pick up.
I felt alone, out of my league, and completely crazy. Everything I failed at rushed upon me and nearly swept me away, but Tyoma fussing in the back seat revived me.
I made a list on the notebook beside me:
1. Being a mother is your job.
2. Home is six minutes away.
3. Get calm enough to drive.
4. Drive home.
5. Feed Tyoma.
6. Read Tyoma stories.
That list was a turning point for me. I quit being sad and overwhelmed and began to ask questions. Questions about autism treatments. My obsessive, intense brain turned to more fruitful pursuits. I still have my tractor-trailer jitters, but I keep them in check with lists and moral outrage.