Sometimes little things consume me. An irregularity ensnares me. I fixate and flail, struggling to smooth that lopsided bit of my life. Worry propels me to make my existence even and predictable.
Some of my struggle comes from having a sticky brain. It rolls along, collecting data, stopping to process the chinks and chunks it encounters.
When I come across an important detail, compulsiveness becomes resolve. I am on a mental mission to solve a problem. I ruminate. Thoughts circulate as I wash dishes, eat, or play with my son. I try to sleep as thoughts pry at my brain—they ask, “How do I fix this?”
In the end, insight arrives. Realizations never creep, they explode. A hurricane of thoughts blossoms. It is as if an ocean dropped on my head. My problem, all its possible solutions, consequences, and future implications occur to me at once.
This giant mental thunderclap shakes me physically. My gut tingles symphonically. Anxiety melts away, replaced with profound euphoria. I sing, dance, and snap my fingers to celebrate. My lungs and limbs are not enough to express my joy.
My sticky brain, however, is not discerning. Its gluey tendrils fasten themselves to countless details. Sometimes they bind to my son. Notions of how he should behave form. I compare his good days to his every days. I focus on variables, circumstances and behavioral interventions. My brain whizzes so fast that I don’t do what I need to do—sooth my anxious son.
He has the same sort of sticky brain as I do. He needs help to get unstuck. When he melts down, I find myself frozen, calculating and measuring variables. How can I continuously miss his need for comfort and redirection?
This pattern repeats interminably. The unexpected shifts my brain into computation mode. I must stop analyzing his behavior (and my own) and take simple actions. Redirect. Soothe. I know what to do intellectually, but in the moment, I am lost.
How do I remind myself? Should I tattoo “offer choices and give hugs” on my hands or paint a sticky-brain resolution on the kitchen wall? Maybe ink a message to my future frustrated self on my son’s forehead?
Perhaps, I am melting down alongside my son. In that moment, I need to sooth and redirect myself. What could I give my brain to chew on so I can act instead of think? I am open to suggestions.
Impelled to move, I organize crayons or wipe the silverware drawer. I dash off to fold clothes or arrange socks in their drawers. I draw, doodle or paint. I scan, alter, upload or download.
It is not so much that I’m compulsive (I can be). My brain smolders with worry. Physical or mental inactivity allows the worries burst into a conflagration.
Today’s fixation is our missing kitty, but I could agonize over anything. Family health issues, driving during the lunch rush, what to cook for dinner, they all seem to take up the same anxious space in my brain.
Poor Kitty, absent for two hours. I visualize kitty’s horrible fate with disconcerting clarity. Cold and shivering, she curls up in an inauspicious place. We find her mummified body in the spring, wretchedly close to rescue. My body clenches with future emotion.
I push worry out of my mind by choosing a tube of acrylic paint and some newspaper.
Twenty minutes later Kitty shows up, bored of her foray into the woods.
I know my imaginings are unrealistic, even in the moment. Nevertheless, I am still swept away. I drown. As long as I clutch a task, I stay afloat. Maniacal thrashing takes over when I let go of that branch. My unoccupied mind needs focus or it fills with ornate details of horrible doom or failure.
Is this autism? A consequence of a high IQ? Mild OCD? Probably some of each.
The ultimate result is an abundance of industry. Wonderful industry. Floating paint across paper is delicious compared to visualizing kitty doom scenarios.
For the past few years my son has been obsessed with ROYGBIV color order. I remember his Early Intervention Speech Pathologist gasping when he reorganized her colored cups in ROYGBIV order. “It’s not normal to do that,” she ominously informed me.
I woke up hyper and happy. My husband chased me out of the kitchen to eat breakfast in peace–I had been annoying him with songs about how wonderful his hair smelled. From the TV room, I bombarded him with dish towels and woos. Egor harumphed off when I did my recycled Pepsi can dance, so I performed for the kitty instead. I need to remember that good moods do have a downside. An abnormal happy morning mood usually precedes abysmal afternoon anxiety.
I was excited and nervous over Liev’s upcoming day at the beach with our respite worker. At first, I balked at a beach outing, but I reconsidered. If Egor and I took him, we would be burned out by the end of the day. Ashley is a professional skilled at helping kids on the spectrum do new things. She has the skill and brain wiring to turn the day into a success.
Nevertheless, twenty minutes after Liev and Miss Ashley left, anxiety set in. Images of car accidents and tragedy invaded my brain. Ugh. The thoughts stubbornly circled as I folded laundry and picked up toys. I zoomed around the house, cleaning till it sparkled, hoping for a distraction. Heh. I only managed to conjure more elaborate images of catastrophe. At last, I told my husband about my worries. “Ashley is a better driver than both of us. Liev will be fine.” This satisfied me and I quit obsessing.
After three days of outstanding behavior, I had high
expectations for today with Liev. The past few Fridays, we’ve had enormous
success with outings. Today, when Live became clingy, I reacted with irritation
and disappointment. His behavior change baffled me.
We started our outing to the mall with the usual complaints
and requests to stay home, but with the aid of gummy letters, we made it into
the car and out of the driveway. Most outings, we push through
variations of this scene.
Once past the prelude of protests, obsessive questions, and
general mischief, our outings become pleasant. Liev’s anxiety threshold varies,
so each outing, I am prepared to brave bellyaching to reach the payoff of an
adventure. Today, he complained more than usual, and I should have been more
Adjusting to Liev’s inattentiveness and persistent
disapproval of my suggestions took work. An inquisition in the car over digital
and analog clocks frazzled me as I drove through dense traffic.
I took deep breaths at the mall, working hard to ignore glances from the mothers of The Calm Children. During one of those breaths, I noticed Liev relaxing. Last week at the mall he ran, wild-eyed and cackling past glass-fronted clothing stores and shabby kiosks to the elevator. He managed to board it without me, causing me to visualize a Fox News interview over the mayhem he created before I could catch up to him. Instead, he glided over to his favorite mosaic of compass, cheering, “Norf!!! Souf!! Eassst!! Wessst!!!” smiling and racing up to touch me between directions.
As we walked to the food court, Liev pointed out sale numbers in store windows., he became so transfixed I needed to scoot him along. He trotted a few steps behind me and waited with surprising stillness as I ordered our meals. Seated overlooking the big mall clock, we inhaled our respective chicken nuggets. He gobbled up all of his chicken and fruit.
We negotiated a trip to the bathroom—no small feat
considering how motorized hand-driers roar at jet-airplane volume. In our
bathroom stall, Liev hopped in circles and chanted, “Let ME flush away
the PEE!” The mall toilets flush with a whooshing, echoing slurp
that vibrates the floor so I noted his bravado with pride. Next, we shouldered our way to GAP Kids to
select summer t-shirts.
GAP Kids is a fine store. With generous neck openings, their shirts are soft, tagless, and sensory-friendly. Oh! And their dressing rooms feature two-foot-tall numbers on them. A definite treat for Liev! Unless the Gap has its music to set to “Stupefy.” Once inside, Liev darted about, rubbing rows of folded shirts and clattering racks of pants on hangers. He zoomed past a teetering septuagenarian, making me gasp as I scurried behind him. Was his secret plan to mortify me into removing him from the too-loud store? Clever boy!
At my request, the sales lady turned off the music, and Liev
recovered enough for me to nab a few shirts. It took two gummy rewards for
patience, but he assented to the purchase of four shirts. As I checked out, he
pleaded for a frilly yellow skirt. I replied that he could choose
frilly things in high school, but for now, he wears pants. My syrupy
delivery elicited a smile from our cashier. As an additional treat, T picked
out two pairs of skull socks for mastering the art of pulling on
socks. I considered looking for pants but discounted the idea,
whizzing out of the store for a battery of Liev-pleasing escalator and
After enough elevator rides to confuse me over which floor we were on, we exited the mall. Liev begged for a Toys R Us visit. The warehouse-like building, fluorescent bulbs, and blaring music seemed too hard to face, so we dropped by Barnes and Noble for a snack at the quiet Starbucks area. Other patrons winced as we selected our seats since Liev hopped on to a chair and exclaimed, “Tada!” I remained calm, reminding Liev that only home chairs are for standing on. “But why?” he huffed. “Other little kids don’t have your good balance, and if they see you and try, they might hurt themselves,” I said. Liev pondered this and frowned. “Of course.” He stepped down with caution lest any preschoolers were looking. Nearby Starbucks patrons on laptops and phones relaxed.
Since Liev still wanted to look at toys, we dropped by the Toy Spot, which is usually empty and quiet. Not today. The store was holding an unexpected “Going Out of Business” sale. Teeming with manic kindergartners and their bargain-hunting mothers, the Toy Spot transformed into a riotous marketplace. I half expected monkeys and macaws for sale next to Melissa and Doug. Not only was it loud and crowded, but they reorganized the shelves and merchandise in a new and chaotic manner. Dumbstruck, I spent a few moments too many in the store to leave gracefully with Liev. He fixated on a “100″ poster, which we already had one at home. Liev was too overloaded to think straight. I was overloaded too. We took a break in the car for the crying to subside and returned to buy a “make your own board game.” The staff seemed shell shocked as I paid. Saddened, I tried to think of kind things to say but I came up empty.
Liev perked up in the car, and we set up a pretend race between papa and us to
see who got home first. Our evening was unremarkable except for a bedtime
meltdown. Liev is rarely tearful at night, so I felt guilty for overstimulating
him during the day.
I wonder when to push Liev and when to retreat. So, I beat
myself up, agonizing over my decisions, and fretting that I made the evening
difficult for the whole household. I can’t be perfect all the time, but I
will be more mindful of Liev’s stress level.
Is it odd that I expect perfection? A perfect day without
meltdown or conflicts? Consider our home. It sparkles–almost white-glove clean
and so organized it is almost serial-killer creepy. I expect myself to be
Perfectionism helps me self-analyze. But why do I struggle when others flow? Is something not right with me? I have trouble understanding other people in real-time. Most of my social skills have a 30 minute to three-day delay timer on them. Why do I have to think so hard, reviewing past experiences and questioning myself instead of having intuition? Maybe I am not too far from the autism spectrum myself.