The other night, I encountered an article about Pick Up Artists on Buzzfeed. The oddly dressed Romeos haunt the internet, touting seduction secrets for a fee.
The piece made me sad–sad for the seduced women, sad for the fee-paying men and sad that insults could ever be part of establishing a relationship.
I skipped to a cheerier article and then pre-bedtime hands of Spider Solitaire. At 10:00, I clicked off the lights.
As I snuggled under my pillow castle, my brain began a conversation with itself over Pick Up Artists.
Like a rude person having an interesting discussion on a cell phone, my brain invaded my peace. I tried to ignore the intrusive cascade of thoughts, but they were too loud and fascinating to ignore.
Brain chattered about relationships and the human condition. It devised elaborate match-making services and philosophized about neurodiversity, dating and mating. Sophisticated scenarios evolved and replayed themselves.
I tossed and turned. The rational part of me knocked on the window, as the rest of held a Pick Up Artist Party. After the 25th pillow adjustment, I glimpsed the clock–1:30 a.m.
Irritated, I hoisted myself out of bed, clumped downstairs and fixed some Malt O’ Meal. I watched an episode of South Park, returned upstairs and conked out.
The next morning I woke with this thought: my brain is a pet of sorts. It hungers and has strange cravings, especially when anxious. I’ve been feeding Brain too much Curious George and Spider Solitaire. Like a naughty dog, Brain responded by chewing on the mental shreds of a Buzzfeed editorial.
I plan to nourish my mind with finer fare, and to change the midnight scenery when I endlessly toss. Or perhaps I’ll take my late night dialogues to the computer screen so I have something to show for those lost hours.
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.
After almost three days of outstanding behavior, I had high expectations for today with T. The past few Fridays we’ve had huge success with outings, so today when the Clingy Monster reared his head, 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. At almost every outing, we push over this hump.
Once we get past the prelude of protests, obsessive questions, and general mischief, our outings become fun and pleasant. Tyoma’s anxiety threshold varies, so each outing I am prepared to brave a certain amount of bellyaching to reach the payoff. Today, he complained more than usual and reward of fun seemed rather far off.
I had trouble adjusting to Tyoma’s inattentiveness and persistent disapproval of my suggestions. The inquisition in the car over digital and analogue clocks frazzled me as I drove through dense traffic.
I took deep breaths at the mall, working hard to ignore the looks from the mothers of the Calm Children. During one of those breaths, I noticed Tyoma was more relaxed at the mall than last week, when he seemed wild-eyed.
He glided over to his favorite mosaic of tiles, happily pointing out north, south, east and west (the mosaic is a snazzy octogram), smiling and seeking me for approval.
The walk to Chick-fila stimulated us. T pointed out sale numbers in store windows and eventually became so captivated I needed to scoot him along. He trotted after me obligingly and even waited patiently as I ordered our meals. Seated overlooking the big mall clock, we inhaled our respective meals. He gobbled up all of his chicken and fruit cheerfully.
We negotiated a trip to the bathroom—no small feat considering how motorized hand-driers roar at jet-airplane volume. In our bathroom stall he loudly asked if he could flush away my pee. I chuckled and said “Sure, flush away.” I could have been embarrassed, but some part of my brain collapsed ten minutes earlier and I okay with it. Next, we dropped by GAP Kids to pick up spring/summer t-shirts.
GAP Kids is a great store. Their shirts are soft and tagless with generous neck openings. Oh! And their dressing rooms feature two-foot tall numbers on them. A trip in the store is a treat for T. Unless, of course, the music is set to “stupefy.” Once inside, he dashed about, touching everything. Was his secret plan to mortify me into taking him out of the too-loud store? I knew this routine all too well.
At my request, the sales lady turned off the music and Tyoma 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. He also asked for a frilly yellow skirt. I replied that he can choose frilly things in high school, but for now he wears boy clothes. My syrupy delivery elicited a smile form our cashier. As an additional treat, T picked out two pairs of skull socks for mastering the art of putting on his socks. I briefly considered looking for pants but discounted the idea, whizzing out of the store for escalator and elevator rides.
After enough elevator rides to confuse me as to which floor we were actually on, we left the mall. Tyoma pleaded for a Toys R Us visit, but I feared over-stimulation. We dropped into the nearby Barnes and Noble and had a snack in the quiet Starbucks cafe area. Other patrons winced as we selected our seats. I remained brave, reminded T to use his “Number 2 Voice” and saw everyone relax. Our snack was lovely and refreshing. T was calm and introspective. We talked quietly and ate briskly.
Since Tyoma still wanted to look at toys, we dropped by the Toy Spot, which is closing in a week. I should have gone straight home, but foolishly I went. All had gone so well, that I forgot our initial high complaint level. The store had been re-organized and was populated by manic kindergartners and their bargain hunting mothers. Still, I stayed. D’oh.
There was an inevitable meltdown over a “100″ poster, which I would have gotten if not for the demanding way he asked for it. He was just too overloaded. Maybe me, too. We took a break, bought a “make your own board game” and went home.
T was cheery in the car and we set up a pretend race between us and papa (who was coming home early today) to see who got home first. Our evening was unremarkable except for a bedtime meltdown. Tyoma is rarely tearful at night, so I felt guilty for overwhelming him during the day.
I don’t know when to push and when to pull back. On another day, our outing would have been fun and energizing, just not today. I began to beat myself up, agonizing over my decisions and fretting that I made the evening difficult for the whole household. Seriously, I can’t be perfect all the time, but I will be more mindful of T’s stress level.
Is it odd that I expect perfection? A perfect day without meltdown or conflicts? Look at my home–as perfect as I can make it–almost white glove clean. Our home is as organized as a home can be without being The Official House of OCD (I say this with the caveat that I think continuously of how to make our home more orderly).
I long to be flexible and forgiving to myself , but as I berate, I analyze and build an understanding, a way of coping with a behavior. I don’t have a person-sense like other professionals–Ashley, Heather, or Jerri. Is something not quite right with me? Why can’t I tell what’s going on with other people as situations unfold? Why do I rely on the data I keep, filed away and categorized for specific situations and not intuition? Maybe I am not too far from the autism spectrum myself.
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.