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School-Year Anxiety

  • Posted on August 8, 2014 at 10:00 AM

After the muddled end of my last school year, I admit I’m anxious about starting up school again. I still haven’t quite gotten a handle on my fibromyalgia. My business is growing, but it’s growing primarily in a way that involves me doing more work to make it grow, as well as the work I need to do to provide for my family. I’m not up to a full day’s worth of work, quantity wise, even though it takes me a full day (or longer) to do it. I’m not sure how I’ll strike a balance between work and school once it starts, since both are priorities. There is so much that is unknown and I feel so unprepared, that there’s definitely an anxiety factor involved.

Willy, on the other hand, seems willfully unaware that school will start in less than a month. He will acknowledge it if I bring the issue up directly. He’ll discuss what concessions he’s willing to make with regards to new clothes, new school supplies, new shoes, and a new backpack. He’s willing to talk, briefly, about how he felt last year went. He won’t talk directly about his hopes and fears about the coming year. It’s difficult to weigh his anxiety levels, because he asserts a blasé attitude that seemingly belies his willfulness on the matter.

Alex, of course, is impossible to gauge. Honestly, I think getting back to the routine of school will be good for him. We have had something of a routine this summer, which has helped; but it’s a routine that spreads across the week, not over a single day, and it’s subject to far more change than the routines of school. This is not to say that he isn’t experiencing anxiety over the start of school. It’s more to say that it’s difficult to judge that anxiety relative to the buzz of anxiety he seems to feel most of the time. There are times when he’s completely free and, by noting those times and repeating the surrounding circumstances, we’ve even been able to increase them. However, the onset of anxiety is never so easily pinned to one cause or another, because he can experience both instantaneous and delayed reactions, depending on his processing during the moment. He seems to be handling the idea of returning to school well, but it’s hard to tell.

Ben is another matter. He seems genuinely unaware of the imminence of school. If I bring it up, his behavior reflects a belief that what I’m saying is not interesting, and therefore not worth attending to. This doesn’t necessarily suggest a blasé attitude similar to Will’s, because Ben’s hyper-focus can be very difficult to break through, even if you attempt to do so with something immediate, tangible, and desired. Ben has very much been “in his own world” this summer. He’ll zone into something desired and prolong it as long as possible. The easiest way to break him out of it (not that we do this on purpose or anything) is to give Alex the opportunity to do something he likes to do that annoys Ben. Ben will stop whatever he’s doing, wherever he’s doing it (as long as they’re both in the same house) and try to make Alex stop. If Ben cares one way or the other about the start of school, then he’s not saying so. I suspect he’ll care once he has to go back to focusing on tasks and timetables that other people set for him.

Of course, Mark is the stay-at-home parent who is not going to school, so the start of school means something different to him. I remember what that was like and, if he’s anything like me, he’s looking forward to the relief. After all, he’s borne the brunt of a difficult summer. He’s definitely ready for a break! And he definitely deserves it!

The Last Week of Freedom

  • Posted on August 28, 2013 at 10:00 AM

School moves into full swing next Wednesday. It starts a day early for Willy, to give the 9th graders a chance to have the high school all to themselves for that one anxious day. Over time, the boys will find themselves shifting into a new kind of normal. For now, it’s the end of the normal we have.

I start school next week, too. The official first day is next Tuesday, just like Willy. I’ll learn more about what’s expected of me during the online orientation today. My biggest concern is whether my textbooks will arrive in time for me to complete my first assignments. From what I understand, the books won’t even be shipped until after classes start—coinciding with when financial aid is dispersed, not with when students need them. Then again, I’ve received different answers from different sources. Right now I’m going to trust the bookstore personnel and anticipate a dire need for playing catch up later on in the week, once my textbooks arrive.

Either way this is our last week of freedom. Summer is ending. School is starting. Willy seems to be the one who most worried. And who could blame him? High school! Willy is starting high school!

And he’s going to be great!

Meanwhile, I have to get as much freelancing in as I can before school starts…so, back to work I go!

Appointment for Worry

  • Posted on July 17, 2013 at 10:00 AM

After Willy had his first major seizure, the one we knew was a seizure, I took him to a neurologist up in Madison. After discussing our family history, I took Alex to the neurologist, too. The neurologist had enough reason for concern to recommend we conducted some additional tests, including a second MRI. At Willy’s last appointment, we canceled Alex’s appointment to discuss the results of his MRI, because the doctor had peeked at the results and declared all was well.

Then, the nurse called and uncanceled the appointment.

Naturally, I was concerned. Was all not well after all? Actually, those who know me better know that I was, underneath a front of my own version of normal, seething with anxiety.

We waited months, of course. We arrived in a rush, of course. Then, to my surprise, it turned out our appointment was never actually rescheduled. It took some persistence with the receptionist, but finally she called the nurse and the nurse talked to the doctor and the doctor, being the conscientious man that he is, agreed to see us.

We met with the nurse, who asked me leading questions. We met with the medical student, who asked more leading questions. I got the impression that we’d missed something, because all those questions were geared toward revealing the changes in Alex’s behaviors that we’d seen.

But, we hadn’t seen any. Alex seemed like Alex, which is far from normal, but it is his own version of normal, so I wasn’t concerned about that! Oh no, what had I missed? What hadn’t I seen? Had I been too busy to notice that something was really wrong with my child?

Then, the doctor came in. I explained why I’m here. He was obviously relieved. He explained what had happened. I was immediately relieved.

The gist of it is this: The nurse was NOT supposed to uncancel our appointment; she was supposed to confirm that the doctor had compared MRI results and verified that there was no significant change to the area of concern and that there was therefore no cause for concern. In short, Alex didn’t need to come back unless we observed significant, worrisome alterations in his behavior. So, obviously, when we showed up for an appointment that didn’t exist, the doctor thought we had observed significant, worrisome alterations in Alex’s behavior.

All that worrying for nothing but a case of the miscommunications! At least it ended with relief.

Aggression: Understanding Willy

  • Posted on April 10, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Kathleen and Kim wrote a post for The Autism Channel about aggression. This is my third response.

I’ve already discussed Ben’s aggression and Alex’s aggression. Now, I’d like to turn to Willy, because Willy’s experiences with aggression are both markedly different and even more heartbreaking than those of his brothers.

Willy has had a few minor phases with overt aggression. Early on, when we were just learning about autism, Willy would throw tantrums and he’d throw toys. His initial “social” attempts involved hitting, kicking, biting, and pinching to try to get his way. Then, he developed the language and social skills he needed to be more successful. So, basically, he developed in a fairly “typical” way, but on a different timeline than his “normal” peers. For many years Willy exhibited few aggressive behaviors, even fewer than his older brother, who is a typically developing child. Willy is compassionate and passionate about justice, which has sometimes gotten him in trouble when he’s argued with teachers or parents who use their authority in a way that Willy disagreed with, but it also made him conscious of how aggressive acts were acts of harm.

Then, this summer he “developed” or “manifested” epilepsy. (Honestly, I don’t know how much epilepsy is always there, like autism, or if it is developed, but that’s neither here nor there.) Ever since, he’s had a rough time of it. Even though the seizures are under control, we’re still dealing with the emotional fall-out from that experience. Added to that, Willy started the school year as the victim of bullies, which may or may not be on-going in a way that’s too subtle for Willy to understand but not too subtle for him to feel (at least, this is a theory shared by his counselor). So, it’s easy to understand why he’s having problems. And, yes, under these stressful circumstances, he is acting out more, including some aggressive behaviors.

Unfortunately, acting out is really the least of it. Willy has become somewhat more aggressive, and that’s unfortunate. The bigger problem is his self-destructive emotional state. He’s “acting out,” but it’s more on an emotional level than actual aggression (though he did hit a teacher after he saw the teacher (playfully) hit another teacher, because he didn’t understand the interaction). He’s experiencing bursts of anger that he doesn’t really understand and can’t control, which results in some aggression, too. What worries me so much more is that he’s also experiencing bouts of sadness and anxiety. He’s had suicidal thoughts.

This is aggression turned inward. He doesn’t really want to hurt other people, so he turns it on himself, which in turn makes him feel worse. Neither the help at home nor school is sufficient, so we’ve started taking Willy to a counselor. It’s early in the process and we’re still in the “it’s going to get worse before it gets better” stage of things.

Now, on the surface, it may seem that Willy’s story has little to do with aggression. Yet, from watching all three of my boys, actually all four of them, it seems rather clear to me that this self-destruction is aggression turned inward, which also involves lashing out when whatever that’s going on inside becomes too much for Willy to bear. I don’t know what to make of that observation, but it seems significant. Regardless, understanding and support are the keys to helping us cope with all of this as a family and provide each of our children with what they need. Right now we’re finding both rather lacking.

Outings Resumed

  • Posted on August 10, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Will likes to throw me curve balls. That’s all I can say to explain it.

Just as soon as I get the word out that Willy doesn’t feel comfortable leaving the house he decides that he really likes outings, after all, and wants more of them more often. Like every day. Things that cost money, like trips to the movie theater, and things that involve me taking him, like trips to the movie theater. Did I mention he wants to go to the movie theater?

Oh, boy! How I hate to say “no,” but I can’t afford that—neither the money nor the time.

On the upside, it means he’s not upset about our upcoming something or other event in which we will be going places or the fact that his Uncle is very much going to want him to go places.

 

Ripples of Anxiety

  • Posted on July 25, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Alex bites his wrist.  Ben throws tantrums of sudden rage—explosions of frustration like shaken soda pop.  Willy bursts into tears.

This may be a sequence of events.  Each event may happen in isolation.  It’s just a taste of the ripples of anxiety that plague our house.  The ripples seem to be getting bigger.  Some days they seem more like waves—high and deep enough to drown us all in their wake.

Of course, that triggers the traumatic memory of a haunting article, written long ago now, where a mother’s murderous leap from a bridge with her autistic son was described as “an act of love.”  I’m not that far gone.  I’ll never be that far gone!

But I am frustrated.  If anxiety were an earthquake our house would be shaking persistently.  The few glass baubles I have left would topple from their perches and crash in a million pieces.  Picture frames would rattle until they fell smashing to the floor.  Considering the soundness of the structure, the whole house would probably topple in our heads.

The ground may not be shaking, but something inside of me is.  Like a tuning fork.  As many parents are I’m tuned to my children’s emotions, and right now the sound is bad.

I want a solution.  I want an answer or at least an explanation.  Hell, I’d take just about anything at this point.  But I’ve tried everything I can think of and I’ve got nothing on this.  The summer started with a state of upheaval and we’ve been heaving ever since.

I just want a day off.  Not for me, but for my boys.  I want one day where they’re all fine.  Just so we can remember how it feels and maybe get back to it.  But the ripples keep coming.  The waves are knocking us down.  So we swim.  What else can we do?

The Shadows of Genetic Shades

  • Posted on June 14, 2012 at 8:00 AM

When Mark and I married and began our family together, we didn’t know we were likely to produce autistic offspring.  We did, however, know—between my history of depression and Mark’s bipolar disorder—we were likely to see ourselves in our children, in the form of depression at least, and probably mania, too.  (It wasn’t until after we were married that we realized I brought anxiety into the mix as well.)

As our boys grew, there were signs that were indicative of what was to come.  Alex would get wound so tight—between anxiety and hints of mania—that his emotions burst out for lack of effective opportunities of expression.  Willy’s emotions would swing—from elated to morose and back again—with such rapidity it would be hard to predict from moment to moment whether he’d be crying or telling me I was the best mother in the world and his day was great.

Up until recently these feelings—these uncontrollable emotional swings—had a juvenile innocence to them that took off the edge.  Yes, anxiety, depression, and mania in children can be severe and painful, but in our boys it was relatively mild—enough to be present, but not enough to be too worrisome.

Then came puberty with all its changes, imbalances, and turmoil.  For both Mark and I, puberty was a major trigger, though the signs were apparent a bit earlier with Mark.  It seems this is true for Willy, too—and probably Alex, though he’s not quite there yet.

Knowing it was likely, even knowing it was coming, helps I’m sure, but not by much.  Having an intimate familiarity with depression helps us to be more understanding, but at the same time it seems to make the ache of watching it blossom in our son all the worse—at least for me.

I want to wrap Willy in my arms and make the hurt go away, but I know I can’t.  I do what I can, knowing it won’t be enough, knowing that for all I can do I cannot fight this battle for him.  I watch and I ache for my son and I ache all the more knowing that when it passes this time around, it’ll come back again and again and again.

The shadow of depression stretches over us.  The shades brought about by our genetic heritage dance in the overarching gloom.  I wait.  I love.  I help.  I ease.  But I cannot dispel the shades that tear away my son’s happy smiles, leaving a tired flatness in their place.  But I trust that the spring will return to his steps and the smiles will wreath his face in delight once more—for a time.

Welcome to Spring Break!

  • Posted on March 21, 2011 at 9:02 AM

So, the boys have this whole week off from school.

What does this mean?  Well, it means that all usual weekday schedules are disrupted (both mine and theirs) and that Alex and Ben will be spending more time together than they usually do.  Have I mentioned lately that Alex and Ben don’t really get along?  See, they both persist with their aggressive behaviors and they both are usually interested in the same activities.  So, they fight.  A LOT.  I mean, they physically fight with each other—pinching, biting, pushing, hitting, kicking, tripping and so on.  It’s not pretty and I don’t like it.

I also have one new client with a fairly big project (Web site copy) in the works and more work available if this goes well.  Very exciting for me!  Plus, I have a prospective client coming to meet me today.  At my house; in my home.  This usually wouldn’t be a problem, because I schedule these meetings during school hours.  But there’s no school, thus no school hours.

It should be an interesting week.  In years past, the transition from school to no school to back to school has been rough, but this winter break went very well.  So, I’m hopeful that they boys will make the necessary adjustments with little fanfare.  But, then there’s that whole fighting thing and the fact that my success in obtaining a new client may depend on how well my children behave in the background.  It’s a fact of life, sure.  I’m used to it, yeah.  But…there’s still that anxiety humming just loud enough to distract me.

Wish me luck!