Today I’m going to share with you a tidbit about me that will surprise no one who actually knows me.
I am a worrier (and a warrior too in case you read that quickly, but mostly a worrier.)
As my mother says I come by my anxiety issues honestly (four generations worth,) and even in my youth although I wasn’t plagued with worries, no one would have mistaken me for a bohemian.
Hippy was not in my genetic legacy.
I would have to say anxiety did not become an issue for me however until after my first son was diagnosed with severe autism, after which said anxiety reared its ugly head on a daily basis and made mine its permanent residence. In the early days of Justin’s diagnosis it raised such questions as “Will my son ever talk?” (yes). “Will I ever sleep again?” (eventually and sometimes). “Will he ever stop crying and become what I believe to be his true, happy self?” (Yes, yes, a grateful and resounding yes).
These worries were also coupled with fears that he would never go to college, be fully employed, or live independently, and those fears have been realized. Justin won’t go to college. He won’t hold a full-time job. He will never live without full-time assistance.
I spent hours every day for years agonizing that those fears would come true. They have. He’s still okay. Our family is okay. In fact, on many days, Justin’s the happiest one in our house.
Recently, a friend sent me an article which I actually read (generally these helpful pieces from friends sadly languish in my inbox waiting for me to peruse them,) and I found it so helpful I have to share. The article was on the “Empowering Parents” website and was about “futurizing.”
Futurizing is described as “taking a present action or behavior and imagining a much worse outcome in the future,” and it describes me to a “t.” I do this constantly. Zach will have a meltdown and I immediately leave my happy place and imagine he’ll never have friends/hate me/never go to college/get bad grades, etc. Justin will have a tantrum or get a bad report from school and I envision a return to months of pinches and crankiness, a place we have dwelled many times but have not fully visited (thankfully) for years. It’s like a switch goes off in my brain- anything bad portends a terrible future.
And when I do this, when I allow myself to go there, I am robbing myself and my child of the chance to make a plan and create a better situation.
The article goes on to talk about remembering that kids change, and promoted meditation and mindfulness as ways to keep calm when dealing with our children, and I found the suggestions listed there very helpful. What struck me most however was the realization that every time I “futurize” I cheat myself and my child of any chance to reconcile the situation and create a better outcome.
So, yesterday I got the opportunity to practice what I preach.
Justin came off the bus in a “mood,” was crying as he entered the house and flung himself onto the couch, which is not his normal entrance. I brought him his iPad in the hopes he’d tell me what he wanted, but he just pushed it away. So after offering him hugs, juice and popcorn and woefully striking out on all of his “faves” I took a deep breath, removed myself from the room, and thought.
His teacher had emailed me that part of his lunch had fallen on the floor and had to be scrapped, and although obviously not full he had refused all snacks as compensation. I knew he was hungry, and defeating that low blood sugar moment was my goal. I told myself to think.
And then I remembered the glories of the gluten-free bagel.
We’d recently had a rough few days with Zach not sleeping well, and I had dragged myself to the store Sunday morning to find him the GF bagel he was requesting, as I thought that would help us get through the day. I remembered that Justin had eyed it curiously, but I had hidden it quickly as his therapist was coming, and I wanted to delay his mid-morning snack until her arrival.
Somehow, in my sleep-deprived brain, this memory surfaced.
I quickly took a bagel from the fridge and presented it to him. Justin sat up, tears still streaming down his face, and looked at it longingly. I asked him if he wanted it. He shook his head yes (I’m still so grateful he can do this now.) I hugged him, and made a beeline for the toaster.
If I hadn’t cleared my mind and remained in the present I never would have thought of that fabulous carb.
Trust me, this will take practice on my part. I’ve got almost fifty years of futurizing under my belt, so this tendency won’t be eradicated overnight (although I’m certain my husband wishes it could be.) It will take work, patience, and on some days a herculean effort to remain in the now.
But I’m up to the challenge.
I’m listing the link to the website below in case any of you want to take a look, and if you do, I hope it helps. I have a feeling I’ll have many more opportunities to put this new strategy into play, and my wish is that over time employing it becomes easier.
And in the meantime, I sincerely hope that things become easier for you and your family too.
For more on my family visit my blog at autismmommytherapist.wordpress.com/
Follow me on Facebook at Autism Mommy-Therapist