Day 2, Round 2: Helping My Son By Fighting Myself

I guess anxiety has become a theme with me the past few days. As a friend has recently commented, it’s a daily struggle, not something to be casually ignored or tossed aside. This is very true and I hope I didn’t give the impression it’s easily dealt with.

One example for me is working with my son this weekend in preparation for his exams this week. He’s struggling with pre-calculus and it’s been more than 30 years since I cracked open a mathematics text book. Not only that, but I never reached the precalc level myself and the video’s we’re watching make absolutely no sense to me. So I’m watching him struggle and am unable to help. Because school was so stressful for me, it’s pulling a lot of triggers and invoking a lot of negative thoughts / emotions and bad memories. When most of the previous night I was up experiencing the things I did, at school I was exhausted, emotionally drained (yet still terrified), and unable to think clearly. “Failure” was a theme reinforced by my parents (and their families).

I did what I could to hold it together. But by the end of the day I was rather frayed. When my poor wife came home around dinner time, I started to fall into a pattern of sniping and snapping at her. This, of course, is unacceptable, but in being mindful I was aware of the path I was heading down. By this time, there was no controlling or dissipating the anxiety. Struggling with it all day, it was starting to express itself as anger.

Well, even though it was still early, I knew it was time to go to bed. I apologized to my wife for my barking at my wife when she had walked in and explained what was going on within. I’m fortunate that my partner is very supportive. She doesn’t completely understand the why’s of it all, but one of the great things about her is that she doesn’t feel the need to. Love has it’s own reasons which override all else. So I shuffled into the kitchen to get some juice, shuffled back to her and gave her a kiss and then went to bed.

Once upstairs, I lay in the dark seething and almost shaking with worries and anxieties about all the regular things I usually do. There was no way I was going to be able to sleep if this continued and I know how skilled I am at getting myself worked up even more. I breathed deeply and listened to one of the local sports stations. Thoughts and emotions continue to come in waves. But as time went on and I focused my attention on the discussions of the past football season, those waves slowly became less powerful and after some time I was able to drift off to sleep.

Of course, a few hours later, I woke up. This is an issue with my Cortisol levels (Adrenal hormones) and there isn’t much I can do about it. Trouble is that when I can’t fall back asleep, the anxiety (and other negative thoughts and emotions) usually kicks in. Again, I can only do the best that I can with what I have to work with. I tried to refocus on calm, peaceful things as best as I could and then was able to go back to sleep around 5:30 or so.

Today, it all starts again and my son will come down soon to start studying. Regardless of how I feel, I need to be there for him today. I need to keep at least the appearance of anxiety and painful emotions in check. This is not only possible, but just because success isn’t guaranteed, that doesn’t mean I should just give up and not try. If I need to take a break, I will. If I have to stuff it all, I will. If I have to find some other way of supporting him, I will. He knows that I struggle, but he also sees and is learning by my example how to challenge difficult internal things. So I suppose he’s learning more than math today.

I may not succeed, but I’m going to give it my all. I’m certainly not going to quit.

An interesting quote came to mind just now:

“It’s better to fight for something than live for nothing.” – George S. Patton

Wish me luck today. I’m going to need it!

Be Well, My Friends
Theseus

 

(P.S. This clip just came to mind. I may well lose. I may well lose spectacularly. But all I want is to go the distance.)

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Confronting My Anxiety

I was thinking about my last entry and anxiety. It’s a challenging thing to deal with as I’m always on edge to a certain extent. It just depends on how powerful it is and how much I’m able to beat it back or cope with it. Sometimes are easier than others. If I’m feeling relatively well rested and the symptoms of my illness aren’t too bad, it’s generally more manageable. But with fatigue, lack of sleep, headache, nausea, joint pain and more. I don’t want to do anything, much less wrestle with powerful emotions.

One thing which helps is ensuring, as best as I’m able, that my surroundings and circumstances are not stressful or overwhelming. If I’m trying to deal with conflict or there’s some crisis going on, it’s hard to summon enough strength and resources to deal with both. But even when things are peaceful, anxiety is draining all by itself. It saps not only my strength, but self assurance and general sense of well being. Intense emotions are draining. Being in a state of constant “readiness” and fear can be truly exhausting even when all my surroundings are calm and peaceful. Anxiety hashes my mello, man…and that pisses me off! (lol)

This is one of the reasons why I’m trying to be mindful and aware. I can’t challenge something if I give it free reign to ravage and pillage all through the inner part of myself. But this is not easy. First, the anxiety must be at a level where I can actually face it head on. If I’m on the verge of panic, I may not be able to face it directly at that moment. Over the years I’ve had to be sure that I was in a safe place, around safe people, in order to allow myself to be mindful enough to allow for a glimpse of it before slamming the door shut again. It’s taken me a long time to be able to actually “sit there” within myself, and actually stare back at it for any length of time. Decades of therapy have been invaluable in being able to get to that point. Once I got to the point where I could be in the same room with it (so to speak), once I could face it without trying to race away in terror and pain, only then could I start to work at reducing it or at least coping with it to any small degree.

Another, more recent thing, is learning how to “detach” from this “aversion.” In Buddhism, the thing which causes pain and discontentment in life are the attachments to desires (pleasures) or aversions (pain). To address this, the Buddha offered the “Noble 8 Fold Path” (which I’m not an expert on and won’t get into here). To free myself from the attachments that my anxiety has on my has proven helpful, but difficult, and as of yet I still haven’t been able to reach a point where I can utilize it for complete relief. Attachments are like feeling gripped by something, to feel almost possessed by something. For me, falling in love is such an experience. It fills me. I experience the emotional sensations surge within and I feel lost within that emotional experience. It was the same thing the night my son was born. I was completely lost in the emotions I experienced. That feeling of being “lost in it”…that’s what attachments are.

I had some kind of an awareness of such things before I read anything about Buddhism. I would think it’s a common experience to, at times, almost be able to internally “watch” one’s self as an almost separate entity. Perhaps my experiences with disassociation have helped me notice and further develop this separate yet internal awareness of watching myself, yet still be within myself. I don’t know. Disassociation usually means I completely zone out and am just about completely numbed out, both in emotion and mind.

However I discovered this, my imagination is such that I can actually picture something like anxiety as if it were in a separate, isolate space within me. Sometimes I can do it intellectually, but still be lost within the emotion of it. Other times I can place it in a separate space both in thought as well as emotion. At times when I’ve been able to do this – and it’s not common or often – I do feel better. That doesn’t mean it still doesn’t cause that vigilant “fight or flight” fear response of anxiety, but somehow it seems to be more manageable and tolerable.

This isn’t a cure all, some magical technique or a way to just “get over it and move on” (I hate that!). I still experience anxiety and likely will for the rest of my life. But if I can make it more manageable. If I can be better able to tolerate it and sort of separate it from the core of who I am, then I finally have a weapon I can fight back with. I may not be able to overcome it most times and may often not be able to summon the strength to wield the weapon, but the fact is I have it and (more importantly) I know that it’s there, that I have access to something. This is a much better situation than believing and feeling that I have no choices, no hope and no way of defending myself (against negative emotions like anxiety). I don’t want pity or well intended suggestions, I want something to fight back with on my own! The only person you can never escape from and the only one who will always be with you…is yourself.

Be Well, My Friends
Theseus

Helping My Son With Anxiety…As I Struggle With It Myself

One of the surprising things I’ve come across with in the WordPress world are the number of people who struggle with anxiety. It shouldn’t surprise me, but for some reason it did.

I struggle with anxiety myself. Part of it is fed by CPTSD (complex post traumatic stress disorder) and the way my experiences altered my brain structure and chemistry. I react more intensely to normal, every day things and at the same time, my brain is less able to process any intense emotions. Frickin’ bummer, but I do what I can. There are techniques of redirection, meditation, deep breathing and the like which I’ve learned over the years and help me cope with anxiety, even if I can’t dissipate it or make it go away. Another reason for my anxiety is my thyroid illness. Unfortunately, one of the symptoms of thyroid disease is anxiety. Even though the medication and supplements I’ve been taking have improved my overall health, anxiety is still a problem and there isn’t much I can do about it except learning how to cope with it. This is really why I want a quiet, unremarkable life. I already struggle, even with quietude and within a peaceful space. I’ve never felt comfortable in the loud, rushing, confrontational world which is the predominant way of living in the north eastern part of the United States. I love my home of Philadelphia, but it’s not the laid back patrician area that it was when I was growing up. I really miss and long for that old Philadelphia, what I believe is (was) the real Philadelphia.

Anyway, my son also struggles with anxiety. Part of the cause for him is that anxiety is a common symptom of autism. Again, not much to be done. Another cause is all of the therapies he was subjected to when he was younger. It’s hard to grow up and constantly be in therapy. My son grew up with “don’t do this,” “do that,” “do this a different way,” “let’s practice that again” and so on. Constantly being redirected and corrected (for his own safety, not our convenience) has had an impact on him. It’s increased his difficulty with self confidence and feeds the anxiety which is a symptom of the issue which required all the therapy in the first place.

Anxiety is tough to deal with on a daily basis. My son loses the ability to think and speak when his anxiety spikes. He knows what he wants to say, but his brain is unable to form speakable thoughts. This is very frustrating for him. It’s intensely frustrating for all autistic young people who struggle with this and, from what I’ve seen, is the ultimate reason why some become aggressive or violent. You can see the deep frustration and anger on their faces: Knowing the idea of what you want to say, but just not being able to express it in anyway – as a life long disability – is something that I know I would find enraging. I don’t know how I would respond to that kind of difficulty.

We’re fortunate with my son. Somehow, all the therapies worked well enough that he’s able to formulate those thoughts if he can reduce his anxiety and take his time. The thing which has made it easier for him is that I’ve learned to take him by the shoulders and gently pat him on the back. In my calmest, most peaceful, reassuring voice, I always say “that’s okay, buddy. Take your time. No worries. Think it through.” I know that if he senses my anxiety and frustration about his not being able to speak, this significantly increases his anxiety and he completely looses the ability to articulate himself. It’s been vital for him to, in effect, “feed” off my calmness while he struggles as well as the reassurance that doing what he can, in his own way and own time is not only all right, but is a way of being. If he see’s me calm and not impatient or irritated, he’s able to take on that calmness as well and use the techniques he’s learned to be able to find the words and express his thoughts. It’s taken a lot of work over the years – and I suspect more than a bit of luck – but he’s able to express himself, by knowing how to calm himself – rather well.

With my own anxiety issues, it’s sometimes difficult to give him the support he needs. I can’t hide anything from my partner or son. They know me too well. I do what I can, but I’m also honest with him if I’m struggling. I’ll tell him that I need a minute with the result that I’m working to calm myself down and give him the emotional support he needs as he’s trying to reduce his anxiety to find the expression of his thoughts.

My anxiety is interesting. I’ve explained the origin’s and it’s taken me many years to understand where it comes from. The worst was when I didn’t understand or know the cause. Before I had a better understanding, I would assume (quite reasonably) that the anxiety was do to the situation I was in or the people I was with. This make me more neurotic, because I was assuming a connection between the anxiety and something or someone with which there was no connection or the connection was that they reminded me of my parents or a situation of my past. Not knowing what was going on made this emotion difficult to live with and made daily living difficult, often immobilizing.

But understanding better creates a different challenge. My anxiety simply exists, as a state of being. It always tries to lach onto and infuse itself into any negaive thought, experience or worry that I have. It’s always looking for something – some thought or emotion – to infect. It’s a real pain in the ass.

There are some techniques to alleviate the worst of it. But even with these, there are some times when the only thing I can do is just get through the day. I can’t function, I just do what I can to get through the day. Sometimes the best thing I can do is be mindful of the fact that the anxiety is a lie. Because I feel it, it’s valid, but the underlying causes are sometimes out of my control. At such times, I do the best I can to not “feed” and increase it’s power. If I can’t reduce or dissipate it, I can at least work at not allowing it to get worse by deliberately contributing to it. Cold comfort, but I do what I can.

Be Well, My Friends
Theseus

Fatigue, Fatherhood…And The 100 Acre Wood

It’s been a challenge today since I wasn’t able to get a decent nights sleep last night. This situation is certainly better than it was a few years ago, but the lack of sleep really effects me. I was able to get a way with it when I was younger, but those days are long gone.

It’s so strange. Not being physically ill when I was younger, I had no idea what the older folks were lamenting about. My wife, who is a few years older than I am, warned me what was coming. As I felt virile, young and invincible at the time, I was foolish enough to laugh it off. Wow, was she every right! (lol) Nowadays, I pay attention to whatever is ailing her, because I know that I’m not that far behind. Of course, the fact that I pushed myself way beyond reason and wore my body out (and contributed to triggering my thyroid / adrenal issues) before it’s time means that in many ways, my body has outpaced hers.

Aside from the other symptoms, the general fatigue and tiredness from lack of sleep, significantly impact me in a number of ways. It took me years to actually be able to understand that there is a difference between fatigue and being tired from a lack of sleep. Before I understood the difference, I often took naps during the days. But it was fatigue due to a thyroid and adrenal issue, not being tired from sleep deprivation. Because I slept during the day, I ended up unable to sleep at night and this only made things worse. Back then, my system was all out of wack.

Now that I have a better understanding of what is sleep deprivation and that is fatigue, I’ve been able to better balance my system and I do sleep better. But nights like last night are not uncommon and I can’t always predict which nights I can sleep and those I’ll be up for.

One of the problems with this is that sleep deprivation and fatigue, both, independently intensify my CPTSD (complex post traumatic stress disorder) symptoms. My anxieties, intruding thoughts, lack of motivation, negative thinking, even despair, are all stronger when I’m tired or fatigued. Worse, it takes more effort to do ordinary things, at times I have to will myself to move at all, when I’m tired and / or fatigued. So even though it’s already difficult for me to do anything, I now have to summon even greater effort to even do simple things.

One big thing which effects my spouse and child is that I also become much more irritable and reactive when tired and fatigued. I know better now and either ease it back or keep my gripping and snapping to myself. Before I knew what was going on, there were many comparisons made between me and “Eeyore” from Winnie The Pooh, as well as, “Squidward” from Sponge Bob. Oh, there are times I can be soooo very charming! (lol)

Now that I know, I at least keep quiet or keep to myself when I’m feeling this way. Plus, I’ve discussed all this with my wife and son and they’ve always been very understanding about not pushing me too hard and being willing to give me space to grumble and and snap to myself (in another room).

This, I think, is so very important.

With my wife, it’s one thing, because she’s an adult and can fend for herself. But with my son, it’s been a little more challenging. I’ve tried to be honest with him about my illness and issues and worked with him to accommodate what he needs with what I’m able to provide. The problem is that children with sick parents sometimes take on a parenting role. While this might happen when I’m 90 and senile and he’s in his 60’s, it’s not appropriate when I’m 50 and he’s still a teenager. I know all too well what it means to be your parent’s parent, or your parents spouse. I lived it. I know how dangerous and damaging that can be and I set my son straight every time he starts to head in that direction.

There are times when we can’t be perfect in front of our kids. I know that’s a bummer, but their going to find out anyway! (lol) One of the many stumbles my parents made was trying to be what they thought parents were supposed to be. Their reference was the 40’s and 50’s, “Donna Reed” and “Father Knows Best”. Admirable…I suppose, but my mother wasn’t Donna Reed and my father wasn’t Jim Anderson (“Father Knows Best”). The problem with this plan was that, because of the fact that they couldn’t be perfect, they ended up pretending – and insisting to my siblings and I – that nothing was wrong and everything was normal. This might have worked (I doubt it, but it might) if I didn’t have access to those TV shows! If those shows were “normal,” then I saw normal and what was happening in my home just didn’t match.

I do what I can with my son. I try to be honest without going into unnecessary detail: I explain, but don’t elaborate. But the main thing I always impress upon him is that my problems aren’t your problems. If I’m not feeling up to snuff, I say so and go off by myself or turn inward. With children, this isn’t always possible and there are times when I just have to suck it up and do the best I can. I may not achieve the level of “Sponge Bob” or “Tigger,” but I’m not “Eeyore” or “Squidward” either.

It’s all about doing the best you can with what you have to work with. Forget perfection! I want to be the best of who I am!

…Well. I must say that I’m rather pleased with myself for being able to make an entry. I’m pushing myself, but I’m exhausted and foggy and didn’t think I could string 2 sentences together.

I hope this all made sense. It’s good to write even when I’m not feeling up to it.

Thanks Everyone!…

And Be Well, My Friends
Theseus

(P.S. Though I’m not feeling well physically, this entry makes me feel better, more “Tiggery,” which is who I really am deep down inside.

Just remember everyone, no matter what happens, “Your braver than you believe…“)

My Broken Dreams Find Joy In My Son’s Own Wings!

(Oh, yes! I think I have a good one here!)

This weekend was challenging, but well worth it.

My son has started studying for his trimester exams and, as always, I sit with him and help him as he does so. Can you believe someone who starts studying for exams 2 weeks beforehand!? I say nothing. At this point, I don’t even have to review his grades or check in with his teachers. They know him and I have complete confidence in all of his instructors. Not only that, but my son is able to self advocate for anything that he needs or is uncertain about and any issues or problems are resolved before I even hear about them. My wife and I have worked very hard to help him get to this point. But the real credit belongs to our son and his teachers – especially our son as he knows what is expected of him and he innately strives for “personal excellence.” That boy has learned to fly on his own. Soon, I believe, we’ll watch him soar.

One more quick comment on this. I believe that part of the reason he’s doing all this and doing so well is that he’s been through very tough times, but he’s had support and love all the way through. My son has been through years of 4, 5 or more hours of therapy a day, every day for a very long time. He knows what it’s like to struggle, but also knows what it’s like to overcome the seemingly impossible. That’s what love and support create: Self confidence and a nonchalant determination.

Our son doesn’t consciously remember or think about such things, he simply expresses the best of who he is…naturally, by default and assumption.

Anyway, he and I studied between 12 and 6 all weekend and yesterday (which was “Presidents Day” holiday). At times we did problems together, other times we would review material and he would explain it to me, still other times, he would practice vocabulary or work on a problem and I would just sit by and cheer when he got something right or figured something out…

…but there was something else I offered him as well.

With study, there are some times when just reading or thinking are required. At such times, he needs to review the material himself, without my assistance or input. At such times, my getting involved would actually prevent him from learning things in a way which works best for him. As I’ve mentioned before, my son thinks differently than I do. His thinking process is much more like my partner’s than mine, so any effort from me would only be confusing interference.

At these times, I just sit quietly next to him. There were times he read and thought – stared at the wall, mumbling formulas to himself – for an hour or so. I just sat. At times I got him more juice or a snack, but for the rest, I sat silently next to him. All I would do was pat him gently on the back when his face lit up with some success or revelation he had been struggling with internally. He didn’t acknowledge my back patting, nor did I expect him to. But I know he felt it and I know he enjoys such nonverbal praise. At times, I didn’t pat him on the back, but just shook my fist gently and whispered “nice!” or “sweet!” Sometimes, though still deep in thought, he would grin and cast a quick, sidelong, glance at me before re-submerging within his own, solitary thoughts and meditations.

But every time, the whole time, he knew I was there. Deep within his mind, as he struggled to comprehend and memorize, I know he felt that part of me, within him, which helped steel his determination and gave him the desire to reach beyond his understanding (of the material). My parents and their family tore me down for their own purposes. My spouse and I tear ourselves down in deference to him. Our child will be the ultimate expression of the better part of ourselves – and yet the heights will be of his own achievements to claim.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that our children don’t always need expensive tutors or prep courses. They don’t need us (parents) scrutinizing current grade averages or test scores. They don’t need to hear what we think the answer is or how we would solve solve the problem or answer the question. They don’t need us to pound our fists on desks at parent / teacher conferences or fight with the administration.

What our children need is our faith in their abilities and talents. They need respect and love for who they are, rather than who they are not or who we might want them to be. They need our praise for “best effort,” regardless of what the score or grade is. They need to know that we have only one, primary, uncompromising demand: Personal excellence which comes from best effort. However, sometimes, and this is the most important thing of all…

…they just need us to sit with them quietly – to just be present. To gently ruffle their hair in silent praise. To gently shake our fist at their smaller successes and whisper “YES!”, “nice!” or “good job!”

If we support and praise them for their smaller successes, they will find, within themselves, pleasure and joy in the achievements of the larger ones.

I’m filled with rage and bitterness at my own stolen potential…but watching my son take flight and soar – Oh does he soar! – fills me with joy and makes all things alright with the world.

Be Well, My Friends
Theseus