The Making of an Anxiety Moment

52 Week Writing Challenge

“What’s da matter Owen what’s da matter it’s ok you’re ok what’s da matter Owen Owen you’re ok,” and he is saying all of this to himself. It’s in a squealing, anxiety ridden pitch that I know probably won’t last long. I can tell this squeal means the video he is watching is doing the wrong thing. His expectations are not being met and his reaction will continue until he can move on.

We spend a lot of time in a holding pattern. I wait, he squeals. He waits, I cry. I had to walk away for a minute, get a drink of juice, swallow the lump in my throat from writing those words. They almost seem too real, too much like the days that are rough, the days that I can’t help my baby find calm.

I’m plain exhausted, mentally, physically exhausted. Is there another way to be exhausted, because I’m probably that too. Owen’s five, this is to me, is the age that I should be able to have him sit in front of the television and say here is your show, mommy needs to do a few things. No, that doesn’t happen.

Sitting in the same room with him he will literally try to stand on anything and everything. Standing on the very edge of the arm of the couch brings no fear to him at all. In fact it is a delight to him. It makes him so happy that he giggles with pure exhilarating excitement. Me, on the other hand, try to stay calm, with the knowledge that this little dude can read me so fast. He knows, before I do that I’m about to have my blood pressure skyrocket and he feeds off of that more.

He knows my emotions so well, like I know his. He can sense things in me and I can in him. Some days this helps us both, some days this amplifies what is already happening and makes it even harder. I try to keep my emotions in check, that is not an easy thing for me to do.

The daily life of Owen thrives around routine and structure. When this is changed it isn’t always easy for him to adapt. Routine doesn’t always mean he has to do something at the exact same moment, but more that it is in an order or a way that he is thinking. People tell me all the time that I need to take time for myself, I agree, but this is not such a simple undertaking. This can be quite daunting and emotional for me.

Owen has had the same babysitter, that comes to me house, when I need to do different things since he was one. We laughed a lot when she first started coming about her never seeing Owen. I was doing standup comedy at the time and would leave after he went to bed. Since he was always sleeping, she never had to do much besides sit. As he got older he would see her more and she would come at different times to watch him, so he became more and more familiar with her.

The other night it worked out that the babysitter could come and I could go to dinner with a friend. All day I was preparing Owen for this. I explained I was going out and he was going to stay with the babysitter. Maybe I over-explained, maybe I didn’t explain it enough. He was having a very rough day, I should have cancelled, I needed to go.

I was running late. The babysitter was running early. I couldn’t get moving fast enough it seemed. The more I tried to get ready the more Owen needed me. The routine and the expectation is that when the babysitter arrives, I leave. I stayed this time to finish getting ready. This did not help Owen. This did not help the process. This did not help me.

Owen was screaming the whole time I was getting ready. He was standing next to me screaming, he was standing in the other room screaming, and he was screaming because he didn’t know how to process all the emotions that were coming at him at once. Neither did I. How do I help my baby. How do I help me.

I left. The best thing about the babysitter is she is laid back, she knows Owen, she understands autism and she is very supportive to me and my son. This still doesn’t make it any easier for me to walk out the door, for me to not stress out even more when I’m having dinner with my friend.

The reason I’m going out is to have some me time, to destress, to enjoy myself. He cried and screamed for most of the two hours I was gone. Yelling, mommy work, even though I had told him what I was doing. How do explain the unexplainable to him. Going to dinner is a concrete fact, that’s what I did, but to Owen I disrupted the routine.

This experience puts me in a constant state of anxiety. I want to be able to do random things, I want to be able to take Owen with me, I want to be able to leave Owen with the babysitter, I want to be calm. I’m not.

Owen wanted to go for a “walk walk walk”. “Wanna walk,” he says. And then proceeds to do his singsong walking tune. My anxiety about the walk kept me seated for most of the day. I knew what would happen. I knew how he would react. I didn’t want to face that reality. He asked again. I answered, let’s go for a walk. I regretted this, regretted all of it. I hate feeling like I’m letting my child down. He loves going for the walks. I hate the feeling of dread that washes over me, because I know if I don’t do the walk exactly perfect he will scream and cry. I feel sad that I’m so anxious. But I’m more sad that he gets anxious about everything.

The walk went as expected. He got upset as I turned and he wanted to go straight. I was pushing him in his stroller. I’m not sure if that makes the walk easier or harder. He wanted to ride in the stroller. I was going to let him walk, but instead he stood by the car, that meant he wanted me to get the stroller out.

Owen riding in the stroller gives me more of a sense of security with a hint of anxiety. With Owen walking I never know when he will pull away from my hand and start running. I have tried to put him on a harness, but all he does is scream and lay down. He won’t move at all. How many times do we have to try it before he would be fine with it. My heart aches.

I started pushing the stroller towards home. I started singing, trying to distract Owen. I knew what was coming. He didn’t want the walk to end. We had been walking for an hour, it was a hot day. I don’t really do well in the heat. As I turned towards our home the cries erupted. The squeal of anxiety, the squeal of dissatisfaction, the stress of knowing what was coming, it all started.

We got to the house. I knew if I took Owen out of the stroller and set him down he would run. I knew I had to hold him and take him inside. Owen is still tiny for his age, but at five he is all muscle and strength. I held him with his back to my chest. This would make it easier on me. It’s harder for him to get his hands in my hair this way. My hair is his weapon of choice. When he doesn’t want to do something he will pull my long hair as hard as he can. I’m learning, this doesn’t make it any easier for me to accept.

We made it inside, still trying to keep my emotions in check. I don’t think I did a very good job of it. Owen immediately went back to his tablet. No further moments of anxiousness for him, he had calmed that quickly. Once we are back inside he knows the walk is done. To me it isn’t. I’m still processing how to make all those transitions easier for him, for me.

I have to take my baby outside. I have to take him places. We both like to go, we both like to do it on our own terms. I know the walk question will come most days. I have to be prepared, I have to find a way to be at peace with it and let it happen as it should. But I haven’t found that calm yet.

Autism is as much about the family as it is about the individual. This is a team effort on everything and finding a peace and a place for calm is often daunting and confusing. I never understood the daily, emotional journey we would be on when they said the word autism.

I tell you our life story not so you feel sorry for me, or for Owen, but so you can embrace us with love, compassion and understanding. I hope to bring awareness to autism. I hope to explain what I never understood. I have found comfort in telling our story, because I know we are not alone. Please share our story. Please help me to get our story out to the families that are only now starting this journey. I want them to understand they are not alone.

Autism wasn’t important to me, until autism was important to me.

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