I’ve been in a mood since last Wednesday after I left my therapist’s office. It looks like this:
I’ve started – I don’t know – three different blog posts? But, I haven’t been able to finish any of them, because while the posts are about topics that matter to me, they aren’t really what’s been on my mind. I showed at least enough restraint not to delete them, because they’re probably worth finishing when I’m not such a Crabby Crabberson.
Little Black Cloud Syndrome happens to me in cycles. I hit what seems a sudden and unpredictable week that feels wholly unbearable. My bed feels too comfortable to exit, but not comfortable enough in which to sleep. My clothes feel like a straitjacket. Everyone’s voice is too loud, and people are annoying because – I don’t know – they breathe. The sun feels like someone is stabbing my retinas with a thousand needles. I’m starving, but nothing seems appetizing or tastes good. I’m tired but my body will not hold still. Concentrating on anything other than menial, repetitive tasks is OUT of the question. I just want to hide in my room with my laptop and a book. If Helene will “hide” with me – and she often will – all the better. (Except for the iPad volume control issue. Apple, if you’re listening, could we get on that please? Some kind of parental lock for the volume would be bananas amazing. Thanks.)
The last time Little Black Cloud Syndrome hit me, I knew for sure this wasn’t a PMS-y, hormonal thing. It was serious, and I needed to call my doctor.
(Aside: I have one of those doctors who thinks everything that’s wrong with me is stress or hormone related. For example,
Doctor: Well, yes, I see that you’ve been bitten by a rattlesnake. It probably sensed your stress. Let me refer you to Mental Health.
Me: Uh, I’m no doctor, but I think I actually need like an injection or something that’s the opposite of deadly poisonous venom?
Doctor: You’re right. You’re not a doctor. Here’s the number for Mental Health.
Doctor: This x-ray shows you’ve broken your hand. I’ll send you over to casting, but then you should probably have your thyroid tested.
Me: I broke my hand in a car accident, Dr. O. The other driver hit me. I was stopped.
Doctor: Well, you were probably gripping the steering wheel too tightly due to stress caused by hormonal imbalance.
Me: Yeah, there was “stress!” It was the stress of seeing the other guy coming at me in the rearview mirror at 50 miles per hour and having nowhere to go. I mean, call my ‘crazy,’ but I think that’s a pretty normal non-thyroid-y reaction to the circumstances.
Doctor: Mental illness is not a joking matter. Please take this order to the lab, Ms. A.
Me: That’s Professor A to you, Doctor O. Or, if you prefer, Counselor as in legal counselor. Not the touchy-feely shit you’re sending me down the hall for. FYI.
So, you can imagine the sick, I-told-you-so satisfaction he got out of me finally letting him refer me to Mental Health. He pointed at me with a big-ass grin on his face, dancing around the room, going “Uh-huh! That’s right! I’m the doctor! I’m the doctor! I’m the doctor!,” spiked his stethoscope and did a Tiger Woods-esque arm pump. Or maybe just the corner of his mouth curled up in the slightest of smug and self-satisfied smirks. Whatevs.
The day was moving along. I was properly caffeinated. I’d been adequately fed. As I exited the parking lot of a shopping center, however, my mood ring went from blue to black in less than the lifespan of an ice cube on hot asphalt in Georgia in the middle of July.
I know it is difficult to imagine, but my description of the relative locations of the parties involved would actually be worse than my drawing of a diagram. So, I’m going to draw a diagram. Now is not the time for complaining. First, you haven’t even seen it yet. Second, do you really want a beserker-ninja beat down?
Cool. So, here’s the diagram:
Okay. I’m driving along main artery of the parking lot. (Orangish-square with the “1” in it, above.) Bad Driver Lady (Orangish-yellow square clearly about to t-bone my car) runs her stop sign but manages to hit the brakes before she hits me. It’s cool. I’m not perfect behind the wheel by any means. (It’s true. This one time (not at band camp), a parking column actually jumped right into my car. It was some crazy shit, man. Did like $5,000 in damage. (And to this day, I wish I had an audio recording of my conversation with the GEICO adjuster.)) Any-who, I was just gonna let her roll on.
Bad Driver Lady flips me her middle finger.
OH. NO. YOU. DIDN’T.
(For my readers from another land, this is the Charades equivalent of “Go Fuck Yourself.” It is sometimes called “Flipping the bird,” which has nothing to do with flipping or birds, so I cannot even begin to explain how that little colloquialism was born. Apparently, someone else figured it out, though, so here you go. I don’t know. Something to do with bows and arrows. It sounds a little too Monty Python-ish to me. Not necessarily a bad thing, mind you. But…
Worse, I could also see her mouth moving around some words that probably everyone is better off for me not having actually heard. The expression on her mean-mug face said all I really needed to know.
Then, I heard something snap. It maybe was the tendons in my ankle ripping under the force I used to hit the brakes on my car? But the likelier culprit is my mind.
I threw the car in park, flung off my seat belt, and before I really knew what I was doing, no plan whatsoever, I was outside my car about four feet from Bad Driver Lady’s ridiculous SUV. (This surprises you?)
Me: Hey! Let me ask you something. Are you illiterate or just a really bad fucking driver? (Gesturing to the large white letters painted on the ground. See the spectacular diagram above.) S. T. O. P. For Christ’s sake, even my four-year old can read that!
Bad Driver Lady: (With a lingering Valley Girl accent, which means she’s likely from Southern California, where driving is a whole other level of Atari.) Whatever. You totally saw me coming and sped up. You know you did. And you don’t have to get out of your car, ’cause I can get out of my car, too.
Me: Sure, get out of your car. Spare the rest of us your shitty driving. Maybe we can stand here and chat about how stop signs work and why you probably shouldn’t wave at people with your middle finger.
Bad Driver Lady: I can totally get out of my car, too. I can!
At this point, some semblance of sanity returned to replace the adrenaline rushing through my body. I think the flow of adrenaline was stemmed by the satisfaction of calling Bad Driver Lady “illiterate” despite quickly realizing Bad Driver Lady had no fucking idea what “illiterate” meant. The recaptured sanity also made my brain finally register the presence of a large German Shepard in the backseat of Bad Driver Lady’s car, which my eyes had seen but my mind had not really considered as a variable in any of the possible outcomes of this little tete-a-tete. Plus, she was really leaving me no place to go other than: “Get out here so I can kick your ass,” or “I know you are but what am I?” I believe this is what’s known as an “impasse.”
So, I got back in my car and drove away. In the direction opposite my house, of course, because things are now starting to occur to me that were nowhere to be found a mere 60 seconds prior. What if this was the mother of one of the kids’ friends? What if I end up in line behind her at the coffee place. Holy Angels and Target Gift Cards, what if she works for the district and is at my kid’s next IEP meeting!?!? This is not a big town.
Moments later I pulled over — in all places, the parking lot of my high school — and broke down in tears.
Because – yes, right now it’s a funny story – but it might not have been. What the holy hell was I thinking? Stupid question. Obviously, I wasn’t thinking. And THAT is the problem. Every now and then I feel like I am losing control of my brain, which freaks me the hell out, because besides some pretty nice feet, my brain is my BEST asset. (I do have really nice feet, though. Organ pipe toes and everything. Eddie Murphy would approve.)
Look. I want to make something very clear before anyone gets an itchy 911 finger. I had NO — I repeat NO — intention of actually starting some kind of physical confrontation with Bad Driver Lady. I’m pretty sure the only human being I’ve ever hit in anger is my sister. (But, she started it.) I confronted Bad Driver Lady because I was so overcome with the urge to defend myself — to prove that it was not I who should get fucked in the scenario.
The rational part of my brain fully comprehends that this is unnecessary and – frankly – impossible. The facts are what they are, and Bad Driver Lady will ignore them the same way she ignored the stop sign. I can neither fix nor be responsible for stupid.
Also, so what? I don’t know her. I don’t want to know her. What the hell does it matter that I’m “right?” Why – despite that I am a grown woman, the mother of two children (who I like to think are better off with me), a wife, a lawyer, a professor – does the rational side of my brain lose control to the emotional side like that?
I would not describe myself as some road-raging lunatic who confronts people in parking lots. When kids at school would all crowd around two people in a fight, I ran away. I couldn’t stand to see real-life violence. Except, there I was, without a moment’s hesitation — without a second of thought about the possible consequences until I was already knee-deep in the proverbial shit — acting like a road-raging lunatic in a parking lot.
What if Bad Driver Lady did get out of the car? What if she hit me? What if she’d had a gun? None of these were wholly unrealistic possibilities. These realizations and my embarrassment at how I behaved are what triggered the tears as I sat in front of the building that was so ridiculously symbolic I kept waiting for Simple Minds to come on the radio and Justin Henry to come around the corner carrying a birthday cake.
Why am I confessing this? Because I know the cause, but not the remedy. Because I need help.
Every day, my morning starts with a beautiful, now-five-year-old face staring into my sleeping, mascara-smeared, slightly wrinkled eyes. After we stumble to the bathroom and use the potty, we get back into bed. I hold my breath, because I know it’s coming.
Mama. No school today.
Except that it’s Monday. Or Tuesday. Or Wednesday. Or Thursday. Or Friday. And there is school.
I don’t answer. I get up, smear a pea-sized amount of toothpaste on a Cinderella toothbrush, and start singing. When we’re done:
Mama? No school today?
I don’t answer and slip down the hall to get a clean outfit. As soon as I reappear in my bedroom, the wild rumpus begins.
No, Mama! No school! No school! I want covers! I want to go to bed! I don’t like school! Please, Mama! No shirt! No pants! I don’t like it! Get off! Get off of me! Please! I want to go to bed! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!
It is usually somewhere around 8:15 to 8:30 a.m. when this starts. It continues through getting dressed, trying to get breakfast down, fighting about putting shoes on, kicking and screaming to the car, singing 400 verses of Itsy Bitsy Spider from the driveway at home to the parking lot at school, sitting in the office to wait for a classroom assistant to retrieve Helene, and matching her tearful and fearful goodbye with an artificially cheery, “Have a GREAT day!”. The time is now 10:17 a.m.
All morning, through the crying, begging, pleading, hiding, escape attempts, hitting, kicking, thrashing, screaming, I have to maintain a calm, even voice. (Imagine Dora the Explorer on speed and speaking in a voice about one octave lower than a dog whistle before reading the next quotes.)
Helene is mad. But, it’s time for shoes! Let’s put on our shoes! 🙂
Helene doesn’t like school. That’s too bad, but we’re going anyway! 🙂
By the time I leave campus to plod back to my car, my nerves are so frayed – my senses are so overloaded – my spirit is so broken, I can barely stand to be around myself let alone anyone else. I have about three hours to collect myself AND get some work done (you know, so that we can do little things – like pay the mortgage) before Helene gets home from school. There will be a short reprieve and some snuggling until 3:00 p.m., which brings the commencement of the witching hour, ripe with meltdowns over food, television shows, iPads, falls from the sofa, snacks — you name it. Each meltdown is met with my same
psychotically artificially calm voice the ABA therapists are so convinced will redirect or “extinguish” unwanted behaviors.
I imagine that now you may have an inkling why Bad Driver Lady got a full-frontal of my beserker-ninja personality. If it’s still unclear, drop a roll of Mentos candies into a two-litre bottle of carbonated soda, put the lid back on, and shake vigorously.
So, my parents of spectrum kids or my adult followers who are on the spectrum: What do you do to check yourself before your wreck yourself? How do you let it out in an appropriate way as opposed to calling people out in the mall parking lot?
My therapist made me go I finally went to the Mental Health department and am now taking anti-anxiety and anti-depressant meds. I started running again. Both of these things are very helpful, but they aren’t enough.
Is it the behavioral and emotional meltdowns that are stressful? I know that’s true for Helene. When she has a really big loss of control, it is usually followed by a good long nap.
Or is the real stress (for me anyway) in suppressing my natural responses to Helene’s behavioral and emotional meltdowns?
Does the answer to that even matter? I’m not being facetious; I truly don’t know, and I would be thrilled to hear any advice you’re willing to share.