anxiety,  autism,  mental health,  middle school,  motherhood

Firsts are hard: Part 1

Sarah's Phone 8-29-16 150
J and W on the first day of school. W is in grade 7, J is in grade 8 this year.

The last few nights have been rough. My brain has been playing midnight showings of terrible dream sequences like old men with AK-47s shooting at me while I run for my life, me and J running up an AstroTurf cliff for cross country practice only to end up hanging from the top of that AstroTurf cliff for an “ab workout,” or suddenly finding out that I had mixed up my birth control medication with J’s anti-anxiety medication and consequently freaking out because 1) I just gave a bunch of female hormones to a boy going through puberty for two weeks and 2) I might be pregnant.

I don’t think I’ve had a full night’s sleep this last week.

Steve’s had a hard time sleeping too. Just the other night I woke up to Steve tossing and turning, talking frantically in his sleep. Turns out he was also dreaming about J.

We’ve been going to bed late and struggling to get up in the morning because we’re not quite ready for that back to school routine. I’ve had a lot of work deadlines (which have been really stressful since I haven’t been able to work during the day with kids at home) which means I’ve been going to bed even later than our usual late nights, but the kicker for all this–the stuff our nightmares are made of–is that anticipation of the first day of school.

I think this is the first year in a really long time that we’ve been this stressed out about the first day of school. Firsts are hard for J, and they always have been. But the first days and weeks of the last two years of middle school have been the most stressful school experiences we’ve ever had. And that’s what we were bracing ourselves for. We knew the first few days and weeks of grade 8 would be awful. Every day since August rolled around, J would emphatically tell me that he hated school and didn’t want to go back to school (which broke my heart because, despite all of the beginning of school anxiety, J really loves school).  The only way I could convince him he should go back to school was tell him that he couldn’t run cross country if he didn’t go to school.

We tried spending a few short times during the week at his middle school, finding his locker, loading up school supplies, finding his classes. Each “practice time” only lasted 5-10 minutes and J was just boiling over with anxiety, hovering around the class schedule posters, telling us he wanted to change all of the times and he wanted to change all of the names posted in his team center. The biggest red flags of high level anxiety he could give us.

Half freaked out and half furious and really desperate to fix this before school, I came home and I typed up an exact replica of the class schedule posters and posted them in his room and the kitchen. “You will handle this!” I warned. “If I see any pencil/pen/marker marks on these posters, if I see that you have changed any of those times, you lose everything. This schedule changing, this name changing, this is your obsessional behavior coming out. You can’t control times or names. The only thing you can control is yourself.”

Ten minutes later, I realized I forgot to visually address the name changing. Since I didn’t have any of the kids’ names, I wrote on a post-it note, “I will handle all the spellings of every name in my class” and tacked it on the class schedule poster.

After about an hour with the “school posters” in our house, he seemed to calm down a little. But apparently I hadn’t. That night I had the AK-47 dream.

Sarah's Phone 8-29-16 140Miracle of miracles, we made it through Thursday. I’m not going to lie, Steve and I had our phones in close proximity at all times and we were on edge the whole time. At one point on Friday (the second day of school) when Steve couldn’t contact me he thought I might be up at the school dealing with a J issue, he had a little moment of “stress out” of his own, but J was just fine and handled Friday too.

J had his first cross country meet Saturday, which was another first full that was hard and bittersweet but at the end of the day a success. I’ll post more about that next week, because it deserves its own time and space and there are a lot of things I’m still processing and trying to figure out to make the next meet more successful.

I arrived at Sunday emotionally and mentally drained. I needed a recovery day. Overall, as Steve would say, “we should count the last few days as a win,” and they were successful, but it took a lot of emotional capital to get through them. That’s the crappy thing with living with someone with anxiety and emotional struggles. It takes a lot out of the people who love them too, even when things end up working out. I’m an introvert, and actively playing the role of someone else’s frontal lobe coach is particularly exhausting.

Sunday morning I gave myself permission to sleep in. I got up in the morning to make sure everyone was taken care of and then went back to bed until 10:30. I got up and took my time doing the dinner dishes from the night before. I did a few loads of laundry. I walked the dog. I lounged and vegged for most of the day.

This morning I got up early, and for the first time in almost a year, I went for a run by myself. I’d forgotten what that was like. For the first time in over a year I was able to listen to my own body as I pushed it for 2 miles, not coach and encourage someone else’s the whole way. And it was absolutely wonderful.

The next few weeks will get easier. J will adjust to the schedule, Steve and I will adjust to our new schedules. We’ll get through this like we’ve always done.

As J would say, “First times don’t last forever.”

Thankfully.

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