anxiety,  autism,  high school

To Be J.B.

At Christkindlmarkt, trying some kuchen, a German custard pie.

Friday was a day. Not a terrible day, but not a great day. 

J’s got a great support team at school. He’s paras are and case manager are phenomenal. He’s got great peers in his classes who help him out and encourage him when he needs it. But even with that support structure in place, to J, school is a really, really stressful place to be.

Friday was one of those stressful days. J was on his way to PE and during the passing period, overheard someone say the word “evacuation,” and the rest of the day was spent getting J off the edge of the panic attack cliff and surviving the rest of the day. Of course, J had a math test that afternoon and was in such a state of mind that he couldn’t even identify the x and y axis on a graph. 

For the record: J. B. knows where the x and y axis is on the graph. 

After school I got a rundown on how the day went from his para, and after her account she said to me, “You know, I couldn’t help after all of this how hard it must be, some days, for J to be J.”

And she’s right. I forget that. I get all caught up on how J falls apart when his world gets turned upside down that I forget how hard the world is for him when it’s turned right side up. Two weeks ago I got sidelined with the stomach flu. Most of my time spent those three days was either sleeping or trying not to throw up. I tried to squeeze some work into there–I picked up a book a few times to try to get some research in. I had a chapter printed off in front of me and I tried to scratch some notes and sentences out, but ultimately I got nothing done those three days. I feel like that’s how most days go for J. Even if he doesn’t hear the word “evacuation” or some other trigger word, he’s fighting some non-existent fear he’s conjured up in his head. And even if he’s had a great day and hasn’t needed a class period or two to be helped off the edge of that panic attack cliff, his brain isn’t 100% checked in. He’s using all of it trying to sit still, behave, and be brave.

Sunday J told me that he was really sad he missed his PE class (it was the last day of the swimming unit). Those are the times where I just want to punch anxiety in the face, because anxiety sometimes makes J miss the things in life he really enjoys.

Even with all of the inner battles J has to fight at school I still feel it’s the best place for him to be. Why? Because he has to learn to leave the house and interact with the big, scary world. We have those days like Friday, where he struggles to keep it together. But we’re having more and more days where J goes into the world and tries those scary things. Two weeks ago it was the Christkindlmarket in downtown Fargo, where we went on a busy Friday night, bumping shoulder to shoulder with strangers upstairs in the loud dance hall and navigating long lines for food. This Sunday, J sang a solo in front of the entire church congregation, staring out into an audience of people who all had their eyes glued on him. J has had many rough days navigating assemblies and crowded hallways, or had to manage his anxiety to sing in his choir concerts but he’s getting better at it, and because he’s getting better at it, he’s able to go into the world outside of home and school and participate and enjoy family experiences at Christmas festivals or singing his heart out (which he does 24/7) finally in front of an audience all on his own. When he’s going to school he’s learning how to manage his stress and anxiety, and that’s a really important life skill to acquire.

Sunday night, J also told me, very emphatically, that this week’s going to be a great week. I have to admire his courage. It would be so easy to just give up and refuse to go back. But he does go back even with all of his anxiety. 

To be J.B. means that life is doing a bunch of really hard things. Over and over again. 

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