Editor’s note: I wrote this post after talking with my son about his anxiety during this complicated time.
Now You Know
Do you try and go to bed, but your brain is making small fast circles and you stare at the ceiling while your heart beats wildly? You chase sleep like the wind, but you cannot catch it.
Do you know the feeling when the world is shifting between your two feet, like slippery sinking no-air quicksand?
Everything that kept you rooted to your life is changing.
Nothing is the same.
Your body is empty and also filled with echoes.
You worry you are broken.
Maybe now you understand. What it’s like to be me.
I live this way every day of my life.
My name is Jack.
I am fifteen years old.
I have autism.
Next to autism I have anxiety. They ride beside each other, two passengers in a car. They take turns driving.
I call anxiety my fear. I say I am having a fear that cannot go away, and it is a big huge elephant in my mind and it takes up all the space.
My mother thinks of it another way. She imagines my anxiety is a snake that winds its way around my heart and tries to crush my happiness.
I first met this snake when I was six years old. It was very, very bad for me. Something had taken over my brain and it was not my own and it was sending me very suspicious thoughts.
The snake screamed about babies painting me blue with paint.
It shrieked that I would freeze my body cold from the wind chill.
It kept me open-eyes awake all night long.
It had me in its power.
We went to lots of doctors and my mother cried tears and my father held his teeth together tightly. Then I started to take little white pills before bed and I forgot about the babies and the paint. I slept sweet lullaby sleep.
But the snake is never gone forever. It is simply waiting, a two-sided tongue between fangs.
Sometimes it is nasty and it shrieks very loudly.
Other times, it talks to me gentle about how I am not good enough for a friend. How it is better to be rude and mean and judge, because if I don’t let them into my heart, they cannot turn me from theirs.
It is important to be first. When it come to a rejection.
The snake whispers if I ride my bike, I will fall off like I did on Monday, July 18, 2016 and get a bad scrape. So I should just sit inside on the couch for my safety.
My fears are big.
For me, the are real.
Things get bad sometimes. My body and the fangs and the fear are all mixed and it is too bright and I am trying and I am mad but also very sad.
The elephant and the snake stare at each other. They argue for space in my spirit.
I put my hands on my ears and I walk very fastly and I talk about death and scariness.
When this happens, my father stands before me. He puts his hands on my shoulders and he says quietly breathe, Jack. Breathe.
So I do. And it is better.
Ever since the pandemic, I have new fears. The snake is slithering through me with sly yellow eyes.
I am afraid I might die if someone sneezes.
Or the grocery store will run out of my favorite cereal.
This serpent is a champion of opposites, you see. It strikes on a day stretched long and empty, or an afternoon cluttered with appointments.
It thrives in my heart during minutes of scarcity, and panic, and doubt.
I have learned things. To keep the snake from squeezing too tight and to help the elephant stay small.
So, when your heart is beating wild and your day feels long and empty, try to do what I do.
I have a plan for myself. Even if my plan doesn’t make sense to other people.
I start my morning with my shower. I squeeze gel in my hair and comb it smooth. I put on my watch.
I check the weather.
I listen to happy music.
I bake. Yesterday I made banana bread with chocolate chips. It was very delicious.
During dinner, I sit at the table with my family. All the laughs fill up my hearing.
If the plan and the shower and the cookies don’t work, I stand with my father. I feel his strong hands. I breathe deep cool air into my body. I take back my power.
I am not broken.
You are not broken.
We are not broken.
We are here. We are learning.