I’ve been crippled by anxiety for the past 9 months. It’s focused around travel – driving my car, going on public transport, flying, etc.
These are peculiar things for me to fear given my love of travelling and my hate of being stuck anywhere for too long.
I thought for a long time that this particular anxiety was yet another side effect of the menopause, but I’ve recently rethought that.
Just under a year ago babyboy (who’s 8 now) was diagnosed with autism, sensory processing disorder and severe anxiety. He may also have ADHD and PDA, but the consultant was reluctant to diagnose these right now opting to wait until he’s older.
Just a two months later I had my first ever panic attack while driving and despite CBT it continues to plague me.
I think I’ve finally worked out why:
It’s because I’m afraid that something terrible will happen to me while travelling and my babyboy will be left without me.
And he needs me so much.
He is very verbal but despite this cannot communicate what he needs. I read his mind (at least that’s what it feels like) and anticipate his needs. I speak for him when he can’t, not just as his advocate but as his voice. I understand his emotions when he can’t.
I hear his fears without his words and I hold them tightly in my heart. He knows he is safe with me, that we’re a team – because I tell him this about 20 times a day in a bid to ease his anxiety.
I understand his meltdowns: I know when to hold him and when to leave him, I know when to weight him down by lying on him or when to rhythmically firmly pat my hands up and down his back, I know when to silently slide him the emotions thermometer so he can point out how he feels, I know exactly how to touch his back, his arms, has legs to help calm and soothe him. I know how to cope with a meltdown without making him feel bad.
I know what to do to try to make him feel safe when his own anxiety overtakes him and prevents him from being a little boy.
I understand his need to come home from school and hide in Minecraft – a world where he has total control – after a day of having his senses overloaded by the sheer volume of school, the loss of control for him, the demands made him and the effort it takes for him to mask how he feels.
I know what foods he will eat and what he definitely won’t. I understand not to force him to try new foods, that it’s not just the taste that puts him off it can be the smell, the texture or just his own fear of the unknown.
I understand that quite often he wants to try new things or go to known places, but his fear and anxiety prevent him from doing so. And meltdowns will occur if I try to make him go.
I can tell just by looking at his face or his body language that he’s struggling. I know when he needs his headphones or when he needs to go home. I understand when he’s got to sit under the table, hide under a blanket or sit in the corner facing the wall.
I hold his hands as he sits on the toilet for a poo because it scares him. I go with him to the toilet for a wee cos he’s afraid to go on his own. I don’t know what he’s afraid of, I just know he is and so I support him.
I don’t force him to go to toilets that are not ours because this is too much for him.
I seek out stairs as he’s terrified of lifts and escalators. And then I count the stairs with him otherwise he can’t use them.
When I see he’s getting antsy, going stir crazy cos he hasn’t wanted to leave the house I blast dance music and dance with him until he’s collapsed on the floor his excess energy spent.
I listen to his screams and experience his rampaging, often violent, meltdowns as calmly as I can desperately trying to not make them any worse than they already are.
I don’t understand the whys and what’s of all his fears and anxieties, but I don’t have to I just need to stand beside him, hold his hand and make sure he feels safe.
I don’t understand his inability to communicate despite having a huge and impressive vocabulary, but I don’t have to I just have to listen to his other forms of communication: his behaviour that tells me so much more than he can. And translate that for the world to understand.
I am his safe place, his safe person. His safety.
And I now know that the root of my anxiety lies in the fear that if something terrible happens to me there’s no-one who can help him navigate life, no-one to love him for who he is and make him feel safe.