A wise person once told me "It could be worse". Oh how that made me feel so much better....
Last Friday I started off the day in a positive and happy mood, something I must admit is never a guarantee for me, in fact if you ask anyone in my house they would probably tell you it was a novelty, like Christmas, but much less predictable. It is actually so much so that I am regularly referred to at home as being 'grumpy', which really does irk me somewhat - but I suppose it doesn't take much! If someone is not in a good mood, it hardly seems like the sensible thing to do to call them out on it! They won't thank you for it and it certainly won't be the thing that 'snaps them out of it' and turns that frown upside down. All you are really ever going to do is reinforce their mood. So why bother? It could just be my autistic way of looking at it, but really, why state the bloody obvious?
I don't actually like being unhappy and I certainly don't enjoy feeling grumpy, which is probably why it annoys me so much when my low mood is pointed out to me. I will always do what I can to work at it and turn it around, but I can't just click my fingers and instantaneously 'cheer up'. Like many autistic people and like many parents to children with additional needs, there is almost always going to be at least a small amount of residual, low lying depression, just sitting there in the background trying to drag you down and stop you from feeling happy - as if we need anything else dragging us down! Throw that into the mix of broken sleep, work stress, uncomfortable bed and the sheer inconvenience of other ill health problems wrecking your chances of a full and unbroken nights sleep - is there really any wonder that I don't spring out of bed singing 'Happy' from the Despicable Me soundtrack??
In order to try and improve mood some people will 'helpfully' recommend that you think about the things that are making you unhappy and then consider how important they really are. Compared with other problems are things really that bad in the grand scheme of things? Apparently, according to the average armchair therapist, this is the way to make yourself feel better about your problems.
Without even addressing how ridiculous this suggestion actually is, because everyone's troubles are relative to their own personal experiences, I only have to spend about 30 seconds of my time thinking about the things that are getting me down to realise exactly why I never seek the 'expert' advice of the average Joe.
This was a rare day off where Emma and I actually had a little bit of child free time together. Neither of us were at work, despite it being a weekday. Marvel A was at school and Marvel H at play school until lunchtime. The prospect of being able to utter more than half a sentence to my wife without being interrupted was so exciting I was in a 'good' mood. I was in such a positive mood that morning that I was even planning how to initiate some positive Marvel time that evening. For many parents, I am sure the fact that I was actually planning to have some 'positive time' seems like a major parenting fail on my part, because surely you shouldn't have to plan this right? It should be natural and every day should involve 'positive time' with your children surely?
I really do wish this was the case. I wish for nothing more than for all of my time spent with my children being 'positive time' that they will always remember and cherish as happy memories, but sadly, with all the best will in the world, this seems virtually impossible as an autistic person parenting autistic children. It shreds me up inside almost daily, but having learnt through several years of experience that the good mood of an autistic adult or child can flip on its head quicker than the Government's guidance on Coronavirus, I have learnt it is best to plan for 'positive time' so that I am prepared when moods change and plans need to be shelved so they can be unboxed at a later date.
Of course, the MOST important lesson here is never to plan anything with your Marvel's knowledge. Something not going according to plan is probably the worst situation to find yourself in with any Marvel because 'change' can throw them so off balance with the stress of losing control that it can quickly lead to meltdown.
So, that morning I turned to Em and suggested we sit down with Marvel A that evening to watch the first Harry Potter film. We have seen some of them before, but with an upcoming day out to Warner Brother's studios, we were keen to watch all the films again in preparation for the day. But, despite starting so positively that day, with such good intentions, it is amazing how quickly that can disappear and quite literally turn to brown smelly stuff!
I collected Marvel A from school and everything was going well. We actually managed to talk about her day and for the first time ever she started to articulate what didn't go so well for her that day. In the past, we have always just had to try and guess what went wrong, but we would never have to guess that something had actually gone wrong for her at school. Her sultry looks, her snappy demeanor, and her outright rude and disrespectful retorts from the moment we greeted her from school, were usually the only signal we needed to know that something had gone wrong for her and that she was teetering on the edge of a meltdown.
But, on this occasion, she actually spoke about the fact she was upset that during her 'life skills' lesson she was 'made' to talk about her feelings in front of the class - which they all had to do. She had taken particular exception to this and to be fair to her I could understand why. I struggle to understand and articulate my own feelings and emotions even now as an adult, so I could only imagine how challenging this could be for her in front of her friends and why it would make her feel awkward.
Ironically, it had only been that very morning that Marvel A and I had discussed her using a journal to record her feelings, because if she was anything like me, she might feel more comfortable writing about her feelings rather than talking about them. I can only imagine that the need for her to talk about those feelings in class later that day were somewhat of an internal conflict for her. But in any case, we had a break-through because she was able to tell me about it, loading me up with a false sense of achievement about the fact that maybe we had dealt with the problem.
It wasn't long before I was quickly reminded that for every step forward we must take at least two steps backward in the other direction. The meltdown soon swept over us the first time Marvel A didn't get her own way. Unfortunately, this was virtually upon the first request the moment we set foot in the house. We then all joined the slippery slope to a disastrous evening of shouting, stroppy foot stamping, door slamming and then culminating in one of the most gut wrenching, heart snapping phrases I ever heard from an 8 year old child - "I want to kill myself".
It has never been said before and thankfully seemed to be nothing more than an extreme way of expressing her frustration, but nonetheless, I wasn't sure anything could have hit me harder.
When a meltdown is brewing Marvel A always point-blank refuses to engage in any constructive form of self-regulation. She actively fights against each and every suggestion we make; "go and bounce on the trampoline", "take some quiet time out in your room", "put your headphones on and listen to music" - just DO SOMETHING! It doesn't matter what the suggestion is, she refuses them all in preference of waiting until we leave the room so she can pick a fight with Marvel H by taking his things, ruining his game or quite literally anything she can think of to provoke him into an argument. Sadly, it seems the only way she will ever engage in self-regulation is by picking a fight. Presumably needing to feel those intense feelings of anger to release her stresses and anxieties, like a pressure cooker, letting off steam in order to eventually cool off. But, although this is what she needs, it isn't healthy and it isn't fair on the others in the house, especially Marvel H, who often takes the brunt of it. So, we have no choice but to tell her off, which then results in her bringing 'the fight' to us. Sadly, on this occasion it resulted in her yelling something that no parent ever wants to hear from a child.
To top things off, Emma later told me that whilst I was out collecting Marvel A from school, Marvel H, the generally happy and loving one of the bunch, had said to her, "Mummy, why is Marvel A always so horrible to me?".
As if my heart needed break any more.
Daily we strive to stop ourselves from cracking under the pressure and misery of battling with emotions that just aren't yet fully understood as we all grow and move forward together as a family. We strive to have some positive time with Marvel A. We also strive to save Marvel H from being tainted by the way his sister behaviour and the way she treats him.
But at the end of the day, all I need to do is think about other peoples problems in order to put mine in perspective and wake up in a good mood......right?