Went to a big family gathering this weekend for a relative’s special birthday party. It was great! A bunch of us went to a Chinese Buffet place for lunch where we got to eat and talk, talk and eat, and then eat some more until we were pleasantly stuffed. Afterwards, we all got into our various vehicles to drive back to the house to continue the party. I was in the back seat of a car with my youngest son, Jake.
As we drove, I quietly asked, “How are you doing? Do you think you need a pill?” He is supposed to take a mood stabilizer at least twice a day. He had only taken his morning dose and I knew we were going into an environment that may be difficult for him – lots of people, lots of noise, lots of chaos. We had already talked about places he could go if he needed some quiet time away from everyone – upstairs in the spare bedroom, in the car, in the backyard, etc. It was important he knew where he could go if he suddenly felt overwhelmed. As we pulled up to the house, he told me he didn’t need another pill, reassuring me he was fine.
Earlier in the day I told him that I wanted to take family pictures because all of my kids would be in the same place at the same time. He often does not want his picture taken, so I wanted him to be aware of it beforehand, so he would be prepared. Soon after we got back to the house, I told him I wanted to take the family pictures because if we didn’t do it then, I would forget about it until it was too late. Jake was not happy. I told him it wouldn’t take too long if we all just did it. So I gathered my kids together (along with my grandson), and told them where to sit. Jake stood looming over the top of the other two so I asked him to kneel down beside his brother, which he did. I told them to pretend they liked each other and proceeded to take the picture.
As soon as the camera flashed, Jake started to get up and I said, “Wait! I want to do a couple more just to be sure I get a good one.” My daughter wanted Jake to take his headphones off for the next picture. I said that was a good idea and then my other son started to grab Jake’s headphones off his head. And that was it – Jake yelling at his brother, his brother yelling back, Jake getting physical, his brother reacting – and in my mind I am seeing a huge fist fight breaking out in the middle of a birthday party, where once again Jake is disruptive and people stare at us (and I am sure talk about us behind our backs) – but I was quick this time. I deftly stepped in between the two of them and shut it down. Jake was still irate and I was frantically going through the files in my mind of “how to de-escalate a meltdown” when Jake did an amazing thing – he gathered up his stuff and said firmly, “I’m going outside so I can calm down.”
My other son, looked at me and said something equally amazing, “I was the wrong one to try to get the headphones off. I’m his brother. Sorry.” At last he understood the power he has in escalating a situation. A single word or touch from his brother at the wrong time can cause Jake to go from being calm to irate in 2 seconds flat.
I calmly continued to take pictures of the other kids and got a few selfies in and then went back to the party crowd. Jake slipped back in later and found a quiet place to sit with his kindle and headphones, and was fine the rest of the evening. And he never did take his second pill.
I try to prepare Jake for situations – make sure he is not hungry or thirsty, that he is dressed comfortably (if I think it may be cold later insist he bring a jacket “just in case”), that he has had at least one pill, letting him know what to expect – but there are always the variables that you can’t really foresee. I’ve gotten pretty good at being able to keep a light banter going in tense times even though my mind is racing through the “meltdown files”. But I am not always with him (a fact that I am sure he is extremely happy about). I can’t always be there to help him find a way out – so it was an important step for him to be able to figure it out himself.
That “I’m going outside so I can calm down.” was huge! Huge for him – and huge for me. That simple sentence is crammed full of years of hard work by many people. It gave me hope. And it gave him control – and self respect. And those things will help him to continue to grow and mature and become more independent. And that is what I ultimately want for him – even though a part of me whispers, “what will I do when he doesn’t need me any more?”