Last night Emma arrived home in tears. It turns out she had swallowed a piece of peach flavored gum and her therapist, Joe, who had warned her that if she swallowed the gum he would not give her another piece, wouldn’t allow her to have another. He offered her two other flavors to no avail.
“No! Peach gum!” Emma cried when I went into her bedroom to sit with her.
“But Em, you swallowed it and Joe told you, you couldn’t have another piece if you swallowed it,” I said, stroking her hair.
“No!” Emma shouted, tears streaming down her face. “NO! Peach gum!”
“How about a different flavor? But you can’t swallow it or you won’t be able to have another piece of any kind,” I offered.
“No, no, no, no. Peach,” Emma insisted.
I often wonder, when Emma is derailed by something, seemingly rather insignificant, if there isn’t a whole series of events – perhaps unrelated – that have lead up to this kind of monumental upset. It reminds me of days I’ve had, when everything that could go wrong does. I get to work and my printer won’t scan, the cartridge is out of ink and I don’t have a back up, I can’t remember my password to upload images that have been requested to my FTP site, my merchant account isn’t showing my latest sales transaction, my gem setter calls to tell me he’s chipped a stone, I forgot to bring some documents I need from home, etc. and then after all that I go home, having put in nine or ten hours of work, tired and grumpy and find a light bulb has blown in the living room. It just seems too much. Meanwhile my husband wanders in, sees me and says innocently, “Hey, what’s going on?”
Those words are what flip the switch and suddenly I feel nothing but rage.
Is that what it’s like for Emma sometimes? Only she can’t take a deep breath and explain that her day has been a nightmare of frustrations and mishaps, while the other person nods their head and says things like, “God that sounds awful. Here why don’t you put your things down and let’s talk about it.” Or “I know just what you mean. It’s been a hell of a day.” Poor Emma can’t say any of those things. She doesn’t have the words to tell me how she’s feeling she can’t keep it together for one more second, so she just screams and cries and if things are really bad, bites or hits herself.
This morning one of her therapists emailed me, telling me about some of her frustrations at school yesterday. I thought about how upset she was when she came home and it all began to make sense. She had a bad day. I can relate to that. I have bad days from time to time too. But I can pick up the phone and rant about it to one of my girlfriends or I can call my husband and tell him or I can sit and try to be quiet for a few minutes, “sit with the discomfort of it all”, as a meditation teacher I knew referred to those moments when it all feels unbearable. The point is I don’t have to be alone with those feelings of frustration. I can reach out and by reaching out I mitigate the feelings.
“You were frustrated, you scream, you bite,” Emma told her therapist yesterday. Emma was doing what we all do when we’re upset, trying to communicate her feelings with another human being.
Emma on a good day when she was seven.
For more on Emma’s journey through a childhood of autism and how that effects her older brother, go to: www.EmmasHopeBook.com