Thursday, November 15, 2012

Anxiety and Autism

My children and I both have anxiety along with autism. It certainly makes things harder at times, especially as a parent.

Today for instance, I've been waiting approximately 8 hours for a parent teacher conference this afternoon. Likely it will be an in and out meeting and I don't expect any negative news. I've even met the teacher already at an IEP meeting so she is familiar. It doesn't stop the anxiety however. I've been antagonizing over what to wear all day, when realistically I know it doesn't really matter what I wear. I'm not trying to impress anyone, rather I'm trying to fit in. It seems I'll be chasing that for the rest of my life. Fitting in isn't something that comes naturally to me.

Standing among all those other parents in the hallways amplifies how different I am from them. They look bored or irritated, but never anxious. Then I wonder how I look to them. Do I look angry too? I adjust my facial expressions to try to find a middle ground. Not too excited and happy (after all its a parent teacher conference not an Oscar) but not too grumpy that I seem hostile. I realize I've been staring at someone for far too long and quickly look away as they try to meet my gaze. Now I'm extremely uncomfortable and wondering if I really have to stay in this hallway. Surely one of my kids has to use the bathroom? Any excuse to escape the anxiety I'm feeling. For at least the next 5 minutes I'm in the bathroom helping my kiddos with autism work through their anxiety about the toilets flushing. I help my 4 year old cover his ears while pulling up his pants at the same time. He starts to freak out anyway and he doesn't calm down until we are safely away from the bathroom. My 9 year old dd with autism doesn't scream anymore, but she avoids flushing at all costs. She has yet to face her fear of an overflowing toilet. (which nearly happened once years ago and she never got over it.)

Finally my turn comes when they call my name. It always feels awkward when they say my  name. I wonder if I moved forward fast enough or if I should have taken longer. Did I jump forward? That would be embarrassing. I piggyback on my childrens excitment and fake a smile as the teacher says hello to me. She introduces herself and I smile and forget to introduce myself. (I mentally kick myself when I realize my mistake) I wonder why her hand is extended to me and then I remember that people like to shake hands when they meet. I put mine forward but I can already tell that the window has passed and now its just really weird.  She's staring at me while she's talking and I wonder if she blinks. I remember to blink but then wonder if I'm blinking too much, staring too much, or looking away at the right moments. The pause in the conversation indicates that I've missed something and its now my turn to speak up and say... what?? I have no idea what this moment calls for. I panic inside. I say, "What was that again?" and hope its not a really stupid question. No I don't have any questions. Except maybe if she could give me everything she just said on paper so that I can read it myself. I was concentrating so hard on making sure I was blinking and responding appropriately that I couldn't comprehend or remember anything that was said. I immediately feel like an idiot, but I manage to smile again and I gathered my things to get ready to leave. I feel so proud with myself that I remembered to say, "Thank you for your time, I appreciate it." before I left the room.

I rely on my children to know how to enter and exit the school. I probably will never be able to walk to their classroom on my own, or know how to leave the building quickly. I'm lost as soon as I start down the hallway. Luckily my children are far better at remembering directions then I am and I'm thankful I have them with me today. In fact, not bringing them was never an option. If it wasn't for that 5 minute break or their distractions I might never be able to get through the conference. Without distractions that I'm used to, the anxiety soars. Its one of the reasons why I usually take my son with me when I run errands. It gives me someone to focus on instead of my own social awkwardness. As my children grow up, I'm wondering how I will take this transition to being without them by my side. Will I adjust, or will I be left totally isolated?

Most likely no one even notices the anxiety that I feel inside. I try very hard to mask my uncomfortableness and only those close to me truly understand how hard I push myself. 

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