My husband called me to share the amazing news that he passed his class. “That’s so great, baby. Congratulations!”
He goes on to tell me about the teacher and how she gave him a knowing nod to let him know he had passed. She wasn’t supposed to, but she did it for him. He shares how he doesn’t have class again until August. He’s excited and why wouldn’t he be?
But I’m absent from the conversation. I’m making the correct remarks in the right places. At least I think I am. I am trying to be a totally awesome partner and celebrate this exciting news with him, but my mind is somewhere else.
I’m trying so hard, really, I am. It’s not working though. I blame my absent-mindedness on the work email I need to finish. But I can usually multitask. That’s not it.
The Triggers You Don’t Expect
It’s that damn white car.
There is a white car parked ahead of me in the carpool line. I haven’t seen this car before and I literally can’t think of anything else except for whether or not this white car is going to try to leave before me. This is, of course, because Michael has a “first thing,” where he has to be first leaving the parking lot.
Michael has worked so hard to finally depart school with the whole group of students five days a week. For the last year and a half, I have had to sign him out early. But we made a plan, tapered his departures so he could learn to get used to it little by little, and he’s walking out with the group now. The condition is that I have to be first in line.
I know he’s not ready for another car to “beat us.” And that’s totally okay. He might be ready one day, but today is not that day.
We’re not ready yet if I want to be totally honest. “We” as in Michael. And “We” as in me.
I’M NOT READY!
My Husband Is On to Me Now
My husband, because he knows me so well and realizes my mind is not with him in this conversation, says quite directly, “How are you?”
I am surprised. “Oh, Me?” I feel guilty for a brief moment for not fully listening and I’m surprised by the turn in conversation.
“Yes, baby, how are you?”
“Oh, I’ve had a super busy day. I sent out the newsletter. I’ve been working. But you know what, there’s a white car in front of mine in the carpool line.”
He now knows what’s happening to me. I’m panicking and I don’t even realize it. He does though.
He tells me about an article he read recently. I hear through the panicked fight/flight/freeze mode I have entered, “I read this article that compared the PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) of parents of autistic kids to those of war veterans.”
When Lizard Brain Takes Over
And that’s what this was. I was suffering from some form of PTSD and was in full-on lizard brain. There was a white car in front of me in carpool line and I was completely out of my mind, focusing on whose it was. Why was it there? Where was the owner? Is it a parent? Don’t they know that Michael and I are working on this departure thing? What are they doing there and why are they ruining my life?
The truth is, all the other parents wait for me. They know that Michael’s “thing” is being first. They know he screams. All of the parents are so kind and respectful of Michael’s work right now and they really want to protect me from the trauma that might ensue.
I can’t do it anymore. I can’t talk on the phone. I can’t pretend to work. I have to go find out about that car. I have to know if my night is going to suck, or will it be calm and enjoyable? Will we be able to make it to Occupational Therapy today? Or will that be a phone call where I’ll have to pay for a cancelation fee? These are the choices that the white car is forcing me to consider.
It’s raining and it’s chilly to make matters worse. I head into the lobby, asking around about the white car (no, I’m not kidding). I hate to be cold, but I had to know. I run outside into the rain. I stop by Iliana’s car, the mom next in line. She knows the drill of my life. I motion for her to roll her window down. She knows what’s happening, and she says, “It’s not one of ours,” before I can even ask.
That’s all I needed to hear. She knows the cars. I don’t. I don’t have that attention to detail to know if it’s one of the other families’ or not.
My eyes sting now because I feel her compassion and concern, and I’m not alone in my panic anymore. She knows what I am going through. She offers me a candy. She reaches back down to her candy stash and quickly gives me a second. She says, “You might need it.”
I walk over to the white car to get a good look inside. There’s no driver. I’m getting soaked. I start to breath though. I haven’t been breathing. I have less than five minutes to go.
If the driver of the white car shows up, I’ll talk to them quickly. I’ll say things like “OCD” and “Would you mind waiting while I pull around you?” and other such things that roll right off of my tongue because I’ve said them so many times before.
But my mind is still screaming in lizard-brain survival mode insanity. What if I can’t talk to the driver because he’s getting in the car at the same time Michael is? What then?
I’m hyper-focused, literally planning how I’ll honk and swerve around them and attempt to drive over the curb and grassy area. Or will I just let Michael scream it out?
WHAT WILL MY LIFE LOOK LIKE IN THE NEXT FIVE MINUTES, WHITE CAR DRIVER?
My next few minutes and hours will either be chock-full of Michael screaming and me soothing my son and listening to his threats and the not-fun things my life is full of . . . or it will be completely uneventful.
What I Am Suffering from in This Moment
In this moment, it is clear that I am suffering from some version of lizard-brain PTSD. I have to get myself through the next ten minutes. I have to breathe. I have to talk myself down from this scary mental ledge. “It’s going to be okay,” I whisper to myself. I breathe again.
I notice my hands on the steering wheel. I say, “I am okay.” I add, “My hands are on the steering wheel.” I continued with facts about my immediate environment, “The steering wheel is gray” and “My hands are holding on tightly to the steering wheel.” “Nobody is screaming right now.”
I continue to say other helpful things to myself so I can calm down. I try to notice my breath. I try desperately to relieve my mental panic mode.
The white car never moved. Michael got into the car and rattled on and on about the Anne Frank book and something about how the names of the people were changed. He shared how boring it was: “Just like you told me it would be, Mommy.”
Before I knew what, we were at a restaurant where they could get ice cream, and I found myself scarfing down a huge hamburger with fries. I didn’t even realize what I was doing until I was already putting the fries in my mouth.
Hamburgers and fries are like insta-therapy, you see. I almost never eat them anymore. I was coming back around, finding myself in the present moment again, except now I had a hamburger and fries in front of me. Hamburgers are like therapists, but cheaper and much more convenient.
Michael watched me and it looked like he clearly thought I was going to die soon because of too much sodium. He must have learned about sodium in school recently. Sodium has never been on his radar before, but he’s concerned as I shake more salt onto my fries.
Does he know what I’ve just been through? Does he know I’ve just trudged through a war zone in my own mind? I don’t know if either of my kids can sense it. I know that I need to have a huge warm hamburger to help reset myself, because y’all, PTSD is real and it’s no joke.
We’ve got this, one day at a time.
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