I could hear the thunk of SIB before I opened the door. I waited a minute before going to check because I wanted to make sure that J was not HAPPY as he did this. When I opened the door he was sitting without bandaids, looking slightly forlorn, and halfway through his yogurt.
We’d had a good morning up to that point. We made some lavender soap (commissioned by a kind cousin who loves J and wants him to have a project,) and we’d done a quick dash through our chores. Beds were made, dishwasher has been run, breakfast burrito was consumed…
Now, at 11 a.m., a minor crisis.
BAND-AIDS! J said
Ok, go get them! I’ll put them on you, I replied.
BAND-AIDS! he repeated.
Go get them, baby. We’ll have those band-aids on you in a sec.
He got up a little slower than I expected, and as he reached the door he turned towards the DefCon board I placed there for easy access. He took of the PECS that represents him, and moved it to FRUSTRATED.
It’s in poor taste to celebrate another person’s distress so I controlled that feeling. I took J’s hand and said “let’s go get those band-aids right now. Thanks for telling me why you need them.”
We climbed the stairs to the third floor, found a GREEN package of band-aids, and I asked if he wanted to sit on his bed to have his band-aids applied. He sat down and we started unwrapping each strip. I repeated how grateful I was that he had asked for my help, and told me how he was feeling. I said he can always always tell me so that I can do my best to work on making things better.
Halfway through our band-aid routine, J said SORRY. And I said “that’s ok, sweetie. You told me you needed help, and I really appreciate that. No need to be sorry. We are here to help.” I probably sounded like a flight attendant, and I tried to inject a soothing tone into what I was saying. J helped me put the band-aids in the exact spots he prefers, and then he said HAPPY. Instead of asking if he was actually happy I simply asked “you’re feeling better?”
We stopped at the supply closet and replenished all the band-aids in the baskets. We packed up our trays and envelopes, and made our way downstairs. I told him to put his share of the load on the table, and to finish his yogurt before refilling his band-aid packs.
On the way back into his TV room, J stopped at his DefCon board and said HAPPY while switching his PECS card to the corresponding emotion. I know he’s more relaxed than he was when he first asked for help, and I know that it went a long way when I said I was here to help him and thanked him for communicating with him. I also know that he is not yet HAPPY…but he’s working on it.
I did call Dada. I figured an e-mail wouldn’t properly convey the excitement of the moment. The sigh of relief was audible, and he said “that just made my day.”
The thing, you see, is that we know 100% happiness 100% of the time is an unrealistic expectation for anyone. We understand that everyone goes through ups and downs, and that it is only fair that we acknowledge for J that he has a right to these things just like we do.
When I talked to his psych on the phone yesterday I asked if, perhaps, some of the mental illness that has plagued my family could be peaking at this point for J. He asked some very important questions: has he stopped participating in the everyday activities he used to enjoy? Does he seem listless and despondent? Has he lost all spontaneity? Can you still redirect him? Based on my responses he said that it might be a cycle of anxiety, and we just need to observe J closely. Should he hurt himself, and should we find it impossible to intervene in a positive manner, then the story changes, but J still has fun, still laughs, still participates in his and our everyday life with enthusiasm. He certainly hasn’t lost his vanity, and he seems to be seeking a palliative for something that he can only externalize by hitting himself. He knows it’s wrong, and he’s aware that it worries us…
And now he’s told us he’s FRUSTRATED. He’s asked for HELP.
I think for today that’s a huge step. We might slip back to being incommunicado tomorrow, but today we’ve done well. It’s early, I know. It’s a small thing. A wisp of a thing. A minuscule thing. A microscopic thing.
It’s huge to us…