Friday, September 23, 2011

More on feelings

I continue to work to remind myself about the ways my son experiences his world. I am pretty aware of how we experience him and when we are in the midst of dealing with one of his huge outbursts I can lose sight of what he must feel everyday. Last time I wrote about this I was focused on hurt, hurting, angry and scared. I think those are the "biggies"  for him but I think there are a few other things also going on for him and other children who have experienced trauma.

For both my children who have RAD I think one of the states they are often in and/or feelings they experience are of being completely out of control. This stems out of constantly being in survival mode and so many things trigger them all day long that not only are they constantly in the throws of PTSD but they have no control over their reactions and feelings and often times can't even figured out the what or why behind their responses. They are in a constant state of reacting to whatever is triggering them and sometimes everything else goes out the window.

Many, many years ago my 3 year old niece was killed in a freak car-train accident and my brother was driving the car. He walked away with a few scratches and she lay in a hospital bed for a couple of weeks fighting for her life. When she died my brother was out of control in all areas of his life. He couldn't function in any area of his life-work, marriage, etc. which was perfectly understandable. Not only was he wracked with grief but he also suffered from a severe case of survivor's guilt and he relived the experience over and over again-in his waking hours and while he slept. During that time I spent hours talking to him about nothing and everything until he would pass out on the living room couch. Sometimes I would watch him sleep or I'd wake up to his screams in the middle of the night. It was awful to see/hear his pain, fear, hurt, and helplessness and over time we were able to talk about what was going on for him and get him the help he needed. Whenever something brought up these feelings he was usually able to pinpoint why something triggered him and try to work through it. My brother was a relatively well-adjusted, healthy adult when this incredibly traumatic experience happened. My son was/is not and his trauma doesn't have the "story" behind it that can help him and/us identify the triggers and possible avenues to work through them in the same way.

Something that compounds things for Tortuga is that for so long he was medicated for all kinds of things. Starting at about age 4 he had meds to calm him down, put him to sleep, reduce his aggression, and even get him going. At a time when many so-called normal kids are just learning to distinguish between some pretty big feelings-frustration, sadness, disappointment, anger, anxiety, etc.-my son's ability to even have these feelings was ...dulled-for lack of a better word. It is no wonder to me that he learned to express anger and rage and nothing else. He didn't have many of the more traditional ways and guidance of learning about these very big and overwhelming feelings. We have spent years working on distinguishing how disappointment feels as opposed to anger; how frustration and anxiety are similar, yet different, etc. etc. It is hard work for him and it takes time for the "lessons" to sink in when he is used to following a different "path" in how he responds to whatever brings up these feeling for him.

When he cannot figure out what the feeling he is having is, he would quickly spiral downward and out of control and meltdown or rages. I think the emotions are so huge and so raw and so overwhelming that he gets lost in them so quickly. When he gets this way he cannot see past those overwhelming feelings and so he just has to give in. Of course, once the dam is released it all comes pouring out until he exhausts himself which takes a really long time because not only does he need the release but there is something that is oh-so-powerful in expressing those primal feelings.  Sometimes this is the only time he feels "in control." He is now at a point where he recognized that this has happened so when we talk about it afterward he kind of smiles because he realizes that we have "caught on" to what is going on and he can recognize it too. We are working on helping him recognize what is happening before he loses control rather than after the fact. But it is HARD work and we don't always succeed.

I have to remember that he is trying and he is working hard and it doesn't always go the right way and it doesn't always end well but he. is. trying. He is also exhausted and for us it means we have to make his world really, really, small and very predictable and very routine (sometimes boring could be substituted here) and very structured with lots of "time out" thrown in.

1 comment:

Lee said...

The medication issue is very similar to what was done with Fiona. She is on less meds now and is at 19 just beginning to learn an array of emotions and anger and giddy happiness are the only two she understands right now. OTOH my son Chet has a hard time with emotions also due to his autism. He gets only the extremes. Anything in moderation sort of sails over him and he does not feel it.

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