The Upside of the Downsides

Meltdowns.  My daughter experiences them.  Correction.  My family experiences them.  And it is quite apt that the terminology we use to describe her behavior at those moments evokes images of nuclear holocaust, explosions, panic.  I am not a nuclear physicist, so forgive my simplicity, but when nuclear plants experience a meltdown, they have the potential of emitting radioactive gases into the environment around them.  It harmfully affects anyone and anything that’s nearby.  This, too, makes the labeling of my daughter’s meltdowns appropriate. 

Our entire family experiences her meltdowns.  We have all been hit and bitten during these meltdowns.  We have all been the target of venomous hate-filled words.  We all must react and respond immediately when meltdown occurs.  It’s as if the radioactive messiness of her overwhelm has been emitted throughout our home and seeped into the walls.

And just like those working in and living near nuclear plants, we all maintain a watchful lookout for signs that a meltdown may be forthcoming.  All 5 of us have our own mental safety and security checklists that we run through daily in an effort to prevent a meltdown from occurring.

Meltdowns have drastically impacted our entire Fringy Family in a lot of unhelpful ways.  And, in full honesty, I would gladly live our life without them.  It hurts to see KBear so out of control and in pain.  It hurts to see Chimp afraid of his big sister.  It hurts to see Cub assaulted when he has the most tender soul I’ve had the honor of knowing.  It hurts to be hurt by my own daughter and it hurts to hear her verbally assault my husband.  There are a lot of downsides to this Fringy life.

And then a night like last night happens. 

I was solo parenting and putting the kiddos to bed.  KBear was definitely in the danger zone.  I was reading to Chimp when suddenly KBear completely flipped, started tearing things off his door, throwing things at his door, shouting threats, calling me by my first name (a sure sign that she’s in full meltdown), and generally melting down.  She had already shown that she was not going to be cooperative with attempts to reset, Chimp and I were locked in his room, Cub was locked in his room, so I took the approach to let it run its course while comforting Chimp.

When she managed to break into Cub’s room, I could no longer let it run its course.  I directed Chimp to stay in his room and went out to the hallway.  Cub was successfully pinning KBear to the ground in a safe and non-violent hold that he had learned at Aikido.  She was not being hurt, but had he let go, she would definitely have hurt him or me.  Despite the fact that KBear was writhing and trying to bite him and screaming mean things, Cub saw through the behavior.  He maintained his safety by keeping her pinned, but he also was saying calm, compassionate, loving words to his sister.  He had a calm and assured energy about himself and was trying to help his sister attain that same feeling of peace.

I took over the hold.  Kept taking deep breathes and we simply sat with her until she became calmer.  When she was safe enough to let her go, she was still in the danger zone and agitated, but not assaultive.  At that point, Chimp quietly, calmly, and slowly came out from his room.  He held a favorite funny toy of KBear’s.  He quietly set it in front of her, said “I love you” in a quiet voice and simply sat down by my side.  Far enough away from the potential threat of KBear, but close enough to share his own compassion for his sister.

Within a couple of minutes, the meltdown had passed.  KBear was calm and exhausted.  The 4 of us sat together sharing quiet jokes and then headed back to our typical bedtime routine.

Several years ago, shortly after KBear had been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder and epilepsy, a friend of mine had asked me how it was going.  Then she said, “It must be really tough.  But, I’ve got to say, I’ve always admired families with a child with special needs.  They have a closeness to them that is different than more typical families.  They have a bond and a strength and a sense of teamwork that I envy.”

At the time, I thought, “Well, you’re welcome to swap families if you’d like!”  And there are still many, many moments when I would gladly trade it all in for just an afternoon of typical family fun. 

But, then there are the moments like last night.  When I looked around at my 3 children and was overflowing with pride.  I was amazed at the intuition of my 4 year old and the loving gentleness he could show his sister who mere moments earlier had been threatening to hurt him.  I overflowed with admiration for my 11 year old who has the maturity, steadiness, compassion, and wisdom of someone far older than him.  I was proud of my own growth through the past few years as my own reactions to the meltdowns have become steadier.  And I was inspired by my daughter, who just keeps persevering. 

So, sure.  I would still LOVE to experience a meltdown free week.  But, there are indeed some upsides to the downside.

Hulking Out

My daughter hulks out.  Seriously.  Clothes get ripped.  She grows about 500 times stronger than usual.  Her face contorts into a scary, ugly mask of rage.  She attacks anyone and everyone standing in her way.  She doesn’t recognize her native language and speaks in grunts and one word answers.  I’m pretty sure she even turned green on one occasion.

And when she hulks out (or flips, as we generally call it in our household), it becomes difficult to remember that she’s really just my little KBear.  In fact, most of the time I start wondering if the real her is the hulk her and those other glimpses of a human child are an illusion.  I become discouraged and angry, and often end up hulking out myself – though with a bit more self-restraint than K-Hulk is capable of.  I begin to think that she’s trying to be defiant, that she is simply a brat, that I somehow just need to be more authoritative, demanding, louder, angrier, and she’ll snap into shape.

Except, that approach didn’t ever work to turn Hulk back into Banner.  And it never works to turn KBear back to her normal self.  And here’s why.  Because Hulk can’t think straight when he’s Hulking out and neither can my KBear.

Jon had been fooling around, taking some pictures of the kids one day.  After the impromptu photo shoot, he and the 3 kids were gathered around looking through the pictures.  There was a series of oddly exposed shots and Jon was generally deleting them pretty quickly.  When he came to this one, he had his finger on the trash button when KBear shouted, “Wait!  Stop!”

Unsure what the deal was, Jon just looked at her quizzically, until KBear said, “That’s me.  That’s what it feels like when I flip.”

Jon looked back at the picture and gave KBear a hug.

On the outside, we see a giant monster of rage and destruction.  On the inside, KBear feels like that monster is also attacking her.  She feels like she has 3 heads all pulling her in 500 different directions and she can’t see straight, let alone think straight, let alone choose to behave appropriately.  Her neurons are firing like mad, her senses are overloaded and spinning, she’s in a thousand different kinds of pain.  Of course she doesn’t listen to me.  She can’t even hear me.

On my good days, I can remember that.  I can see past the Hulk and have compassion for my baby who’s trapped inside.

But, after a few good days, or a few too many encounters with K-Hulk, or a few too many of my own stressors, all I can see is the green and rageful monster.  And I’m back where I started, thinking mean, unhelpful, blaming thoughts.  But thankfully, on my best days, I can see past my own Hulk, too, and have compassion for the tired and loving mom who’s trapped inside.