I’m honestly not sure whether this is going to help anyone or not, so forgive me for being selfish because I feel like writing it out will help me. I have always written better than I’ve spoken; I think because in writing I have the ability to construct and edit what I’m saying before anyone else gets to filter it through their own perception.
This is especially true when I’m talking about something I’m experiencing, or even – shudders – feeling.
There is often far more vulnerability than I am comfortable with in explaining what goes on in my head.
I don’t make any claims on knowing where that fear of vulnerability comes from, but I can tell you this; I see first-hand every day the result of not being able to communicate your thoughts.
I see it first in my son.
Anxiety, frustration, even fear – to levels that cause such a physical response that it overrides his ability to speak. There’s something that he needs to get out; he needs to communicate a need, or a want.
But the anxiety that overwhelms him can freeze him where he stands. It can seem as though his tongue has been robbed from his mouth.
Sometimes, it takes environmental intervention to put him in a place where he can calm enough to find his words. Most of the time, he covers his face with his arm, buries himself into your torso, and scripts “Baby Shark, DooDooDoo” – at warp speed, over and over again.
He turns what he really wants to say into something he feels familiar with, as a coping mechanism.
I see that in myself.
I do that.
The problem is, when I do it – when I turn what I really should be expressing into something I feel familiar with – it’s nothing anywhere near as harmless as my favorite song chorus in double time.
I turn everything into frustration.
Hurt, guilt, anxiety, confusion, regret… they all come out as frustration.
Frustration is my native tongue.
Because frustration puts those around me off the scent of my own vulnerability.
And therein lies the problem.
The problem is my frustration also causes me to ruin things that could have otherwise been strengthened by me just “cutting the $#!t” and being vulnerable enough to say what I meant to in the first place.
I can dismantle an entire conversation by simply being confused by a detail; and rather than just admit that I’m confused, ask a confrontational question that derails everything.
Like I refuse to acknowledge what I’m actually feeling most of the time.
I feel guilty because I don’t always innately know how to best support my wife in all of this.
I feel anxiety, to my very core – about the thought of a day coming when I am not here to bulldoze the world into oblivion for my son and keep him from hurt. I need to live forever in order to always be here for him. I literally lose sleep thinking about this.
I feel fear, about the future – how it all plays out, whether or not we’ve prepared our daughter for the world as she becomes of age to grab ahold of it, and whether or not she’s prepared to take over care for David if something should ever happen.
I know she can.
I know she would – in a heartbeat. But I’m still fearful.
I allow all of these things to take up space in my brain, swirling around like blades, making sawdust of any contentment or peace, and turning everything I think about or feel into frustration.
And yet, there I stand in those instances, a grown man… asking my son to calm down. Take a breath. “Find your words.”
Thinking about the fact that I am trying to encourage and support my son in finding his own voice and quieting all of the noise inside him so he can tell me how he’s feeling – only to turn around, feeling hurt when I’ve failed – and turn that hurt into frustration rather than admit it out loud to anyone… how frustrating that must be for those around me.
And how frustrating it must be for my son. My son, who is so extremely adept at picking up on other people’s energy.
So many people subscribe to the absolutely false narrative that those with autism lack empathy. In my experience with our son, this couldn’t possibly be more false. His empathy is an entire evolutionary step ahead of mine. When I am at peace, and calm, my son will sometimes melt my entire being with an impromptu snuggle, or even a request for “daddy superhero up” – where I hold him out flat on my arms and fly him around the house like Superman.
When I’m boiling, stewing, or even slightly agitated, my son avoids me like the plague.
He becomes nervous when I talk to him.
He starts scripting when he needs something from me.
I make my son anxious, because my energy tells him I’m not right.
He’s my barometer for my own temperament.
Something I, as a grown man, should have full control over.
And yet, I often find myself standing in a room alone, hands on my head, wondering why my family thinks I’m in a bad mood most of the time.
Feeling like I’ve failed them.
As men, we’re supposed to always be stoic when it comes to vulnerability.
We’re supposed to guard the cave door.
We’re supposed to chin up, chest out, handle business.
Not let things like shudders – feelings – get in the way of those duties; and for God’s sake, never let those vulnerabilities be exposed.
I wonder if any other men I know recognize this or feel this way.
Or if they’d ever admit it.
I wonder how my wife will feel reading these words, knowing the next time we argue it will probably be because I’m turning some other unrelated noise into frustration.
I wonder how many aspects of my life become easier if my output isn’t constantly corrupted by some suppressed frustration or pain.
I wonder what happens if I ever get the hang of finding my words.