The other night Thomas and I locked horns. Things started out as an average show of anxiety and quickly escalated into a battle of wills during which I backed down after realizing that there was more to the exchange than I originally thought.
It began innocently enough. My husband was making pork chops with some fragrant spices on them. The house was filled with the wonderful smell of them sizzling in the pan. About that same time I was finishing up making some green apple jello and as I poured it into dishes the smell mixed in with the pork chop smell and that's when all hell broke loose.
Thomas came into the kitchen, a pacing, anxious lion and asked what the smell was. Both my husband and I thought little of it and told him it was the chops and the jello. He demanded to know the exact smell he was smelling and when I told him it was green apple he begged me to let him spray room spray in his bedroom. I told him he could but he was frozen in place. I reminded him he could spray something and he asked if he could get the vanilla spray from downstairs. IT HAD TO BE VANILLA.
He came upstairs and filled his room with a cloud of vanilla Febreeze and then went and sat on the couch. I came around the corner and he was sitting on the edge of the couch obviously upset and he looked me straight in the eyes and said,
"I have to shower right now. It's time."
I told him dinner was less than 10 minutes away and he got more agitated and demanded that he get to shower RIGHT NOW. He told me that this is the time he always showers, that he has a routine and it had to be done now. I was watching him melt down in front of me. I kneeled down beside him and took his hand and I said in a gentle voice,
"Thomas? Can you see that you're freaking out right now over a shower that can wait till after dinner?"
He repeated in a quieter tone that he had to shower right now, that it was time, that 7 o' clock was his time. I made one last attempt to get him to have dinner with us and in that moment I watched all the doors of his mind slam shut, his face became angry stone and he averted his eyes and said nothing else.
I knew then that I'd lost him to the other side and I told him I'd leave his dinner for him for when he got out of the shower.
Do you know what gets me about this illness? It's the triggers. They're like hidden bear traps in the underbrush and you just don't know where they are until you're painfully trapped in one trying to fight your way out. That's how I imagine it must be for Thomas because how it feels to me is that I am dealing with an angry, hurting animal looking for any way out of the predicament he's in.
In this case the culprit seems to have been the green jello/pork chops combo and what started as innocent dinner prep turned into a battle of wills which I now wish I had been thoughtful enough to back down from sooner. I have no idea what was in his mind, what swirling, anxious thoughts threatened him but I know the battle was not worth winning in the end if the price was Thomas' sanity.
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