Autism, Meltdowns, and the Night I Almost Ran Away From Home
I found it difficult to write the words in this title. Not because they aren’t true, but because they are. Being a mom is the greatest, most fulfilling job I’ve ever had. But being a mom comes with hard times too. And autism meltdowns seem to complicate almost every corner of my house, even my closet.
Several years ago, after watching The War Room movie (if you haven’t seen it, definitely check it out!), I decided to set up a corner of my closet to be my war room (i.e. my prayer corner). I have shared some of the difficulties of my journey with my “war room” in another post, but to put it succinctly, through grief I had avoided my prayer corner for some time and had just started coming back to it. And that was when my daughter Rachel decided to make my prayer corner her favorite nesting spot. For many reasons, including severe autism, reasoning with Rachel is a challenge, to put it mildly. And when she sets her sights on something, changing her mind is like trying to unscrew a lid that’s been sealed with permanent glue.
One night, my husband was at his breaking point. He works long, early hours, and having Rachel in the closet in our room, with her laughing and squealing noises, meant no sleep for him. He wanted her to go back to her room. She did not agree. I, on the other hand, was exhausted too and didn’t want a fight. And let me tell you, the fight was on. Rachel screamed, kicked, fussed, howled, cried, and more.
I tried to take deep, calming breaths, but my heart slammed against my chest. My neck became so tight I could hardly move my shoulders. My hands fisted at my side, and in my head I was screaming. Why can’t she just understand? Why is everything so hard? Why can’t we just have peace?
And I worried. My older daughter had been extremely ill for months and already had sleep issues. This was going to make her worse. My poor husband had to leave for work in just a few hours. I prayed the fit would stop. I prayed for wisdom.
And the screaming went on.
My insides crawled and my thoughts scattered into glass shards. If the past was any indication, this fit could go on for hours and hours. I had to do something. I went upstairs and told my husband he needed to go to bed and I would take care of it. I sat in front of Rachel’s door while she screamed and tried to yank the door open. Though exhaustion pulled my eyes almost shut, I tried to remain calm and told her we would have to go for a drive if she couldn’t be quiet. But even at her calmest times, Rachel doesn’t understand a lot of things. During this highly intense fit, she was beyond reasoning. She was in full-out panic mode.
She yanked and shoved on the door and stepped on me and screamed in my face. My calm faded, my reasoning faded, and all that was left of me was grief. Some days I feel like whatever has affected her brain has stolen so much from us. It’s stolen from her too. She can’t communicate everything in her mind, she can’t rationalize, she can’t overcome so many of her OCD habits and compulsions, and in that moment, I snapped.
She lunged for the door again, and I started screaming at her to just be quiet. I screamed and cried. “Why can’t you just stop? Why can’t you just stop?”
My husband tried to push his way into the room and I whirled on him, rage clouding my vision and thinking. “You did this! You chose this fight and started this mess!”
He spoke softly and told me to go downstairs, but I didn’t want to just go downstairs. I wanted to leave. I wanted to be away from the screaming, and the stress, and the always worrying about how Rachel’s autism and other issues affect other people, and from the constant worry, and the screaming.
I stormed down to my closet and changed into jeans and a T-shirt and went to the car. Even in the garage, I could hear her STILL SCREAMING. I opened the car door and sat inside, fuming. Thinking. And not praying. Since I’ve already bared so much of my soul, I’ll continue baring the truth: I was mad at God. Why was he allowing this? Why did he allow Rachel to be born like this? Why did he allow my other daughter to get so sick this year? Why, why, why?
And as I sat there, this little, small whisper penetrated my angry haze. “Think of the consequences.”
I thought of my older daughter, what she would feel if I drove away after all that screaming. Would she think I was abandoning her? And that stopped me cold. I wanted to both run away from being a mom and hold tight at the same time.
In that moment, she is the reason I stayed.
My mind went back to eight years ago when I was dying from complications after my cancer surgery. Again, the reason I begged God to let me live, begged him for more time…these two babies of mine.
I had to fight to keep alive this time too, but in a different way. This time, instead of fighting for my life, I had to fight a battle inside me for my family.
It takes a lot to admit this. No one wants to admit they’ve failed or have had less-than-noble thoughts. Plus, it’s traumatic to relive that night and the darkness of my thoughts.
That night as I sat in my car, I kept imagining driving off into the peaceful distance. But then I realized that after those first couple seconds of blissful escape, reality would crash harder than Rachel’s foot the last time she kicked a hole in the wall. I could end up losing everything I held dear. I could give up all these blessings to escape this one short span of HARD.
Instead of driving away, I sat on my back porch with the bugs and spent some time praying. Back during that time when I was dying, I’d had a moment where I knew with certainty that I could let go and Jesus would carry me away. My body had no strength left. I couldn’t even raise my arms (or the rest of me) off the floor. As I prayed, begging for more time, that same tiny voice had whispered to my heart, “It’s going to be hard.” And it was. My recovery took years, and there were moments of excruciating pain, emotionally and physically. And here I was at another crossroad of excruciating pain, this time spiritually and emotionally. This was another moment of the HARD.
But as I sat there, contemplating what I would miss if I ran away from the hard, I realized the hard comes with deep blessings. Is this the life I would have planned out for myself? Obviously not because I am a chicken at heart.
But this life of hard is filled with blessings, deep and wide. It’s filled with challenges, but also with love I wouldn’t have been capable of before I gained the title Mom.
As I write this I’m so thankful for that tiny pause, that little moment where I calculated the cost before I completely lost it. As I stared into the distance of the future, I saw what would await me. Regret. Heartache and pain, deeper than the pain I felt in that moment.
I also realized some deep truths. I am afraid. I’m afraid of the future with Rachel. I’m afraid I can’t control what happens today and what will happen tomorrow. And on a deep level, sometimes I’m angry at God because he doesn’t do things my way.
When I’m at my best, I realize how utterly ridiculous that is…to try to tell the infinite, all-knowing, all-powerful God who breathed the world into existence how to run the world.
But I do it.
Not only do I sometimes expect God to follow Jennifer’s Plan for Her Life, I get mad at him when he doesn’t. I forget who He is and who I am. I forget that He is the GREAT I AM. That in Him I can find all strength. My strength does not come from things going my way. My strength comes from the Lord, and my blessings in the HARD come from His spirit. In fact, most of my blessings throughout my life have come out of that hard. And these are the times when I experience God’s presence the deepest. More than that, these are the times when I am driven to my knees to pray the most. And for that, as I look back, I am thankful, not for the hard, but for what grew in my heart during the hard.
I’ll leave you with this verse:
‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
2 Corinthians 12:8-10
Personal Clarity for You, Mom
How about you? What blessings have you found in the hard? Have you had a moment where you paused and saved yourself from more regret? Or how about a moment where you wish you had paused and learned something the hard way? (We have all also been there.) Share your story and/or a verse or song that fills you in your tough moments.