“I have a theory about Caillou,” Noah says.
I have been bent over, picking things up in the front hallway. My three have been away from me, testing the patience of my parents for two weeks while I’ve finished my next book. So this mess, today? I’m okay with it. It’s proves they’re here. And I’ve missed them fiercely.
“Dying, huh? Well, this should be interesting.” I stand up and face him. I don’t know when he’s even last seen Caillou.
“It’s about Charlie Brown, too.”
Or that one.
“I think he has cancer. And the episodes are just him reliving his young life before he dies.”
My breath catches like a hiccup in my throat. Dear Lord, I think. Cancer? Only Noah would think Caillou has cancer.
Honestly, if Caillou were drained of his energy by a malignancy, he might be a little more tolerable. Only other cartoons could live with that kind of whining.
“And why do you think that,” I ask him. “About him, and Charlie Brown?”
“Because they’re bald, of course. So they must be on chemotherapy for their cancer. And they’re dying. That’s my theory, anyway.”
This conversation comes at me like a bullet. Just your regular Monday, doing Monday things. Then Noah tells me the cartoon boys are dying.
“High functioning autistics have high rates of anxiety,” our neurologist told us.
“Fear is the defining emotion of autism,” world Asperger’s expert Tony Attwood tells his autism conference attendees.
We knew Noah’s anxiety would be a part of this journey, but we didn’t know how the path would look. I’ll be honest. I’m not keen on the view.
Noah bites his nails, he rocks and he stiffens. He hides much of the physical manifestations now, because he’s begun to recognize the ways all this distinguishes him from his peers. But his anxiety is almost a security blanket.
I see Noah now with fresh eyes after his absence. I see him drawn to things that feed his fears. He’s terrified of bats, for example. But he spends hours searching for pictures online. He chose them as the subject of a school science project. There is a rubber bat on his desk. It’s not quite that he loves his anxiety. Because who can really love it? I don’t love mine. It has burnt up hours of my life with raging flames and the inability to make “captive my thoughts” (2 Corinthians 10:5) because they are – diagnose-ably are, legitimately are – out of my control. People with anxiety disorders feel all the time like they’ve missed a car accident by inches – with the rush of breath and racing heart that come with a near-miss. They can have problems with relationships, jobs, appetites, sleeping, illness, and addictive behavior.
Imagine the sensation of something terrible about to happen. All the time.
It is exhausting.
What Noah has isn’t worry. Worry and anxiety are different. Worry is the garden-variety angst that comes before a test, or a solo in the concert, or in wondering if your child will get into the “right” school. Worry impels us toward action. God makes our bodies in such a way that we have a physiological response to short-term difficulty. The parasympathetic nervous system ensures we can lift a car off our toddler if we have to, or that we get the college applications in on time.
Anxiety? That’s what comes with thinking you’ll catch swine flu, or that you’ll be buried alive while you sleep. Or that cartoons can get cancer.
Making the decision to medicate my son wasn’t easy. I don’t think any parent who chooses this path thinks it is. Gummi-vites are one thing. Prozac is something totally different. And administered only after we decided that the Buspar wasn’t working. Because the anxiety is eating away at him from the inside. My spirit cracks when I watch him spin himself up, or churn with indecision, or I hear him shuffle below me in his bedroom in the wee hours because his restless mind cannot sleep.
But God made doctors, and doctors made medicine, and I made Noah. (Oh alright, fine Matt. With a little help). So I chose this path with medicine to do what I can for my boy. I do it to give him something in his sparsely-filled toolbox, so the path is not as steep.
Who knows? Maybe Caillou whines because he’s anxious, too. If that’s the case, his mother should really call me. I know a doctor…