I remember years ago, in the final week of school before Christmas, when my son with ASD was failing several classes in middle school, I couldn’t get him interested in anything but video games, and his favorite pastime was kicking his brother down the stairs, I hit overwhelm! The crowning blow came at 5:30 a.m. one morning as I scrambled to pick up the clothes, dishes and garbage from the floor of his bedroom before the cleaning lady arrived to clean (in itself it is immensely frustrating that he won’t keep his room picked up, but in my world this issue has been consigned to the category of picking your battles. As a working mother, I just didn’t have enough capacity to fight the clean room issue every day). I was on parental max-out.
As I grabbed a pile of clothes, I uncovered a large spot on the carpet in the middle of the room. It smelled like smoke, and when I touched the carpet, I realized that something had been melted on the carpet. Come to find out that my son had been burning Styrofoam cups in his room. I lost it. I sat down and cried. How can I be everywhere all at once all the time? What happens if he sets the house on fire?
Do you recognize the top of the slippery emotional slope? It can escalate right into total panic! This is the phenomenon that happened in my head as I begin to look into the future and fear all the negative things that might happen. Of course, that type of projection is always dismal and frightening. In this situation, the house had burned down, and the dog died in the fire and I had lost all the family photos that could never be replaced. Then my mind jumped to an even worse track. What if something happened to Kyle? He gets burned, or worse. Oh God! I am in trouble now.
When we project into the future we risk giving up in frustration or overwhelm because of our fear that we will never have enough resources or never be enough to manage the long haul. I know that feeling of overwhelm intimately, that sinking feeling that I will never be enough, be strong enough, be able to make any progress, etc. As my fear grows, so does my expectation of negative outcomes.
Shortly after that incident, I had lunch with a spiritual buddy and we were talking about living in the moment – living your life by doing the next right thing, living one day at a time. This strategy is great relief for handling fear of the future. When I focus on the fact that I have everything I need for today, I can manage (although not control – which is an important distinction) the events of the day. Whatever happens I will be ok today. Manna. Just enough nourishment for today. Our friends in 12 step programs say it as “One day at a time.” The bottom line is we only have to manage just this one day. This is a very important spiritual principle.
Even as I write this, I feel myself sharply questioning that position. Shouldn’t I be planning for the future? Making arrangements just in case my son can’t survive on his own? Flying without a net is not a good idea. My mind wants to jump to all the things I “could” or “should” do to try to prepare for the eventualities of the future. I am not suggesting sticking your head in the sand and forgoing any preparation. Rather I am recommending on an emotional level, using the strength you were given for today to deal with today as best as possible, using your strength to make today successful, and trusting that you will get a new dose of manna tomorrow. This is a strategy for avoiding the emotional derailment brought on by the fear and worry that accompany projecting into the future. It is a recipe for not wasting today by fearing tomorrow. In practice, it sounds like this…“I just finished the dishes, God. What’s next?” Or “Universe, my work day is over, how do you want me to spend my evening?” Sometimes, for me, that moment to moment connection with my higher power is the only way to handle the fear of the future; the only way to stay productive and not angry; the only way not to fall into the despair that can be a part of raising a child with ASD.