When you find yourself googling ‘how to relieve pain after strangulation’, I guess you could say things got pretty bad last week.
Ironically I’d just had a visit from the SCIP worker and uttered the fateful words ‘touch wood but things have improved’. Our meeting was useful and we discussed plans going forward and ideas about how to address the newest hurdles. Today’s topic was mostly about strategies to deal with our Pda’er and his ‘need’ to control me. The upshot being that it was about weaning him off me. Gradually showing him that he can spend short periods of time independent of mummagrizzlybear.
PDA, as we know, creates severe anxiety where our son is driven to control pretty much everything and everyone as one of his coping mechanisms. Due to the past few months of stress, our son regressed, massively, and has been limpet-like ever since. It’s not comfortable for him or for me. In a strive to continue moving forwards I was hoping we’d develop strategies to help him see that he can ‘be’ without me, much like he used to be. He used to play independently and be comfortable with ‘free-time’, so I’m hopeful we can return to this instead of remaining in the state of needing 100% 1 to 1 attention 24/7! It needed to be baby steps and I’d take just 1 step at a time.
Step 1: set up activity to do alongside me
I’d agreed with babybear before he left for school that on his return, I’d have the playdoh out. I helped him find the toys he likes to play with and set myself up a task to do alongside him at the table. He asked me as he does a lot at the moment, to ‘play with him’, which loosely translates as sit here and do the things I tell you to. So I say, ‘mummy is going to do this paperwork here for 10 mins and then I’ll join you’. I keep to my word and join him, stating that I’ll build 5 of the cars he’s demanding I create, after which I’ll hang my washing up. At this point, he appeared to be managing and carried on playing independently.
It was then that I heard the shriek. An out of control I’m losing my shit, screech, yelling about when would his brother be home because he’s bored and school should never have changed the times because now he has longer on his own etc etc. Queue the irrational Jekyll and Hyde type shift from calm to outraged. Seemingly unprovoked but evidently reflecting over the ‘changes’ he is unhappy with the monster errupted.
Mummagrizzlybear remained calm and feeling a sense of strength from the empowering hour or so with the scip worker, I refused to get sucked in and over react. Any mess can be cleaned up right? The playdoh was launched in great globs across the room and horrific screams erupted from him as he unravelled. Getting minimal response ( assuming this was for my benefit) he launched in to the expletives and more obvious destruction right under my nose. Without wishing to goad him I calmly reminded him that he’d be responsible for the clear up and suggested he head for his room where his sensory relief gadgets and gizmos might help. He was past being compliant or accepting my ideas and so the destruction continued. Refusing to engage in this (and ultimately feed his desire to have my undivided attention) I turned away and at that moment he saw red, running and placing both his hands around my throat from behind me and using real controlled force to squeeze my airway. I’m not sure why I didn’t struggle, possibly in fear that he’d accidentally go too far if I put up a fight? I don’t know? I’ve never been strangled before but somehow I stayed calm in an attempt to call his bluff I guess. Luckily it worked. He moved on to more destruction and I removed myself to safety, communicating to him that I was not prepared to be with him whilst he was out of control and reminding him to use his room as his safe space.
In a breakthrough moment he retreated to his room, I summoned strength to offer him reassurance and ensure he had the sensory resources he might need to calm. In time with lots of cursing (from him) and one attempt to flee the house, his tact changed to blame. “It’s all your fault” he was yelling, “you should have given me my medicine” and “you should have helped me”. I realise in that moment that we forgot to give him his meds last night, could it seriously be connected? Wanting to restore a sense of calm control I offer him some medicine now and take the opportunity to ask him what it is that I could have done to have helped? He was refusing meds and claiming that he wished to stay ‘angry’ . This provoked a reaction from me. How could anyone want to behave like this? I remind him that he could have really hurt me. He cries out in a distressed way that it wasn’t him who did this. He was devastated to reflect over this and he began to talk of the things he’d broken too. Eventually, he takes some meds, spends 10 mins on his bean bag with a timer as a ‘time-out’ for the destructive and rude behaviour and then moves on to an apology. He was also directed back to all of the things he’d thrown or wrecked and ‘supported’ to put things right again.
He was exhausted. Mummagrizzlybear was sore but in one piece. Bigger bruv had returned amidst the commotion too and was safe. A level of calm had returned. The baby step had been taken and the seed planted. He went on to manage a short period of time alone.
Mummagrizzlybear wishes that it hadn’t of got so out of hand but feels that some gains have been made despite enduring brief strangulation! Calm parenting helps. Remembering not to get sucked in helps. Demonstrating self respect and maintaining boundaries helps. We achieved short moments of breaking away from the constant 1 to 1 he demands. We even shared a moment of true care and consideration whilst he was remorseful. Later that day we shared tenderness. Recognising what helps and what victories are made helps us all survive Jekyll and Hyde life.
Today’s shift of mood, much like most others was seemingly unprovoked or at least unwarranted. The shift to irrational, volatile behaviour can be instantaneous and this sums up why he is currently not in mainstream nor managing the usual peer relationships one would expect of a child his age. Today’s physical outburst followed cuddles and kisses and a happy, calm homecoming from school. It’s this that tends to catch me off guard; all Mummygrizzlybear had suggested was that we would walk the dog. Although my first warning comes from him in the shape of his growls and objections, when I continue to stand strong and not allow his threats of ill behaviour to manipulate the situation, he becomes quickly out of control and bubbles over into irate. In this state, he unleashes the verbal abuse, screeches and violence and when I retreat he’ll break or destroy things.
Over years of learning, we’ve reached a point where eventually he can be guided to a safe space to calm and today, much like any other, in time he calmed and afforded me the apology and his explanation for his frustration. There lies the victory. In time we were out on a short walk with the dog. Where safe to, I believe in always seeing through the original plan, no matter how subtly, as it can reinforce the message that the outburst was ineffective and provides an opportunity for us to reflect on how ‘well’ the task had actually gone. Today the walk was short. Today I recognised that if I pushed for more we would not have had this outcome.
I’m not certain which character I tucked into bed nor which character might wake through the night or greet us early tomorrow morning. But I do know that both characters are my son. My babybear. And whether calm or irate I love him. I’ve grown to know both Jekyll and Hyde and accept that little helps us predict which version we will encounter from one minute to the next. It’s dawned on me that not many other environments accept any person to be more than one personality. For most it’s too much uncertainty to handle. If you analyse the people with whom babybear appears to feel safe and content, I’d say that these people have all developed the skill to show him that it is ok for him to be whomever he is in that moment. I’m thankful that I can support others to appreciate that it is PDA that creates this and not wilful naughtiness. Punishment and rejection are damaging but onsequences and right from wrong can still be taught. Calm parenting helps. It’s not easy and certainly not always remembered but I’m human and to learn, I’ve had to get it wrong along the way. Luckily for me (I jest) PDA ensures that life remains unpredictable and the rules are constantly changing so I have ample learning opportunities!