Last November, I read an article in the New York Times about the alarming number of people with developmental disabilities who die unexplained deaths while in state custody. I couldn’t finish it through my tears. The previous weeks had been largely devoted to transition planning and cognitive testing for our teenaged son, so my worries about his future were already close to the surface. I usually am better at keeping a lid on my anxiety on the long term issues; I don’t think it’s fair to my other children to let autism dominate the family dialogue any more than it already does. So after my decidedly lid-off response to the article, I went up to take a shower, which always helps me regain my equilibrium.
In my extremely nearsighted state I fumbled with the new razor I took with me into the shower, and nicked a bit of skin off of one of the knuckles on my left hand. It bled a little bit but for what seemed like a long time, and I stood there in the steaming water, watching it channel through grooves in my skin, run off the side of my hand and disappear in the cascading water. Maybe this is why people cut themselves, I thought, understanding for the first time why anyone would do such a thing. The bracing clarity of pain and the fascination with flowing blood make other troubles fade, if only for a moment. Having drawn blood, your instincts take over and stopping the flow becomes your only goal. There’s a strange kind of release (adrenaline, I guess) in that kind of single-mindedness, especially when the pursuit of multiple goals is what is making you crazy. I thought of my worries running down the drain with the hot water, and how what is terrifying in one moment can seem perfectly manageable in the next.
I haven’t been tempted to capture that feeling again in that way, but I understand better now the value of tackling challenges one at a time and setting short term goals rather than taking on the entire future at once. And perhaps I should be a little more selective about what I read in the paper, and when.