Anxiety is something most of our PDA children are familiar with, even if they or others around them don't recognise it as such.
Anxiety can often look like fear; trembling and crying are easy to recognise. Hiding is easy to spot too.
Less easy to identify is anger, lashing out and throwing things.
In my sons and myself I recognise the surge of adrenaline, fight or flight, and with time it becomes easier to see the various ways in which anxiety presents itself.
PDA boy will be angry, a sudden flash of temper or a slowly gathering storm. There are times when we spot the signs and successfully intervene with various strategies. There are other times where we miss the signs and we batten down the hatches and ride out the inevitable meltdown.
In public his anxiety looks like extreme giddiness, silly and impulsive behaviour.
His older brother will appear to be obnoxious, needing to control everyone and everything around him, alongside refusal to do anything that might help him.
My own anxiety (and I find it much easier to describe my own, after all, I am experiencing it!) presents in various ways.
Over the years my body has tricked me with various worrying ailments, and as soon as I've worked out I'm not really dying, it's anxiety, it moves on to another ailment. Facial numbness, numb, tingling limbs, chest pain, breathlessness, all take it in turns to keep me on my toes.
I have asthma, or maybe I don't. Or maybe I have mild asthma with symptoms highly excacurbated by stress, I don't know, but I do know that the times I have struggled most with "asthma" have been the stressful times, periods of change and, with the benefit of hindsight, anxiety driven.
It can be difficult to understand the relationship between mental health and physical health. For years my GP suspected my breathing problems were stress related, and even though I had all the evidence I needed to join the dots and agree, I didn't until over a year ago, when I was diagnosed as autistic, and finally understood my anxiety better.
I was referred for breathing physiotherapist (I had no idea this was even a thing!) who proclaimed that all my ailments were linked to poor breathing techniques.
Breathing techniques? We all breathe the same don't we? In and out? Easy peasy.
Apparently not. I've spent much of my life hyperventilating without even realising. All my anxiety symptoms (numbness, chest pain etc) can be attributed to my crap breathing. Being taught to breathe properly has allowed me to somewhat control my anxiety better, and being able to identify my tigers gives me clues to spot my children's triggers, and help them through anxious episodes.
Of course there are times when breathing techniques aren't enough, they help, but not enough.
These are the times when I need more strategies.
Currently, sitting on a train (yes, I'm on the right train, headed to the right station, I asked) I'm relying on Tchaikovsky on a loop (my Wrexham music, the track that saw me take my first solo adulting trip), I'm writing, which is distracting, and I'm fighting the urge to turn round at Leeds and come home.
When the boys (and the girl) are struggling it's sometimes difficult to help them efficiently. We try to talk regularly about anxiety, what it feels like, how to recognise it before it takes hold, and how to ease it. This has to be considered a work in progress though, it may take a while before we see positive results.
This is seen as unhelpful by some, surely talking about it is somehow accepting and encouraging anxiety?
If you struggle with anxiety though, you'll know it's not something that goes away if you ignore it, much as that would be lovely, it just doesn't work like that.
We have a much better track record with acknowledging anxiety and working with it.
It's far better to accept that those terrifying pains are anxiety and there are things that can be done to help. Before I knew I had anxiety (which for me is completely tangled up with autism), I genuinely thought I was dying on a regular basis. Ignoring it isn't possible when you're in the middle of an attack.
In my family there are various triggers. For the boys any extreme emotion sets them off, change, too much noise, transitions, being hungry, the list goes on. Prevention is better than dealing with it in the throes of anxiety, but can be easier said than done with two boys together constantly.
Triggers for me include too much noise, strong smells, not enough time alone, a long to-do list.
Strategies that we try to use are trying to identify the cause and rectify it. If it's too noisy, earplugs. Hungry? Eat something.
If it's not possible to sort it out, we need to go down an individual route. PDA boy needs activity, trampolining, wood chopping, something that uses his muscles. Oldest needs to be alone. I need to be alone.
It's difficult to meet everyone's needs at the same time, but we do all we can. We do the best we can.
I've now reached Leeds. I'm waiting for the train to Sheffield. This is a journey I've done loads, but I'm still getting myself worked up into an anxious wreck. I've left propranolol at home, which is a shame. In the end I need to remind myself that taking the train is far better than risking driving in an unfamiliar place, and I know I will be ok, I just need to get through the scary stuff and it will be fine.
Over sharing for the day done, thanks for reading :)