I have a very creative kid. Well, more than one, actually. But the one I’m talking about right now is a sneaky kind of creative. As in, he stays quiet, under the radar, and then out of nowhere, he surprises you with something that blows your mind. Like this picture. He showed it to Katie last week in a very nonchalant way, as if it wasn’t a big deal. In fact, he had drawn it a few weeks back, but never thought to show it to anyone. Clearly, his still waters run very deep.
When Katie first showed me the picture, I was more worried than proud. It’s such a grim, depressing subject, and the title was alarming . “Is this what he thinks about his life?” I wondered. “Does he really feel trapped inside his anxiety?” But Katie saw it differently. She was super impressed with his artistic talent–the shading, the level of detail, the combination of hard, rectangular bricks and the softer, rounded glow of the light. “I knew he was good at building things like Legos,” she said. “I just never knew he was good at illustrations as well.”
That helped. Frankly, I don’t know why I was so surprised. We know he has anxiety issues. We know he is keenly aware of his aspie differences, and that he tends to isolate himself because of them. Why wouldn’t he try and find some outlet? Besides, there are far worse things he could do, like keep it bottled up inside until he implodes. Still, I was cautious.
So I asked him about it, and he confirmed that this is how he often feels. He was so matter-of-fact about it, too. As if he were a clinician describing a diagnosis to a group of interns. No sadness. No desperation. No obviously personal investment at all. Just the objective, rational, clear facts. I made sure he knew to talk to one of us, or at least his counselor, if he ever felt really bad, and his answer was classic: “Of course I know that. I’m not stupid.” Again, objective, unemotional, calm, cool, and collected.
“I’m Not Suffering.”
Now, if you’re an autism parent, or if you are autistic yourself, you’re probably chuckling a bit. You’re familiar with “professor syndrome.” If you’re a parent, you’re also likely familiar with the tendency toward catastrophizing every new insight into your kid. You know you shouldn’t, but you can’t help yourself. It’s a gut reaction.
At any rate, I asked him if I could share the picture and the story behind it. He agreed–too quickly, I thought. So I pressed him a bit, explaining what that might mean. “I may have to give some background, including that you suffer from anxiety and depression.”
“Don’t put it like that,” he said.
“Because I don’t suffer from it.”
“What do you mean? You’ve told me yourself how depression can make you stay in your room all day and keep you from getting together with friends.”
“Yeah, but that’s not suffering. That’s coping.”
“Okay, so what’s suffering?”
“Well, I haven’t killed myself, have I?”
I was so surprised by this that the only thing I could do was laugh. I could tell he was completely serious, but the answer was so extreme and yet seemed so obvious to him that it was comical.
The best part? He didn’t get offended by my laughter. He just flashed me a sheepish smile and laughed a bit himself.
This kid’s going to be all right.
Your son is very good at art! I’m not sure if you’ll see this comment, since this is an older post, but I wanted to suggest that maybe your son would enjoy the Inktober challenge. It’s an art challenge made by the artist Jake Parker, and I participated in it last year and it was great! The challenge is to draw something in ink (i. e. pens, liquid/bottled ink) every day for the month of October, and you can also draw from a list of prompts. I’m not sure if your son would enjoy or be stressed by doing it 31 days straight, but I just wanted to suggest it!
It’s been a while since I made a comment, but I check your blog often and think about you and your family a lot!
P.S. My mom recently got an email that broccoli is supposed to help with Autism…darn. I still stand firm with my belief that chocolate IS a vegetable (I mean, come on, it comes from a BEAN!).