Sometimes I think that getting this counselling degree has only made me realize how crazy and ill-fit to counsel others I am. But not tonight.
Let’s step back exactly two weeks, to the moment in the last morning of my week-long Marriage and Family Therapy course (the course that was like stewing in your family’s dysfunction for 8 hours a day; the day when I was the most exhausted after 15+ hour days of non-stop studying; the exact moment when I was listening to a lecture that nicely summarized what some of my issues are) when I got an email from Luke’s teacher saying that she thought he may have ADHD or Asperger’s Syndrome. Was I in an emotional state to handle that email? No. Had I somehow connected with a great group of ladies during that week-long course that I had support when the inevitable breakdown happened? Yes, very thankfully, yes.
I drove home from that course shortly thereafter knowing that my life may change — or at least my perspective on life and Luke. We went for our pediatrician’s appointment a few days later about another issue Luke has been having and the pediatrician said that we could book a behavioural assessment in the next month or two, which we will. So we have no certainty that either of those two things is going on yet. But even having those thoughts in my mind has made me see Luke and his struggles in a different way. I think I have become more patient with him. I try to listen more and I try to get inside his head more and see things from his perspective. It’s all too easy to think (and then say), “Seriously?! You don’t need to worry about that!” But he is legitimately worried, and worried about a lot of things, and I need to be there for him and love him through the worries.
So tonight Luke and I had a long conversation before he went to bed about how God knows us, knows what’s best for us, and helps us. It was a good conversation, I thought. And so I was a bit annoyed and confused when (in my mind) he side-tracked the conversation and started talking about the kids who tease him on the bus. I told him that he didn’t need to think about the bus right now because he was on Easter break and wouldn’t be on the bus for over 10 days. But he said that he always thinks about going on the bus and he wishes he didn’t have to go.
And this is where the counselling degree started to pay off. I’ve been learning a lot about the use of imagery and connecting parts of the body to emotion and so that’s where I went with Luke. I asked him where he felt all of the nervousness and worry when he thought about the bus. “My mind and my feelings,” was his response, “In my head.” I took his hand and told him that I wanted him to grab the worry out of his head and give it to me. He said, “It’s locked.” I told him I had a key, and I turned the key on his head, unlocked that part, and held out my hands and he put the worry from his head into my hands. The feelings were locked up in his heart, so I unlocked his heart and he handed over the worried feelings. And then his said he sometimes felt those things in his throat, too; unlocked; handed over.
As I had my hands open and holding those things, he said, “But now you have to hold them. Where are you going to put them?” I put my hands toward my chest and I told them I would hold them very close and he didn’t have to worry because I’m a grown up and I can handle these things and God can handle them too. We prayed. He seemed to relax and he has gone to sleep tonight without a lot of commotion and unrest, as so often accompanies his falling asleep.
I know a simple exercise like that won’t cure his anxiety. But it was a good way for him to see that he does not have to hold onto those things. And, like so many things in all our lives, I think the simple act of naming the fear is important. The part of locating it in the body is actually really revealing. When you think about something and have an emotional response to it, where is it? For me things are often in my throat or just outside/above my eyes or maybe in the pit of my stomach. At this point I don’t know what all of those “parts” mean, but I know that it gives clarity to what I feel. Pictures often come to my mind after that and I see the situation more clearly or maybe in a new light. And then you walk through the situation a bit more. Or you talk it through with someone. Or, best of all, you think about it and hand it over to God, because he’s there with his hands out-stretched, just like mine were today, and he knows the whole thing most of all.
So, tonight, I’m glad that I could take a little counselling exercise and help Luke picture his troubles and hand them over to me… even if I don’t always feel capable or that I know the best way to help, I am there and sometimes (often!) being there is all it takes.