Mar 06, 2014 0 Share

Let It Go

Illustration of woman yelling with outer shell bursting away.

Last night I had a dream that found me raging through my childhood home. For some reason, I was very angry with my family. The triggering details elude me; I just remember my mom holding up a sign and telling me to be quiet. In any case, I know that my reaction wasn't pretty. My dream-self was entirely uninhibited by her feelings. She stomped her feet, slammed doors, and shouted until her voice was hoarse. 

The anger made me into an unstoppable force; I felt as though I could rage forever. My parents and grandparents stared at me as if I'd lost my mind. At one point, someone laughed—as if to trivialize the tornado I'd become—and that caused me to feel angrier still. It was a classic child's temper-tantrum, but my dream-self was grown up. Why was I so upset? What was the reason behind the overwhelming rage and helpless anger? I've been wondering ever since I woke up, tired and “hungover” from the dream. 

Yet there was one silver lining moment, one small thing that made the nightmarish experience seem worthwhile. Right in the middle of my dream meltdown, I saw Willie appear before me. The expression on his face was so kind, so gentle. He looked at me as though he understood exactly what I was feeling, exactly what I was going through. No words were spoken between us, but even so, I had the sense that we'd communicated a great deal in that short silence. Slowly, he reached out a hand and touched the side of my face. All at once, I relaxed. That's when the dream ended. I woke up and murmured, “I think that we just had a ‘Freaky Friday’ in the dream. And on a Monday morning, no less.” 

What goes on in the dream world is a mystery, but I woke with the distinct feeling that Willie and I had somehow switched places. It felt so real. I'd become the wild, destructive family member, and he'd become the calm, mature, patient one. It was a stunning opportunity to walk in his shoes. Yet perhaps the strangest and loveliest part of the dream was seeing myself through Willie's eyes. (It was akin to the time when he cast me as Snow White in the Disney movie in his mind.) When he approached me, he radiated calm, peaceful energy … the kind I've worked to cultivate during our family's most challenging times. 

As I read in “Asperger's Syndrome and Difficult Moments: Practical Solutions for Tantrums, Rage, and Meltdowns” by Brenda Smith Myles and Jack Southwick, “[During the rage cycle], it is essential that the teacher or parent remain calm …. The fewer words … the better, and the fewer gestures … the better.” (Willie's specific childhood diagnosis was PDD-NOS, not Asperger's, but I've certainly found the book helpful when it comes to understanding the rage cycle.) And thanks to my dream, I was able to “experience” the wisdom of that counsel firsthand. When our parents tried to reason with me, I couldn't hear them; my defenses were too high. But when Willie reached out his hand in that simple, kind gesture, I felt safe. I had a sense that he would not judge me for freaking out, that he could still see the good in me. 

Furthermore, the dream gave me insight into a possible “fuel” for my brother's meltdowns. My rage was a response to an experience of being controlled. The cause was ambiguous, but the effect was not; it was pure rebellion. I wonder, Is this part of what triggers Willie's meltdowns?  “Asperger's Syndrome and Difficult Moments” notes, “The concept of countercontrol is important to understand when working with [students] who experience tantrums, rage, and meltdowns. Many … youth with AS do not cope well when faced with control by adults, so they may try to countercontrol.” So much of Willie's life is determined by other people—people who have his best interests at heart—and I wonder how that affects him. I wonder how parents and educators balance providing support and encouraging autonomy. And I wonder if that dream was a window into Willie's waking life.