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Saturday, January 5, 2019

Mood Mirroring

Things have been stressful lately.  I won't get into all the ins and outs, but will just say this one source without getting political---if your retirement paperwork is not totally done and then the government shuts down, you don't get any retirement money.  Or any money at all.  We are fine for now, but it's not exactly fun. Add in literally about twenty other issues, and that's us lately.  But we are trying very hard to stay positive, and not just because we are Pollyannas.  It's because our moods so very much influence Janey's moods.

There are strangely many happy eggplant pictures out there.
I woke up this morning, nice and late as Tony let me sleep in, to a happy Janey.  A happy Janey is the most wonderful thing on earth---truly.  I wish you could all see her when she's happy.  Her smile is just plain amazing.  She smiles without any reserve.  When she is happy, any sadness of the past or future seems totally gone from her face.  She looks like you would look if someone told you you had both won the lottery and were going to live forever.  One of our favorite things to do is see her reactions to the little things she loves when she's happy.  One day, Tony told her he was making her some eggplant, in the middle of a happy day.  She replied "EGGPLANT?" in a voice of pure, pure joy and excitement, jumped up, started jumping up and down and hugged him over and over.  Over eggplant.

When Janey is that happy, you'd do almost anything to preserve it.  It's been harder lately to keep the stress out of our faces and voices.  Tony and I started talking just a little, about one of the myriad of things that are worrying us, and Janey saw and heard, and the look came across her face, the tensing up look, the look that is almost fear.  We quickly adjusted ourselves, said what we needed to say in happy voices.  She relaxed.

I can hear my own rebuttal to this all.  Life isn't all happy.  Stress and anger and fear are part of life.  That is true.  But the things that are worrying us are not anything Janey can understand.  They aren't anything she can do anything about.  And, to be honest, her happiness helps us.  It reminds us that life isn't all about our worries.  We need her happy as much as she needs to be happy.  So we do what we can to keep our own cares from her.

The inverse to Janey's happy moods, of course, are her sad moods.  Like the happy moods, not a single hint of past or future happiness remains when she is sad.  She screams and cries like it's the end of the world, because I think for her it feels that way.  She is overcome by her own sadness.  And we are overcome by it too.  It's impossible to feel happy when Janey is sad.  Over Christmas vacation, she was sad a lot.  She doesn't like times without school, or changes in routine.  We loved having her brothers home, and I know she loved seeing them too, but they changed the routine, changed the feel of the house, and that was hard on her.

The mood mirroring works two ways.  It's a feedback loop. We strive to keep Janey happy so we can be happy, we avoid making her sad so we aren't sad.  There's of course much more to it than that, but that's a part of it.  But unlike her, we can control to some extent our outward show of emotions, and we try to do so.  I believe in assuming competence.  But I barely understand the political back and forths, the state health agency constantly making us reprove we are eligible for the insurance supplement we get for Janey, the health complications of diabetes affecting Tony's brother, the school choice system which is complex and scary, the mental health issues that affect family members besides Janey, the need to eat and heat the house while we wait for the shutdown to end...I could literally go on a long time, but I'll stop.  I can't explain to Janey why it's harder for us to stay positive lately.  We can only try to keep her happy.

And in doing so, we can be reminded that when it all comes down to the nuts and bolts, we have a lot to be happy about. I'm not into unicorns and glitter and magic when it comes to autism.  Autism is autism.  You don't need to make it magical or better than the rest of us.  It's what it is---every one of us lives with challenges and strength, and Janey's autism provides some of hers.  But when we see her dancing in joy over eggplant, or a car ride, or a silly dance---we are reminded that the sources of happiness are all around us, if we let them in.  Aren't we all trying to ward off the sadness, to let in the happiness?  So we'll keep smiling, for Janey and for ourselves.