Happy Chinese New Year.

Tom (5) came in from bed earlier and said “I’m very excited about tomorrow” “why?” “because it’s CHINESE NEW YEAR!”.

I’m not sure what he’s expecting, but based on his wildly extravagant announcement, I suspect something like Christmas, New Years Eve and his Birthday rolled into one.

He will be disappointed.

Anyway, to catch up:

Numbercruncher hardback came out, to, again, exceedingly good reviews. I think I can be proud of this book in 20 years time. That’s two graphic novels (tpb/whatevs) books I’ve done that I’m proud off (the other is Happy Valley by Garth).

Dept of Monsterology #4 is also out, also to great reviews. I’m proud of it too, and can’t wait for it all to be collected at which point that’ll be three (THREE! HAHAHAH! THREE BOOKS) to be proud of.

I will be writing the final article for the core skills article I’ve been writing on Manga Studio for Imagine FX this weekend, if you’ve read them, I hope you’ve enjoyed them (or found them useful) it’s a curious format to work in, and I’m naturally given to vast digressions that this format does not allow me to get away with. No idea if I’ll be doing any more writing, the writing bit is fun but the doing accounts/invoicing end of it is as pain in the bottom. Still, I’ve made money from writing this year, which means, I’m a writer. Look at that. Amazing.

Ok, on to personal stuff.

Nathan, my oldest, as some may know was diagnosed with Aspergers over a year ago (though they’ve taken to saying he’s been diagnosed with ASD – Autism Spectrum Disorder – as Aspergers is being taken away as a diagnosis, but aspergers is a convenient term that sets up certain expectations that Nathan sort of meets, so it’s a good shorthand – in the way that this parenthetical diversion isn’t).

This has mostly been manageable, he enjoys school (though not homework) he gets obsessed with things (like most kids can do) and he’s a funny guy.

Unfortunately over the fortnight or so, an undercurrent of anxiety – always present, always something to consider/plan for – took a far worse turn, and it became difficult for him in school. He was in tears going in.

I’m still piecing it all together, looking for clues like a very bad Sherlock Holmes. As near as I can tell, the time line looks like this (and this is as much as for my information as yours, so feel free to bow out now, I’ve covered all the comics stuff, I think…)

Two weeks ago, he was sick (bad cold/sore throat) Off for two days Mon/Tues.

Mon he’s normally assigned spelling words for the week.

Friday he complained of a bad tummy and didn’t want to go to school – I assumed (possibly wrongly) this was because he missed the spellings and I knew he’s normally tested on a friday on them (which of course, he’d find difficult).

Friday he complained in school of a sore tummy and I ended up having to take him home. Unknown to me, on Friday morning, the school announced a teacher’s sister had died. And I think this may have set off an anxiety attack in Nathan – worried that he’d catch whatever it was the poor woman had died from.

Saturday he had a music class. Again in the middle of the class he complained of a sore tummy and I ended up having to pick him up and take him home.

The rest of the weekend was fine. (I think, it feels like a million years ago)

Monday went to school, complaining of a sore tummy, so anxious that he started crying on the way to school (this was new).

Was ok in school (as far as we could tell – unknown to us, he was crying in school, anxious about catching things).

He started around then getting a little obsessed about cleaning his hands before eating/after the loo (not, prima facia, bad times, but going from very typical 9 year old who never wanted to wash his hands to this, and holding his hands in such a way as to not touch anything was upsetting).

We put a call in to his Autisim Intervention officer, hoping to get a little help and nip whatever problem was developing in the bud.

Tuesday, anxious crying/worrying over everything. (Bubonic Plague, does it still exist? How do you know it doesn’t? Can you get spots inside you? but what if you can?) deep irrational fears, that we tried to allay but it wasn’t working, and he’d start tearing up and crying. We got him in school, assuming that was fine – it wasn’t. Teacher phoned saying he was crying in class. It’s a very disquieting thing, how upset he’s been. Not screeching tears, just welling up and pretty much inconsolable.  School kept him in. I phone his GP who suggested this was a bit of a crisis and we should take him out of the school for the next couple of days (something I felt we should do anyway – when he’s at school he’s out of sight/out of mind, and we’d fooled ourselves into thinking, because he wasn’t upset in the house, he must be fine in school).  When he came home he told us he didn’t want to eat his lunch because he couldn’t wash his hands before hand.

Wednesday morning, he was, again, very anxious – feeling a little better about not being in school, but still panicking (actually this is when we had the “can you get spots inside you” conversation). I have the kids wed-fri (my wife and I are together, but she works wed-fri, so she tends to do the lion share of looking after them on mon-tue -though I’m also in the house- so I can work, then I do wed-fri while she works). I don’t mind saying, I was distraught. I couldn’t get any instant help (GP could only offer a referral to the hospital which would’ve meant going from a home situation to a hospital sitution much faster than I would’ve liked, and the autism intervention people had yet to get back to me).

Talking to Annette (my wife) then talking about it online I hit a mini brainwave.

Up until now, I’d assumed what was happening was he was starting worry about something, then get anxious then worry and it would feed in to itself. My assumption was that the subject of his worry could be explained, and shown to be safe- this wasn’t working at all (because, no matter what my argument or proof it was always logic vs irrationality – everything would boil down to “but what if that’s wrong”). Then I figured, well, why not distract him, assuming he was feeling anxious then looking for something to justify it in a sense, then feed it. So the solution I came up with was basically to interrupt his thought process – once he voiced a concern (or even before) I’d ask what he was worried about (“what if something happens to my kidney”) and the conversation would go like this:

“Ok Nathan, spell Kidney, and for each letter, name me a pokemon with that letter”
“K – Kakuna, I – Inkay, D – Deoxys, N” (etc – his previous obsession was pokemon, so naming pokemon for each letter was actually easy).

This seemed to work. Instead of spiralling down into worry/anxiety/tears, we’d be talking about pokemon and I’d be goading him for not being able to think of a different one for the letter I.

I’ve been doing that all day yesterday and today.

It’s been working, but it’s hard work – it’s literally every couple of minutes I’m checking on him and making sure he’s not falling into that dark spiral. At least today we’ve gone the entire day without any tears at all – in fact, I think we’ve only come close once, when I didn’t see him start to darken in time to break his thought process – but even that one turned around pretty quick.

The past couple of nights he’s also been afraid to go to sleep. I think this is the hightened anxiety (lots of “Daddy, I’m afraid of bed time”) tonight though, for the first time, he confessed that what he’s actually afraid of is something his friend told him about a film, that turned out to be “Nightmare on Elm Street” – which, according to him, his friend saw when he was 4years old and has been telling Nathan about it non stop for years. He’s always been a bit reticent at night time, but I’ve always put that down to the normal kids thing (though up until Thomas, now 5, was born, Nathan wouldn’t go to sleep on his own at all, in fact there was a stage were I had to stand beside his bedroom so he could see my shadow…!)

Having figured out exactly what the problem with bed is (“he murders you in your sleep then when you wake up you die in REAL LIFE” – I think the distinction between “real life” in the movie, and “real life” in nathan’s real life, got blurry) I’ve been assuring him that movies are made up and that they can’t harm you- this also seems to be working, and for the first time in a while he was actually laughing and joking in bed (he still started getting a little obsessive over medical stuff, but the pokemon technique seemed to work.)

And that’s where we are. We’re sending him in to school tomorrow for a couple of hours, we’re keeping him off music this weekend and HOPING to go to school again normally on Monday.

I hope by breaking his thought processes we can turn the anxiety down, and by turning the anxiety down he won’t be so quick to latch on to other bad things. I hope by explaining freddy krueger is just a movie character we’ve started making bed time a non-scary experience again, but I’m still flummoxed about what to do about this first steps towards OCD – maybe it’ll disappear when the anxiety dies down? I don’t know.

It’s been tough on me and Annette, and Nathan. Thomas remains blissfully unaware.

On Wednesday morning, I just didn’t see a clear way out, now, at least, I feel like I can get this sorted, and give Nathan back to himself.

The NHS is a thing of wonder if you have an obviously sick child, Tom, when he was younger, was frequently in the Accident and Emergency ward (he was a ‘viral wheezer’ – a bad cold could stop him breathing – there was at least one occasion where I thought this would be it) and they were brilliant. But this, brain stuff, it feels like they’re not set up to do anything but patch you up after the fact – there’s no accident and emergency of the mind.

Sorry that got longer than I anticipated.


Author: PJ

PJ is a Belfast based comic artist, and has been for some time.

1 thought on “Happy Chinese New Year.”

  1. Sounds like a nightmare tbh, must be hard keeping the patience with people when it comes to dealing with the red tape of GP’s and NHS. They take forever to offer any help in general.

    Would it be possible to go to school with him and sit in with him during playtime? This could allay some of his fears regarding his issues as you are close by etc.

    No matter what, hope it gets sorted.

    BTW Must pick up your graphic novels when hitting the town next week, hopefully Forbidden planet will stock them.

    All the best

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