Saturday, February 4, 2012

Chapter 11: Be Still (Part 2 of A,R&F)

Disclaimer: I discuss some neurology halfway through this post. I actually have no idea what I'm talking about, so take it with a grain of salt.

In fact... most of this is distorted childhood memories. Take it all with a grain of salt.

As we were putting up the Christmas tree last year (2011, that is), I walked through the office room, where our piano stands up against the wall. On the bench were a bunch of piano books I hadn't seen before. I ruffled through them, and then almost dropped them in shock. One of the books was a collection of songs from Steven Curtis Chapman's Speechless album. Had I known we had the sheet music for these songs, I would have learned them long ago. I set all the other books down and opened up Speechless to the one song I immediately knew I wanted to learn first.

***

"Don't go!" I pleaded from my bed. Tears ran down my cheeks as I felt the terrifying and imminent darkness closing in on me again. This being the umpteenth time I pleaded to him, my dad was not going to prolong the conversation. "Just sleep in here. Please?" I had to convince him to stay, or I might die.

This was the world I descended into every night in my preteen years. I had gone through phases like this back in England as well - to the point where my parents had to often find new sleeping pills to get me to rest. I soon became convinced that the pills were poisoned and often refused to take them. It spread into my daily life as well, most vividly when I read Chronicles 21:19 and I became convinced my intestines would fall out if I went to the bathroom. Then it stopped for a little while when we moved back to America, only to return a year later, halfway through middle school. I have no doubt that these anxiety attacks were brought on by stress - whether it was the stress of living in a strange place, or having to deal with the strangeness of middle school. Part of me worries that they might return in college if I don't find a way to balance my activities.

And so every night I lay there, fearing whatever next would crawl out of my mind and into my dark room. It wasn't always as if I thought there would be monsters - though I occasionally did - but I feared most my dreams, for anything can happen there. I wanted to fall asleep because I was tired, and the dark of the night offered me no comfort - but I could not fall asleep, for there would be no rest there either.

In the day, I often saw my therapist Dr. S, to whom I am most indebted. She talked me through my fears in the light, when I had no reason to worry about them, and helped to build a structure in my mind of reality versus imagination, and probability versus possibility. I think she knew that my issues spread beyond the nighttime, and would talk me through the stresses of daily life. Most importantly to me, she encouraged my imagination, to the point where she had me play with her vast collection of toys and action figures in the sandbox, telling the stories that I was always forming in my head. When I play episodes with my brother, I've tried as best as I can to emulate this environment, though unlike her, I often get in silly arguments with him over plot elements.

Two of her suggestions still stick very clearly with me after all these years - one came from one of my favorite book series of all time, Harry Potter. You can probably guess where I'm going. Whenever a scary thought enters your head, imagine (with all your might!) the funniest situation that scary thought could find itself in. Then, with all your voice, whisper (cause people are sleeping) "Riddikulus!" And the scary thought magically disappears! Okay, it wasn't foolproof, but certainly it was a repeatable process that could ward off scary thoughts efficiently.

The other technique she taught me was that of the Baku. The Baku is your guardian - it can be anything. My Baku was my stuffed dinosaur Frankie (who I can name seeing as he's not a real person). Since I couldn't very well carry Frankie into Dr. S's office without looking silly, we used her plastic T-Rex as a replacement. When I closed my eyes and scary images filled my head, Frankie entered and chased them away, squashing them with his sheer size.

Despite all of our best efforts, however, I could not find a way to set my anxiety aside when it came in the night. My parents set me up with a psychiatrist, Dr. M, who explained the issue behind the issue - a symptom of Asperger's is a low serotonin level. Serotonin, in a nutshell, makes your neurons work more easily and keeps them from getting stuck in certain paths - in other words, it prevents severe obsession. With my low serotonin levels, I was stuck in a rut every night as my fears played themselves over and over again. It was not uncontrollable - but it was certainly darn hard for a kid my age to overcome his obsessions without medical help.

I was hesitant to take serotonin supplements, partly due to my past history with medicine (thinking it was poison and all) and partly due to a longstanding dislike I'd had of medication anyways. Perhaps it was still part of a larger paranoia, but I just don't like the idea of someone controlling the way my mind works through drugs. Would you? I agreed though, and it was a good decision. The time in which I took it provided me with the window of opportunity I needed to overcome my obsessions and set better habits in place. I think I can attribute my slow change in social behavior to this time frame; I slowly began to become a little more outgoing than I was before.

The anxiety attacks didn't end immediately, though. I still had (and still have) scary thoughts and worried about what would happen in my dreams when I fell asleep, even when my reality was freed from my imagination. This made it very difficult for me to fall asleep, though I knew now that waking up my parents wouldn't help much.

And so it came as a great relief to me when I decided one night to put Stephen Curtis Chapman'sSpeechless on my CD player, and the song Be Still came on.

Be still and know that He is God
Be still and know that He is holy
Be still, O restless soul of mine
Bow before the Prince of peace
Let the noise and clamor cease
Be still

This song became my mantra that I repeated slowly throughout my mind as I drifted off to sleep. It was a lullaby, for someone who will never be too old for them. The words and melody brought me peace.

***

I can't speak for all Aspies, but I can speak for myself when I say that for all my rationality, I'm also a highly irrational person. I go through many paranoid and borderline crazy fears every day, though now I have the state of mind to dismiss them as they come. I find that the more I entertain a thought the more I believe it, and I have to be careful when examining my fears. It also doesn't do much credit to my supposed rationality that I finally defeated my irrational fears with a song about God, and knowing his being and existence. Back then I could easily just believe. These days, it's much harder. I can't tell you why I believe in God - I don't know myself, you see - and I could only really give you the vague idea through telling the long and highly personal story of my spiritual development so far, and that's not a story I'm ready to tell.

I will, though, give you three points that I often walk myself through when experiencing a crisis of faith:

  1. My parents believe in God, as well as many other people whose wisdom I know and respect. While this does not in itself prove anything, it provides some comfort - I'm not a fool for believing if so many wise people believe.
  2. I imagine trying to live a life devoid of God. What purpose would I have to do good? And I don't mean I'm motivated by trying to get into Heaven, or those sorts of things. What I'm mostly trying to get at is that I do believe in Hell, after a fashion - it's the absence of God. To believe I live in a universe where we just live and get blown about by chance and randomness without a purpose or a meaning - to live and burn out like a candle in the wind - that'd be accepting Hell. Again, this doesn't prove anything - it's more a comfort thing.
  3. This. Again, doesn't prove anything - plenty of scientists familiar with that image don't believe in God - but I feel like this is the sort of thing Paul meant when he said that nature cries out God's existence. You just have to listen. Famed scientist Roger Penrose once used an argument against God that essentially ran like this: God could have created a human-inhabited universe that was much smaller and easier than ours with relative ease, but instead he apparently made a huge universe full of intricate complexity. It goes against all sensibility. But I think that Penrose hits on a good point, in the other direction: God didn't create the universe for efficiency. Perhaps he didn't even create it just for us, but for many other species. He made the universe because he wanted to make something beautiful. "And he saw that it was good." By far the weakest argument, but one of the strongest emotional reasons for me.

These are pretty weak logical arguments, but for me they keep me going in times of extreme doubt. Maybe that's a bad thing. Maybe I'm just separating myself from the inevitable truth - that there is no God, and we are just here randomly. But I'm sure I could make you understand why I still believe if I told you the whole story - though it may be a long time before I do that.

***

I closed the music book, having played through Be Still a few times on the piano. My parents had gone to bed. My rendition of the song would obviously require much more practice, but hopefully I could master it one day. Maybe, if I ever have kids, I could sing them to sleep with it. I stood up and went over to the bathroom, where I brushed my teeth and put in my retainer. I turned off all the lights downstairs and quickly moved up the stairs and into my room. My fear of the dark had not completely disappeared yet - nor has it now - but I hope it will in time.