What Is It?
In an autism household, I get a lot of practice dealing with perseveration. What's that, you ask? Here's the verdict from Mr. Webster:
That can look like the endless buttoning and unbuttoning a shirt, repeating a word over and over, requiring an activity that was just completed, walking back and forth, back and forth,... and a range of other OCD like behaviors. The bottom line is that the action is repeated, and interrupting the repetition requires great skill, or it will go very badly.
It Happens to Others
Well, I've started to notice that we can perseverate in our thoughts. I've found myself in an endlessly looping conversation with a child that goes no-where but back to where we started. Sometimes logic isn't a useful tool to re-direct thoughts, especially thoughts that are riddled with emotional content. I confess that I only recognize the wisdom of not following this endlessly looping conversation after I've followed it for a while, felt the frustration of going no-where, yelled at the unresponsive party (or done something equally unhelpful) and completely disputed any peace that I started the day with. Then I remember. Or maybe God reminds me. Leave me to sort it out, He says. I too have short term memory problems.
Still, perseveration was something I thought other people did. Then came that day.
Emotional Perseveration Overload
It was an ordinary day, and I went about my regular chores, followed up on emails, sent some messages and put on the coffee. A reply. I flipped open the phone. The response to a message wasn't what I expected. Was it me, or the other person? I try to clarify and explain my confusion. I ask follow-up questions. After a few minutes, having not had my coffee during this exchange, I felt confused, rattled, emotionally disorganized. my mind was a whirl of of thoughts that followed each other in an endless loop, leading no-where but to further emotional disorganization. I was perseverating. Stuck in a loop with no way out.
A shadow went quickly through my peripheral vision slightly above my head. This got my attention, because I was in my kitchen. There should be nothing moving above my head. I looked around quickly and it was one of our male zebra finches. He'd somehow gotten out of the cage. I looked suspiciously at J, who was sitting silently beside the cage. But there was no time for any further thinking about that. Time for action.
We had recently moved, so nothing was automatic. I didn't know where anything was. What would I use to get hold of the bird? What if he flew into the rest of the house? This new open layout had its disadvantages! After 10 minutes of Jedi-like thinking and movements, I had the bird back in his cage, with the door secure. The other finches had been too worried to even eat during this debacle, and it took us all a few minutes to get back to normal. I needed the coffee.
I did that for you.
I felt the thought and immediately took an inventory of everything that had happened. I looked inside at my heart and my emotions. All calm. All settled. All back the way they needed to be. The emotional hijacking that I experienced just 10 minutes before was over. I had resources to process the exchange of messages and understand what had happened! Rescued by the errant bird, ASD and a child's curiosity!
Do something really hard that uses up all of your very capable brain. It will give the other stuff time to settle.
This was the advice that I gave my daughter in a moment when she felt emotionally hijacked. I've heard kids with various neuro-developmental challenges describe this as part of their strategy for coping with sensory overload and anxiety, and sometimes even attention issue. This was a perfect reminder for me, and one that I didn't have to engineer for myself!
Having All I Need
I couldn't help but feel extreme gratitude. In days past, I would have complained about the bird escaping. Do I need even one more thing to do, in the life I live? But that day, I saw the escape as a gift. My loving Father knowing exactly what I needed and crafting an experience to suit my needs. I know that I won't always see God's gifts so clearly, so I indulged in the moment's clarity and really celebrated the presence of my Loving God in every moment. And if He is present in every moment, then I have all I need in that moment, no matter the perseverative, chaotic, emotional mess that comes with normal life on the Spectrum Road.
"And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work." 2 Cor. 9:8