Chaos is the only word I can think of to describe the past few months. Grieving the loss of two family members, dealing with my children’s school issues and treatments, plus the addition of a new hamster to our menagerie of pets, resulted in a complete shutdown for me–a writer’s block, yes–but a need to withdraw and take care of myself and my loved ones.
According to the Free Dictionary, chaos theory is a “mathematical theory that describes chaotic behavior in a complex system. Applications include the study of turbulent flow in fluids, irregularities in biological systems, population dynamics, chemical reactions, plasma physics, meteorology, the motions of groups and clusters of stars, transportation dynamics, and many other fields.” Apparently these phenomena actually have an underlying order, and can, in fact, be predictable.
It is difficult to imagine that the chaos we sometimes experience in our family lives is both predictable and part of a larger “order.” To break things down at the micro level, each individual family member is either experiencing “equilibrium” or “disequilibrium” depending on their age, developmental phase, and interaction with the environment. Equilibrium is experienced when everything seems to be in balance, an individual is coping well with change and adversity, and seems to be growing and maturing. Disequilibrium, which seems more familiar than the latter, is when an individual is going through a difficult transition, which could be brought about by both internal and external forces. Internally, there are physiological changes that can affect each of us such as illness, growing pains, lack of sleep or changes in appetite. Externally, changes in the environment such as a new school, job, relationship distress, financial strain, seasonal changes, and/or coping with extended family can bring about a stress reaction, which, in turn, influences physiological changes. The two are interwoven and interrelated such that it is sometimes difficult to figure out what came first.
For our kids with sensory processing disorder, the reaction to both internal and external forces is often much more extreme than it is for the average child. In fact, our SPD kids might look like they are in disequilibrium quite often. Whether they are or are not experiencing disequilibrium is not as important as how we as parents cope with it.
Sometimes it helps to imagine that you are a neutral third person, looking down upon yourself and your family members as they are interacting. You can make observations without attaching any emotional response, good or bad, such as, “There is my daughter having a meltdown. She is yelling and screaming and her face is turning red. I feel my heart beating faster and I can feel some stress and anger building up within myself. I will not act on these feelings, but just observe them.” This is a very cursory explanation of how mindfulness works. You use your senses to observe the things you see, hear, feel, and experience in the moment, appreciating each moment, regardless of how difficult the situation. Another goal of mindfulness is to adapt a loving stance towards yourself and to let go of the automatic criticisms that we all engage in. Some people think of mindfulness meditation as contributing to a more sedentary, sleep-like state, but actually, the goal is to feel more alive and awake!
Back at the macro level, imagining that each interaction and experience is part of a larger order can actually be helpful. Whether we make this choice or that one, our lives both individually and together as a family are meant to take certain twists and turns that may be very far from where we expected to go; these unexpected turns may cause sadness or grief, create confusion or balance, or bring joy and relief. This reminds me of one of my favorite movies, Sliding Doors, which illustrates this point beautifully as the main character experiences two parallel realities. You never know what will happen that will lead you in one direction or another. This is the beauty, and the unfolding of life. Embrace it!