Sunday, April 17, 2011

On Happiness

Poet T.S. Eliot wrote in The Waste Land, “April is the cruellest [sic] month,” and Alex would probably agree with that sentiment. For some reason, April is always rough on him, and as a result, difficult for Ed and me, too. We’ve never figured out whether he is bothered by spring allergies, changes in weather, or something else, but every April, he acts agitated and more easily falls into meltdown mode. This past week, Alex has been irritable at times, complaining that he doesn’t like the computer game Monopoly Junior, which he hasn’t played regularly for about five years. As a sign of his volatile nature, a bottle of the prescription sedative Ativan has been sitting on the kitchen counter all week, ready if needed to keep him from becoming aggressive. A friend of mine who also has a child on the autism spectrum shared with me that this week has been challenging in their household, as well, and we wonder if something in the air is setting off our kids and affecting their behavior.

Whenever we have these setbacks, I have to fight feelings of sadness that old behaviors have returned, even if temporarily, and instead focus on positive thoughts to regain my happiness. To realign my thinking, I remember one of my favorite quotes from Pastor Joel Osteen: “Don’t let anyone steal your joy.” A friend who also likes this line added her own twist, telling me this week, “I’m holding onto my joy with BOTH hands.” Although most of my friends did not realize that we’ve been walking around on eggshells this week with Alex, their acts of kindness lifted my spirits more than they realize. For instance, one morning this week I found on my desk at work a wax paper bag from my favorite bakery with a delicious chocolate treat inside, a thoughtful gift from a friend who always seems to sense when I need the comfort of chocolate. Another day, one of my dearest friends who did know that I was feeling overwhelmed e-mailed me a loving and encouraging note of support, reminding me that I’m stronger than I think I am. The next day, I received a kind note from my cousin, who brought out my maternal pride as she described Alex as a “handsome, sweet young man.” In addition, Alex’s speech therapist many years ago contacted me via instant messaging on Facebook yesterday morning, telling me that she still has a sampler I embroidered for her when Alex worked with her. The cross-stitch picture includes a verse from Proverbs: “A good word doth the heart good.” I was pleased to hear that she still keeps this gift I made, which reminds her of Alex, on her piano, and she went on to say that she tries to live her life according to that saying. Of course, I was touched that she valued the gift so much after all these years. Yesterday offered another pleasant diversion, breakfast with two good friends, one who calms me and another who energizes me. Despite my worries over Alex, the week turned out well because unexpected blessings came from friends who brought me joy in the midst of uncertainty. I’m sure these acts of kindness were not random; God knew I needed the help of others to find my joy.

Of course, the greatest blessing of the week came when Alex’s anxiety seemed to lessen as the week went along. He, too, knows that happiness can be found in simple things. This week he started wearing the lanyard and ticket from the NASCAR Brickyard 400 race a friend of mine gave him last summer. As he put it around his neck and studied the layout of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway printed on the back of the ticket, an ear-to-ear grin spread across his face. Another item that brought him joy was my offering to make him cinnamon toast for breakfast this week. Since he seemed to have lost interest in eating other breakfast items he previously liked, I thought he might enjoy cinnamon toast on the Udi’s gluten-free bread I had bought. The mention of cinnamon toast sent him running to the kitchen table, no matter what he was doing, and he devoured every bit happily. Perhaps out of gratitude (or boredom), he’s been very willing to help me around the house this week. Since tendonitis in my right thumb makes certain jobs difficult, I’ve had Alex helping me with laundry, vacuuming, and mopping, all of which he did with a surprisingly cheerful attitude. While the kindness of my friends has brought me joy this week, nothing has given me greater happiness than seeing Alex smile and hearing him laugh. Essentially, when Alex is happy, Ed and I are happy. Fortunately, April is more than half over, and we hope that the April showers dampening Alex’s mood are nearly over so that we can all enjoy the flowers and sunshine we know are coming in the future. In the meantime, we look for happiness and feel thankful when we find it in simple pleasures.

“Give me happiness, O Lord, for I give myself to You.” Psalm 86:4

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