Facing an Unpleasant School Assignment

I sat next to Link on the couch helping him with his school work. He didn’t need help intellectually. It was a simple “read this and fill out that chart” sort of assignment. Emotionally, he wanted to run far, far away and not think about any of it. My job was to sit next to him so he wouldn’t run away. The assignment was for health class and was part of the unit on mental health.

I don’t know how these units play for someone without first hand experience. In theory there are such people. For my kids, reading about the various disorders is an exercise in self-diagnosis. By the time they’re done with the reading, they’re pretty convinced that they have all the issues. So that was the other part of my job, to explain that, yes son, you do get a little obsessive over clothes, cleanliness, and video games, but you do not have the attached compulsions that are a defining characteristic for OCD. We talk much about how the same trait can be either an advantage or a disorder depending on how it affects quality of life. It is almost a relief when we reach schizophrenia, anorexia, and bulimia, because they are things which my son can clearly see he does not have.

Sometimes he had to stop working for a minute to just breathe and feel. This unit is not going to get easier for him. The next few assignments are focused on stigma and suicide prevention. Yet going through this is good for him. He’s learning things about what lives inside his head. These things have names and now he knows them. That is good. I sat next to him and made sure he read about cognitive behavioral therapy, mentioning that it might be useful in his life at some point.

After we were done, I did my own stop, breathe, feel moment. It is a good practice to have. I’m often too busy to acknowledge the emotional tones of my day. Sometimes I actively suppress them because emotional noise prevents me from getting things done. Short term delay of emotions is fine as long as I deliberately make space for them later. Otherwise, accumulations of suppressed emotion will manifest as rampant anxiety.

We’ll tackle these health assignments slowly in manageable portions. This is one of the advantages of him taking the class through electronic high school. We can slow down the pace and manage it as necessary. Eventually we’ll make it through. I’m certain the unit on exercise will be a much nicer one for him.