I think I may have found a book that may just change my life. “The Daily Stoic” has already helped me better manage stressful situations. My #1 goal for 2017 is to learn to live with stress and be happy in spite of it. Last year, I looked towards Buddhist teachings for help in this realm. After just 2 weeks of reading this book, I believe I have found a Powerful New Perspective in Coping with Autism and the everyday stress life throws at us.
Waking Up To Chaos
One morning this past week, I woke up and found myself in the middle of an already hectic situation. For some reason, my son’s iPad did not get charged overnight. It was dead, and he was at the beginning stages of a full-blown autism meltdown. My wife wanted to stay and help, but I sent her off to work so she could make it on time. Then, I began the task of trying to calm my son. It would be at least 2 hours before his security blanket would be charged enough for him to play.
Coping with Autism First Thing in the Morning
I was having trouble coping with autism this morning. It’s 6:30 in the morning, and Ethan is repeatedly saying iPad, iPad, iPad over and over and over. Despite my efforts to comfort and explain the problem to him, his mood continues to head downhill. He is getting more and more worked up as he does not understand why he can’t have his iPad.
Not Coping with Autism Very Well This Morning
As I sat there with him, I felt myself begin to succumb to the stress of this situation. I’m barely awake. It’s not even 7am, and I have a hysterical child to calm down. My mind starts spiraling towards all the things I have to do in the next 20 minutes before taking Gavin to school. Here are the thoughts as they began to dance around in my head:
“I don’t have time for this. I have to start getting stuff together. It’s shopping day. I need to get ready. We have to make the 45-minute drive into the city for groceries. Our fridge is bare and there’s an ice storm coming tomorrow. We need food. I can’t believe the iPad is dead. Ethan is going to be screaming in the car the whole drive there. This day is going to be awful. I still have to get the clothes out of the dryer and pack extra outfits for him and pack the diaper bag. I still have to make sure Gavin has everything he needs for school. Why won’t he would stop screaming.”
The Daily Stoic to the Rescue
All these thoughts bounced around in my head within about 20 seconds. Then, I started to get angry at Ethan. Logically, I know he has autism, and it’s not his fault. But, my emotions are overriding logic right now, and I feel the anger boiling up from my belly. Thankfully, something I read just before going sleep the night before popped into my head: “This morning, remind yourself of what is in your control and what’s not in your control. Remind yourself to focus on the former not the latter.”
I Can Only Control My Response
Before I began to talk myself off the ledge, I took a deep breath, and said out loud very quietly, “I cannot control Ethan’s behavior right now. I can only control MY RESPONSE to his behavior.” That was the critical turning point that turned the entire day around. I began talking to Ethan very calmly & quietly, “your iPad is not ready. We have to wait until it’s charged up for you, but you can play on mine if you want…” These were the same things I was already telling him, but now, I was using a more soothing tone of voice. I began very gently running my fingertips down his arms & legs. He quickly began to settle, and he even showed a tiny smile as he said “tickle, tickle”.
This led me to go grab his sensory brush. Dry brushing is something I want to do for him, and this was the perfect time to start. I had him lay on the floor, and I began slowly brushing his skin as I counted to 10. He stopped asking for his iPad, and had a big smile on his face. He started counting to 10 with me. Then, he started wiggling and giggling as the brush began to tickle him. Because I was in a better state, it put Ethan in a better state. After 5 minutes, I gave him the brush, and told him I had to get ready. He let me begin to pack and get ready for the day. It was nearly and hour before he asked for his iPad again, and by then, it was ready.
Stoicism: Ancient Wisdom for Today’s Stress
The Daily Stoic brought me through an extremely stressful event. To put it a better way, this book brought me through what I perceived as a stressful event. If I had a better attitude from the beginning, that morning would have never caused me any pain at all. The book is designed similar to a word of the day type book. Better yet, it’s designed as a daily devotional to help teach people the wisdom of Stoicism. Each day you read a quote from one of 3 ancient Stoics: Seneca, Epictetus, or Marcus Aurelius. Then, the authors attempt to help laymen like myself understand what the heck that quote means. For example, the quote for the morning I described was:
“Keep this thought at the ready at daybreak, and through the day and night- there is only one path to happiness, and that is in giving up all outside of your sphere of choice, regarding nothing else as your possession, surrendering all else to God and Fortune.” –Epictetus
The authors then wrote a few short paragraphs that helped me better understand its’ meaning. The most important thing they said was,
“This morning, remind yourself of what is in your control and what’s not in your control. Remind yourself to focus on the former not the latter.
Before lunch, remind yourself that the only thing you truly possess is your ability to make choices.”
Make Good, Reasoned Choices
That morning, I could not control Ethan. I couldn’t turn back time and make sure his iPad was fully plugged. I certainly couldn’t wave a magic wand that made him stop having autism. The only thing I could control were my choices. I could have chosen to blame my wife for not plugging the iPad in all the way, or I could have chosen to blame myself because I failed to double check it as I have done every other evening.
Logically, I know that me getting mad at Heather or Ethan would serve no purpose. It would only escalate the situation and upset everyone: me, Ethan, and the rest of the family too. I am so happy that I read this specific page on this day because it helped me make the best logical choice. Without the wisdom from this book, I think stress may have gotten the best of me that morning.
Being Stoic Does Not Mean Having No Emotion
Many people mistakenly believe that Stoicism is simply someone who is emotionless. However, the principle Stoics follow is that having physical & emotional self-control leads to inner peace, strength, and a happier life. This is my goal. I think that principles of stoicism can help me in coping with autism and the stress of life. The Daily Stoic is a perfect launching point for me & anyone interested in learning how to take control of their emotions and better manage stress.
Reminding Myself: I Can ONLY Control My Mind
I kept this idea in my head throughout the remainder of the day. When arriving to Whole Foods, the kids were hungry. I sat them down with a snack in the café area. As I am throwing trash away, I look across the café and see Ethan steal a piece of pancake right out of his baby sister’s hand. Of course, Kaitlyn erupts into a 2-year-old scream fest.
Then, I had to go change Ethan because he had wet his pants. Kaitlyn was still upset although she was finding comfort in her blanket. In the restroom, I hung up her blanket to avoid it dragging all over the bathroom floor. She’s screaming in the stall of the Whole Foods bathroom pulling at her blanket. Meanwhile, I am changing the wet pants of my 10-year-old son. It would be so easy to allow this situation to once again raise my stress level, but I say to myself, I can only control my response to this situation.
Just Another Day
A few minutes later, I am shopping, and I turn around to find Ethan has opened the cookie display and quickly shoved a cookie in his mouth. Several times throughout the shopping day, I had to redirect an upset Ethan who wanted everything from cookies to sodas to nuts to chocolate to hummus to apples, apples, apples. Speaking of apples our Whole Foods experience culminated in Kaitlyn ripping open the bag of apples and chomping down on an apple that was in the cart. (Before we paid for it) Again, I could have let this get to me, but I remained calm with this quote in my head. “I can only control my response to these situations.”
Interestingly enough, the next day’s quote helps hammer this point home further.
“We control our reasoned choice and all acts that depend on that moral will. What’s not under our control are the body and any of its parts, possessions, parents, siblings or children, or country-anything with which we might associate”-Epictetus
ergo:”According to the Stoics, the circle of control contains just one thing, YOUR MIND.”
You don’t have to run out and buy this book to learn the wise ways of the Stoics. I’m certainly not writing this post to help sell this book. (although, I would get a small fee from Amazon if anyone wanted to buy it through this link) I’m writing this post in the hopes that someone else may find comfort and wisdom during a period of stress. Whether you’re having trouble coping with autism, or you’re under a harsh deadline at work, or maybe you’ve just been cut off on the highway, keep this idea in mind. I cannot control others. I can only control my response to others.
[tweetthis hidden_hashtags=”#stress” display_mode=”box”]Keep this idea in mind. I cannot control others. I can only control my response to others.[/tweetthis]
Ryan Holiday cowrote “The Daily Stoic”, but he also wrote “The Obstacle is the Way”. This was the next book on my 2017 “To Read” list. I am now even more interested in learning about the ways of the Stoics, so I went ahead and bought this one too. If you’re interested in learning more and reading these along with me, check them out here. (These are affiliate links in which I would get a small fee from Amazon)