Ryan picked up a new diagnosis on Friday when we got in to see his psychiatrist after a week of struggling with terrible anxiety over hockey statistics.
The new label — OCD — is not a surprise. We have seen evidence before of compulsive behaviors that become an anxiety-producing chore and not something he enjoys. Still, it is not an easy pill to swallow.
Each new one brings the need to remind ourselves that Ryan is not defined by a label, or even a series of them. He is the same child today as he was before he walked into the doctor’s office on Friday.
I know this is true, and yet I need to keep reminding myself, because this one stings. Not because of any stigma it carries but because of where it struck: at Ryan’s favorite interest, at my lifelong passion, at the glue that binds our family together.
I am resolute that we will get through this, and indeed each day has been a little better than the last. Ryan even watched part of a game last night. I am hopeful that we will attend a game before the season ends.
And yet, I am angry and sad at the unfairness of it all. I am angry that something beyond all of our control threatens our togetherness.
As with each step in this decade-long autism journey, this one requires some processing. I will soon move past the anger and sadness to focus on the solution, or at least the adjustments, that allow us to get back to enjoying hockey as a family.
That process is already underway. All I have to do is observe Ryan to know that he is not angry. No matter what level of anxiety he experiences while the games are on, he wakes each morning ready to discuss the night’s results. He goes to school almost every day wearing some piece of NHL paraphernalia. More evidence, if needed, that he is the same child despite this issue.
Coincidentally, Ryan’s extreme anxiety cropped up during a period in which both our favorite teams, San Jose for him and Washington for me, are playing their best hockey of the season.
It was a Capitals game we were watching as a family last night. Halfway through this shortened season, Washington was the worst team in the NHL, and its best player, Alex Ovechkin, looked ordinary. Last night the Caps won their eighth in a row, and Ovechkin scored for the 18th time in 16 games, an absurd pace.
After hearing me complain about how the Caps were “done” a month ago and wonder if Ovechkin would ever be the same player, Veronica stopped me when I was gushing over their play last night.
“You’re going to get sucked in again by them, aren’t you?” she asked.
“No doubt,” I told her.
Veronica meant this season’s playoffs, but as I think back on it, on a night Ryan was willing to sit with us and watch hockey — however briefly — for the first time in what feels like a long time, her question could easily apply to our whole family and the sport we all love.
In that case, my answer would be less certain and more hopeful.
I can only hope we are so fortunate — to find ourselves back in those magical moments that only the drama of sports can provide. Those moments where nothing else matters but the epic joy that a positive outcome delivers.
We were lucky enough to experience a bunch of those highs last spring. Though it looks like the Devils will not make the playoffs, last night gave me enough hope that we can recreate some of that magic in our living room, whether it comes courtesy of the Capitals, the Sharks, or for Riley, the Rangers losing.
If that happens, OCD will truly be just three letters in the alphabet soup, just a tiny part of Ryan’s story and not the dominant theme it has been for a few weeks now.
I can only hope we will be so lucky.