A Lesson from the Big Bang Theory

Screenshot of a scene from Big Bang Theory, with Penny swatting and Bernadette getting up from a chair.
Penny tries to help Bernadette go into labor, but Bernadette gets stuck and what happens next it's so reminiscent of my life.

Not the problem

I was watching an episode of Big Bang Theory last night, in which Bernadette has reached her due date and is so ready to deliver the baby.

Penny tries guiding Bernadette through yoga poses that are supposed to encourage labor. Here’s the scene:

  • Penny: “OK, we go down.”
  • They both squat.
  • Penny: “And back up.”
  • Bernadette tries, to no avail.
  • Penny, a bit louder: “And back up.”
  • Bernadette, struggling: “Yeah, hearing you is not the problem.”

This reminded me of so much of my life, and of my clients’ lives (minus the pregnancy and squatting).

The problem

I would so often get stuck on something, and the people around me would just tell me again what to do, then a bit louder, a bit more insistent, then more frustrated, or exasperated, or angry.

But hearing the instruction wasn’t the problem. It was that I couldn’t do what they wanted me to do. And unlike Bernadette, I couldn’t express what was wrong.

Often, the best I could manage was to point furiously at the thing I needed, or jump and squeal, or sink into my chair because I went mute when I got too stressed. But in my head I was screaming the whole time, “Look, look, can’t you see what’s wrong? Why aren’t you helping?”

I was so frustrated because what was wrong was so obvious to me, but those around me acted as if I were the problem.

But in my head I was screaming the whole time, “Look, look, can’t you see what’s wrong? Why aren’t you helping?”

Until my mid-30s, I didn’t honestly have language to describe what was going on when I needed help the most. I worked hard to learn how to describe things like my sensory reactivities, processing overwhelm, and anxieties. Yet as I was learning, I could only use it in limited situations, or for brief periods, and only when my stress was especially low.

That’s gotten better as I’ve had more experiences advocating for my needs, and my anxiety has begun to realize that nothing bad is going to happen if I do, and the people around me are not going to freak out, and that doing so can actually improve things. That may seem obvious from the outside, but not to my anxiety, and it’s taken a lot of internal work to get here.

The solution

Children are constantly being told what to do, yet when a lot of it is simply beyond their capabilities, this frustration is a moment by moment experience of life.

But as Bernadette said, “Hearing you is not the problem.”

Or maybe, hearing you is the problem, in which case just repeating the instruction isn’t going to make anything any better, either.

Ask yourself, “why is this happening?” And, “why is this happening now?”

Either way, when you tell your kid to do something and he responds with an angry outburst, or withdraws, or expresses frustration, pause for a moment and ask yourself what’s going on. 

His reaction is trying to communicate with you. He’s showing you that something is wrong. Was your instruction assuming he knows all the steps to do a task and he doesn’t? Is he not able to do whatever it is? Or maybe he’s not able to do it now? Is he stressed about something? Is there too much going on? Are you asking too many questions and he’s feeling overwhelmed? Am I asking you too many questions?  😉

Figuring out what’s really going on can be tricky, but the starting place is always the same. Ask yourself, “why is this happening?” And, “why is this happening now?”

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Heather Cook

Heather Cook

Hi, I’m Heather. I’m an Autistic writer, advocate, and life coach, and I'm building a life I love. I help other Autistics to build their own autism-positive life. I love reading, jigsaw puzzles, just about every -ology, and Star Trek!

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