Only What You Can Carry
Straight From My Gut

Straight From the Gut

Back from the trail

Thymos is an ancient Greek word for soul, for spirit, for 'principle of life, feeling and thought.' It can also mean 'heart,' in the sense of the heart as the seat of emotions and feelings. It can mean 'desire' and 'inclination' as well as 'mind' and 'will' and 'temper.' It refers to one's thinking and feeling capacities. It was thought to be located not in your head, but in your gut---your midriff---your stomach.

Charlie's thymos was unsettled all this weekend, and the bookcase that came down Saturday morning was just the start. Sunday it seemed he was simply restless in his being. He and I started the day with a long walk that he really needed. As you have probably noted from my posts, Jim has been doing the lion's share of physical activity with Charlie, who has been decidedly less interested in walks than in the summer (when, at one point, I think we did about six long ones in a day).

He walked at more of a power walk pace, which is also how best to describe the way he biked for 15 miles on the Jersey horse country trail Sunday afternoon. Charlie seemed caught up in a sort of manic cycle. He was over-brimming with energy, talking frequently and at a higher volume than usual and repetitively, and he was distinctly less able to curb it all than he has been. Plus, as Jim noted, he had his mouth clenched for much of the day. That smile in the photo, of Charlie returning from the bike ride, was really the only time he smiled the whole day.

We ended up at a Vietnamese restaurant and were going to get take-out but Charlie insisted on 'sit, sit,' and Jim and I exchanged glances with each other, and we sat. It took about ten minutes for the food to come out. Charlie's eyes flicked from the door leading to the kitchen to the TV, where what looked Iike Vietnamese Idol was playing. He was patient---his teacher has noted that he has been very good with waiting--and quickly dispatched of four summer rolls soon as they appeared in a styrofoam container. While he used to take them apart and eat them piece by piece, this time he ate each whole, dipping the first two neatly in peanut sauce.

And then he asked to go to the car and that's where he finished some rice vermicelli while Jim paid the bill. I wouldn't try it at every restaurant, but ordering take-out and eating in for as long as Charlie is comfortable seems a good way to reintroduce him to eating out. He can eat as much as he can in the restaurant and then finish the rest elsewhere when the noise and smells become too much (and, styrofoam containers don't break).

Once home, it was not too long before Charlie's thymos was again at odds with itself, with everything around him. He asked repeatedly, and with an edge and urgency that made Jim and me wary, to go to the grocery store. We didn't go, because all that too-much energy got the better of Charlie as he sat in the car waiting. Jim got him out of the car under (yes, it's a euphemism) duress. It was difficult.

Thymos can also mean rage and it worked its course through Charlie, all through his body, and when it had subsided (it took awhile), he and I went on a second walk.

Jim and I texted each other and pieced together the signs, from his clenched mouth to his repetitive, obsessive speech, to the deadset-fast way he rode his bike. I have not been able to shake off a cold for these past couple of weeks; we suspected Charlie of having something too, like a sore throat? (When I used those words in his presence, his response was a big show of thymos. After we had left the place where the bike path is I couldn't stop sneezing and felt my eyes watering: Might Charlie not have experiencing something similar?

Yes, Charlie does communicate how he feels, by what he does. But so much of how we humans explain how we feel is via language. We have been working on teaching Charlie phrases like 'I have a stomachache' and 'I feel sick' but these little phrases which he utters so very fast aren't sufficient to describe all that he is feeling. I suspect just supplying him with more phrases is only part of the answer. I am thinking I have a lot of social stories to make. And a, also thinking that music, and not just the pop-ish Disney tunes, can be a medium to convey so much when words are not enough to express all that thymos.

When Charlie and I returned from our evening walk (as it was evening by then), he asked, asked and asked to go to the grocery store. Jim and I knew we would not be going there after all that had happened and Charlie sat on the couch, very sad, and then went up to bed. I don't know how much he really wanted to go; I am quite sure that Charlie knew going was out of the question. But still he is impelled to ask, asking being the main way he's been taught to use language. We replied with 'uh huh' and 'um,' words seeming a bit more than inadequate. Words can only do so much.

Jim went to check on Charlie, who had tucked himself in bed. I went up with some fruit and a pack of crackers. He ate the fruit (grapes) readily (unusual for Charlie these days, with his adolescent boy 'neither fruit nor vegetable shall pass into my system' diet) and asked me to open the crackers in the way he likes. I went back downstairs and then back up when Charlie called me. He had only eaten a few crackers. His eyes had lost the terrified look they had had earlier---Charlie does not like being as out of control as he became, and seems scared of himself when he is so. He rolled over under a fleece blanket and I wished him good night.

And that his thymos might settle and cease its rumblings.



I hope Charlie's thymos is settled today too. It can be very unsettling to be out of sorts.


Oh, I thought thymos only referred to anger, I learn more about Greek here on your blog than I do here!

I recorded on the Look2learn app, which has a few emotions using photos of a boys face, "eimai thymomenos", quite possibly grammatically incorrect and with a bad accent...

Dimitri runs through the emotions pictures and looks at me curiously. I try to act them out, not sure how helpful that's proving to be. What I noticed is there are few pictures to indicate feeling good, something to contrast with feeling bad so that Dimitri can put it into context. If I say to Dimitri "are you hurt?" "you fell" "you bumped your head" etc, he will cry, whether the injury was now, in the past or imaginary.

May be it's the time of year or something, Dimitri has been a bit obstreperous for a couple of days(nothing serious).

Charlie did great in the restaurant and I like your approach to it!

Hope you are both feeling better.


Mars finds emotion pictures meaningless. I find them contrived and silly. Music is the language of Mars' soul. Is music the language of Charlie's soul too?

Emily Willingham

Has Charlie ever been with you when you've bought medicine for him at the store, something that made him feel better? I wonder if, say, his throat or head hurts, if a dose of Tylenol or Motrin would make him feel less out of control. When our children start acting out of sorts and not articulating anything, I always think of some impending illness. I know this sounds basic, but I just thought I'd ask.

Kristina Chew

@Sarah, I rather think music is like that for Charlie---he responds so viscerally to it, and it's the melody and tone and rhythms that he uses which indicates his mood. Hoping to get back to something more allegro et legato!

We tend to be real wary of giving Charlie more meds, even over the counter ones. But no, Charlie has not been with us when we've gotten motrin or some such. He is used to taking medicine, that's for sure, and I get the sense he associates it with (hopefully a positive) change in his inner state.


Emotions flash cards were always a but of a waste for Charlie.

@Emma, we tried acting out the emotions too. I have a feeling we only confused Charlie even more!

Ha, that is very funny what you said about Greek. Couple of years ago i had a student taking ancient Greek who is Greek (born here, but Greek is his first language). He told me that the ancient Greek sounded to him like what was used in church which makes sense.......a long long time ago , Charlie's first ever speech therapist in St Paul tried to teach him 'i'm mad,' perhaps a bit easier, or shorter, to say than 'eimai thymomenos.'.

Am going to look more at Look2learn, have gotten woefully behind working on all the aac iPad stuff for Charlie.

He has the same responses to hearing 'hurt" etc. as Dimitri. The very words bring distress and somehow Charlie has, I guess, added 'sore throat' to the list.

So far---not bedtime yet---things have been better. So far!


Hmm. Does Charlie "get" cartoons? When Jake was tiny - 2 years old - he learned how to say "I'm mad!" from watching Disney cartoons.

Donald Duck was his favorite! Donald gets so mad! He turns red and hops around and splutters and steam comes out his ears. Jake had a little videogame where Donald would be trying to catch unruly letters as they ran around his house. Donald would begin his furious dance of rage, and Jake would say, "Donald mad!"

Pretty soon, Jake was able to say, "Jake mad!" or "I'm mad", rather than throwing something or knocking something over.

Kristina Chew

I think Charlie just has difficulty processing cartoons from a visual/sensory issue---they appear as colors and shapes in motion, and a blur. He has never really taken to watching them. He does seem more attuned to the sounds and, especially, the music.


Heat helps me sometimes in those situations. But as far as the "how you feel" statements go, I can't always tell either, and I'm rather high-functioning. Sometimes I just get all twitchy and can't sit still and go into arm/finger flappy mode (I don't flap my hands; it hurts) . . . and then maybe an hour or three later, it'll finally hit me that I have a stomachache or worse, I'm cramping or something just hurts in general . . .

The comments to this entry are closed.