When we first got our diagnosis for Hudson, I went through some pretty serious grief, but also I was in full time action mode, to fix this problem of ours. So much of my time was focused on him; running him to and from therapy preschool, speech therapy, occupational therapy, swimming lessons, pediatrician visits, play therapy, trying to invent a food he would eat, not to mention reading every book on autism and treatment that I could, in the 10 minutes before I fell asleep. In my every waking moment I was focused on Hudson.
In the beginning of diagnosis it is so easy to become headlight focused on helping your special needs child. My whole life had changed, so much so that I was feeling like I was loosing who I was. I am zany and artsy, a music lover and a cook, a friend and a lover to my husband, someone who loves to laugh and give things the light touch - and I had become SERIOUS! I no longer danced around in the kitchen or listened to music loudly in the car, with the windows open and arms in the wind, because Hudson was so sensory he did not like the loud noises. I distanced my self from my friends, because they did not really understand and my kid could no longer have a "normal" interaction with their kids. I no longer went into to stores or establishments with Hudson because of the potential of a meltdown. In essence, it was like living on an island.
I realized rather quickly, that this SERIOUS person was not helping the situation. I was exhausted, bitter and short with everyone, because the well was empty. I had nothing left to give to anyone. Before it was too late, I had to take some contrary action. Below is a list of the things I do try and do for my self that fill me up and allow me to be the Mom I want to be and the person that I was meant to be. Now that said, I am human. I do not do these things perfectly all the time. As I sit here and write this, I am not at a particularly balanced point, with the summer ending and the changes and different responsibilities that the start of school brings, I have let much of my personal nurturing go by the wayside. Awareness is the key, right?
1. I sought therapy. Having a therapist help me to deal with my grief and fear about being a special needs parent was the first step. Sometimes therapy does not have to be with a licensed therapist. It was for me in the beginning, but therapy now comes in talking to the friends I have made in our group that understand my new "normal," writing, or talking to my Mom.
2. Exercise. For me that means strapping on my running shoes and running for 30 minutes in my neighborhood I try to do that 2-3 times a week. Exercise has been proven to clear my head of the negative self talk and vastly improves my attitude. Plus it is something I do just for me.
3. Dates. Scheduling regular dates with my husband, gives me something to look forward to. I was getting so caught up in my kids and their lives, that I was forgetting why I even liked him in the first place. Taking time out away from our kids allows us some adult conversation and a chance to reconnect. Jim and I try to have a minimum of 3 dates a month. Now, if you have been tasked with being a single parent, this still applies to you. Make an effort to have a solid date with friends or solo doing something you really love or even something you used to love to do for 1-2 hours.
4. I try to treat myself once a month. It might be spending time reading all the magazines on the bookshelf at Barnes and Noble. It might be a new dress. It might be time with a new book. It might even be, dare I say...a pedicure. I am worthy of those treats. I deserve them and I have earned them.
I recently posted a YouTube video link on Facebook from Elizabeth Aquino. If you have not yet seen it, I have included the link below. She asked families of children and young adults with disabilities, looking back, what they might have told their old selves, on the day their child was diagnosed. Some of the ones that resonated with me were,
Ask for help
Look for beauty and joy
Don't let your world get too small
Don't forget your other children, they need your attention too.
Make friends that understand your "new" normal.
Best of luck. Let me know what you have done for yourself, however small.