I sat on my son’s counselor’s couch expecting to talk about my son, but instead his counselor asked how I was doing. Hot tears flooded my cheeks as I grasped for words to adequately describe what it was like to live with my child with special needs on a daily basis. Years of caring for a child with multiple mental, emotional, and behavioral diagnoses had taken a toll on my own well-being. After that interaction, my son’s counselor diagnosed me with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).
The difficulties involved in raising a child with special needs can be traumatic. In my case, it brought on what can be a debilitating diagnosis. But with a family who needs me, it’s important I don’t become paralyzed by it. It is easy to get lost in anxious thoughts about what my son’s future could look like or how I will care for him when he is bigger than me. But I am only able to really love him well when I stay present and focused on today. That moment in my son’s counselor’s office became a springboard, with the help of my own counselor, to get certain things in place so I can thrive, and my family can too.
These steps have not just made me a more patient and peaceful mother, but also a more restful human being. I believe they are helpful for anyone juggling a stressful life.
- Consider counseling This may seem obvious, but it is no small undertaking. Putting aside the time and money to seek professional help is of utmost importance. Admitting you need counseling is a sign of strength, not weakness, but often our pride—and a cultural stigma—gets in the way.
- Reevaluate your schedule I prioritized my commitments based on making sure my regular stress levels were not too high. Having a trusted friend assess these things with me was really helpful. She was able to point out areas where I had overcommitted and areas in my schedule that needed scaling back.
- Commit to regular exercise. While I wish I was able to exercise everyday, I carve out time for a couple runs a week and a session or two of yoga. Regardless of how tired I am when my alarm goes off in the morning, I always feel better afterward.
- Add daily quiet time to your routine. For me, this looks like waking up while everyone else is still asleep to grab a cup of coffee along with a good book and a journal to spend about thirty minutes on the couch. Some mornings I am too tired to think, so I just sip my coffee in silence. Other mornings my mind is wide awake with words that fill the pages of my journal. There’s no right or wrong way to get some peace and quiet, what’s important is that I do it every day.
- Prioritize your quiet time The main way I’ve been able to accomplish this is by being disciplined about going to bed on time so I can wake up early. I’ve learned that not only is it worthwhile to prioritize these things, and therefore go to bed early, but I also need adequate sleep if I am to respond in a kind, loving, and patient way to my family.
Implementing all of these steps took time and felt a bit overwhelming at first. I started small and when I had consistently mastered one, gradually added in another. With each new step, I reaped natural benefits and was motivated to continue my journey of healing—for both my sake and my family’s sake.
The reality is, even when I am diligent in my own self care, some days are hard. I cannot control the people or situations around me. But I take care of myself so that on hard days I am ready to respond with the best version of myself I can be. It’s a journey and one I’m glad I don’t have to go alone. My family is there for me just as I do my best to be there for them.
For more information, please visit The Anxiety and Depression Association of America