Most of my posts on this blog are all about my son, Ben.
This post is different.
This post is all about me, and it’s all about you
Let’s face it- as parents we often put our needs last. And as the parent of a child with special needs, this is most definitely the case.
I know that I should make time for myself. My own mother reminds me of this all the time, but I always think, "Easier said than done!”
During this past year since Ben’s autism diagnosis, making time for myself just seemed plain selfish. Even if I wanted to do something for me, at the end of the day I would be too exhausted to do anything else except to collapse onto my armchair and watch a bit of mindless TV (if that) before heading to bed. In fact, sleep became one of the biggest necessities in life, because without it, my ability to function through the day really screeched to a halt.
I love my son Ben with a depth that I didn’t know existed before him. And, for a time, I thought that the loving him meant allowing his very real and legitimate needs to engulf my entire world. His schedule took precedence over my own. I spent a great deal of my time worrying about finding the right school to meet his needs, researching the most innovative therapy and approach to help him succeed, and striving to reinforce his learning at home. Every moment was a teachable moment not to be missed or squandered, and, if I had a few moments for myself, then the guilt would creep in. My needs came in at a distant last.
This weekend I had the opportunity to spend a little time with some old friends. I met one for dinner, and then had lunch on the Saturday with two others. This time with my friends provided me with a much-needed perspective. Autism was not the center topic of conversation. Neither was parenting. It was a much-needed break.
As we talked, one friend asked me how my past year has been since Ben’s diagnosis, and I told her that, quite honestly, this past year, I lost sight of myself within the magnitude of figuring out this thing called autism, the therapies, the services, and the constant worry about his future.
As I sipped tea and chatted with my friend, I listened to her talk of her trip to North Carolina, where she did yoga daily and took the time to breathe the fresh mountain air. This friend of mine had just come off an equally stressful year, though her stress centered around her huge responsibilities at work. As I listened to her share how she had to let go of some of these responsibilities for her own physical and emotional well-being, I realized that, slowly I was finding my balance too.
Ben is feeling happy and successful in his inclusion kindergarten class. He is in great therapies that are helping him to progress. Life is becoming more…balanced. Not to say that Ben’s needs have taken a backseat, but they are no longer allowed to overshadow my own.
Because, in the midst of the stress and turmoil that can come from raising a child with special needs, it’s hard to imagine finding time for a week in the mountains, let alone a day away at the spa. But, finding time for ourselves doesn’t have to be that fancy or elaborate, though vacations are certainly nice if you can swing them.
For me, I look for the moments that allow me to rest and unwind. I seek to carve out pockets of time within the day that are for me and me alone. Moments whose sole purpose is focusing on my physical, mental, social/emotional, and spiritual health and well-being. Steven Covey refers to it as sharpening the saw. Covey says that “feeling good doesn’t just happen. Living a life in balance means taking the necessary time to renew yourself.”
I challenge you to look for moments in the day that are just for you. Here are some that work for me.
I love to take a long soak in a hot bath after Ben has gone to sleep. I pour in the bath salts, light candles, and just let my body rest. I try to do this a couple of times a week.
I may not be able to do yoga on the mountains, or even make the class at the local YMCA, but I can do my yoga tape at home and still let my body feel the benefits.
For some, exercise and walking are their release. Now that Ben is in kindergarten, he’s able to stay in the after school group, which gives me an hour or two where I can walk, go to the gym, or catch up on whatever I want to do.
I also try to practice deep breathing throughout the day. It helps me to stay calm and centered.
I’m also recommitting to eating right. Ben is a picky eater, and it’s been very easy this past year to simply grab fast food on the way home from therapy in the evening. This year, I’m being very intentional about the foods that I am eating, and I’m feeling so much better already.
For so long, the only music I listened to was Disney music. Then one day, as I was working at school with a new colleague, and she asked me about my favorite new music, I realized how out of touch I truly had become. After that, I started listening to my stations on the radio again. I pulled out the tracks from my favorite musicals while driving to school and I felt my mood lift.
Reading is also one of my favorite hobbies, but, for the past year, most of my reading centered around the topics of teaching or autism. Lately, I’m branching out and revisiting my favorite authors again. Even after a busy day, I try to make time to read something I really want to read.
Writing this blog has also been a great mental release for me these past few months. I love to write, and this blog has given me an outlet and a purpose.
I have always been a very spiritual person, but my spiritual health has taken a hit this past year. I’ve been trying to be more intentional about finding the time to pray and to worship.
For the first few years of his life, Ben had great difficulty attending church because the sensory overload of being inside a building packed with people, bright lights, and lots of activity was just too much for him. We did not want him to form a negative association with God, so we decided to take a break from church for awhile and study the Bible at home instead. However, this past summer, Ben had great success attending my parent’s church, so I am excited to give church another try.
In the meantime, I make quiet time for God, and reconnect with him when I visit the ocean and in the quiet minutes before Ben wakes up from bed.
By nature, I’m a quiet person with a few close and loyal friends. I don’t need a lot of social interaction to feel fulfilled, but friendship is very important to me. I try to make time to have lunches with my friends whenever I can. It’s important to talk, laugh, and reconnect.
I make time every week to call my family. Since I live half a country away from them, I need that time to hear their voices, as my mom said to me on the phone tonight.
I also need time with my husband, even if it’s just an evening at home to talk and share a home cooked meal together.
I’ve also made some friendships with the moms that I have met through Ben’s therapy groups. Sometimes while the children are in their group, we’ll head to the local Starbucks, have a coffee, and chat. Making time for these moments helps keep me feel connected and fulfilled.
I used to think that I was the kind of person who didn’t “need” that extra time for me. That I can get by just fine without it. As I look back on this past year, I now realize that I was wrong. Because, truth be told, Ben needs me to be at my best, and the only way that I can be my best is to make time to care for myself first.
Little changes can truly make a big difference.
Find those pockets in the day that are just for you. It’s vital that you do.