I have always been a sensitive person. I grew up a sensitive child, into a thin-skinned adult, with a few neuroses and some gaping holes in my emotional being. All of this due to a mixture of my upbringing and my innate temperament. This translates into me being a people pleaser, always subconsciously seeking approval of others for my own well-being and identity. This is a terrible trait if you are a parent, and even more worse if you are a special needs parent.
By God’s grace, these issues were brought to the forefront before I became a mom, and I continued working on them as I started my parent journey, and now into this autism journey. It’s hard though, because as a parent, everyone else has an opinion on how you are doing your job, how you *should* do your job well (job performance for a mother is very polarized — either you are an awful horrible person, or you are a Madonna, and there is no in between), and the guilt that is so pervasive among us. No wonder PPD runs rampant. And you throw in special needs and everyone and their aunt/uncle/cousin-twice-removed has an opinion on your child or the cause of the “problem” (often times it’s you, the mother) and a lot of pity mixed with judgment, distain, some scoffing, and a lot of condescension. It’s enough to sink your ship all the way to the bottom of the ocean.
In my physical/immediate community, I don’t have a lot of moms to relate to, but I do check into an online forum meant just for autism moms like me. I see a lot of them struggling with hope, isolation, depression, panic, constant worry, and physical illnesses that stem directly from the daily stress. And so many, so so many, are on anti-depressants to cope with the harsh realities of their daily lives.
I get it. At least a taste of it. I am fully aware that my child’s ASD presents as “mild” and “high functioning”. So I don’t have the severity of some of the struggles I see fellow moms endure through on a day to day basis, year after year. But I do understand the type of worry that makes you feel physically (and for some, chronically) ill, and the panic attacks with every IEP email you see in your inbox, every phone call from the school, every evaluation report. The worry with every new behavior. I get it. I don’t feel it as often as some others, but I know it is a different kind of parenting journey than the mainstream, and it can get lonely.
It can get lonely because no one understands why you worry so much over such little minuscule things, they don’t understand your child’s triggers, and all those “little” things are huge mountains for us. They don’t understand what it takes to bring your child from place A to place B. Many kids just take one step and they are there, with or without parental help, whereas others seem to need that one step to be broken down into 847 different little sub-steps, with great effort from parents and professionals, with unguaranteed results/feedback. Feeding, sleeping, speaking, schooling, daily life.
And then it gets lonely with well-intentioned people who don’t know what to say. I am getting better at giving grace to those who mean well. In the beginning, I was not in any position to receive anything from anyone, as I was a quick sinking ship and I could not tolerate anything who could not give me a life jacket. Today, I am in a better place and I am able to receive words and let them slide off of me (somewhat) without much damage to my spirit. But I have also learned to keep certain individuals at an arms length. I am lucky that everyone is supportive of us, and they all mean well. I know some secretly judge, and I need to learn not to judge them back (this is hard for me). There are some individuals I used to look up to and hold in high esteem (notice the past tense?). I’m learning to shrug that off too. Everyone is human, I have flaws too, so who am I to judge, when I have probably done the same myself? I am getting better at seeing past some of the words and instead, the love that they have for me and my child. And THAT means more to me than any words flung my way. I am never lacking in my need for supporters and cheerleaders along the way. I realize that is is very unwise to burn bridges with your supporters and encouragers, because you never know what rocky storms may come, you will need as many life jackets flung your way that you can get. Every perfect gift is from above.
Holland is not such a bad place after all, I’m finding my place and God has given me His Peace to sustain me in this journey. As much as my child has changed and grown in the past couple years, I notice that I too, am in a different place. I’ve found the Rock that steadies my feet.