I actually do not like this quote much, even though it is true. This quote is the rallying cry of most parents, but none so much as for those raising complex kids. Those kids, whatever their diagnosis or issue or condition, who need balls-to-the-wall five-alarm advanced parenting. I’ve been living on this fraying knot for far too long, and I know I’m not the only one. What choice do we have? Seriously, we have no other options. We keep on keeping on, tying and retying that knot, one foot in front of the other, because we have to. It is painful, it is exhausting, and it takes a harsh toll.
“You can’t pour from an empty cup.” “Adjust your air mask before helping others.” It is easy to tell a parent that she must care for herself first, but insanely difficult to be that parent when you know what you’re up against. I was doing so well caring for myself, and then we moved. And then school got ugly for A. And then I homeschooled. And then my husband took a new job. And then the stress of the previous three years plus a bunch of other crap smothered me like old laundry until I saw my breaking point (it was ugly and scary), and I finally saw my doctor to ask for help (family, please do not call, I am fine). I’ve had insanely low blood pressure my whole life; seeing numbers that are technically pre-hypertension was not good for my mind.
So what can parents do to take care of themselves?
- First and foremost, for the love, see a doctor if your “end of your rope knot” has frayed beyond recognition and you’re convinced you’re going to plummet into the abyss. If you can’t function to even figure out a plan to take care of yourself, you need a hand up. Guess how I know this.
- How’s your diet? No, not the “gotta lose 20 pounds before Tuesday” kind of diet. What sources of energy are you putting in your pie hole? Crap in, crap out. I know I need to reduce the potato chips (mmmm….salty fatty crunchiness…hey, I thought I had low blood pressure, cut me some slack!) and up the veggies. And for me, gluten is a brain killer. When I get gluten poisoning, I have the pleasure of three days of a full body headache (including brain fog, extreme irritability, exhaustion off the charts, and the deep desire to rip someone’s head off) followed by 48 hours of stomach problems. It’s so awesome to be around me when I’ve been glutened.
- Move much? For close to a year in 2009/2010 I was lifting weights at the gym several times a week, and hit a yoga class maybe every other week. I loved how I felt. Strong yet relaxed. Both of those fell by the wayside when I had to
take a chainsaw totrim the budget, and my stress levels rebounded badly. Mind, body, and soul all benefit from physical activity that you enjoy doing. I’ve often thought about taking up running, but I hate running and will be zombie chow because of it, so I stick to things I enjoy.
- Who are you? What do you like to do? Are you doing it, even a little? I’m playing in a new local wind ensemble, and it has been fantastic for my soul. My body is pissed as hell; the flute is leaking like a sieve, I sound like death, and my hands/wrists/arms are sore from trying to compensate. It and the piccolo are going to the flute spa next week, and hopefully they will return all happy and sweet.
- Call it meditation, call it counting breaths, call it getting to pee in peace, you need some time alone where no one can bother you unless the building is burning down around your ears. I do not have this. My husband works from home, I homeschool A at home, I work from home (or try to)…and this aforementioned home is considerably smaller than our previous home; the bathroom is pretty much the only place I can hide. As I type this, I have on big sound-reducing earmuffs. I look like the airplane-waving-guy at the airport gate. I can’t hear a thing, but it also means I’m not distracted by my husband on the phone/A laughing at a YouTube video while he eats breakfast/the guy across the street mowing down bushes with a chainsaw.
- Ask for help. AGH! No! Not that! Anything but that! Sigh. I’m horrible terrible miserable at asking for help. Beyond bad. My guardian angel has given up with the ::headdesk:: and now just walks around (flies around?) with a little desk glued to his (its?) forehead. Easier that way, less opportunity for whiplash. Years ago I was driving to see Tom (this was before we married) and my car was having problems. A cop checked to see if I was ok, and I said I was fine and sent him on his way. Yeah. So I’m trying to get better at asking for help, preferably before I hit danger levels of stress and fall into the abyss.
So what can I say? I can’t do it for you, I can barely do it for me. But our kids need us to be functioning adults, and we can’t be functioning adults if we don’t take care of ourselves. Sometimes that just flat-out means our kids will have to do without us on occasion. It’s either that or “mommy has to go away for several weeks because she had a complete nervous breakdown.” I don’t have the time or money for that. I hate that I’m not SuperWoman, and have to actively care for myself, especially since (sigh) I’m not getting any younger. I can’t handle stress the way I used to, which was to just hunker down and ride it out. I have another 10+ years of active parenting ahead of me, I just can’t hunker down and ride it out and expect to be hunky dory on the other side.
I’m not a doctor, I’m not an expert, I’m a living laboratory. Those six points are things that I know I need to do for me. What are some suggestions that work for you? ‘Cause I’m gonna need some backup ideas once I get those six under my belt.