I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, the life of an autism mom/warrior/superhero/booty-kicker isn’t for the faint of heart. It means different things for different people, but for most of us it equals sleepless nights and exhausted days as we struggle to care for our children. Even the things that most typical parents take for granted, such as feeding our children, are a monumental chore. We are searching constantly for the latest treatment, therapy, supplement, etc. that might be beneficial for our kids. We’re fighting school systems and thoughtless relatives. Many of us are struggling to achieve some sense of normalcy for the lives of your non-ASD children. And at the end of the day, there is very little time to take care of ourselves. Not good.
Let me tell you a little about my situation. I am married with a son, age 10, with autism. We have been treating him biomedically for over four years. About five years ago, my son started expressing his physical pain through self-injurious behaviors, usually head-banging. That is when my life shifted into permanent warrior mode. The way I see it, for him, the stakes are high. He needs to recover well enough to not self-injure, or else one day he may face life in an institution when we grow too old or ill to care for him.
In February 2010, I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. It really should have been no surprise. I had been working so hard to recover my son, that I neglected myself. My son ate healthy; I ate crap. I gave him 100% of my thoughts, energy, and attention; I paid no attention to myself. I didn’t exercise, I didn’t take time out for myself, and I had no friends. Spinning. That’s how I see myself then: spinning, spinning, spinning, chasing recovery for my son, and meanwhile I was stumbling through life, dizzy and out of control.
Getting sick was a dramatic wake-up call. As I made my way through treatments I knew that I was largely responsible for what was happening to me, and I resolved from then on that I would no longer neglect myself even while I was working to recover my son. I researched the best foods for breast cancer and changed my diet accordingly. I started exercising. I got my spiritual life back in order as well, putting all my faith in God and trusting Him to take care of me. I opened myself up more to people and started making friends who supported me, prayed for me, and loved me. I made it through treatments and surgery and then set myself back on the course of recovering my son. My resolve was even stronger: God and I would whip autism AND cancer. Not a problem.
Slowly, though, my old bad habits started sneaking back into my life. I stopped exercising. I started allowing a few bad foods back into my diet, then more, and then even more. I started pulling away from my friends and I stopped getting out as much. I began spinning again, spiraling myself into a deep hole of isolation and depression. Fortunately, a couple of weeks ago, I was able to recognize what I have been doing. I took a big first step: I reached out to someone. Actually, I reached out to many someones. I reached out to my fellow Thinking Mom friends and others in a Facebook group that I am so privileged to belong to. I had pulled away from all of them, and I came back to them and told them about my struggles. They reached out to me with open arms and gave me more love and encouragement than I could have ever imagined. They have helped me with suggestions and ideas about how to get my own diet and health back in order. They have shown me exactly why it is important, this friendship, this sisterhood that we have: the sisterhood of autism moms. They know where I am, they know what I am dealing with, and they share many of my struggles.
I am working hard on getting my eating back under control. I am, for the first time, looking at alternative therapies at keeping my breast cancer at bay. Although I am doing incredibly well, and seem to be cancer-free at the moment, I am dealing with some bothersome side effects from the drugs that I am taking to keep the cancer inactive. It is my hope and dream that one day I will be able to come off of those drugs and keep myself healthy through more natural means.
As I am eating healthier, I am finding more energy to do things that are fun. Tonight I am going to a social with my Sunday School friends, and I am really looking forward to it. It’s important to get out sometimes, to get away from autism altogether for a few hours and just enjoy good company and sweet friendships.
I am writing this for you because I want you to learn from my mistakes. It is so easy to get burned out as an autism mom. We tend to neglect ourselves first and foremost. But we can’t; that’s a dangerous mistake. We lose our balance and we start to spin. When we start spinning, our superhero capes get tangled around our own necks. Our kids need us to be healthy and happy. They need us to make wise decisions and live long lives. They need us to fight for them, but we must also remember to fight for ourselves.I challenge you today to look at yourself, and identify the ways you are neglecting your own mind, body, and spirit. Make a list of some things that you can do to take better care of yourself. Then do them. You’ll thank me for it one day.
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