I still remember it like it was yesterday…
I awoke on Thanksgiving in 2008 feeling anything but 'happy' or 'grateful.' My family had recently experienced a significant shift due to an event that came out of nowhere. And now, it was the holiday season, and I had always been that parent who made sure that everything was joyous and bright, not a sad face in the place.
And that year, I determined it would be no different, no matter how I felt.
I had started to say that this was my 'new normal,' a term I'd heard somewhere about learning to accept the things you could not change. It would be my role to be an example of this new normal and cheer everyone else along with me. Oh, how I wish I could go back and talk to that woman. I can't do that, but I can speak to you, a parent who, like me that year, might be feeling anything but happy about the upcoming holidays ahead. Holidays where you are anxious and worried about how your child will cope with the season.
Perhaps this year or in some recent past, your life was changed forever too…With a diagnosis of Autism.
And like me, you endeavored to focus on your child and all the ways you could be sure that this diagnosis would never negatively impact them. You would search, investigate, and activate any potential help you could get for your son or daughter. You would stay up into the wee hours of the night and still be up bright and early to deliver them to whatever resource was available. It's your job to make them the best version of whatever they could be.
This was your 'New Normal', right?
But here's the thing. While you are so busy focusing on your child and your entire family, you just might be missing a significant factor in the long term success of these goals you've set. That is, your own emotional and mental well-being. Sure, you can continue to power through and eventually decide to just accept that how you are feeling is just the way it's always going to be. The trouble is, anxiety, depression, and perhaps even anger have a tendency to make you tired. To make you feel hopeless. And to make you disconnected.
Going through the motions isn't enjoying life, it's only being a participant in it.
I have no doubt that you are doing everything possible to help your child, and that you are doing an awesome job. I just want to caution you about the ways those negative emotions you might be carrying could begin to impact your expectations for your child's outcomes. You see, your emotional health really does matter more to the success of your child's life, even more than any therapy they are getting. If you are feeling so very different this year than you did before you learned about your child's special needs, I urge you to seek out someone to talk to about this. Not just here online, but face to face. Yes, it will take time away from your family, and yes, it might impact some of the activities your child gets to go to. Still, it will return to you tenfold in your ability to create your own healthy new normal. Not the one everyone and everything wants to design for you. The one you get to define.
I urge you. Pick up the phone and make that call.
If you need assistance finding resources for counseling and support services, please let us know. Whether this is your 1st holiday season with Autism or your 10th, it's never too late to start defining your own new normal.
Be well and Happy Thanksgiving.