How a few tender words changed my life.
Self-Care is new the buzz word in the natural health world and the usual cynics are out. Yes, I do believe some people may have taken it too far but there’s group of people who must practice at least the basics of self-care and that’s The Parents of Children with Special Needs.
As a Yoga teacher to many of these people and the mother of a teenager with ASD, I know self-care for people with tougher parenting roles can’t be optional.
My dear 16 year old son Rafi has ASD. He also has ADHD, serious allergies and severe eczema. When he was 3 and we’d just moved to Spain his eczema was so bad, large areas of his skin were weeping with infection. The poor little guy was suffering.
I finally found kind and understanding doctor. New creams were prescribed and we talked through daily care and future appointments.
But what really struck me was when the doctor paused at one point and said directly to me:
Y tu Sarah? La mama. Que tal?”
“And you. Sarah. You. How are you?”
These unexpected tender words and caring directed towards me spiked tears to my eyes And yet a wave of realization washed over me of how I must look and then of how I felt. Pretty much grey and dull all round.
I was in a pit and that wasn’t good for anyone. Not for Rafi, for me, nor my marriage for that matter.
I was lonely, in a constant state of worry, tired and had lost the zest for life and saw then that I had to do something about it.
No princes on white horses were coming to help us. I had to get myself in order.
Parents of children with special needs have to become ninja parents. And ninjas need to be strong mentally and spiritually as well as physically. They have the best weapons and must keep them sharp and tuned.
We have to keep close and positive relationships at schools, care centres and therapists.
We need to be there for our kid’s practical and emotional needs.
We council them through their worries, depressions and their meltdowns.
We have to explain their behaviour time and again and deal with insensitive comments from every corner of society.
We are compelled to learn as much about our children’s conditions as we can and keep up to date with medical progress.
We need to process the guilt and remuneration as to “why” they are the way they are. That good ol’ “What could I have avoided” 4am guilt trip.
We have to summon up patience, tolerance and understanding for our kids, others and ourselves.
But you can’t be patient when you’re fatigued.
You can’t be tolerant when you’re overwhelmed.
And you can’t think straight when your batteries have run dry.
It’s easy to slip into perceiving our lives as something to endure rather than to cherish.
So little by I pulled myself up. I washed down my Yoga mat and creaked my way back onto it.
Just a few minutes a day, to gradually more.
As I physically strengthened a mental pathway began to clear.
I found the right kindergarden for Rafi and I enrolled in classes to improve my Spanish. We rented a house with a little garden and bought a secondhand car. Gradual upgrades. Each one bringing a little more ease and lift to life..
Rafi's doctor Lola became my first good friend in Spain. We laughed a lot as we taught each other our languages. She even became second son’s godmother.
I found an Iyengar Yoga teacher and a couple of years later went on a Yoga retreat where I made the decision to train as a Yoga teacher.
Self-care wasn’t a week in a five star spa. It was gradually taking charge of my life, asking for help and making positive decisions guided by the insight I gained from time on the Yoga mat.
13 years on as I plan Yoga workshops and retreats for parents of children with special needs I look back on those days and gather what I learnt to inspire others.
I’ve learnt to start with the basics and then to tweak at the details of life.
1) Get enough sleep. Life is way rosier when you’re not exhausted. Go to bed early whenever possible. Nap when you can.
2) Medial care for you. We become experts on the where to find doctors and therapists for our children, yet often neglect our own care.
Make one month of the year the time you go for all your check ups.
Don’t wait out illnesses. Go to your doctor. Take your supplements. Make soothing warm drinks for yourself. Ease an aching back with a hot pack. You need to be tended to as well.
3) Food: Eat well at least 80% of the time. Keep junk to a minimum and learn how to cook veggies so they appeal to you. Roasted sweet potatoes are great. A new favorite of mine is cauliflower steamed in milk then blended.
As a Yoga teacher of course I want the whole world to do Yoga.
It’s not only strengthens and opens up your body; the calming, and uplifting mental benefits have truly helped me and countless others through dark times.
It’s also a wonderful way to meet (generally) warm and open people. Make sure you join a class you’re comfortable in and feel a good connection with your teacher.
If Yoga isn’t your thing, make sure you regularly do something fun that makes you move. And don’t wait til you feel like it. You often won't, but do it anyway.
Plan regular meet up with a friend. Make sure it’s a real buddy, not an energy sucker.
Ask friends and family for help, and help back.
Swap childcare with a friend so you can both go out and have fun.
6) Life upgrades.
Where could the everyday be made more special?
Put some a few flowers in a jar or a plants in your bedroom? Play music? Could you buy nicer coffee? New sheets? Upgrade your underwear? Go for a walk? Read more?
How could you change the details of your day and week to be more interesting and less stressful? Would a cup of tea and a good book make waiting time brighter? As you go through your day notice where you might be able to add a little texture and zest.
7) Make time to do what you love. Doing something creative brings a great sense of satisfaction. Write a blog, knit, paint, play chess, sew, learn a language or musical instrument. Be careful it doesn’t become a chore. Break up projects into mini tasks that can be finished.
8) Set up appointments to look forward too.
Schedule a Skype call. Plan going out for weekend breakfast or a walk with some good pals.
Take it further and book a weekend away or even a Yoga retreat.
Creating a light at the end of the tunnel adds a delicious touch of excitement to the time leading up to it.
The queen of self-care. There are plenty of articles online to guide you but don’t get bogged down in the theory.
Find time everyday to sit and focus on your breath and gently bring your mind back to your breath each time it wanders away. It’s like training a puppy. Start with just a couple of timed minutes each day. Your day will go better and so will your relationships.
As a parent of a child with special needs, we need to take on all aspects of self-care as a life long commitment. Stop to smell flowers, ponder on the sweetness of a baby’s face and drink in music with more intensity and awareness. Take care of yourself so you are better able to take care of others.