Even as a mental health professional and a self-proclaimed "wellness expert", I'm not immune to struggling to find a balance within and can often loose my temper due to the stress of it all knocking at my front door. It sometimes takes the best out of me, but has also provided me with strength and resilience when I've needed it most.
Being a mother to a child with special needs as well as working for Early Intervention Services as a Behavioral Specialist, I find that some of my families lean on me for mental/moral support and I welcome it. I want to be there for my families in order to help guide them down the best path possible as I was once wearing those new "special needs parent" shoes that have since been worn in.
I've been asked on numerous occasions by many what my best advice is to give to newly diagnosed families or just to any special needs family in general, and this is my staple that I live and abide by every single day of my newfound life as both a special needs mother and mental health professional:
Take it "one day at a time."
Yes, I know, a very cliche saying often used among those struggling with addiction/mental illness, but it can also apply to those of us raising special needs individuals.
For instance, throughout most of my life I've struggled with anxiety and depression. I've been able to keep the black knights at bay due to developing coping skills that have since helped me grow into the person I am today. When Autumn was born and just a small baby, I would cry just thinking about her future as it seem so uncertain. I would worry myself sick over nonsense things that were completely out of my control. Even once she received her diagnosis, I spent much of my time reflecting on the whys and how's that I lost sight on the present and the good that she was doing.
I became (and still do at times bc I'm not perfect) easily stressed and would cry often because as much as I like to think I have control over our lives, I too felt isolated, scared and alone, staring down at the journey of our future together with confusion, worry and sometimes doubt, not knowing if things would be okay with her or with me. I still don't know and probably will never know what precisely is in store for us, but to sit here in panic over the "what ifs" is a sign of a wasted life. I had to teach myself to stop doing this for too long as it would cause me to become angry and resentful, questioning my entire being. Not only did this over-worrying do the above to me, but it took away some amazing moments that have since been stored within my memory box in which I'll never get back again.
Thus, newly diagnosed parents and parental gaurdians of special needs individuals, do me a favor: don't sit in sorrow absorbed within the "what ifs" for too long. Yes, feel those feelings of pain, hurt, saddness, anger, blame, and even regret, but don't let the above emotions overtake the good ones. Trust me when I say, taking it "one day at a time" is the best option within this life of ours. It will bring a sort of peace and tranquility and lessen those anxious feelings of worry as time moves forward.
I know it sounds too good to be true and that not thinking or reflecting on our childs' future sounds passive, but it's not. When we put too much emphasis on the future, sometimes the beautiful moments of the present pass us by. Before we know it, tomorrow becomes yesterday and yesterday becomes years ago. Father Time has a funny way of showing us how heavy he can be, but how much we will yearn to feel those lighter weights upon our shoulders when life moves forward. Plus, we will never get this day or moment in time ever again. My Autumn will never be a baby again or two or three on May 31st.
Learning to take things one day at a time has also helped me appreciate and enjoy each moment we have together in the present. If I start thinking about what Autumn will be doing in September or when she's five, ten or twenty, it will cause me to go into a panic. I just can't think that far ahead, heck, I can't even plan my weekends anymore! I've chosen not to think too far or too much into the future becuse it's path is still unwoven among the threads of life.
The taking things "one day at a time" approach has saved my sanity and has left me feeling confident as a parent and a professional. I no longer feel as jaded or emotional regarding Autumn and her future because I've chosen to not focus too much of my time and energy worrying about the above. It will be in my face and here before I know it.
Now excuse me while I go and have a picnic with these two.
-Lee Ann Womack