Let’s talk about self-care. Hint: you’re allowed to be selfish sometimes!
When people pay tribute to their moms, these are what they say:
“My mom is the most selfless person I know.” or
“My mom sacrificed so much for me to be who I am today.”
As caregivers of family members with diverse abilities, we often put our family’s needs before our own. Years ago, a neighbour, whose grandchild had a diverse ability, mentioned to me that his daughter was always with the child and never reached out for respite. She wanted to do it all herself. At that moment, I was thinking to myself,
“That doesn’t sound healthy.”
In the event of an emergency on planes, the adult should always put on the oxygen mask FIRST. How are we going to help our loved one if we aren’t breathing? We need to take care of ourselves before helping others.
We strive to be the SELFLESS parent that everyone applauds and approves of, but as a mom of an autistic child, the important thing that I’ve learned about self-care is that it needs to be SELFISH, and it’s okay. I believe “Selfishness” is what’s required to be a better caregiver going forward.
Get Rid of Caregiver Guilt
This summer, my son’s challenges became more intense, and he kept me up most nights. Until you experience sleep deprivation, you have no clue how vital sleep is to you mentally and physically. Sleep deprivation leaves me irritable and in a mental fog; I can’t concentrate on anything. There is no other word to describe it: I broke. I started to detest my behaviours: shouting, throwing things, disliking my child’s actions to the point of wishing him away. My friend Cindy called me one evening, and I just broke down sobbing. That night, I realized I could no longer have my son overnight and asked his dad to have him every night (we had previously had a three and four-night split). I could not parent my child effectively. Even though there was a lot of “mommy guilt” involved with this decision, I quickly snapped out of it because I knew that it was the right one.
Learn to say NO
I’ve also learned to say no. It is a tough one for me because I am a pleaser, but I am getting better. I’m learning to use the phrases,
“I’m sorry, but that isn’t going to work for me,” or
“I’m sorry, but I’m unable to attend.”
We think we must give an elaborate excuse, but we don’t, most people will take your “no” and not ask why.
My Self-care Practices
I’ve always embraced self-care before I was a mom. My knowledge of self-care has benefited me tremendously through my journey as an autism parent. As a staff of AutismBC, I preach to other parents about the importance of self-care. So, here are some of the things I do to take care of myself.
PHYSICAL — On the day we received B’s autism diagnosis, I went for a tearful run. So running is something I do to stay healthy mentally and physically. Other activities, like yoga, hiking, skiing, sleep, eating nutritious food, and sex (yes, I said sex ????), also help.
RELATIONSHIPS — On that same day that B got his autism diagnosis, my neighbour pulled over and offered me a ride and a shoulder to cry on. It’s essential to have a social circle that you can lean on in a crisis. At this time, I connect virtually with friends and family. When things were “normal,” I would go away for a weekend with my girlfriends or partner or go out to the pub for a burger and beer (ignore the part about nutritious food above lol). I would hang out with other friends that “get it” and also have kids with diverse abilities. It amazes me how many real friends I have that have offered to assist me even though they have their struggles and challenges.
MENTAL — I believe in taking away the stigma that is still sometimes associated with mental health issues. If someone had a broken arm, they would get a cast. If someone has anxiety or depression, they need help too. For me, it comes in the form of an anti-anxiety/anti-depressant medication. I also started seeing a counsellor. Shout out to Diane Powers-Jeans at Stepping Stones in Kelowna, who has been a great resource. Her excellent advice, sense of humour, and lending an ear have encouraged me to feel compassion for myself.
I’ve always been very open in sharing what I was going through with friends and family. I don’t think this is self-care per se, but I know it helped me emotionally and mentally.
On top of counselling, yoga, deep breathing, gardening, reading a book, and doing a jigsaw or crossword puzzle are things I do to enhance my mental health.
ENVIRONMENTAL — Listening to music, sitting on my deck, enjoying the sunshine, and lighting a smelly candle (never leave unattended!).
SELF-IMPROVEMENT — I used to scoff at self-help books, mindfulness, and yoga. Not so much anymore. My go-to is “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” by Richard Carlson, and I try to read a page every night before bed. One of my favourite takeaways from his book is,
“Will this matter a year from now?”
The person that is holding up traffic, the fact my son isn’t learning what he would typically at school, not getting my online order on the expected date and so on. It’s incredible how many things won’t matter a year from now. I take deep breaths and move on.
I also believe in being kind and compassionate to myself and trying to be empathetic of others. I have been challenged during COVID-19 to find empathy at times for that person that is hoarding all the soy sauce (seriously, none was left the other day at the grocery store), or the person who isn’t practicing social distancing. I’m really, really, trying to understand why they may be behaving the way they are; maybe they have an autistic child who only eats rice with soy sauce? It’s hard, but this quote has been helping me get through it.
Self-care to some of us may sound like a luxury, like going away for the weekend or splurging on some extravagant spa packages. However, it doesn’t have to be expensive or time-consuming. When my son was little, self-care for me meant having a shower uninterrupted. It means anything that makes me feel better, even if I can only carve out 10 minutes a day. I hope my list above has given you some pointers to take care of yourself without spending a lot of time and money.
And then maybe one day our kids will say the following about us:
“My mom is great because she takes good care of herself and us,” or
“I love my mom because she is happy and enjoys life.”
These are stressful times we are presently living in. Be kind to yourself and others.
Written by Lisa Watson, Regional Coordinator for Interior BC.