The Constant Stress And Pressure Of Special Needs Moms
The constant stress and pressure of special needs moms is real. And we need help.
I had a dream last night.
In it, my son was in pain, but I couldn’t understand where, or what was causing it.
I was calm, but focused. I kept trying to ask him questions about his body in a different way, hoping he would be able to communicate what was bothering him.
Searching for my husband, I finally found him and frantically asked if he had noticed anything different, anything off.
Suddenly, I was in a doctor’s office, trying to find the right words to describe what was going on, to a faceless, cold physician. I began searching in all the rooms of a very long corridor, becoming more and more frantic.
I was desperate to help him.
When I woke, I was grateful that he wasn’t in actual pain.
It also struck me that this dream was an incredibly accurate depiction of what my life feels like every day.
Hypervigilance is a word that is often used in referencing mothers of children with autism and other special needs. It is actually a word that was first used to describe a combat soldier, and the trauma of constantly being on alert, searching for threats, a few breaths away from total fear, exhaustion and panic. It is a constant state of stress and feeling of pressure.
Combat Soldiers And Special Needs Moms
Our days on alert for our children can have the same effect as if we were in combat, fighting for our lives.
Caring for another human being who may weigh more than you do, or have strength far beyond yours when melting down.
Cleaning up messes – some of them just plain dirt, some of them actually cleaning up biological waste.
Our bodies are physically exhausted to be sure.
But the most trauma comes from what happens in our minds.
The constant scanning for threats (Will he eat today? Take his meds today? Meltdown today? Hurt himself today? Hurt his brother today? Hurt me today? Spend the day curled up in a ball under his lycra sheets? Spend the day bouncing off the walls and recreating salt water tank set-ups? Leave the house? Throw something in public? Sleep past 4:00 AM?) is what starts to take its toll.
The feeling of always being on alert, ready for the next meltdown or crisis, is what chips away at our mothers’ hearts and minds.
…and I am so tired of it.
I am not tired of doing all the things. I am tired of feeling all the things.
The Constant Stress And Pressure Of Special Needs Moms
We went to a reef aquarium expo this past weekend.
Oh my goodness, it was like heaven for my salt water aquarium obsessed expert son. He loved it.
Our entire family went and got into it on his behalf.
He engaged with all the vendors. They understood him. They were blown away by how much this 12-year-old boy knew about the hobby. They complimented him, all day long.
He had a blast.
But you know what I focused on for the first part of the day?
It’s so loud in here. Why do they need to blast the announcements for the raffle over and over again in the speaker? Maybe we should take a break outside for a few minutes. Is he thirsty? Why didn’t I think to bring water? Oh man, what is he going to do when he realizes he does not have enough money saved up to buy that elegance coral he has been staring at for 30 minutes? I thought there would be more food vendors here. He is going to need to eat soon. What should we do?
I spent hours like this. (Mothering a child with special needs is almost always like this – in constant stress and pressure).
I was stressed and on high alert. Most importantly, I was missing all the good that was happening right before my eyes.
Living With Constant Stress And Pressure
At one point, my son asked if just the two of us could walk around together. He wanted to show me all the delights he had discovered and talk to me (well, lecture me, but you know) about all of their finer qualities.
As we moved through the building, slowly but surely, I began to relax.
The more I focused on him, and what joy he was experiencing, the less I noticed the environment. The more I looked at his sweet face, beaming as he talked me through one aquarium additive vs. another, the less tension I felt in my neck and shoulders. The more I paid attention to the compliments vendor after vendor gave me on what an impressive son I was raising, the more I began to enjoy our time together.
It was a great day.
The constant pressure I feel almost stole that from me.
How sad. The very person I am trying to help and protect, is the very person I am missing out on connecting with and enjoying.
It was a good lesson. The more I worry, despair, and stress, the less I see the good, the fun, and the joyful. The more I try to manage and maintain, the less I notice his progress, his ability, his functionality.
The more I fear, the less I love.
I pray I remember this next time I feel the dread and doom coming on, despite the stress and pressure.
I pray I see what is right in front of me, and enjoy it, instead of worrying about the next problem.
I pray I see my son.
Because I am not a combat soldier. I am a mom.
This post originally appeared here on Not The Former Things in 2015.
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Shawna Wingert is a special education teacher turned educational consultant, and mom of two brilliant boys who have learning differences and special needs.
Shawna has also written four books: Everyday Autism, Special Education at Home, Parenting Chaos, and Homeschooling Your Child With Special Needs. A passionate advocate for individualized education, Shawna is frequently featured on Today.com, Simple Homeschool, Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers and The Mighty. She can also be found supporting parents online at her own site, DifferentByDesignLearning.com.