Monday, November 17, 2014

Self Care for Parents: Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

We know the drill:  "Parents!  First put on your own oxygen mask!  Before you attempt to assist your child with theirs!"  So why is it so difficult to remember?  Parents of children with Autism (or a similar challenge) usually exhaust themselves into emotional, physical and financial bankruptcy before they are willing to consider self care.  Our marriages end or are in shambles, our children hate us, we have lost our homes or savings, our jobs are neglected, and our doctors...have never seen us before...and we are depressed, anxious, and have forgotten how to enjoy life.  It is time to take care of ourselves first, or we will have no life at all.  It will soon all fade to black, if we don't FIRST put on our own oxygen mask. 

When I got word of a parent's death, I was stunned.  I thought of myself as one of her "supports".  I hadn't seen her in a number of months.  We used to be occassional "walking buddies."  We had since moved to another town.  When I went to her funeral, I knew I would be sad, but I was suprised that I was not able to hold back my tears.  I felt very out of place in my obviously overwhelming expression of grief.  Other family were able to "hold it together."  Why was I grieving so uncontrollably?

I was so sad for her and her children with Aspergers and Autism that she had left behind.  I was also grieving for the collective "we" of all of us as parents with children affected by autism.   It was then and there that I had an ephipany.  I can spend years now kicking myself every time I think of her, because I did not do more for my friend....  Or I could honor her life and death, with a change of heart.  I could put self care at the top of my list of priorities and not feel guilty about doing so.

As parents, our lives are not ordinary.  Many of us are looking ahead to being care providers for our children for the rest of our lives and theirs.  The truth is, we won't be able to care for anyone, unless we make caring for our own quality of life a top priority.  This Blog is devoted to Self Care for Parents who have a son or daughter with Autism Spectrum Disorder or other life challenges.  We understand what other parents are going through.  We need the support of each other and all the positive encouragement we can find.  Parenting a child (of any age) with Autism Spectrum Disorder is a marathon and not a sprint.  Lets be loving and gentle with ourselves and not try to go it alone.

Self Care Means Not Waiting To Be Happy!

When I insist that certain conditions be met, before I can be happy, a red flag now goes up in my mind.   When I believe that I am not OK as a person or not a good parent unless something specific happens, another red flag goes up in my mind.  Self Care means that I no longer "wait" to be happy.  I accept life and reality as it is right now.  And I find joy and peace....happiness....in the present moment. 

Whenever I tell myself some reason why I cannot be happy right now, or why I am not a good parent or person right now....I realize that whatever excuse I am coming up with, it is a lie.  It is an untruth that I am telling myself and it is not reality.  It is not accurate. 

Self Care teaches me that there are no conditions on my happiness nor on my value as a parent.  I am free to be happy regardless of my circumstances.  I am a good and OK person right now and I am no longer going to wait until some conditions are met, (like my children to not have autism) before I allow myself to feel good.

I have spent most of my life, waiting to be happy.  I now see that as a mistake.  I was believing something that I was telling myself, that really was not true.  I no longer need to be fooled by my old ways of thinking and reacting to life. 

If I wait until certain conditions are met, before I allow myself to feel good about my life, then with things such as autism or others beyond my control, I condemn myself to be eternally sad, living each day with an attitude of disappointment.  I no longer want to waste my time living like that. 

I no longer place ultimatums on life, myself and those I love and care about.  I accept life exactly as it is today.  I accept, love and cherish others and myself exactly as we are right now.  Nothing needs to change in order for me to be "OK" and in order for me to "feel good".  I am powerless to control whether or not my children are affected by autism. I am powerless to control reality as it presents itself right now.  My happiness and well being are not dependant on life going a certain way or people acting a certain way, as I have unrealistically tried to convince myself.

Autism is no longer able to keep me from being happy.  I can learn new ways of coping with life.  The way I respond to life's difficulties will no longer inhibit my peace of mind and happiness. 

A Practice in Self Care that Helps Me


I think most of my suffering comes from the "stories" that I make up in my mind about events or people over which I am powerless.  It is not the event itself, but what I continue to tell myself about it.  I believe that it is the mind chatter, the toxic fear based "what if" scenarios running unquestioned that have caused me a lot of unnecessary suffering.

It is how I have tried to manage/control my fear.  Just for today, I can practice relying on my Higher Power* for a more accurate perspective and to recognize that the "stories" I make up are just that.

I can pause now and become aware that I am fully immersed in my Higher Power's/God's Loving Presence and I can see myself and my life events from that perspective.

Today I am going to practice recognizing and suspending the rehearsed "stories" I try to tell myself.

I am going to pause, and breathe deeply.  "Higher Power in" and then exhale, "everything else out".
"Higher Power in" and "everything else out".  In...all that is of the Higher Power and out...everything else.

Sometimes I imagine my brain being washed clean "bathed" with the clean fresh water of God's Loving Presence.  Washing away all the toxic thoughts and fears that I have allowed to build up in my mind.  "Higher Power in" and "everything else out".

* Higher Power refers to the God of your understanding. 

[Option for practice of Self Care:   Observe in a nonjudgmental way, what thoughts occupy your mind and are troubling.  Write down those thoughts and the "stories" that you are telling yourself that are the basis for those thoughts.  After writing it all down, ask your Higher Power (God as you understand God), for help with them.  Turn each thought/story over to the Loving Care of your Higher Power.  After doing so, you can cross them off your list and know that they have been turned over to the Care and Will of your Higher Power.  Relax and see what your H.P. will do with them. ] 

My Favorite Best Self Care Free Resource!

I have found a WONDERFUL FREE Self Care resource for you!!!  It is available worldwide.  I have been personally using it everyday.  WHAT A GIFT FOR PARENTS!!!  Run, do not walk, to the nearest Parents Meeting of Al-Anon in your area!   I have been attending multiple meetings every week for over a year.  It is the best resource I have found for Parents of Youth or Adults with Autism/Aspergers/ADHD/Mental Illness!

At those meetings I am learning how to cope with my sons and daughter's autism and mental illness, in ways that are quality of life enhancing for all concerned.  My children with autism are now ages 17, 19 and 21 years old.  Practicing this program has improved the lives of my entire family.


The Al-Anon Literature is very applicable, if you just substitute the word "Autism, Aspergers,ADHD or Mental Illness" for Alcohol or Alcoholic.   This substitution opens up a treasure trove of valuable coping strategies regarding the behaviors of another person that are extremely challenging.

I invite you to join me on this journey!  I'm learning how to enjoy life and live each day to the fullest!

With much love,
Dawn
autismcaregiver@gmail.com

To locate an Al-Anon Meeting in your area, just look on the Web!  Search for Al-Anon.  


Or go to  www.al-anon.alateen.org  
 http://www.al-anon.org/for-parents
Literature is also available in many languages.   

Sunday, November 16, 2014

What Have Been Your Self Care Strategies?


“Wow, you certainly have your hands full!” If I had a nickel for every time I heard that expression, I would be a very rich woman!  As a parent of multiple children on the Autistic Spectrum it has been VITAL that I take time for Self Care.  I wanted to share what has worked for me in this Blog. 

I would like to hear from you!  What have been your Self Care Strategies that you have found helpful as a parent?     autismcaregiver@gmail.com

What has been helpful for me is: 
1.      Contact with Other Parents of Children with Autism, Aspergers or ADHD.  Sharing funny stories has actually been the most therapeutic!  It has so helped me during difficult times to think, “This is not funny right now…..But when I share it with some other moms…They will find it hilariously funny and I will be able to laugh too!”  Now that is QUALITY THERAPY like no other!   Sharing similar stories with others who are not parents of kids with autism will often get you long lingering stares of first shock, then disbelief and finally the mouth wide open stunned look.  That is not helpful!   Trust me! 

I have been in a psychiatrist’s office and shared what I have experienced and her response?  “I am overwhelmed just listening to you!  You have got to get help!”  This same psychiatrist later asked me to take my children, and never return, stating that they were too much for her office!  Yes, I know what you are thinking….  She was who we parents have to go to, for help with challenging behaviors.

2.      Working the 12 Step Program for Self Care and “Quality of Life Recovery”. [The 12 Steps originated in Alcoholics Anonymous groups and have since been modified to help HUNDREDS of very different life challenges with similar success!!] 

I had returned to Overeaters Anonymous to work on my 80 pounds plus weight gain.  As a result of working the 12 Step Program, I have been maintaining an 80 pound weight loss now for over 3 years.   So I can say with confidence, that the 12 Step Program is QUALITY OF LIFE ENHANCING!  While I was working my own 12 Step Program, I saw immediately that these 12 Steps would also work for parents struggling with raising a child with Autism, Aspergers and ADHD!!!  Parenting Autism is my main life challenge!  I am amazed at how the quality of my life has improved as a parent, since I have been working the 12 Steps in regards to dealing with Autism!  I am so convinced that the 12 Step Program will be QUALITY OF LIFE ENHANCING for other parents like myself….like you, that I can hardly contain myself!!!

Tragically I am also motivated by my friend who committed suicide.  She was a mom of two kids with Autism.  Please scroll down to read, “Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First” below that shares about it. 

I know firsthand the overwhelming challenges of parenting a child with autism.  I also know what can happen, when we as parents do not make self care our first priority.  Autism is a marathon and not a sprint.  If we try to sprint too long, we will not finish the race.  Successful parenting of children with Autism, is not about beating ourselves up for not being able to cure it.  It is not about “trying harder” it is about admitting that it is too much for us to handle on our own.  And that is what the 12 Step Program is all about….overcoming life’s difficulties when they are more than we can handle on our own.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Humor is Excellent Self Care!

Seeking out Comedy and Humor in my life is Excellent Self Care!   Here is a story that I find funny:  
I needed something that would take my mind off of parenting 3 children with Autism.  I needed some "me" time or a hobby that I could enjoy and use to relax.  So, the answer I thought was a cute little puppy.  I searched long and hard for "the perfect dog".  Finally after searching a number of possibilities, I decided on a breed I thought would be perfect!  I was thrilled.  We got our dog.  It was the cutest thing I had ever laid eyes on (besides my children of course).  The little puppy grew into a big fluffy bundle of joy!  A wild big bundle of joy.  So, I enrolled him in "Doggie Obedience School". 

It wasn't long before the Lead Doggie Trainer approached me and asked to speak with me after class one day.  After all the other Owners and their dogs walked to their vehicles, I was curious to find out why the head of the group had felt the need to speak to me.  Perhaps it was that my Dog "Chester" had tipped over the table with all the doggie treats on it and wildly proceeded to gobble up what all the dogs were supposed to receive for good behavior that session?

I braced myself for a stern request that I "keep better control" over my wildly enthusiastic "Chester".  But before the Trainer spoke another incident crept into my mind:  Chester did not seem to like to play with the other dogs.  Chester would cower and curl up in a "doggie fetal position" when other dogs came near him.  It was embarrassing.  Little tiny dogs apparently intimidating my much larger Chester to the point of him whining and "playing almost dead" instead of returning their friendly tackles or happy game playing during "no leash time".   Ah...That's right I guess Chester did tip over the Instructor's treat table/equipment table at that time as well, but not on purpose....Chester was just escaping from the "free for all" with the other dogs.

"Dawn."  The Instructor paused, trying to think of the appropriate way to convey what she was feeling.  "Your dog...."   

"Chester" I said with a smile. 

"Yes..." she said.  "Chester."  Now looking concerned, she continued, "Chester needs to be taught how to play appropriately with other dogs."

Tears of unbelief and thoughts of, "You have no idea lady, what you are doing to me right now." Welled up in my eyes.  I was thankful for the large sunglasses I was wearing. 

The Trainer continued, "I suggest Play dates!  Yes, ask other Owners if you can meet them in a park with their dog a couple times a week.  You need to teach your dog how to play and develop appropriate social skills with other dogs.

"OK...Thanks....Great idea....  I'll...get right on that..."  I weakly replied.  Trying not to loose it...I stumbled to my car, let Chester in...and drove off. 

Now self narrating my life I yelled to myself, "Excuse me!?!?   I have 3 children with Autism!  And now...What is the first feedback I get, that I am sure has NOTHING to do with the "A" word?
Dawn, your DOG IS AUTISTIC!  YOU NEED TO HAVE PLAY DATES.....FOR YOUR DOG!!!
Un-be-liev-able!!!"




NOW, this is a funny story.  It was not funny at the time.  I laughed as I told it to other parents though!  Oh, Thank God for other parents!!!


Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Best Gift I Can Give To My Family

Sometimes I beat myself up mentally.  I tell myself that I am not a good parent.  Or I interpret the stares of others to contain that judgement.  But what is the Truth?  Is the truth that, "if only I tried harder....If only I were a better...."?

The truth is that, just like you, I am doing my best in a very difficult situation with the resources that I have available at the time.  The truth is that "I am enough and I am doing enough."  Any time I spend, beating myself up with unreasonable expectations, is waisted time.  I no longer need to waist my life with that self-destructive behavior. 

The truth is that, any time I spend on being kind and gentle to myself is time well spent.  What can I do today to be kind and loving, to me?  When I first care for myself, I have similar kind and loving resources that I can share with my family. 

Just for today, I will take the time to remember what I found enjoyable before "autism".  Just for today, I will rediscover a new enjoyable activity.  What would I enjoy doing? 

Personally, I enjoy taking a walk in nature.  Just for today, that activity is my top priority.  I will look around me and notice the beauty of nature.  I will bar from my attention, any worry thoughts.  If they come to mind, I will toss them aside and refocus on the amazing beauty around me.  I can see it, and be grateful for it, if I treat myself with exercise and time alone.  What have I passed by many times and never taken time to pause and calm myself with it's wonder?  I will give myself that gift today.

What activity would you enjoy today?  Give yourself that gift and make it a priority. The most loving gift that I can give to my family, is to take the time to be loving, kind and gentle with myself. 

What enjoyable activity will you treat yourself with today?
 Let me know:    autismcaregiver@gmail.com