When I start to get a cold, I take more zinc because zinc supports my challenged immune system.
Raising a child with Asperger’s is in some ways like getting a cold. Daily, I am challenged not only as a parent but as a person. Who am I going to be in my interactions with my Aspie son, with my typical children, with my spouse, with my community, or even with myself?
A meltdown for my son can trigger a reactive meltdown (of a different type) for me. Sometimes, my reaction is to become guilty.
“I should have anticipated that trigger. I should not have pushed here. I should have protected there.”
Sometimes, my reaction is to become frustrated and angry. Angry at myself, my son, and at the universe in general.
“Why is he so unreasonable? Why isn’t he learning to self-regulate? Why am I not learning to identify triggers more effectively? Why aren’t we making progress when I have the best intentions and work so hard? Why was I given a child with these challenges?”
In my daily life, I want to respond instead of react. I am defining “respond” as a considered and chosen action in response to external stimuli.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space, is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. – Viktor Frankl
I am learning to find that space, both in my thinking and in my daily flow of action. I am learning to choose, “Am I going to react or respond in this moment?”
A key to finding that space in me is the stimuli I allow in my daily life.
There is some stimuli that I have already chosen. My Aspie Son’s actions, etc. are long term stimuli that I chose when I chose to give birth to him. The same is true about my other children. The same is true of my spouse.
However, there are huge amounts of stimuli that I chose every day. From the people I chose to engage with, to the materials I read, to the tv shows I watch, all of these are stimuli that I have can choose. Just like zinc for a cold, in order to support my intention for quality output, I need quality input.
Begin with self-awareness
I must understand how stimuli affects me. Such understanding allows me to chose to limit stimuli that drains me or distracts me.
I recently stopped reading news websites. I found that I spent a lot of emotional energy on horrific happenings in the world. My mind would race thinking about the why behind the latest tragedy I would find myself checking news websites to read everything I could get my hands on regarding an event. The media expects this response and is glad to provide constant coverage. I felt drained. I had less emotional energy to care for my children when they returned from school with their own mundane happenings.
I still hear about the happenings in the world, mostly by proxy. If I am interested in a specific headline, I search out one comprehensive story and read it. However, I am no longer engaged in the emotional rollercoaster of blow-by-blow reporting.
Find Quality Input
After limiting draining stimuli, I had to find quality input. I search out information that supports my endeavors or improves my perspective.
For some people, this is where participation in religious practice plays a huge part. For me, the quality input comes from finding like-minded people and interacting with them, or listening to their podcast or reading their work. Some of my recent favorites:
The Gift of Time
I can not create more time. Instead, I take short quality breaks. These are 10 minute breaks that I carve out three times a day. I go to a quiet place (sometimes my bathroom if everyone is home). I sit quietly and practice being quiet and mindful for 5 minutes.
It surprised me at first how difficult it was to sit quietly for 5 minutes. My thoughts crowded in. My worries started to scream at me. The quieter I became, the more I remembered forgotten tasks. It took several times to find a way to be quiet. I had to set aside the worries and forgotten tasks by acknowledging that they were important and assuring myself that they would be dealt with – WHEN I WAS DONE. I learned to let the thoughts drift away.
When I finally found how to become quiet and mindful for 5 minutes, I found I was re-energized by the process. I could go back to my day with renewed intention and refocused energy.
Eventually, I began to find I could tap back into that quiet mindful place for brief minutes even in the middle of a tense interaction with Daniel. I was creating a space where everything seemed to slow down a bit and I was able to choose my response instead of finding I had reacted without thinking.
How do you provide support for yourself as the parent, as a person, as the caregiver?