I want to share a story about a hammock. When I would dream of vacations by the sea (I lived far from a warm beach at the time) my vision always included a hammock and maybe a beverage with a little umbrella too. I was a busy mom with two young children, one on the autism spectrum and another that is also neurodivergent.
Sometimes I would fantasize about this beach vacation and then I would briefly consider buying a hammock for our backyard. I thought, perhaps I could find a couple of moments to relax and pretend that I was on vacation. I would scroll online looking at hammock options. We didn’t have a tree, so I would need a stand as well. I would decide this wasn’t in our budget that month or I didn’t really need it. The thought would pass and I would continue moving through mom life as usual.
One day, I was looking at articles on sensory integration tools for kids with autism, trying to find more ways to help my children. I found one that suggested using a hammock. The article said that the gentle rocking it provides, and the and way it holds the body could be very soothing and therapeutic for sensory processing disorders. That was all I needed to hear, this time I didn’t think about if it was in our budget or if we really needed a hammock. I was clicking over to Amazon ready to purchase one as soon as possible. (Perhaps you are thinking the same thing right now at this moment if you have a child with SPD.)
For compassionate people, we often do not hesitate to help and provide for the people that we deeply care about, but when it comes to ourselves we do not hold that same value. Over the years I have shifted that balance in myself to a much healthier state. Not only do I benefit, but my entire family benefits from my ability to be in a calmer and more grounded state of being.
There is a condition called caregivers fatigue syndrome and in my experience, almost all moms of autistic children and special needs children suffer from this at one point or another. Actually, parents of all types are at risk for this.
We focus so much emotional and physical energy as well as our time on improving the lives of our children. We tend to put ourselves on the back burner. That constant attention to everyone but ourselves leads to burnout aka caregivers fatigue syndrome.
Symptoms of caregivers fatigue include:
- Lack of energy
- Overwhelming fatigue
- Sleep problems (too much or too little)
- Changes in eating habits; weight loss or gain
- A feeling of hopelessness
- Withdrawing from, or losing interest in, activities you once enjoyed
- Neglecting your own physical and emotional needs
- Feeling like caregiving is controlling your life
- Becoming unusually impatient, irritable, or argumentative
- Anxiety about the future
- Depression or mood swings
- Difficulty coping with everyday things
- Headaches, stomachaches, and other physical problems
- Lowered resistance to illness
It’s not hopeless though, there are many things you can do to begin to bring in support for yourself. It may feel uncomfortable at first, especially if you are used to putting your needs at the bottom of the list, but I promise that the people you care about will also benefit from a more refreshed and grounded version of you.
Some things you can do include:
- Ask for help! Needing help doesn’t make you a bad caregiver. It simply means you can’t do it alone (no one can do it alone).
- Give yourself permission to take breaks. Get out of the house. Visit with friends. Take a long bath.
- Take care of yourself. Don’t skip your own doctor’s appointments because you’re too busy. Exercise, eat well, and get enough sleep.
- Get up 15 minutes earlier or stay up 15 minutes later and use the time just for you. Sit with your coffee or tea and read a fiction book about something not related to your life.
- Journal about your struggles and feelings. Meditate, pray, or go for a mindfulness walk.
- Make a list of all your daily activities and tasks. See if you can delegate any of them. Perhaps your spouse can make dinner twice or a week. Maybe a friend or relative can run errands or help with laundry. People often want to help—take them up on it!
- Find local support groups. Communicating with others who are in your situation helps immensely, as does opening up and sharing your frustrations—and your joys! (I know for me this was very helpful.)
- If an opportunity comes along for a brief getaway for you, consider trusting a family member or close friend to care for your child. I know transitions are difficult but a refreshed parent makes all the difference and it will be worth it.