CRITICAL SELF-CARE: WE HAVE NO CHOICE
In addition to sharing my professional and clinical thoughts about how CRITICAL it is for parents of special needs children to prioritize their self-care practices, I would like to address you as a special needs parent, on the "other side" ... on the receiving end, as I have forged my way through a maze that no book can fully describe. I don't want this to be cliche or just a topic that encompasses the obvious: Self-care for everyone is important. What I want to convey to you, parent to parent, is that for us in our special needs/disabilities world...self-care is CRITICAL. And I feel confident to take it a step further...if we want to survive this journey with strength, resolve, and hope ... WE HAVE NO CHOICE.
However, this is completely up to you. What I am emphasizing is that IF you want to stay hopeful, stay healthy, find solutions, take a deep breath, and remain grateful amidst what we endure, you need to prioritize self-care. There is no other way around it.
Although I feel strongly about this because I have learned this lesson personally, and I know the importance of it professionally, I also know how unrealistic it may seem. In fact, it may feel utterly daunting. I understand that feeling, too. Do you really have a choice in taking good care of yourself when you are up a lot at night? When your schedule is filled with doctors appointments, therapies, insurance phone calls? When every breath you take revolves around your special needs child? You do...but it will most certainly not be a cookie-cutter answer.
As much as we have a common thread in our special needs world, we are also immersed in very unique abilities and disabilities of our children, which will directly impact what self-care will look like for us. I'd love to see everyone exercising daily, taking into account a well-balanced diet, and scheduling in massages, but I also very well know that some of us will have to tailor all of that based on what's before us. What I just listed were just one slice of the "self-care" pie...the physical aspects of good health. Again, I don't want to sound cliche...good health is important for everyone. Good health for special needs parents is CRITICAL.
But maybe, just maybe, you're already good about your attaining your goal of daily walks, or 3x/week of some form of exercise. Great...and even though that helps tremendously, you know you are experiencing a lack of emotional support. You feel depleted, depressed, lonely. The ripple effects of these emotions can backfire and impact all areas of your life. Maybe you need to replace something else in your schedule with a short nap; a phone call to a dear friend you haven't connected with in a while; a good book you've been wanting to escape into (having that sense of "escape" is a whole other topic!). Maybe...you will find it's time to seek professional help to experience that extra breath you so long for....that trusted relationship where you can bring out all you've been feeling, thinking, dreaming, dreading. You're ready to find solutions; you're ready to heal; you're ready to have that place just for yourself (and possibly you'll include other family members on this therapy journey).
I'm telling you as a parent of a non-verbal child with cognitive disabilities that there is no choice for us..we must constantly scan the different areas of self-care and decide which area(s) to address next. It's never ending, and yet it's always benefiting. Please view my "Self-Care for the Caregiver" diagram and take notice of all the different quadrants (Healthy Living, Resources, Support, Creativity/Leisure), and how within each quadrant, there is a list (I just scratched the surface) that might or might not fit your needs. Feel free to replace/add to make your own diagram. You will notice that self-care involves the following facets of good health, all influencing one another: the physical, the emotional, the mental, and the spiritual.
My hope for you is that you will make self-care a priority. It is CRITICAL..and ultimately, if you want to have the most peace possible along your journey, remind yourself (and others who need to hear this) that you have a lot of options and ultimately, it's up to you. From one parent/caregiver of a special needs child to another, I wish you an abundance of hope, healing and strength.