Special needs parenting can be difficult. With every big step forward your child makes is a path shaped by a lot of trials. For every milestone, there is a parent, teacher, educator, and/or therapist who has worked incredibly hard to help a special needs individual reach their potential. Taking care of your mental health in the midst of helping your child or loved one reach their goals is not often discussed in the special needs community, but it is nevertheless incredibly important.
Special needs parents are amazing. You meet the physical, mental, and education needs of your child on a regular basis. If they can’t speak for themselves, you are their voice. You are an advocate and a warrior. You are someone whose heart is filled with empathy in a way that not many people’s hearts are. While taking care of your child, there are moments of frustration, times when you need to breathe, and times when you need to take care of yourself.
Before you do anything, do this:
If you are having a tough time, make sure that you are well fed, rested, and are getting enough of your physical energy spent. One of the first things that many therapists suggest in an introductory therapy session is to check those boxes. Sometimes, people get hangry (angry while hungry), cranky while tired, or just a little bit restless if they haven’t walked around enough. You’re human, so make sure the needs of your body are met before you start addressing your mental health.
If you are having underlying thoughts that seem to be inhibiting your daily function, it may be a good idea to immediately consult a psychiatrist. It’s okay to not be okay. While the tips in this article can be useful for most, they are not effective for all. Asking for extra help is not a thing to ever be ashamed of, and it can almost always benefit you as a parent.
Hide in your closet. Yes, we mean it.
Parents, in general, sometimes need a break. That’s okay, you are not a horrible person for wanting just a few moments to yourself. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, and generally like you may explode, take a moment to find a hiding spot in your house. Of course, make sure your child is in a situation or place that they can’t hurt themselves. We recommend taking a moment after you have put the kids to bed to hide in your closet before you go downstairs to watch late night television. It can be tempting to try to just watch shows after the kiddos are asleep, but it might be a good idea to seclude out some time for yourself.
It sounds weird, right? It kind of is, but it seriously helps. Sometimes you just have to have a moment to collect yourself and address all the things in your life that may be stressing you out. It helps to focus your mind if the place that you’re meditating is dark, and closets are a pretty good place to find peace.
Of course, we’re not suggesting you hide from your child or your problems. We want you to know that it is okay to take a breather, even if it’s just for a little while ever night after the kids go to bed.
Keep a journal.
Sometimes it helps to write down your fears, worries, and happenings in a journal. For a lot of people, they’re a healthy way of processing emotions. They can help you understand how your reactions and responses to situational stimuli, if those reactions and responses are healthy or hindering, or if you can be benefitted. Journals can help you be mindful of yourself and your situation. Plus, down the road, you can look back and see your growth. Breathe. Meditate. Reset yourself.
It’s okay, no one saw you order yourself an extra pumpkin muffie from Panera to eat later. Sometimes you might just need an extra pick-me-up to feel a little bit better about the day. Whether it’s a new scarf, an extra pastry, or a new pen to write with, sometimes little, inexpensive treat yo-self presents are a great way to add a little pep to your step.
Life can get tough. You have to allow yourself to experience the emotions that we often hold inside and don’t let our children see. It’s alright to cry sometimes, it’s a healthy way of expressing the way we feel about something.
Know when to seek outside help.
As we said, it’s okay to not be okay. Your mental health is an integral part of raising your child. If you have persisting negative thoughts that aren’t helped by taking time to breathe, meditate, and re-center yourself, it might be time to find a psychiatrist or psychologist that will be able to help you.