My mental health, self-care, and learning what to let go

By Kelly Wilton

We talk a lot about self-care here at Source Mama. Why? Why do we talk about it, when, as mums raising kids with disabilities, we know it’s such a hard thing for most of us to mention without feelings of guilt, let alone actually manage to do?

You might even be known to say to yourself ‘I don’t have time for self-care’ (one of my favourites that I utter!) and ‘if I hear about self-care anymore, I’m going to scream’. And, that right there, is your indicator that you are on the brink of needing more than just a break!

So, how do we cut ourselves a break instead of being on the verge of a break down?

Living with someone with a mental health condition, I can say from personal experience that lots of days are hard. There can be a lot of resentment and misunderstanding. When people are in deep despair, there’s actually not much we can do but give them and ourselves time and space. When you are in the middle of a trauma, a crisis, there ain’t nothing that’s going to work in that moment. It’s just not the time to plan and put into action any changes; you are simply in survival mode. Until we come up for air to breathe, only then can we start to tackle what we’ve just been through.

Many of us are sure to have found ourselves ‘right in the middle of it’ to be told by someone, albeit misguided and ill-timed, ‘just do this, then that, and finally you’ll be free of all your issues’! As if somehow, by doing those steps everything will fall into place and, hey presto, all our problems will disappear!

Life doesn’t work like that though, does it? Particularly for us parents of kids with disabilities. So, let’s be guided by our kids who show us that it’s the small steps that reap the biggest rewards. Small moments, small intentions, and repeat. There is no magic wand, magic answer or magic spell that is going to help us. It is simply about changing our mindset to focus on these small moments and intentions, and of course, putting in the hard work to create the change we want to see in the world.

Emotions – they can last only seconds, so don’t let them rule your day

Many a good psychologist has told me over the years that emotions are no different to thoughts that float through your mind. The problem lies in our ability to just let them go. Think about the times when someone has said something that has been directly (or indirectly) offensive to you, your child or your family such as “He doesn’t look disabled”, “are you sure they are autistic?”, or “don’t worry, it’s not that bad, they’ll grow out of it”.

We can often stew on these words for days (months even!) coming up with the perfect retort as we have a shower, make lunch or drive around town! It’s great to have hindsight on what we could have said in the heat of the moment, but is there any point in winning a small battle with a stranger, friend, colleague, family member at the detriment of your own mental health, if it plays on your mind afterwards?

If you have a great quip that you can retort with that ends the conversation there and then, then go for it! However, don’t fall into the trap of fighting someone who is just plain ignorant. It’s not your job to make them less ignorant and certainly don’t waste your energy on trying to educate them. Save your energy for people who really deserve it and who are open to change.

Just stop, in the name of love!

STOP! Just stop what you are doing. If you are so wound up, can it really do you any good to keep on going?

If you really want to love yourself just a little bit, try to do this – stop doing, stop being, stop chasing.  It’s hard to ask for help, so sometimes the next best thing is to do nothing. Unfortunately, no one is going to give you a break. Only you know what works for you.  A 10 min walk/shower/coffee outside can just be the amount of time to reset yourself and your headspace again. Don’t focus on the future, focus on the here and now.

We can’t take on made up titles anymore

We are not superhuman, superwoman, or supermums that never need a break. I must admit that I have called people all of these things over the years, but always with the intention and understanding that it’s not all you are, all of the time. Sometimes, we want (and need!) to be just an ordinary mum going about our daily thing. Referring to us in superhero terms takes away the acknowledgement that we are struggling, that we need help and we need support from services that acknowledge our diverse and wide ranging needs.

Life is messy, we don’t have time for clean freaks

Life is not a straight line, it’s a bumpy roller coaster ride with highs and lows. It will have its good and bad times and certainly its challenges. It’s never going to be perfect and we need to stop trying to make it that way. Every time we go home, think of that space as a haven. Even when dealing with the issues of the day – whether it’s behaviour issues, feeding problems or any other issue that we know comes with the territory of our kids disabilities. Instead, revel in the real love that happens behind the closed doors, in the warmth of a family’s home; the daily going-ons and the safe spaces that families create for one another.

Take a deep breath, let it go, take one step at a time. Gosh, it’s hard but the more you practice this, and become better at it, the more confident you’ll feel. The hot sting of tears behind your eyes, may still be there, but know deep down you are doing your best.

Remember, you are part of a movement that is championing and fighting for change. You fight for your child, so that the next generation of families doesn’t have to. You are creating a ripple and you actually don’t need to take on anybody’s crap anymore – hold your head high and know you’re not alone.

But do it at your own pace, mama. Remember, small steps.

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