To The Autism Mom With Depression: You’re Not Alone
It’s ok not to be ok. Depression is common in mothers of children with autism. We should be talking about it more than we do.
It’s not just you.
I think this is what one of my fellow autism moms needed to know last week when she reached out on a Facebook support group.
I can’t seem to get her or the subject of depression off of my mind.
See, when you are depressed, performing the smallest tasks can feel like climbing a mountain of stairs, and when you have an autistic child to care for every day, you may feel like you’ve been pushed down from the top.
Of course, I’d never betray anyone’s confidence by copying and pasting their most intimate confessions on my blog, so the following is a summary of her post in my words.
I am suffering from depression, and I feel so alone. Nobody understands what I go through on a daily basis-not my mother-not my friends-not even my husband, who is still in denial about our son’s diagnosis. Most days I cannot leave the house with my sons-who both have autism. They are 4 and 8. I know that’s bad. I should be taking them to the park or even the grocery store. We watch way too much TV, and I let them have the iPad way too much, but sometimes I just cannot deal with their stims, and I take the path of least resistance. I cannot handle the stares I get in public. I am so ashamed of myself. Please help me.
There were over fifty comments in less than ten minutes time-yes, I counted, from other moms giving their support.
Telling her they understood what she was going through.
Validating her experience.
Offering her a shoulder to cry on.
Sharing their own stories of feeling alone.
Nobody attempted to act as if they were the perfect mother.
Because you know what?
The Perfect Mother Doesn’t Exist.
She’s as mythological as the trending Unicorns and Mermaids and about as real as Kim Kardashian’s contoured abs.
If you come across someone who’s proclaiming to know it all about autism and parenting; and they know absolutely what’s right for your child-odds are they don’t know what they are talking about.
See, we are members of an elite sorority of mothers with kids whose special needs mirror no one else’s.
We can compare stories, but nobody’s kid is the same.
But you know what’s shockingly similar?
I have been on this autism ride for five years now, and every autism mom I know has felt that gut-wrenching feeling of isolation.
Who doesn’t feel lonely talking to themselves? Or to a child who doesn’t respond-who may never respond? Trying to deal with those emotions on top of the day to day plate spinning while attempting to explain to your mother that the article she saw about Autism and bad behavior is complete garbage can wreck even the most level-headed woman’s soul. You put depression on top of that and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Now that might not be what’s trending on Facebook.
I have yet to see anybody post an Instagram pic with the #lonely.
But it’s accurate.
Research tells us it’s a fact..
Study after study has proven it to be so.
Mothers with kids on the autism spectrum are more likely to suffer from depression.
It makes sense given the stress and the constant state of anxiety most of us live under 24/7.
Mothers of children with autism have been shown to have stress comparable to combat soldiers because we live in a constant state of hypervigilance.
Hypervigilance is an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect activity. Hypervigilance may bring about a state of increased anxiety which can cause exhaustion. (Source)
In my house, this is known as “Where’s Nathan?”
“What’s Your Brother Doing?”
“Somebody bring me a bunch of towels and Clorox Wipes RIGHT NOW!!!!!”
My six-year-old son can disappear from my bedroom and be in the upstairs bathroom causing a flood in 5 seconds.
We put locks on the doors, but somehow he manages to MacGyver his way out.
Can you say panic mode?
Of course, you can.
You have an autistic child.
You know, it’s not at all uncommon for someone who experiences anxiety to also experience depression.
Depression is not rare in autism mothers.
But we don’t talk about it.
Not enough, anyway.
Not like we talk about having superpowers, overcoming adversity and taking that against against-all-odds transatlantic flight with our three-year-old to prove we can do anything we set our minds to!
Look, I think taking a family vacay to Taiwan is fabulous too.
But when my fellow mother can’t get the motivation to get off of the couch and take a shower, and she’s got enough Teddy Graham crumbs in her sports bra to top a cheesecake I’m going to try to help her.
She needs all the help she can get.
I know better than anyone.
I have suffered from depression, and I know how hard it is.
You see, the social stigma attached to depression makes a lot of women suffer in silence. Some people still believe you can shake it off like it’s an emotion.
Depression is not an emotion.
Depression is just as real as diabetes and should be treated by a medical professional.
Autism moms may feel guilty for taking the focus off of their kids to get help for themselves.
They may even feel guilty about being depressed-which only makes it worse, and then they get caught up in the vicious I hate myself cycle.
Depression will do that to you.
I’m going to repeat it.
Depression is a mental health issue, like diabetes or heart disease.
A medical professional must treat it, or it will not go away.
Look at this way, depression messes with all aspects of your life.
It causes insomnia or irregular sleep habits (as if you need any more of those). Depression makes you feel tired and effects your diet-poorly. Headaches, chronic pains, and digestive disorders can also be chalked up to depression, but you know what the worst one is?
It tells you that you’re never good enough.
Not even good enough to go get checked out by a doctor.
So what are you going to do about it?
Call the doctor’s office and make an appointment.
Now that you’ve gotten that out of the way let’s talk about how you can help yourself.
Break Up with Your Friends
Yes, I just told you to break up with your friends.
If you’ve been hanging out (online or in person) with a bunch of Negative Nancys that could find fault in winning the Powerball Lotto, then you need to peace out.
Exit stage left.
Get out of dodge.
Get away-get away-get away-NOW!
These people aren’t doing anything but bringing you down, Bruce.
Ok, sorry, I can’t resist sometimes. But seriously…
You will never feel happy and satisfied with life if you are constantly surrounded by negativity.
Go look at who you spend time with online too.
If you are doing nothing but looking at sarcastic mom memes when you log on how can you expect your mood to be positive afterwards? (Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about a meme, but you’ve gotta balance it!)
Just check yourself before you wreck yourself!
How do you feel after spending time on Twitter or Facebook? Maybe you should add an inspirational group or account into the mix?
Find Your Mom Squad
That’s what we’re calling our group of friends now.
Our squad. (I have a sixteen year-old daughter that I spy on to get the 411.)
And oh yes you can find new friends.
If Fancy Pants can fly to Beirut with her toddler, then you can find some new friends.
You’re an autism mom- I know you’re resourceful.
You can always meet other moms at your kid’s school.
So you may have to volunteer or show up early to pick up, but I’m telling you-you can do this.
If your child doesn’t go to school-then, I bet there’s a fabulous group of Homeschool Moms in your area. I’ve seen these chicks on Pinterest-you need to be in their clique either way…
They have the best ideas and crafts!
Break Up With Your Phone
Yes, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram are ah-maz-ing, but nothing beats real social interaction.
Hey-doesn’t that sound familiar?
Aren’t you always telling your kid to cut down on screen time and play outside?
Time to take some of your own medicine and get out there.
SCHEDULE TIME FOR YOU
This is where most posts get cheesy and tell you to light a candle, but I promised myself I wouldn’t do that so here’s a lovely photo of cupcakes!
I must say that the doctor’s appointment and the grocery store don’t count as “time for you.”
Time for you can be a spa appointment, but it doesn’t have to be.
This may sound crazy, but I don’t really enjoy going to the spa!
It makes me feel self-conscious. I’m always scared I’ll get a little too relaxed during a massage and oh, I don’t know, maybe pass gas or something. Now, this has NEVER happened to me, but the thought of it is enough to put me on HIGH ALERT. SOOOO NOT relaxing!!!
I’d much rather have a few hours alone to watch TV or read-both relatively inexpensive and gas free as long as you have Netflix or a library card!
Make yourself some Self Care Cupcakes! (Straight outta-the-box with sprinkles, icing & M&M’s) displayed on lovely plate & hoarded by YOU! Enjoy!:))
Do you want to know what else I love?
There are some awesome Ted Talks out there that always put me in a great mood! When I started “watching” these while folding laundry my mood improved by 200% (totally non-scientific-ok, but trust me!)
Also, when you take time for yourself, and do something like watch a movie, make it a funny or light-hearted one. You’re not doing yourself any favors by watching Saving Private Ryan and stressing out. Watch a comedy like Bridesmaids instead.
FIND YOUR WHY
Living life beyond your daily chore list and carpool line makes it easier to get up in the morning.
Look, I understand that what you are dealing with is hard. And I get it. Nobody has circumstances like you do. But if you want to change your life and you need help with depression it is out there.
If you think that it’s too late for you-you’re wrong.
If you’re having trouble, then email me.
As of right now, I don’t have a change your life in 35 emails newsletter, but I did change my own life quite dramatically at 37, and I believe you can make significant improvements in yours by making up your mind to do it.
I’m here to help you!
Take the first step.