There have been many times, as a parent of special needs children, that I have wondered if I am going crazy.
Not crazy in a funny way, but in a psychiatric way. The journey is so taxing.
In the beginning, before diagnosis day, going crazy was normal, and sometimes a welcome respite to day to day realities of life. If there was something wrong with me, then perhaps that meant that there was nothing wrong with my children. Perhaps so many others were right, and it was all in my head.
However, I was that crazy parent who read every parenting book and magazine known to man, and followed every bit of advice to the letter. Were all those experts going crazy while writing their various books and articles? Was I going crazy because I read them, or was my child different?
The bottom line was I had "support" from doctors, specialists, therapists, extended family, friends, and every other parenting expert on the planet, but it didn't help. I would still ask myself on a daily basis, "Am I going crazy?"
It wasn't until our first few appointments with our developmental pediatrician for each child, that I was assured I wasn't going crazy. My children are not typical. Among the four of them, we have diagnoses for autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, anxiety disorders, Reactive Attachment Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, mood disorders, and food allergies.
If even one of those diagnoses is enough to cause a parent to wonder if they're going crazy before that first appointment, you don't even know what crazy is yet.
The "typical" parenting books were taken to Salvation Army and replaced with books about parenting children with special needs. Occupational therapists, speech therapists, physical therapists, behavioralists and other specialists were added to our phone list and schedule. "Support" was everywhere.
So why was I in tears on a daily basis? I was trying to do everything, exactly the way I'd been told, feeling like I was failing 100% of the time. I must be going crazy. I should be able to do this.
Meanwhile I was gaining weight. I was neglecting my own medical needs and ended up with chronic lung issues. It took me years to see a doctor and receive treatment for my own asthma and allergies, because I didn't have time, due to all of the supports that were in place for my children.
Truth be told, there is a hint of craziness in all parents of special needs children after diagnosis. There's that miserable grieving process we all go through. Our lives are turned upside down, as we now have answers.
Our bodies respond to the stress and anxiety in crazy ways. We have to find ways to cope and function day to day. The process of adjusting to the new normal is long and painful, usually taking about six months.
Once we find that new normal, we realize that even the last six months of craziness was normal, and that we are okay. We've adjusted and are moving forward.
Except for those moments when we're caught off guard and forget, or those times when things become more difficult than they already are. There are days, weeks, and even months when we still wonder, "Am I going crazy?" For these times, I've developed a checklist for myself.
And yes, please laugh at this, because it does sound silly. But, it helps. In those desperate times when I doubt my feelings and everything going on around me, it keeps me grounded.
Am I Going Crazy?
- Can I document the day's events, my child's behaviors, and my responses honestly and accurately?
- Do I feel comfortable with our developmental pediatrician reading what I wrote?
- Am I able to see patterns in behavior that may give an explanation as to why I'm feeling the way I do?
If I hesitate while writing, or if I see a new pattern emerging, I know I need help. I make a call to our developmental pediatrician to discuss what's going on. She offers options we haven't tried in the form of therapeutic approaches and/or medication. Then she reassures me once again that I'm not going crazy, it's just my kids.
2. Gratitude Journal
- At the end of the day, can I write at least one positive thought about each of my children?
- Am I able to feel gratitude for circumstances in my life?
If I can't do this, I know I need extra support from my husband or someone else. My support person needs to temporarily step in where I'm unable to function in ways that are needed. I need a break.
When feelings don't change after a few days, I pursue more help and support for myself. Sometimes this may come from friends. Other times it comes from one of the children's therapists. At one point it came from my own therapist.
- Do I still feel passionate about my interests and hobbies, even if I'm unable to pursue them, due to our family circumstances?
If I'm not feeling it, I know I need to talk to someone. Most often I always go to my husband or best friend. If there are still concerns, I know to speak to my doctor or a mental health therapist.
4. Partner Relationships
- How are my spouse's interactions with our special needs children affecting my feelings towards him?
- Am I struggling with my feelings towards him because of the interactions with our children, or have my feelings towards him changed all together?
- Are discussions with my spouse about the children adding more stress to our relationship?
- Do we end conversations feeling understood or more confused and upset than before?
- Do we feel like we are on the same page?
If I find myself frustrated or angry with my partner or main support person, this is the best way to analyze the situation for hints of triangulation, or other special needs induced stress. Usually the best medicine is a date night. It often makes everything better.
- Are my feelings normal for my circumstances?
- When speaking to parents of special needs children with similar diagnoses, can I relate?
- Am I able to take perspective?
- Most importantly can I laugh and cry with them as we share stories about daily life?
I will always remember the day when I expressed my fear and angst about the police coming to our home, due to the behaviors of one of my children. My dear friend, a seasoned RAD mother laughed and assured me that I would no longer be mortified after the sixth or seventh time, and then continued with a story about her son.
If I'm unable to take perspective and/or relate to other parents in similar situations, I know that I need help, not only for myself but for my child as well. Phone calls are made immediately.
As a rule of thumb, I make sure that I'm functioning on all five levels in order to answer my own question about if I'm going crazy. So far so good, even though it doesn't feel that way sometimes. It's all about being aware of myself.
You see, in the end, I'm the parent. I'm the support. I'm the expert. If I'm going crazy, where does that leave my special needs children?
My number one job, is being my best for them. It's distinguishing support that helps versus support that hinders. So when I wonder if I am going crazy, I don't have time to mess around. I use my checklist and get back to work!
If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy the posts below.
This post is just one in the Parenting Children with Special Needs Series. Click the links below to read others.
Supporting Yourself and Your Child with Special Needs | Natural Beach Living
Am I Going Crazy? | Every Star is Different
Tips For Supporting A Child With Trauma History | STEAM Powered Family
Special needs parents: we all need support (even you) | My Home Truths
| Life Over C’s
12 Things That Special Needs Mom Needs from You | The Chaos and The Clutter
Simple Ways You Can Support Special Needs Parents | B-Inspired Mama
| This Outnumbered Mama
Classroom Supports & Accommodations for Kids with Hyperlexia | And Next Comes L
| Kori at Home
| Parenting Chaos
Finding Support: From The Wind in Your Life | 3 Dinosaurs
A Letter to Parents with a Child on the Spectrum | Carrots Are Orange
Supporting a Family with High Medical Needs | Grace and Green Pastures