One-Minute Message: Self-care is… not entirely what I’d thought…
Welcome to One-Minute-Messages: a topic explored over a morning cup of coffee…and a message you can read in one minute (or two). Visuals are stacked on the right, words to the left. Let’s go!
Caregiving is both gratifying and exhausting. In giving, I feel spent, often drained. I know I ought to schedule me-time for self-care, respite and to reclaiming me, but there often isn’t time. In the heap of must-dos, self-care feels like an indulgence. When my mother-in-law asks me what I am doing for myself, I look at her blankly. I have no answer. Mothers of children with autism often do not.
“What are you doing for yourself these days?” The only reply I could think of was pert, defiant: In my copious spare time? So I kept that in my head. But what I said was this, “Sleep, if I’m lucky.” I knew I could do better. This prod lay dormant somewhere deep inside, ready to respond when the time was right.What’s Not Allowed? A Family Journey with Autism* p. 46
That was then, 1999. In the swirl of family life, diapers and play dates, my own needs were often bumped to “nice to do” status. Self-care was a morning shower and an evening glass of wine. Not enough but good enough.
Over the years, I got better at tuning into myself, but not until my body sent me warning signs: blood pressure on the rise, energy depleted and feeling perpetually pulled. It was then I realized that self-care can happen in snippets and that it doesn’t have to take long. And that it can be shared. And when enjoyment is shared, it compounds. Self-care, I began to realize, is anything that feeds the soul. It’s what brings us back to ourselves. Self-care is restorative.
Author and speaker Nicole Dauz maintains that pockets of time are always available to us. In her book, Self-care from the Trenches: With Love, Humour and a Kick in the Pants, Nicole walks us through the process of building self-care into our overfilled days. “We are allowed to have meaningful lives within the chaos of our lives,” she says.
Surveying our family journey with autism, I spy splinters of self-care woven into everyday life. Sometimes it’s easy to spot, other times, self-care is embedded in family activities. Either way, the pockets are there, and each foray into moments of joy is like a sac of air, keeping me afloat.
So the question becomes “How do I self-regulate? How do I bring myself back to even keel?
The obvious regulators leap to the page: hiking, gardening, writing, kayaking, reading, yoga, keep-fit classes and getting up earlier than the household for me time. Coffee alone. A walk in the garden.
The less obvious strategies are woven into family activities and the realization that empowering my children—specifically, my son with autism—frees me up to return to me. In teaching Erik how to self-regulate, I am removing myself from his equation. Also, in decorating our home and yard (which I love to do…and which sends me into a flow state), the family benefits by funky, fun and freeing spaces. Creating driftwood tress and digging in the garden is therapeutic. That’s self-care. Recalling family mantras and guiding lights buoys me during rough spots. That’s self-care. Writing is cathartic and crystallizing. And that, too, is self-care. So maybe self-care is closer than we think. Maybe like mortar, we can schedule it in between the busy bricks.
And maybe, looking back through a broader lens, I didn’t neglect myself as badly as I’d thought.
* What’s Not Allowed? A Family Journey with Autism takes you into the headspace of a parent managing a dynamic household and what it’s like to parent a child with autism—and also be on the move across Canada. Tips, strategies and points to ponder are embedded in stories, vignettes and retrospectives.