It would be great if real love in real life was the way that it is portrayed in movies, on television and in print. All shined up and perfect. Always exciting. But real love isn’t really like that.
Real love is hard work. Real love requires us to pay attention. Let me say that again. Real love REQUIRES us to pay ATTENTION.
It takes time. It takes energy and it takes effort. To express real love you have to do the hard work.
I belief that when you really love somebody, you are in part, taking responsibility for their well being. I don’t mean in some dysfunctional way that you are assuming responsibility for their happiness. That idea is not only ridiculous, it is impossible and quite likely a sure path to your own perpetual state of unhappiness.
I’m speaking of caring. And caring deeply. Caring enough to put aside some of what you want for some of what the object of your love wants or needs.
True love requires sacrifice.
1. an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.
Being a parent requires sacrifice. Being the parent of a special needs child requires even more sacrifice. There are the seemingly never-ending appointments. Back and forth to doctors specializing in one area or another as well as the routine check-ups. Various therapies which may include physical, occupational, speech, recreation. Other treatments, tests and procedures.
Josh had been to over two-thousand appointments since the accident. That’s an average of two hundred a year, every year, for these last ten years. A whole gamut of doctors and therapists including Physical, Speech or Occupational therapies. Radiology, blood draws and check ups including why gray hair was showing up so early for him… Mine has an explanation.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has a minimum standard of care for infants to be seen at birth, two to four days after birth, and then at two, four, six, nine and twelve months. That is seven visits to the doctor, excluding illnesses or injuries, in one year. I know of many parents of special needs children, myself included, who have done that in one week. And have had to do it week after week and month after month. All of it requiring additional mental, physical and emotional energy that has to come from somewhere. Sacrifice.
Trying to juggle the demands of work, making sure the bills are paid, the laundry is done, the food is cooked, everybody makes it to their various activities along with keeping the home and the yard in some semblance of order, are struggles all parents go through. We accomplish these things with varying degrees of success, sometimes with some things being put off so something more urgent can be accomplished. It’s everyday life.
When you add in the extra requirements of special needs children, it can feel like piling on and truthfully I’m wishing there was a referee somewhere close by to throw a penalty flag.
Which brings us to the next set of possible extras. Mental health professionals. This can be a bit of an extra scary area for us as parents. The thought that a person, young or old, needs mental health care can carry a bit of a stigma in our own minds, as well as in society. It’s an unfair thought but it exists.
Truthfully, mental health challenges may be the reason your child has special needs and my heart goes out to you if that is the case.
What about mental health issues for us personally as parents? Well, I say do it. Go see a professional. I know I waited too long to talk to somebody about my own struggles. It took me a long time to admit to myself, and then say it out loud to someone else, that I was hurting. That I was struggling. That I felt empty inside and I wasn’t sure I would ever regain my energy.
There is no shame in speaking the truth. We are human. None of us has all the answers. We may try to forge ahead on sheer force of will and determination and that may work for a while. It may even work for a long while but there are limits to human endurance and neither you nor I can simply will ourselves forward forever without there being a cost, and sometimes an expensive cost, to ourselves and our loved ones. The ones who need us most will be the ones most severely impacted if we push ourselves over the edge by not getting the help we need.
Mental health needs may be seasonal or ongoing. The term seasonal isn’t necessarily tied to Winter, Spring, Summer or Fall, although Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) may be a part of your life. I’m speaking to the idea that you may periodically need to reach out for yourself or your child to a professional Mental Health Practitioner.
Josh has experienced anxiety as a result of his brain injury and that is a fairly common effect of trauma to the brain. It’s not something else that you want to add to your plate, but if you don’t, there could be bigger problems down the road..
If it sounds like I’m ranting, I’m not. And I’m not complaining either. Any challenges we have are outnumbered by blessings a thousand to one. Unfortunately I forget that and that’s when I start feeling sorry for myself but that’s now where I’m at right now.
We don’t have unlimited supplies of energy. When our tank starts to run low, we can feel it sometimes and we should take action as soon as possible to deal with our waning energy. This helps to keep us emotionally balanced, mentally sharp and physically healthy.
There are times when we don’t notice consciously that we are becoming fatigued mentally, physically or emotionally but those around us are noticing it because our behaviors have changed and we are treating others differently. Maybe we are being less patient or less nurturing. Maybe we have become more sarcastic or mean-spirited, and those close to us aren’t having much fun when we are around. I know I have done this and my students, my staff, my friends and family have all been impacted by it. By the way, I don’t particularly enjoy admitting that.
Look to people who are trustworthy and balanced. Asking somebody who is already unsteady, for their opinion about you, may not work out too well. I’m not going to a person who is divorced five times for advice on marriage. Except if I want to know what NOT to do.
As I stated earlier, real love requires sacrifice and at times, as a parent, that may feel like that is all you do. I know I have.