The last few weeks I’ve felt a bit like I’ve walked out into a wide green meadow after a long dark tunnel. Whilst I was in the tunnel it didn’t seem too bad – I was coping with it – but it’s only once I’ve left it that I realised what I was missing.
As a SEND parent or carer it’s easy to neglect one’s own mental health. You spend so much time focusing on all the things that have to be done right now, and the worrying about the future, that you never realise that somewhere along the way you have lost yourself.
Lately I’ve been trying to work out what’s changed to make me feel different. After all, Pudding is the same gorgeous trouble he always is. His diagnosis hasn’t changed. The future is still uncertain. It’s just my own attitude that has changed. Some of it has been down to things that I’ve been able to control, and some of it has been external factors.
I know I won’t always maintain this improvement so here’s my own personal ‘How To’ guide on how to escape that tunnel!
Sunshine: Obviously I’m not ominpotent and so this is a commodity that’s been in short supply lately! But there’s no denying that the weather makes a big difference to my mood. So when the sunshine appears make the most of it, even if it’s only to step outside the door for a moment, turn your face up to those magical rays, close your eyes and breathe.
Music: Music can have such power to move us, to trigger tears or uplift us. My new car has a working radio and CD player and I hadn’t realised how much I had missed this. Now I am rediscovering the joy of staying sat in the car once I reach my destination just because Ravel’s Bolero is too damn brilliant to turn off. (Obviously this only happens when I’m alone because otherwise…well…kids!). Whatever floats your boat – classical, show tunes, R ‘n’ B – indulge yourself.
Friends: A good laugh and chat with friends just can’t be beat.
Good food: Let’s face it, kid-friendly food is boring. A beetroot and mackerel salad, dark salted caramel chocolate, a special meal out – they can delight the senses and make me think life is worth living rather than just enduring.
Clearing out: Ticking things off the To Do list, clearing out a cupboard or divesting yourself of a responsibility that is stressing you out really can feel like a weight is lifted. Lately I’ve finally been getting round to doing some much-needed decluttering in order to eventually sell the house. The more I get done the better I feel.
Of course, the problem is that none of this really works when I’m in the depths of the tunnel. Music makes me cry, the thought of getting anything done sends me into a spiral of anxiety and I am so good at convincing myself that no-one could possibly want to spend time with me.
So how to get past it? One thing at the MPS conference this weekend really helped to clarify my thinking about how things have been in the last few months. My favourite psychologist showed this diagram (and sorry, I don’t know who should be credited!). Essentially it shows that what you think about something affects how you feel which in turn informs behaviour, and so on. Round and round. Negative thoughts lead to negative feelings and behaviour that doesn’t help the situation. This was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me as it is so true: now something has happened to interrupt that cycle.
When Pudding starts throwing, instead of getting frustrated I have re-framed it in my mind, recognise it as communicating his need for attention, and can deal with it calmly. When we’re out and someone gives us ‘that look’, I can choose to think of it as the reaction of ignorance and prejudice rather than a comment on my parenting, not let it hurt me and continue enjoying our day. Of course, I ain’t going to be perfect at this all the time, but who is?!
But (and it is a big but) when you are stuck in that long dark tunnel none of this common sense advice actually makes a difference. If it’s so dark that you can’t even see your hands in front of you, it is unbelievably hard to step forwards.
In which case it is ok to ask for help. Whether that is medication, counselling, respite or even just a shoulder to cry on, anything that can help break that cycle of negativity will simply make you a better parent.
Life is hard enough, parenting is hard enough, let alone adding in all the extra complications of a SEND life. Asking for help is not an admission of failure.
So next time I hit a dip I will try to come back and read this. Perhaps it will help.