The last few weeks, I've been very tense. It's strange, because, as I've written recently, Janey has overall been fairly calm. She's had an increase in crying the last few days (jinxes are real, as all Red Sox fans know!), but my tension predated that behavior spike. As I lie awake at night lately, I think "Why in the world are you so tense? Why can't you relax?" Last night, I answered myself. I said "Think about the last eight years of your life"
In the last eight years---well. Janey had her horrible regression and was diagnosed with autism. We had countless days of all-day crying and screaming, many nights with no sleep at all. The school our children had been attending for many years and the school I thought Janey would go to until age 22 decided they could no longer handle her level of disability. After about six months at her new school, she went into a crisis and wound up first boarding at Children's Hospital for six unbearable days and then spending three weeks in a psychiatric hospital. Then, the next year, after three days of increasingly severe symptoms, she was diagnosed with a burst appendix, had emergency surgery and then weeks and weeks in the hospital with complications. Last January, a bad flu and pneumonia landed her back in the hospital for a few days. Top that all with life's regular stresses---two sons in college, financial challenges, the everyday this and that and the other thing....well, let's say that if I wasn't tense and stressed, it would probably mean I hadn't been paying attention.
But why can't I relax on days when everything seems fine? It's because my guard is never, ever fully down. A day that seems just fine can turn on a dime. I can get a call from school that Janey is sick, or having a behavioral crisis. Janey can come home screaming and biting. We can have one of our occasional sleepless nights. Janey can get a fever, not be able to tell us why and end up suddenly critically ill. We can have a day where she is as sunny as she can be suddenly turn, for reasons we don't understand, and just like that we are dealing with a level of chaos some people might not see in a lifetime.
Stress in parents like ourselves is something that is very hard to understand unless you've lived it. It's the reason sometimes it might seem like we overact to small things. It's the reason we are not always quick to be excited about what seems like good news. It's the reason we are often not ready to try new things, go new places, take any risks. It's the reason some days I have the near overwhelming urge to get into the car and drive---drive far away, away from my life. I can't and won't ever do that, but if I did, the thing of it is that I am sure the stress would follow me. If Janey someday lives away from home, I know from hearing about others with autistic kids living away from home that you still can't ever relax. Things can fall apart fast, wherever your child is.
And so---what can we do? We can be easy on ourselves. We can accept that stress, tension, worry, all those, are always going to be part of our lives. We can treat ourselves when we can to life's little pleasures, without an ounce of guilt. We can drink our coffee, play our games of Scrabble, watch our mindless TV, read our escapist books. We can call friends and laugh like crazy over the phone. We can let sleeping dogs lie, let our child watch that video for the 100th time while we sit and do nothing. We can stop thinking, pretending and having to present an image that our lives are more in control than they are. We can accept that we have in some ways been dealt a challenging card, and admitting that doesn't mean we don't love our kids, that we aren't good parents. We can support each other. And we can keep on going. That last one isn't a choice, but some days, it's all we can really do.