The very first day that I received respite services, I went to my room and collapsed on the bed – head first. I went to sleep immediately and was out for hours! But let’s back track to see how I got there. My son was three years old at the time. He had just received his Autism diagnosis. He was nonverbal with frequent tantrums and meltdowns, which makes sense when you think about it. Not being able to communicate comes with a heavy dose of frustration! In addition to a constant attack of tantrums, my son was totally oblivious to issues of safety. For example, since he did not communicate, his first mode of operation was to get what he wanted by himself. This meant climbing on top of anything, no matter how high, to reach his desired object/food/whatever. Needless to say, I was on alert ALL OF THE TIME! Even when he was sleeping, I still had to keep one eye open, just in case. All this time, I am saying I – not mentioning the fact that my husband was also experiencing the fast-paced, alert all the time, not getting sleep routine. The only difference was, my husband worked outside of the home. I saw this as his opportunity to escape, even if it was to work. I, on the other hand, had stopped working to stay home and take care of my son. Since I had experience as an Autism Inclusion Specialist and Behavior Therapist, I had tools and techniques that I could rely on. While those things helped with his development, I still needed help for me.
I was in action mode all the time. I did not have family nearby and did not have any friends who could watch him. Another parent referred me to a respite worker that she used. I called immediately to interview her and see how she interacted with my son. She was great and respite started on the weekend. I actually did not know just how tired I was until the moment I could walk down the hallway and turn my brain off as I collapsed into the bed! It was then that I realized the absolute necessity of self-care. Sometimes, you are on auto-pilot and don’t even know that your leg is broken. You don’t notice the swelling and the fact that you are walking with a limp. All you can think of is to keep going.
As parents who love our children and who would do absolutely anything for them – hear this now. The most important thing that you can do is take care of you! Remember how the flight attendant tells you to put your oxygen mask on first? Same thing here! You can’t help if you are passed out. Your oxygen mask is other people giving you a break; other people doing things for you when your plate is full; other people holding you up when you are tired. Basically, other people are crucial to experience true respite. I know it’s hard to find someone you trust with your precious one. However, find someone through referral. Ask other parents who they use and try it! I know of many parents who have been awarded respite hours, but do not use them. Please, please – USE YOUR RESPITE! It will be the best gift that you could possibly give to yourself! And you are most definitely worth it!