Central to the hero’s journey is a threshold that creates a division between the known and the unknown, the before and the after. The call to a wild, unknown adventure is presented and there are two choices - ignore the call or answer it. It can be ignored repeatedly, denying it forever if you wish. Regardless of your choice, like it or not, there is no going back. The threshold has been crossed.
After receiving my son’s diagnosis, it felt like there was no time to process. There was a sense of urgency coming from all of the specialists saying he needed a lot of help to catch up with his chronological peers so I dove into “Warrior Mom” mode. I gathered information. I researched. My research revealed more questions than answers. Any “answers” or recommendations devastated me as this was 2004 so things were very different from how they are now and none of them felt good to me.
As a Warrior Mom, I handled all the un-fun, challenging stuff so that my husband could be the fun dad he had always been. I did this because I didn’t want their relationship to change and felt like I could, or rather should, carry this burden.
Honestly, my first thought was that it was because his job was demanding and when he got home, he was tired and didn’t need to be bothered. However, I was working full time as a teacher, teaching all of the subject areas at different ability levels and loved my students like they were my own. This was also demanding and tiring, yet I didn’t allow myself to acknowledge that at the time.
I did this all without letting anyone know how excruciatingly painful it was. This only led me to feel a tremendous amount of pressure while also tucking away any emotions I was feeling about this all. I didn’t know anyone who had an autistic child so I had nobody else to talk to about this.
Sitting and playing with him felt uncomfortable because I would look at my son and feel sadness and frustration for all he was unable to do. Upon seeing this I would shift into teacher/therapist mode because I felt like I needed to fix it all asap. This turned playtime into a time I dreaded. I felt like a horrible mom for feeling these things and the vicious guilt cycle began.
All I wanted to do was to crawl back into bed and go to sleep so I didn’t have those unhelpful thoughts constantly running through my mind. Instead, I took him to therapies, or therapists came to our home, while emotionally I hit rock bottom. I had nothing left to give and the excitement and expectations I had for parenting were gone.
Ultimately, I became an empty shell of a person, defined almost completely by my son’s diagnosis. I had no idea who I was and just went through the motions in my tightly controlled life. I had become everything that I was trying to help my son overcome – controlling, perseverative, anxious, obsessive and isolated.
Chapter 3: Reconnecting with Myself
My son was three years old when I walked into a store and once again, a magazine caught my eye. This time instead of it being a dagger in my heart, it was a lifeline.
This magazine issue was dedicated to reconnecting people with their true, essential selves. Those words resonated in ways I didn’t understand at the time but what I did know was that I needed that magazine more than anything else in my cart. I got home and devoured it like cheesecake. Here was another parenting unexpected - realizing the importance of reconnecting with myself in order to be the best parent I could be for my son. The journey back to my true, essential self began that very day.
The word “autism” comes from the Greek word “autos,” and means “into one’s self.” I had disconnected from myself as a form of self protection from all that I made autism mean. Ironically, going into, reconnecting with and healing my essential self (the person I’ve always been but lost along the way) was the key to becoming the person I wanted and was meant to be. But more importantly, I could and would become the mother my son deserved. **This isn't the end of Chapter 3 but I didn't want you to leave with me feeling hopeless.