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Advice on self-care is all over social media, in magazine articles and on best-seller lists, and the usual cynics are out.Yes, I do believe some people may take it too far, but there are people who must definitely practice self-care, such as the parents of children with special needs.
As a yoga teacher to many of these people, I know self-care for people with tougher parenting roles can’t be optional. I know it first hand, as my dear 16-year-old son Rafi has ASD. He also has ADHD, serious allergies and severe eczema.
When he was 3 and we’d just moved to Spain, his eczema was so bad, that large areas of his skin were weeping with infection. The poor little guy was really suffering. I finally found a kind and understanding doctor. New creams were prescribed and we talked through daily care and future appointments. But what really struck me at our first consultation was when the doctor paused and said directly to me: “And you? How are you?”
These unexpected and tender words directed towards me brought hot tears to my eyes.
And then a wave of realization washed over me of how I must look. And then of how I felt. My grey bra strap was dropping down my arm, I hadn’t had a haircut for well over a year and you could go on holiday with the bags under my eyes. I looked and felt gray and dull all round.
I was also lonely, in a constant state of worry, tired and had lost the zest for life. I had fallen into a pit, and that wasn’t good for anyone. Not for Rafi, for me, nor my marriage for that matter. No princes on white horses were coming to help us. I had to get myself in order.
Parents of children with special needs have to become super parents. We have to keep close and positive relationships at schools, care centers and with therapists. We need to be there for our kid’s practical and emotional needs.
We counsel them through their worries, depressions and their meltdowns. We have to explain their behavior time and again and deal with insensitive comments from every corner of society. We need to process the guilt and remuneration as to “why” our children are the way they are. That good old “What could I have avoided?” 4am guilt trip!
We have to summon up patience, tolerance and understanding for our kids, others and ourselves. But you can’t be patient with anyone when you’re fatigued. You can’t be tolerant when you’re overwhelmed. And you can’t think straight when you’re batteries have run dry. It’s a slippery slope to start perceiving our lives as something to endure rather than something to cherish.
So little by I pulled myself up. I washed down my yoga mat and started again with some basic poses. Just a few minutes a day, then gradually more and more.
As I physically strengthened, a mental pathway began to clear. I found the right kindergarden for my son, and I enrolled in classes to improve my Spanish. We rented a house with a little garden and bought a secondhand car. I found a great yoga teacher, not easy back then in Granada, and a few years later went on a yoga retreat where I made the decision to train as a yoga teacher. Gradual upgrades. Each one bringing a little more ease and lifts to life.
Self-care wasn’t a week in a five-star spa. It was gradually taking charge of my life, asking for help and making positive decisions guided by the insight I gained from time on the yoga mat.
I’ve learned to start with the basics, and then to tweak at the details of life. Here are some tips on how to regain your sanity.
1. Get enough sleep
Life is way rosier when you’re not exhausted. Go to bed early whenever possible. Nap when you can.
2. Medical care for you
We become experts on where to find doctors and therapists for our children, yet often neglect our own care. Don’t wait out illnesses. Go to your doctor and schedule check-ups. Take your supplements and eat well. Make soothing warm drinks for yourself. Ease an aching back with a hot pack. Tend to yourself too.
3. ExerciseAs a yoga teacher, of course, I want the whole world to do yoga.
It not only strengthens and opens up your body; the calming and uplifting psychological benefits have truly helped me and countless others get through dark times. The awareness and steadiness of mind that yoga brings are pivotal to making wiser decisions and crafting a better life.
Joining a local class is a wonderful way to meet like-minded people who live near you. If yoga isn’t your thing, or just isn’t today, do something else that makes you move. And don’t wait until you feel like it. You often won’t, so do it anyway.
Plan regular meet up with a friend. Make sure it’s a real buddy, not an energy sucker. Ask friends and family for help, and help back. Swap childcare with a friend so you can both go out and have fun.
5. Life upgrades
Where could the every day be made more special? Put some few flowers in a jar or plants in your bedroom. Play music. Could you buy nicer coffee? New sheets? Upgrade your underwear? Go for walks? Read more?
How could you change details in your day and week to be more interesting and less stressful? Maybe a cup of tea and a good book will make waiting time brighter. As you go through your day, notice where you might be able to add a little texture and zest.
6. Make time to do what you love.
Doing something creative brings satisfaction. Write a blog, knit, paint, play chess, sew, learn a language or musical instrument. Be careful it doesn’t become a chore. Break up projects into mini tasks that can be finished in one sitting.
7. Set up appointments to look forward to.
Schedule a Skype call. Plan regular weekend breakfasts or walks with a friend. Take it further and book a weekend away, or even a yoga retreat. Creating a light at the end of the tunnel adds a delicious touch of excitement to the time leading up to it.
Don’t get bogged down in the theory of meditation. Just find time everyday to sit and focus on your breath, and gently bring your mind back to your breath each time it wanders away. Your day will go better. So will your relationships.
Build pauses into your day. Stop to really smell flowers. Ponder on the sweetness of a baby’s face and drink in music with more intensity and awareness. Pausing before you go into the next event of your day is a great habit to nurture. Notice how you feel physically and mentally before your next meeting, as you get out of your car or open your front door.
As a parent of a child with special needs, I know we need to take on self-care as an ever-evolving life-long commitment. This also goes for all parents. So often we put the care of our children first. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's essential for the survival of the human species. But we shouldn't take care of our children and exclude of our own care as well.
Take care of yourself physically, mentally and spiritually so you are better able to care for others.
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