*This is a vulnerability-laced post. Reader's discretion is advised*
Life’s playbook fails to mention how to carry on when the weight of sorrow bares down on our shoulders. We proclaim to the heavens “Self-care! Self-care!”, but how do we pay mind to the heartbreak that can take hold when the breath is knocked from our lungs by news we could never prepare for?
Where is the “sick leave” for when tears stream from our eyes without a stop in sight? Where is the panic button when the best “self-care” would be to halt the pressure of the responsibilities it takes to live an adult life?
Tragedy strikes at inopportune times.
It robs us of the air in our lungs. Stays busy constricting our throats, robbing us of every nook and cranny in our minds. Functioning all the sudden seems laborious. Time slows down but races toward the moments of heart-shattering truth we are forced to face.
How do I serve as a helpful therapist when I am struggling to breathe?
How do I pay mind to my loved one’s experiences when the sorrow I feel in the pit of my stomach threatens to encumber me at any moment?
How do I make room for the tears and the wails and the screams of unfairness that I exhaust myself trying to wrestle down every second of every hour of everyday until the tragedy delivers its final blows?
Where’s the room for all these things in a world that fails to supply panic buttons for grief and unplanned tragedy?
Saying goodbye to a very best friend is soul-shattering.
Today I hurt. Sorrowfully and deeply.
Today, I will start where I am.
I will use what I have.
I will do what I can.
A side effect of the work I partake in includes the delight of gaining glimpses into the perspectives of others. Therapy fosters a space that allows for a therapist to join with someone on their journey, even if only for a moment. Some days, I feel like I have the secret keys to a time traveling machine, serving as an empathetic perception traveler, weaving in and out of varying realities that grace my office. It’s a neat and often humbling opportunity.
Some of the perspectives I find myself uniquely fond of are the realities of those on the Autism Spectrum. These are notoriously the most misunderstood perceptions out there. I often normalize the challenges for parents in connecting with their Autistic loved ones. Metaphorically, I have found the particular “key” to use when stepping into the perspective of those on the spectrum have a password that must first be cracked before gaining access to the key.
This is where I jump in.
Instead of demanding the password, I embrace unconditional positive regard and simply insert myself as an observer. I outwardly recognize the privilege that I have identifying as neurotypical and the honor it is to be invited into their reality. Here, the pressure is alleviated to “mask” and the authentic human that sits before me begins to peek through their defenses that are vital to their internal safety.
As this incredible soul begins to peer around their “masks”, I begin to listen for the soft notes of their tempo, their language, the distinctive notes that color their experiences. Quiet and hesitant at first, I gleefully and humbly listen, cherishing the moments I join with these clients. I hold space for the pain, the loneliness, and the long-held grief that is a side effect of being misunderstood. I empathetically jump into the topics that keep their soul alit despite the mountains of challenges. I immerse myself in the music of their perceptions.
Then, ever so magically, I begin to access the password to connection and fostering nonjudgmental spaces. I take these passwords, put it through my therapeutic translator, and later communicate the messages and the experiences my client’s struggled to convey with the world whose tempo just does not make sense. Try as they might, the ability to settle into the neurotypical world escapes them. Now, the tables have turned and suddenly these resilient individuals are now the teachers instead of the students. The empowerment of this unlocking still dazzles my soul when I bare witness to it.
There is so much to learn from a perspective that differs from our own.
Different is just different. Not bad. Not broken. Just different.
Those on the Autism Spectrum are unabatedly aware of this. While I will not try and speak for anyone, it is typically the tempo of the neurotypical world that colors “different” with negativity. Those with Autism are plagued with the monstrous task of learning to function to the notes of a reality that is far too unfitting and unyielding. They are told from a very young age their “different” is wrong, is sad, is something to be pitied and looked down upon. Where in the world is the empowerment in that?
Something that I listen to often is the silenced plea to have others let those with Autism lead the tempo from time to time. To join in their worlds. To empathically recognize they may never “get it” but their humble recognition of a reality that is different than theirs can still have some good parts. That joy, love, and enjoyment is still very much a reality, it just looks and feels different within the tempo they experience life in.
Embrace the many tempos that individual perceptions dance to. Lean into the melodies and recognize that different is just different. Novelty and differences can lead to connection, if only we bare witness to the soft notes that accompany them.
Embrace the melodies that are different than your own.
Then, prepare for the onslaught of connection to those whose tempos can finally find a place in this world.
An unspoken expectation hidden within the imaginary parenting guide is that nagging comes with the territory. Children are notorious for their selective listening skills, and these only become more discerning as they travel into their teenage years.
Parents nag kiddos. The sky is blue. Each are unarguable.
“Pick up your towel!”
“Put your shoes away!”
“If I trip over this Xbox cord one more time…”
The issue here in lies the lack of boundaries between these annoyance-tinged reminders and the ways we encourage healthy relationships with food and bodies. The encouragement to nourish their bodies and look after their eating and exercise patterns begin to mimic the grumbling nature of our broken record requests.
“You’ve already had a slice of pizza today, are you really going to eat another?”
“You need to get outside more, or you’re going to regret it!”
I say this while exuding compassion…
Cut it out!
Here is your wake-up call, folks. Attempting to guilt youngsters into engaging in something does not get anyone anywhere healthy. All this guilt and passive aggressive complaining does is foster a negative self-image, defeating self-talk, and lackluster motivation at best. Instead, model the choices and behaviors you crave to witness in your children. If you want them to embrace a healthy eating habit and relationship with food, be the role model! Become aware of your own narrative attached to the way you view your body and your food choices. Take the shame out of the equation and there will likely be a different result. If you want your children to be more active, get active with them!
I want to validate the exhaustion and depleted motivation that comes with being a parent. It’s not easy to wear all of the hats you have to wear to identify as a responsible adult. However, your kiddos are watching and listening to your every move. The narrative that plays out in your mind can get passed down to your kiddos relatively quickly, whether you like it or not. Children are sneaky in this way.
Remember that healing you talked about engaging in? Healing those old wounds, you swore you’d never pass down? Hop to it friends.
Be the change you crave to see in your children. Bare witness to your narrative and rest assured they are listening.