Raise your hand if you’ve cared for your special kids to the point of not showering for days. Or you’ve prioritized their doctor and therapist appointments so often you’re pretty sure it’s been since your high school sports physical since you saw a doctor yourself.
Yep. Me, too.
The thing is, our kids have intense needs and there’s only so much time in the day. I know I’m really good at ignoring my own needs—for food, sleep, exercise or communication with anyone NOT related to my daughters, mental health, encopresis or attachment disorder.
I don’t know about you, but every once in a while my body tries to get more of my attention. Especially if I’ve been ignoring my back’s scoliosis. Recently, when I messed up my neck (again), I went in for a massage with my therapist. She wasn’t working that day, but I felt adventurous (a.k.a. in pain), so I was happy to work with the new person.
Until I met her.
She was bossy and curt and as soon as we got to the room, she sat me down and challenged me: “How long has it been since someone worked on your back?”
Too long, I thought. (The excuses about why were already flowing in my mind.)
“Because,” she blurted, “I don’t even have to touch you to see that you’re a mess!”
Thanks, I thought, wondering: if I punched her, could I blame it on muscle spasms?
In spite of my dislike for this person, I got on the table and waited for her to begin working on the sore side. When she started working intensely on the other side first, I figured I just ended up with a dud therapist. Until she dug her thumb into a muscle that hurt WORSE than the one I came in for!
Apparently the part that felt like it hurt was simply compensating for the part that was actually hurt. When the therapist finally moved over to work on the other side of my back, that muscle already felt better. She’d addressed the problem in the area I didn’t even know was in trouble, despite my complaining. Definitely not a dud! And definitely more expensive than if I’d gotten help to prevent the problem in the first place. I ended up having to go back a few more times that same week to fully restore my back.
Which made me look long and hard at other areas of my life that have suffered neglect. And at the special needs life raising special needs brings: emotional, mental, social and physical challenges that are so easily overlooked in the wake of “Will she transition home from the residential program OK?” and “What if she soils herself all the way through high school?”
We don’t always seek help for our own issues, because we’re maxed-out with the needs of our kids. And because so much of our life seems out of our control.
But take it from me (and my neck, back and emptier wallet!) it’s worth seeking help instead of shelving our own special needs. Here’s why:
- We don’t always know when we need help. Sometimes the real issue is lurking beneath the surface, and all it takes is a little time or stress for that to be evident. By the time and stress have amplified our pain, it can be almost impossible to see clearly what the issue really is. It often takes a new set of eyes (or, in my case, eyes and hands…) to even see what the problem is. We have to be willing to invite people to be those eyes for us – to help us see places in our lives where we need help.
- The truth and help are worth it, even if we want to punch the messenger. As I got angry at the therapist that day, I had to remind myself I was the one seeking help, after all! I knew there was a problem. I didn’t like letting her be in control of defining what that problem was. It felt helpless. And a lot of my life feels helpless, while I’m raising my challenging kids! But ultimately, I had to let that go if I really wanted to feel better.
- Getting help takes time, and frustration. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and good things come to those who wait. (Duh. Preaching to the choir here.) In my case, my back was such a mess and I’d waited so long for help, that the therapist could only work on the first half in that initial session. I had to schedule a separate appointment for the rest of the job, and in the meantime, the part she’d released was so sore I was dependent on Epsom salt baths and ice packs. The frustration would have been less if I’d just asked for help earlier. So don’t wait – ask for help and get the process going sooner!
- When we need help and don’t ask, it costs us more. More time, more money, more heartache, more relational challenges – more of everything that is costly to us. In the case of my back, it cost me a few extra hours of therapy to unlock the muscles that I’d hurt. All in the name of me putting it off to do x, y and z. Which, honestly, could have waited an hour until I’d had a massage if I’d gone in earlier in the process. Making all that wait 3-4 hours by the end was a lot harder!
What’s your instinct when you need help? Do you welcome it? Or fight it?