It’s OK to come unraveled a little bit.
My friend Annie told me so when she was tucking me into bed, while my husband was calling my therapist to see if she would make a house call, or if he should sign me directly into the psych floor at UCLA Hospital. OK or not, I was coming a little bit unraveled.
Maybe coming unraveled isn’t for you. You don’t have to. I waited several months myself. But as parents, many of us find our usual coping resources outstripped by a child’s diagnosis.
It’s OK. Anyone who suggests otherwise could be so busy pressuring themselves to hold it together, they simply can’t spare the energy to imagine what other options exist for themselves, much less for you.
But in parenting a kid with a diagnosis you hadn’t exactly longed for, coming unraveled can be a bumpy part of the road you’re on. Sometimes, just like our kids, we go through a developmental phase of chaos and disintegration before we consolidate new skills. I didn’t enjoy it, but I don’t think I could have skipped that step. It was an important part of my developmental trajectory.
Working with families of children with developmentally related diagnoses, I’ve seen all kinds of responses: numbness, blinding denial, scathing and misdirected anger, seething resentment, and gung-ho bargaining (“If we just do every possible therapy, it will go away, right?”). At some point, most parents find a way to make peace with the diagnosis, even learn to appreciate it. But as we make our ungainly way through the stages of grief, we can look more than a little “off.”
I found some excellent support, and learned that if I took good care of myself first, I would find it in me to take care of others the way I wanted — without having a panic attack. Sure, it sounds obvious now, but learning that was hard work. You don’t have to go to therapy, though. If it doesn’t hurt anybody, do whatever works for you: go to church, read poetry, sing in your car very loudly, volunteer, take a vacation, ski, meditate, drive to Alaska and back, get sober, work out to Metallica, start a support group, or even better, a legislative advocacy group. Blog. (Ha.)
Just don’t get too stuck. That won’t work. Your child is more entitled to access to your “good enough” self — that part deep inside you who can advocate intelligently, teach effectively, and love (more or less) unconditionally — than you are entitled to thrash around in the shallow water of your grief.
You also don’t have much time, so go ahead and feel your feelings. Let other people feel theirs. Stumble, claw or drag yourself to some resource that cares for you and makes you feel whole and well and inspires you to action. Then take a deep breath and jump in the deep end: you can do it.