Know Thyself: Consider getting a good psychologist or counselor for you, your spouse, AND each of your children… OR do whatever works to help you do the inner work to find your freedom
“Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change.”
- Dr. Wayne Dyer
Being the parent of special needs children, they say, takes a special kind of parent. A special kind of person.
I beg to differ.
But maybe it does… I am not the person that I was at the beginning of this journey with the boys. The secret to our success with the boys is that we had an open mindset, and a willingness to do what was in our power to make life easier. For everyone. At the beginning, I had to understand what I needed to do to change how things were going, because in my mind they were going nowhere fast. I was beyond overwhelmed.
Thanks to my yoga practice, I had already learned about pranayama, or breath work. It is the idea that your breath is your life force and you can fill yourself with it at any point in time by taking a deep breath. Different breaths are used for different situations, but the one I taught Will was a variation of Ujayii, a deep slow Darth Vader-type breath, whenever he was starting to get upset. Since getting his attention was a task in itself, I would make a practice of catching him as often as I could and making him look at my face while I exaggeratedly breathed in and out, opening my mouth wide, exhaling with rounded lips. He would mimic me.
-“Good job, Willy Wonka! I like how you’re breathing so well! Do you need me to help you with the Lego? Say ‘Help, please’.”
-“Good job!!! I love how you said ‘Help, please’. Here you go, here’s the Lego you wanted.”
The practice of catching him to breathe before a full-blown meltdown became second nature. He was able to communicate what he needed, therefore there was less frustration, and peace was becoming the norm at home.
One day, I was running late; the kind of late where you feel like a failure of a person. That scared little voice inside was on full volume, “They (Will’s therapy place on my way to teaching at the university) are totally going to kick you guys out for NEVER coming in on time. Why can’t you make it on time? Ever? It’s f***ing embarrassing.”
As this noise played in my head, I said bye to the nanny and little 4-month-old Stevie and proceeded to the garage. Will was not on Earth at the time and I couldn’t move fast enough to put all our bags in the car. I let 3-year-old Will get into his own car seat and when I went to check to see if he had made it up there and buckled himself in, he was pacing in the back, “eeeeeing”, completely oblivious to the voices in my head. The voice decided to vocalize outside and began to yell.
“Will! Get in your seat! Why are you not buckled in?! ¡Carajo!”
I violently fumbled with his seatbelt, the voice screaming louder in my head “Hurry the f*** up! You’re so f***ing late!”
All of the sudden, I look at Will and he’s looking straight at my face. Something he hardly did. He made his exaggerated inhale and exhale.
He was telling me in his own way, calmly, “Chill mom. It’s okay.” He couldn’t say it, but I felt it. He was helping ME out of MY full-blown meltdown.
Tears streamed down my cheeks. I surrendered.
“I’m so sorry, buddy. Please forgive me. I shouldn’t have yelled at you. It’s okay if we’re late.”
I took a deep breath as I hugged him in his car seat and thanked him for what he did for me. He understood. At 3 years old.
Before we can help anyone else, we need to put on the proverbial oxygen mask. Unfortunately, as caretakers, the first thing that comes to mind is figuring out what the child with the issue needs first. After everyone else is put on the same list of care, we add ourselves to the bottom of that list...maybe. This is a mistake. Somewhere in our human history, we decided that taking care of ourselves was selfish, when the opposite is the case. Self-care in essence is selfless. By feeding ourselves at all levels, the physical, mental and spiritual, we are able to tackle most anything that comes our way. But we ALL need tools, and a good counselor can be a fantastic asset to you and your situation. Life happens, including death. How we deal with what comes dictates what kind of life we lead. The same event may happen to two persons, but one will see the gift of the event and the other will see misery. It’s all perception.
If you have a child that has gone through the diagnosis process of finding out what disability he or she may have, you are very familiar with forms full of questions about personality and behavior. This is an excerpt from the book I’m currently writing “How I found peace through Autism”:
While we filled out the evaluations, it was becoming more and more apparent that there was something “wrong” with Will. Questions like “Does your child make an “eeeeee” sound?” Yes. “Does your child pace, jump, flap his arms?” He doesn’t flap his arms, but he definitely paces the couch while “eeeeeing”. “Is it hard to get his attention?” Yes, we could call him 20 times and he still wouldn’t look at us. We would need to go touch him sometimes and even grab his little face to make him look at us in the eye. “Can he keep continuous eye contact?” No. “Does he want to share/show you things?” No. “Does he communicate his needs?” Yes, but without words, just pointing and grunting at what he wanted. And the list went on.
After filling out these forms, the results had to be discussed further with the psychologist to dig further on causes and modes of treatment for Will. This is where one can obviously see that in order to tackle any cognitive disorder, understanding of the issue is of utmost importance.
Why can’t we see that we need to do the same for us? If we are not clear on a course of action for the development of our children, how can we be fully present for them if we’re not clear on what we need to be our best self to handle it all?
A good psychologist will have the clinical knowledge and experience, but will also have compassion, and a deep willingness to connect and help improve the daily living situation for his or her clients. They tend to be ones that are deeply connected to the science because of their own experiences or those of the people closest to them. In the end, the most important thing is that you feel comfortable with him or her, because if you cannot have full honesty and vulnerability with them, you will only heal those things that are on the surface. The psychologist can be your guide, but you have to be the one to choose complete honesty with yourself.
A personal example:
The pure mention of money is a deep trigger for most of us humans. When you start to analyze the “why”, each of us will have our own stories connected to money; things that we didn’t even know would affect us in our adult lives. My parents’ story created a major divide within me. My mother was a spender without fear of consequence. She learned this Puerto Rican saying from her dad, which she would share with me from time to time: “Las últimas las paga El Diablo” (“The Devil will pick up the bill”). It was his belief that there was more than enough to go around: the mentality of abundance. The problem with this was carelessness and the creation of immense debt. On the other hand, my father was a saver, to the point of no compromise: the mentality of lack and, therefore, control. These two opposing beliefs is part of the reason why their marriage disintegrated. What was unfortunate for me was the confusion it created in my life, which I later brought to MY marriage.
However, as I dug deeper and was completely honest with myself, I realized that my fear was not having enough money to live the life I thought I wanted, and even deeper to that, was the fear of being destitute, and even deeper than that, was the fear of being alone and being completely separate from the rest of existence. Being separate from the rest of existence was my real fear. For me, not having the financial abundance that I so desperately wanted, felt like I was going to be separated from existence itself, God itself. So, if we didn’t have the money to pay for therapy for the boys, I could go into a defensive rant with my husband because I was acting from that deep-seated fear. I realized that there are infinite ways of receiving what we actually need for the boys, i.e. surrender, and something even better shows up.
Once the fear is acknowledged, seeing the worst possible scenario and be willing to heal it, will heal so many other issues concerning being yourself: alone, in relationships, at work, in spirituality and in the community. Bringing this awareness to all these areas, in effect starts to dissolve these issues one by one, layer by layer, and a new form of mastering yourself comes forward. Now the next problem to come your way is not as problematic or painful as it once was. Your perception of the issue has changed and you’re no longer a prisoner to it. You begin to acquire your freedom, from everything. This is the space where you can be there for others in the best, clearest most loving way.
And this is not meant to be a guilt trip for anyone. Aren’t we always quick to go there? The point is to be brave and see what are the things and behaviors that are serving you and which ones are not. By releasing those that are not, you create space for the things that do serve you to magically appear in your life. Children with disabilities. Check. Debt. Check. Frustration. Anger. Fear. Check.Check.Check. Sweet and joyful kids. Also check. Beautiful, deep meaningful union with husband. Check. Learning to love myself and realize that I’m worthy of ALL of it. BIG CHECK.
I didn’t have a psychologist, but I had yoga. I had a physical practice that metamorphosed into a mental and spiritual one. Then came paradigm-shifting books that rocked my world. Then, as they say, “when the student is ready the teacher will appear”, my spiritual coach showed up. Wounds and traumas were healed, and forgiveness became my homework. Now multiple miracles happen daily. No words can describe the awe I feel to live the life I lead.
My biggest hope is for everyone to live from this space of freedom. It doesn’t mean that life as we know it will cease to exist and only “good” things will happen. What happens instead is that you live life in Technicolor. You welcome all of it with child-like delight.
By going through the process of pain and suffering, I was able to uncover a magical reality underlining the muted one I used to live in. This is how I think life must have been perceived by masters like Jesus and Buddah. I’m not claiming to have reached this status, but I am saying that we can follow the roadmap they left behind for us. Having a trusted psychologist, counselor, friend, spiritual coach… that can be our guide as we go through life, we can do the inner work with more ease.
We are all worthy of this, it is safe for us to be this and it is our birthright. Each and every one of us. My boys taught me this. My husband taught me this. My “enemies” taught me this. My traumas taught me this. My worries taught me this.
Exercise to try at home:
What is your life teaching you about you? Sit in a quiet, safe spot and ask the quietest part of yourself this question. See what you get.