One of the most repeated things I’ve heard in grad school is the phrase “self-care”. It is basically what you think it is – taking care of oneself. It feels like a no-brainer to take care of yourself to maintain a healthy lifestyle, but to practice self-care you have to be able to take a break from whatever is bringing you down and remind yourself you are worth the care. And I can attest that can be difficult when it comes to autism.
I completely understand how parents are stressed taking care of their autistic children. As an autistic child, I was acutely aware how my parents were constantly in my affairs from school to therapy and beyond. It’s a misconception that autistic people are not aware of the world around them - I could tell that my parents put a lot more work in me than they needed to for my siblings. I constantly felt they were constantly frustrated and tired with all the challenges I presented. It created a sense of feeling like a burden that I’m still fighting to this day.
It’s this feeling that made what a recent discovery so uplifting. I was talking with my mother a few weeks ago about her experience raising me and I asked her if she ever got people telling her they felt sorry for her. She said she didn’t experience that, following with some words I’ll never forget:
"I never felt sorry for myself."
This still shocks me. You often hear from parents raising autistic kids about how difficult their own lives are from caring for them. It’s a depressing narrative that gets to someone like me hard. So to hear my mom not feel sorry for herself kinda blew my mind. I asked her why, to which she answered that upon receiving my diagnosis the doctors told my parents to take care of themselves. They said that my parents would need to work on their marriage and their own well being so they could raise me well. And my parents did exactly that – I remember them often having date nights of going to see movies, plays, and classical and jazz concerts together throughout my childhood. My mom also said they engaged in some couples therapy when conflict emerged. In taking care of themselves, my parents are still happily married and continue to be effective and loving parents.
If that’s not the definition of self-care, I don’t know what is.
I think the key to self-care is to care about yourself in the first place. I struggle with this as someone who’s trying to piece together her own self-esteem. But every night before I go to bed, I tell myself I love myself. It’s a somewhat comforting thought, but I guess that’s part of self-care – reminding yourself that you’re worthy of good things. If we can remind ourselves that we’re worthy human beings, we can then treat and take care of others with the love and care they deserve.
No one wins when they feel sorry for themselves. As famous personality RuPaul touts, “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you gonna love anyone else?"
Now can I get an amen?
Originally published here