Today we went back to the scene of the crime: the place where Graham was diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum 3 months ago. Okay, technically we were on a different floor, but same building. Same lobby. Same elevator.
Lucky for me we’ve been here a few times since. It’s near work. I have to dash in every now and then for something or other. When I go there I no longer feel that flashback-y feeling I used to. Now it just makes me sad. Nearly every kid you see is there for a “reason.” Maybe it’s a little reason, maybe it’s a big reason. Knowing I’m surrounded by families who are going through so much more than we are is strange and sad.
We had a Neurology appointment. We suspect Graham may be having some Absence seizures. While I filled out paperwork I saw a family enter. Mom, Dad, adorable little boy in a wheelchair. I don’t know what they were there for, I don’t know what was wrong with the boy, but I couldn’t help thinking, “They look so normal, those parents.”
Why would I think that? I’m not sure. But it’s hard to control that immediate subconscious reaction.
Perhaps we should have a uniform to recognize each other? A secret handshake? Or are we just supposed to clue in from the haggard look and dark circles under our eyes?
I saw this article today saying mothers of autistic children have stress reactions similar to soldiers in combat. (I’d say the same is true for special needs parents in general.) It’s a chronic, long-term stress, apparently. And it reminds me exactly why I’m back at work.
I couldn’t hack it. Apparently I would make a pretty crappy soldier because parenting was getting the best of me.
Having an autistic child made me depressed. It wasn’t just that, there were a host of other factors, but parenting was the biggest one.
Before I knew Graham was autistic it felt like it was just parenting that was doing it. It seemed like something was wrong with me. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t enjoy my child the way other people did. It kicked in when Graham was around 9 months old, though it had been hovering in the background for a while.
It stayed for a long time. It got worse when I was home all day. And from December 2010 to March 2011 when I wasn’t working it hit some serious lows.
Getting Graham’s diagnosis helped. It was good to know that I wasn’t a total failure. But it didn’t fix anything. I still had the same day-to-day frustration.
When it was at its worst, I had some real anhedonia (inability to enjoy anything). I would think to myself, “What would I do if I could do anything I wanted?” And I had no answer. Of course I wanted time to myself away from the baby, but what would I do with that time? And what would it matter when that time would inevitably come to an end and it would be like it never happened the minute I walked back in the door?
I see a psychiatrist. I take medication. And I started working. Between these things it’s almost like night and day. Whether Graham has a good day or a bad one, I can always get myself a little bit of perspective. I can enjoy things. Now if you ask me what I would do if I could do anything I wanted I can give you a very, very long list. (Much of it would involve food and spa treatments.)
I love that postpartum depression is something we take seriously as a society now. It’s not easy to deal with and the ability to say you need treatment is important. Knowing it’s out there is key. But depression doesn’t have to be just right after birth. Being a parent, whether it’s for a special needs child or not, has a whole host of guilt and other shameful feelings attached.
I am still angry that I had the experience just like I’m still angry about Graham’s diagnosis. I do feel like I was deprived of a time in my life that could have been beautiful. But I’m proud of myself for being able to find a way out of it.
It’s hard to talk about mental health in everyday life. I guess that’s one thing I love about the blog is that it feels like a safe place to talk about it, even though I know full well that people I know read it. Having the conversation here makes it somehow less awkward for everyone. I’m trying to be better about breaking down that barrier but at least this is one thing I can do.
There are still people who think autism is a trendy diagnosis or a fad. They think it’s about lazy parents and obnoxious children.
Likewise there are still people who think depression isn’t real and doesn’t need to be treated.
They’re both real. And even if you just have situational depression like I do, it doesn’t make it less valid. If you need some help, get it. If you know someone who needs help, help them get it. Here’s to feeling better.
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