Running A Marathon... And Almost Dying
According to legend, the first marathon was run by an ancient Greek soldier named Pheidippides. The year was 490 BC and the Persian army had moved into Greece coming to conquer. Fearing for their lives and their homeland, the city of Athens sent an army to meet the Persians outside the city of Marathon. Despite being heavily outnumbered, the Athenians were victorious. Following the battle Pheidippides ran the distance from the city of Marathon all the way back to the city of Athens, a distance of approximately 25 miles to deliver the good news of their victory over the Persians. Once he arrived in Athens, exhausted Pheidippides delivered his message saying, "Joy to you, we've won!", and then he collapsed on the ground and died on the spot.
Pheidippides serves as an excellent cautionary tale of what can happen when literally or metaphorically, we push ourselves too far past our limits and attempt to run farther than we have strength. We all have physical and emotional limits and the process of growth necessarily involves pushing the envelope in some way. Strengthening our muscles, increasing our knowledge, expanding the boundaries of our capabilities. However, if you push too far or too long, then the consequences can be dire. While it may not cost us our life like Pheidippides, pushing ourselves past our physical or emotional limits can come with a heavy price.
Taking Care of You First
As a parent and capable adult, you undoubtedly have a myriad of assets and resources at your disposal that help you do your job and accomplish your goals. Your family needs you, so whatever else happens, you cannot allow yourself to be damaged or compromised through abuse or careless neglect. Take care of yourself, care for your physical, mental, and emotional health. It's okay to say no sometimes. It's okay to rest when you really need it. As a parent, if you really care about helping others and making a difference which all assume you do because you're here reading this article right now, then remember self-care, protecting the asset must always be your first and highest priority.
Imagine trying to run a marathon on four hours of sleep, having eaten only a single granola bar and a small sip of water with 26.2 miles to go. How far do you think you would make it before your energy ran out, causing you to hit the wall and collapse? Being a parent of someone on the spectrum can feel like running a marathon every day. Parenting is the hardest job you'll ever love, so if you're going to make it to that finish line day after day, then you have to start doing what the professionals do.
Before a marathon, experienced long distance runners get plenty of sleep, then they eat a big breakfast to ensure that they'll have tons of energy, they'll drink lots of water, and then after each run they give themselves ample time to rest and recover before starting again. You need to develop the same habits. Every night. get plenty of sleep, maybe even take a short nap during the day. Eat the right foods and most importantly, give yourself time every single day to decompress and recharge your emotional battery. Remember, when your emotional resources are low, then you tend to automatically fall into Defense Mode.
Get Yourself Out of Defense Mode First
You may understand intellectually that when your child is stressed and having a meltdown, you should speak softly because past experience has proven that yelling rarely helps and usually just makes things worse. When your emotional capacity is high, that is exactly what you do. You navigate that situation with skill and finesse, remaining calm and saying all the right things. The problem comes when you're tired, stressed, and your emotional resources are spent. In those moments, before you know it you've gone into Defense Mode right along with your child and now despite your best intentions, you find yourself yelling all those angry and hurtful things you promised yourself you would never say.
On every airplane flight your flight attendant has cautioned you to always put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. The reason why is that when your mind and body is deprived of oxygen, within just a couple of minutes your cognitive functioning becomes severely impaired. Your fine motor skills all but disappear. Verbal instructions become incomprehensible. Worst of all, you lose touch with reality. Completely forgetting the reason why you even needed to put on that oxygen mask in the first place. At that point, you'll just be sitting there suffocating in blissful ignorance. If some other kind oxygen mask wearing good Samaritan doesn't intervene to help you put on your oxygen mask, then in all likelihood you would die. The effects of hypoxia set in fast and that's why it's so important to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others. This is good advice, not just in airplane emergencies, but in every aspect of life. You're not much good to anyone else if you're not breathing. To put it bluntly, it's impossible for you to help your child get out of Defense Mode unless you've gotten yourself out of Defense Mode first. You can't pull a drowning man out of the water if you're still stuck in the water yourself, drowning right alongside them.
Self care doesn't need to be massively time consuming. Eating lunch for 20 minutes or grabbing a short five minute snack gives your body enough physical energy to go for hours before you have to eat again. In the same way, just 20 minutes of meditation here and a five minute walk there can go a long way towards giving you the emotional stamina you need to get through your day and remain levelheaded in the face of stress.
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