The reality of being a parent with a child who has special needs and how that can impact our health is rarely discussed.
I think it is universally understood our lives involve extra to juggle and manage daily and as parents within this community there is the knowing nod we share, the mutual understanding that this sh*t gets real at times and we use more acronymous than I ever thought possible, but we just keep on going. One foot in front of the other, one step at a time.
Now don't get me wrong, I am not complaining. I love my life, I love my family, my children and I am happy. My cup is overfloweth in so many beautiful magical ways.
However recently I have become aware of the statistical impact of this day to day life on our health. I mean, we all feel tired right? We all get overwhelmed, have too much on our plates and feel like we could be doing more and we assume it just comes with the territory.
But did you know research has shown that moms who have a child with an intellectual disability have stress levels (measured by hormones in our body) that are comparable to that of a soldier in combat? Also, did you also know we are 40% more likely to die of cancer and 150% more likely to die of cardiovascular disease?
Let that digest for a moment…
Because that is a lot to process and those numbers are freakin insane. Yet, I don't hear parents, Dr's or therapists talking about this. And I might add this isn't new research some of the research was published in 2009.
Instead, I have Dr’s giving me a long list of things I should do for my son, websites with diets for my son, therapists for my son, supplements for my son, multiple on top of multiple Drs for my son. Then in the past when I went to the Dr for myself because I was sick - yet again - I received the good old lines of -
Well, after having children it is common to feel exhausted
Life changes when babies arrive
Have you considered you are depressed?
Off I was sent with a script for antidepressants - job done, problem solved. - and yes, I am being facetious.
Nobody spoke to me about my over all wellbeing. I am sure you will not be surprised that depression and anxiety disorders are also higher among mothers with children with special needs and often medication can actually help so let's not diminish that support.
Additionally let's not allow these statistics to diminish our children, how much we love them and how much they light up our lives and how much more we get out of life because of them.
Which is exactly why when I was confronted with these statistics I almost fell off my chair. Why wasn’t anyone talking about these increases in Cancer and Cardiovasular disease. Where was the person on their soapbox with a loudspeaker? Why was it when I spoke about having a son with Down Syndrome all I got was from my Dr was a look of sympathy and another script?
I already knew from my own parenting journey, that being a special needs parent was stressful at times. But to see actual research supporting what I suspected to be true was a different level of realization. because 1. it meant I am not crazy and because 2. this sh*t is real!
But here is the thing, we do not have to accept these statistics. As moms with children with special needs, we have a choice. We can lay down and accept declining health at an increased rate OR we can step up and do something about it.
I can hear you say… yeh, but if you honestly know how stressful our lives are then you know I can’t fit ‘me’ into my day.
Well, let's look at this from a different perspective.
What if I were to tell you that your child’s life was going to be cut short unless you created change. Your child would have a 40% increased rate of cancer and 150% increase rate dying from heart disease.
I mean, let’s be honest, most of us are already going over and above for our children, all of our children. Otherwise, there wouldn’t’ be so many conferences and website supporting the health and wellness for all children. Am I right?!
So here I am - Health Coach and Yoga Teacher. Mother of 3 and Special Needs Mom - on my Soapbox, with my Loudspeaker. These statistics have got to change! We matter, You matter.
I know that there are moms out there like me who know their health matters but don’t know where to start. They know their stress and overwhelm is too high, but don’t know how to lower it. They know that they matter but don’t know where to even begin to step into the life they want to live and the health they want to feel.
Self Care is important. You need to make YOU a priority. I am not talking about day spas and the bs of ‘self care’ fluffy bathrobes and pedicures - though I will say ‘yes please’ if it's being handed out.
I know from my own experience of hitting burn out, developing an autoimmune disease, chronic fatigue and having to find my way back to a healthier way of life - when you don’t have a choice it’s easier to create the time.
I also know it’s way better to not hit burn out in the first place, listen to the early warning signs. Drink more water, go for a walk, take a longer bath or shower and put something green on your plate with each meal and listen to your body.
Your body will thank you and so will your family because you’ll be around longer to nag them about cleaning up their bedroom and brushing their teeth.
When we make ourselves a priority and care for ourselves we can, in turn, be around longer to care for the ones we love.
photos care of @GeorgiaGlennon