If I am with my kids I have to be on alert, apparently just like a combat soldier. The times I have been off target didn’t have the same dire results as someone in combat, but I did relearn why I can’t relax unless I know the kids are off to school or asleep. It doesn’t feel like I am at war, and I am not saying that I have to do anything close to what those in the military do in their daily lives.
I do know I put myself last a lot of the time and it is hard to put yourself first when you have to stay a step ahead of what’s going on. It’s not the same as post traumatic stress disorder, instead it is the daily running on alert over a long period of time that causes caretakers to have stress related health issues.
In a recent study they tested moms of adolescents and adults with autism. They followed a group of moms who care for adolescents and adults with autism for eight days in a row. Moms were interviewed at the end of each day about their experiences and on four of the days researchers measured the moms’ hormone levels to assess their stress. They found that the hormone associated with stress was extremely low, consistent with people experiencing chronic stress such as soldiers in combat.
Just recently I let my guard down when I was sick, I nodded off on the sofa and awoke and realized what had happened; I found SensiGirl upstairs using Random Guy’s scissors to cut off her hair. There have been a few moments like that over the years.
I think the common factor caregivers have with the combat soldiers is not being able to let your guard down, not to let your attention to get too divided, nor forget about what you are doing or what is going on in your surroundings . If I don’t keep track of SensiGirl’s movements I will pay with a mess to clean up at the least, or a trip to the doctor at the worst. We’ve gone to the doctor for peas up her nose a couple of times. She doesn’t do that anymore, as she grows up her messes grow developmentally with her. I clean up slimy hand lotion messes off SensiGirl and her bedroom floor at least monthly. (I have really dry skin and if I don’t keep the hand lotion handy, well it doesn’t get used and I am back at the doctor’s office with cracked hands.)
I try to give her more sensory things to do, like helping make the pizza dough, sensory toys, or Sensory Science Friday, but every time I relax and forget about things, there it is, one of her messes. Painting the kitchen in ketchup was memorable.
The good that comes out of the the studies and the comparison it makes is caregivers and their doctors recognize the daily stress Moms’ experience is real. It may make them take the effects of stress from care-giving a special needs kids seriously. The illnesses that come from constant daily stress are real. Take care of yourself. Now, I think I will go take a nap. (It’s okay, they are at school.)