I am the proud parent of a special needs child. My daughter recently turned two years old, and she is the light of my life. She, however, was not born with special needs but suffered horrific and severe trauma when she was left in the care of her father at just two and a half months old. Looking back, I now know that very few people expected her to live through her injuries, let alone have anything close to a “normal” life. She has superseded everyone’s expectations, and through love, care, and countless therapy and doctor’s appointments, grows stronger each day.
With this, I have dealt with my own trauma these past two years, which at times, feels suffocating and impossible to escape. I battle daily with undiagnosed depression, anxiety, guilt, fear, and feelings of never living up to what all my daughter needs and deserves of me. However, I make a conscious effort daily to combat these feelings. Here are five ways I am declaring my freedom.
MY STORY, MY TRUTH
I have many times shied away from speaking about our situation from the fear that others would bash me. I was afraid that labeling what happened to my daughter as abuse and non-accidental trauma, would have people in an uproar and angry at me for using those labels. I had to remind myself that feelings are not facts, and when asked what happened, despite me not being there, the medical documentation and investigation all lead to one conclusion. What happened to my daughter and it is my truth. I am free from worrying about if others disapprove of what and how I share. I can only hope that my transparency will provide healing for some, and create a safe space for open dialogue around abuse, trauma, and healing.
THE POWER OF NO
With sharing details about our life, even if it is as simple as mentioning therapy or responding to someone inquiring about why my two-year-old is not walking yet, is often followed by abrading of questions. Just because I feel freedom in sharing, does not mean I always have to partake in ’21 Questions’. I have learned, and I am still learning, that it is okay for me to decline, and be exclusive with whom I share details. Continually having to share is exhausting. People are naturally curious, and most are coming from a loving place, so choosing when and how I share is crucial to my mental health, especially if people are insensitive in their delivery.
IT IS OKAY NOT TO BE OKAY
I juggle working full time, taking my daughter to therapy three times a week, drop-offs and pickups at daycare, doctor’s appointments, and trying to incorporate what we learn at treatment at home, all on top of regular mommy duties and trying to carve out time for myself. I AM OVERWHELMED! It is very easy for me to say ‘I’m fine’ and throw on a warm smile when I am asked how I am doing. I have recently felt freedom in answering honestly when my support system checks in on me. I was afraid that in sharing that I’m overwhelmed, angry, sad, or anxious would come off as complaining, or not showing gratefulness for the mere fact that my daughter is alive. But, I have learned that it is not complaining, but rather it is me allowing myself to feel in the moment, and not bury those feelings. I have to shake the notion that I am supposed to have it all together. My life has been flipped upside down. Emotions are intense, fears are massive, and that is okay.
This one is very new. I have always been one to speak positively, but I have realized that I never affirm myself. With my situation, guilt is a huge demon I fight often. Take your typical mom guilt and multiply that by infinity. When I start to feel that guilt, I begin to telling myself “I have done nothing wrong,” and I repeat that to myself until I feel that lump in my chest dissipates. Others include “I am the BEST mother for Mia,” “I am strong and will continue to be strong for Mia,” and “I am not broken.” All of these statements have been told to me by others, but they did not do much for me until I internalized them. These statements fuel me when a loved one may not be available to boost my spirits. A support system is excellent and necessary, but it is nothing like being able to be your own cheerleader.
IT IS OKAY TO LIVE MY LIFE IN THE MIDST OF HEALING
When my daughter was inpatient not long after the incident, I remember feeling HORRIBLE for smiling, or even laughing if someone said something to make me laugh. I thought to myself, “How can you laugh at a time like this?”. While inpatient and even after discharge, I did not want to leave her side. A crisis therapist told me to “...fake it til’ you make it”. He explained that doing things outside of my daughter would feel foreign and uncomfortable, but that it was necessary for balance and the establishment of a new normal for us. Now, I can get a pedicure, catch a movie, or even grab a cocktail downtown. Do it still feel strange? Absolutely! Laughing, and doing things for myself, does not mean that I am not focused on mine or my daughter’s healing. If anything it is a catalyst for healing.
I hope that in sharing how I have begun to declare freedom for myself, will help you do the same if you are I need.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gabrielle is currently in retail management, with a background in psychology and social work. Gabrielle’s mission is to help others achieve healing after trauma, and to create a world of acceptance for children with special needs.