The week we got my son’s autism diagnosis, my husband Jeff cried for two days straight. We received the paperwork two days before we met with the therapists, and we both knew. I shed a few tears when we met with them, but somehow I held myself together. Jeff and I have an unstated rule not to fall apart at the same time.
My own two-day breakdown happened less than a week later when I got the news that my mother’s eventually terminal leukemia had returned. Whatever strength I’d had the previous week was gone. I’d used up the reserves and in its place poured emotion that I couldn’t bear without suffocating underneath its pressure. I didn’t know what the future held. I was scared and felt like my world was breaking into a million pieces.
At times like this, I go within.
It would be six months before I emerged.
It would be six months before I felt grounded in this reality.
It would be six months before I could fathom sharing it as our story.
It would be six months before I felt like we’d made any progress.
It would be six months before I accepted that making no progress in some areas was okay.
It would be six months before I could advocate with strength and my own ideas instead of just searching for guidance.
It would be six months before I began to forgive myself and release the guilt.
It would be six months before I could do a search on autism looking for others in my shoes. Much longer before I was ready to connect with them.
We’re in a completely different place now, two years later. This place was largely unfathomable then. And yet I’m still learning, developing, and shifting in different ways to find my bearings.
I don’t claim to know your exact road. I haven’t traveled down that particular one. I don’t know all of the things you’ve tried, the things that succeeded, the things that failed, the things that drive you crazy, the things you want to forget, the things you long to remember. I don’t know when you lose your patience, when you get frustrated, when you lose your cool. I don’t know how you grieve, or if you’ve forgiven your mistakes enough to grieve. I don’t know when you kick yourself for forgetting something that should be obvious when you’ve dealt with it so many times already. I don’t know when you try to ease the pain and remove the barriers and be the rock, and when you do it well and when you don’t. But I know you do some or all of these things, because I do too. I’ve traveled a winding, mountainous road myself.
I don’t know who I’d be if I hadn’t been down that road, but I do know now that I’m a better person for it. I know I’m strong. I know I’m courageous. I know I’m resourceful. I know that I’m all of these things and so much more because my son Kane has either taught me or driven me to be these things.
I also know that when you can shift your perception of success, the winding, mountainous stretches seem more like a scenic exploration than an uphill, tumultuous, or exhausting exercise. I know that after those stretches, there is miraculous wide open space where you can celebrate all of the work that got you there. And I know that there are people along the way – I call them angels among us – who are dropped into your life at just the right time to cheer you on.
So, if it takes you six months, a year, two years, or a lifetime, it’s okay. No matter where you are, start there and be kind to yourself.