A couple of years ago, I played along with one of those slightly corny facebook challenges. I often just disregard these things, but this one was about thankfulness and gratitude. And, since I regularly encourage my clients to keep gratitude journals and choose to focus their minds on positive things, I thought I should practice what I preach, so I hopped on the facebook challenge bandwagon.
The first few days I think I wrote some pretty generic things (thought honestly I can’t remember). As a family we were right in the midst of some pretty significant challenges with our daughter’s SPD. We’d only started receiving services a few months before and both my husband and I were trying to make sense of it all and were grieving the diagnosis. I wasn’t feeling very grateful, really. I was mostly feeling tired and overwhelmed and emotional. And then, I decided to add a bit of challenge to the challenge and I wrote the following:
Day 3: Today I am choosing to be thankful for some of the tough stuff. I admit that I often feel discouraged and overwhelmed in the midst of the following, which is entirely the reason that I am choosing to work at being grateful for them. So, here goes.
1) I am thankful for Sensory Processing Disorder. Don't get me wrong, there is a large part of me that wishes this disorder had never touched my family, or to be more honest, that it simply didn't exist. But, I am thankful for the explanation of my daughter's behaviors and idiosyncracies that has nothing to do with blaming my daughter, my husband, or myself. I am thankful that I am learning to see her behaviors through the lens of "mixed up wiring", sensory overload, or sensory deprivation rather than believing she's a spoiled brat, or that I am a bad mom, or that my husband is a bad dad. We aren't. Sure, none of us is perfect, but she struggles because of her neurological system, not because any of us screwed up or are inherently awful. I am thankful that this disorder is gaining understanding, and that this disorder has brought us into contact with a fantastic Occupational Therapist and has encouraged us to more creatively problem solve and find solutions focused at the actual problem rather than trying to "parent her out of it" or wait til she grows out of it. I am thankful that this disorder has continued to broaden our support network so we are no longer trying to manage the symptoms entirely on our own.
2) I am thankful for my daughter's meltdowns. These meltdowns are definitely not pretty and usually involve some type of destruction, hitting, kicking, shouting mean things, you name it. Her system gets overloaded and meltdown happens. These are exhausting. It is exhausting to try to figure out how to keep her safe while also protecting my other two children, not to mention myself. And I really wish I never had to feel the helpless heartache as I watch my intelligent and beautiful and thoughtful and sweet and generous daughter transform before my eyes, knowing that she's in hundreds of different kinds of pain and all I can do is wait it out. I want nothing more than to nurture her at these times, mother her, hug her, hold her, but all these things make the meltdowns and her pain worse. So I simply have to sit and wait, usually with tears running down my own face and my arms aching because they can't console and comfort her. So, in many ways, these meltdowns are not fun. But I am thankful that by watching her meltdowns we can learn more of what she needs. I am thankful that her meltdowns have increased my empathy for other parents and decreased my judgment of them. I am thankful that her meltdowns have prompted me to rest in the sanctuary of my God in ways that I have never before had to or chosen to. And I am thankful that her meltdowns are teaching me how to be more of what I believe I am called to be - a living sanctuary for all those who cross my path.
3) I am thankful that most people simply don't "get it". Sure, it can be lonely in some ways, and isolating, and again, exhausting. But I am thankful that most people don't "get it" because they have not had to face the challenges of SPD personally. I am thankful that most people are neurotypical and function well. I am also thankful because most people don't "get" that my daughter struggles with SPD. They don't "get it" because she (generally) manages to hold it all together when out and about and then melts down with overload when she's at home. Really, only my husband, my two sons, myself, and (of course) my daughter have ever experienced her full blown meltdowns. I am thankful for the hope that this brings, because with the right tools and modifications, she will be just fine. She proves every day that she can be just fine. And I am thankful that her meltdowns are reserved for me. It means that she feels fully, completely, unquestionably, and unconditionally loved and safe with me. It means that I am doing my job. Despite my mistakes and my own meltdowns and times I have been far less than mother of the year, she can totally and completely be all of herself with me. I am thankful that the effort I put in to prayerfully being her living sanctuary are felt by her.
At the end of the original FB post, I had written something along the lines of writing this mostly as a reminder to myself. I find that as I re-read it, I am thankful that time, trial and error, and helpful professionals have helped us understand my daughter’s needs better. But, I also find that I continue to have those days, weeks, months in which the struggle is very real and it is hard to stay grateful. And so, I re-post this as a reminder that there are always ways to reframe a situation to see it from a different angle. And mostly, I re-post as a reminder to myself to always revisit gratitude.