When you are a primary caretaker of a child with a disability, often your needs become secondary, or even tertiary, to those of your child, teen or young adult. In the process, you may find that your ability to handle the day to day gets harder and harder. You may be experiencing trauma yourself, but continue to chug along so that you can keep the train moving.
So the glaring question becomes this: when do you know that you need to do something for yourself?
When you are not able to maintain your roles in your life, and when it becomes more difficult to function on a day to day basis, it’s time.
Let’s break it down:
Where is your attention focused?
How is your attention? Are you able to follow through on tasks that you’ve started, or are you finding that you start a task and then stop to begin another one? Are you able to convey a clear thought without being confused? Are you able to think through one particular content at a time? When you find yourself being distracted, confused or in a haze, it’s time to acknowledge the level of distress you are feeling and how it is impacting your ability to function.
Which emoji describes you today?
If you are noticing that you are feeling tired, un-enthusiastic, sad, anxious or unmotivated, it’s time. Are you losing interest in your friendships? Do you dread starting your day? Are you exhausted all day but find yourself unable to fall asleep soundly and easily at bedtime? If you are feeling more glum for most days than not, it’s time to focus on your needs.
Too much or too little?
When stress is high, sometimes appetite and sleep are impacted in one of two directions. Some sleep a great number of hours and still feel tired, while some are unable to sleep throughout the night. Some people find comfort in food and eat excessively, while others have little to no appetite.
Think about your eating and sleeping habits lately. Are you eating healthy food and in healthy quantities? Are you able to fall asleep and stay asleep? Are you sleeping more than eight hours per night and still crave more sleep?
When it’s time to seek professional counseling.
Sometimes, it is downright difficult to acknowledge the signs of distress and exhaustion within yourself when you are spending most of your time and energy caring for your child with disabilities. Maybe you don’t want to admit it. Maybe you don’t want to take the time to find a therapist for yourself. Maybe you feel like you don’t want to talk about it. These are all normal feelings to have.
Take a few minutes to assess your focus, mood, eating and sleeping habits. If your answers indicate a high stress level, it may be time to seek professional counseling to help cope with caregiving demands.