“When you have come to the edge
Of all light that you know
And are about to drop off into the darkness
Of the unknown,
Faith is knowing
One of two things will happen:
There will be something solid to stand on, or
You will be taught to fly” (Anonymous)
By definition, autopilot is ‘a navigational system that automatically keeps ships, planes or spacecraft on a steady course.’ In people it is also defined as ‘a cognitive state in which you act without self-awareness.’ For many of us parents this often manifests itself in our ability to wash clothes, cook and clean without realizing we’re actually doing it – or driving to our child’s doctor appointment and not knowing how we even got there – or having a conversation with someone and don’t know what in the world they are saying. ”
Does this resonate with you? If so, what are some of your ‘autopilot moments?’
Having a few of them sprinkled throughout your life is ok but when if you find yourself perpetually being on autopilot – something has got to give. “But I quite like this autopilot thing” you exclaim, “It’s my survival tool– my calm inside this constantly changing storm of special parenting and one that I don’t have to think too much about.” Great, and I completely understand where you are coming from – but my question to you is, what is your ‘living’ tool?
What are you doing right now, today and/or will do this week, this month that will make you feel alive and push you boldly into living in the moment?
Considering the quote from above, what will make you fly? To modify a little of what Professor/Theologian, Harold Whitman said: “Don’t ask yourself what the world [or your child] needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go do that….” This challenge in no way minimizes your love for your child and other important people in your life – in fact it does just the opposite – because by doing, saying and thinking on things that invigorate you, your engagement, connection and energy with those around you is maximized.
I’ve always felt that our existence on autopilot is our own body and mind’s mechanism of surviving – of just getting through the daily medical, developmental, cognitive, educational and emotional challenges that come with raising a child with special needs. Many people have asked me how I kept my sanity (not sure if I did) and sense of laughter, during those scary 5+ months of Alejandro in NICU followed by his numerous additional surgeries and complications and developmental challenges that have continued on up until this day. My typical response was, “I don’t have a clue” – because I really didn’t have a clue. My faith and family were keeping me afloat – and many times I wasn’t even fully aware of these two (2) anchors in my life – but I was functioning (and pretty well, I might add, given the circumstances). Ha, ha – in just reading those last few words, I chuckled and thought how funny it is that we can get a bit defensive and protective of our autopiloting. The thing with all of this though is, I wasn’t fully living – largely because I didn’t have the energy (or desire perhaps???) to do it. As special parents, there are so many extra layers of parenting (i.e. surgeries, medical emergencies, developmental issues, etc) and a crazy number of extra people (i.e. the professionals) in our lives, that sometimes it can feel like our lives are not our own. Autopiloting then becomes the most natural thing to do in order to survive….. but it is not the only thing. Being a special parent can either define you or free you – which one you choose is up to you.
I realized that I was choosing the former last year, when most of my interactions with my son were based off of the many discussions and suggestions from his therapists. I had become all six (6) of his therapists wrapped up in one (1) – scary – and had forgotten how to just be his mom. My conversations with my hubby were really a running dialouge of what was going on with Alejandro/what he needed to do/upcoming appointments, etc. I had become an excellent medical, educational and developmental anchor and reporter of “Alejandro’s News” but along the way had become a somewhat ‘distant’ wife. I like exercising but couldn’t remember the last time I broke a sweat from something other than being in the summer heat. I had stopped showing up/ being engaged/ being present in my own life.
I’m reminded of something I read in a great book, The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal, written by my dear friend, Renee Peterson Trudeau www.reneetrudeau.com, that really woke me up and resonated with me.
“Don’t die with the music still in you.” (Wayne Dyer).
It wasn’t even a main chapter in the book but a quote – and a powerful one that I haven’t forgotten.
So, I ask of you:
What is the song inside of you that needs to be heard? The music on your heart that needs to be played?…..in order to connect you back to your center, to your life, to yourself?
Your answer will be the catalyst that re-engages you back to you!
Enjoy your summer and stay cool!