As a parent, you always seem to hold your breath just a little bit with your children. Since birth, you seem to always be ready to catch them when they fall. Even if they are not falling, you are still quietly waiting on the side, just in case.
As a mother with an ADHD child, my mind always raced with waiting for the other shoe to drop. I was constantly anxious when he walked out the door, went to his room, sat at the computer…anything and everything that Andrew did, I was holding my breath, praying he would not do something wrong or get in trouble. The constant worry. People always told me to relax, but that was hard with being Andrew’s mom. I was always in a bad mood. Yelling, stressed, angry all the time. I was preverbally running around with my arms outstretched, ready to catch him when he might fall. Always ready for the next catastrophe. And there always was.
Andrew’s severe ADHD came with some pretty intense impulsivity. There was stealing, lying, cheating and behavior that was “odd” to other people. And as I’ve said before, he had true remorse for his actions. He didn’t blame anyone else. I didn’t state that it wasn’t his fault. Or even deny that he was the culprit. He always apologized. He always felt bad for what he did. He would be embarrassed and ashamed. Unfortunately, many people did not or would not see that side of my son.
The looks people would give me. The knocks on my door when he would get in trouble with other kids in the neighborhood. The parents who yelled at me, calling me a bad mother when another catastrophe hit and they wouldn’t let their children be friends with Andrew anymore. The constant calls from the school. It seemed all I ever did was apologize for Andrew and was always dragging him around from one place to another having him apologize to people. It was exhausting.
Several weeks after Andrew died, in the midst of my grief, I realized there was another feeling that had started building up inside of me…relief. For 15 years, I was always trying to save Andrew from himself. Always worried about him. Stressed, anxious, angry that this truly AMAZING human being’s worst enemy…was him. And all of a sudden this ginormous weight that I had been carrying on my shoulders was lifted. Disappeared. Gone. I was horrified of this. What did it mean? Did it mean I was happy my son was gone? Now I could lead a carefree life? I had spent the past 15 years already feeling like a failure as a mother to him. Now this? Well, I truly must be the worst mother in the world to feel relief.
I did not walk, I ran to my therapist. Through some pretty earth shattering sobbing, I admitted this awful secret. I was truly in despair and terrified that there was some part of me that was happy he was dead. Being the wonderful therapist she is, she assured me that this was not true. She helped me realize that the feeling of relief was coming from my constant fear of what could happen next. I had always been worried about Andrew doing something impulsive that would land him in jail. Stealing a car. Graffiti. Drugs. The list goes on of scenarios that always ran through my head. She helped me to see that this was all out of a fierce love for my son and wanting to see him on the right path.
Everything was out of love for Andrew. Immense, intense love for him. I just wanted the kid to get a break from himself. I was always carrying this burden for him. But, honestly, I was also exhausted.
It’s been 14 months, today, that Andrew has been gone. I still carry a lot of guilt for all the times I would get angry at Andrew. Time I will never get back or have a chance to make up to him. I do not have the anxiety anymore of what could have happened. Now it’s been replaced with the sadness of what will never happen. All the good things Andrew will never get to do. But, that’s a post for another day.
Exhaustion and burnout are very real feelings for parents raising special needs children. I really benefited from this article in ADDitude Magazine. I related to all the feelings and emotions. You are not alone. I encourage you to read it and take some time for self care. Be kind to yourself and know you are doing everything out of love.