Thank God it’s Fall.
This summer we faced challenges that forced us to take a hard look at our expectations, our lifestyle, and our reality. We had to dig deep, reevaluate and refocus on the health of our family.
We didn’t go off the rails with food. I wish we could say that having a few cheat meals or non-Paleo parties taught us that our health is a fragile state that cannot be taken for granted. It has nothing to do with food. While staying squeaky-clean Paleo we learned the hard lesson of how stress can be just as toxic to the body as gluten-filled pastries or a plate of pasta.
It is with relief and gratitude that I write this post to share how we weathered the storm of a stressful and dysregulated summer and made it to a place where we can continue to share our experiences in the hope of inspiring your journey toward better health.
When I reread the post where I regretfully signed off of this blog for the summer, I can feel the underpinnings of stress and anxiety in my words. I can sense the unrest that was setting up shop in our world and the waves of challenges that were forming. The girls’ dance recital, Chad’s emergency surgery, and other emotional stressors in the month of June began to shake our rock solid sense of control.
Parenting a fairly well-regulated, mainstreamed child whose ASD symptoms stood safely in the distance became upended with the change of seasons. It started with Charlotte’s nighttime wakings and like a switch that was flipped on her last day of preschool, restlessness took hold at night. Limited sleep descended upon all of us.
It was the first hint that the excitatory neurons that cause her ASD behaviors were unsettled and disorganized and had come out to play in the summer months.
Charlotte’s typical mildly defiant nature was replaced with regressive behaviors in unusual and unpredictable patterns. A lack of effort and defiance at ballet class, a loss of skills at swimming lessons, and screaming and tantruming at occupational therapy sessions were windows into the stress and disorganization she was feeling inside.
This unsettled and disorganized state is familiar to us. Charlotte tends to have more ASD symptoms in times of stress and change of routine. What was different about this period of dysregulation was how the change in her behavior effected the dynamics of our entire family and each family member individually.
I can tell you with certainty now that stress spreads. Like a virus that doesn’t respond to your best herbal treatments, it creeps into the thoughts and behaviors of all family members showing symptoms like conflict, exhaustion, pouting, and insomnia, not to mention the marital and sibling discord.
Without the distractions of school and activities the stress is constant–unending from daytime to nighttime and back to daytime again. Can Mommy get a break?
I was faced with the daunting need of my own flailing mental health while managing a household that was clearly but temporarily off track. It was all so familiar and traumatic. Like 2008, but with bone broth, salmon, and grass-fed beef instead of Zoloft and Ativan.
It was on our family vacation that my insomnia set in, and I recognized my adrenal and mental health issues were at a point of no return. As much as I tried to undo the anxious and negative thoughts that had gotten me to a place of unrest, I couldn’t undo the nighttime wakings and unsettled thoughts about Charlotte and her future that had set up camp in my consciousness.
I had the needs of my kids in my face 24-7, and I was beyond the point of yoga and meditation to help myself and my family. I considered going back on my meds as a quick fix. Numbing the pain would be helpful to my daily functioning, but I knew they would also blunt my creativity and passion for fighting through this challenge.
Digging Deep and Finding the Light
I’ve done it before and knew I must do it again. I reread my favorite self-help author Brene’ Brown and got inspired to Dig Deep. I found comfort and restorative energy in reading other blogs of special needs parents, learning all I could about Autism and regression, and continued to eat clean and get as many nutrients as I could find.
I got smart about the challenges that Charlotte was facing. I really wanted to combine all of her challenges into one big ball or misery and exhaustion, but I forced myself to peel apart the behaviors and address each one separately and deliberately. I made social stories to present acceptable and unacceptable behaviors in a visual format.
I began to feel like there was an overlap in the issues and feelings that Charlotte and I faced–a unsettledness that changed from day-to-day, a general feeling of not doing enough with our bodies and minds to feel fulfilled. I built on the exuberance and excitement that Charlotte felt on our family vacation to the mountains, and I got us outside as often as possible. I plugged into Paleo philosophies that were new to me–beach trips and bike rides, and as many trips to the pool as I could manage. We ventured out to nearby lake for fishing and playing, and we all found nature peaceful and calming like nothing inside the home could ever provide.
Toward the end of the summer, we began to find a rhythm within ourselves again. I had more energy to keep the girls entertained, and I began to understand that boredom was the bane of our existence. A more stimulated Charlotte was a better behaved and more regulated Charlotte. Everything and everyone felt better. It was counter-intuitive to everything I was working toward, but I let go of a strict routine, structure, and predictability, and let adventures and experiences help everybody. I tested my theory and took both girls on a road trip by myself right before the start of school.
I was amazed at the children that I saw before me. A full day of new experiences–from the beach to the zoo and out to dinner, their behavior was manageable and acceptable. I was in control again and having fun. I could feel my cortisol levels dropping as we connected and healed.
Learn and Grow
There were so many times when I wanted to come to this blog and write/scream/vent all of feelings of anger and frustration at the state of my life. How could I let this happen again? What had I done to deserve this state of stress and misery?
I knew you didn’t have the answer. I knew it was within me. I had some growing to do, and I was the only one that could help me with that. I went back to what worked in the past and built on it. Living Paleo has taught me to find strength and positive energy in things that come from natural sources–a good meal, a talk with a friend, and a walk around the block build patience and trust that lead a well of happiness and gratitude at the end of a long road.
The rhythm of the school year is upon us and I’m already seeing the familiar behaviors of motivation for learning, play and a good night’s sleep to finish the day. Boredom and restlessness have been replaced with inspiration and excitement.
While I’m happy to see this long and challenging summer come to an end, I know that we are all richer and wiser for the experience. I will take these powerful lessons and turn them into tools to stay healthy next summer. We will plan to stay busy and active, get outside everyday, approach behavior and sleep with a new perspective, and focus on staying relaxed and connected.
Life’s challenges are seasonal–always changing and deeply rewarding. This particular season taught me so much about my own health, the depth and power of my own strength, and the gifts that are my children.