I joke a lot about being in survival mode; about living life from one coffee to the next. I join in conversations with friends about the annoyance of toddler tantrums and picky eaters; laugh it all off like I’m just a typical mom with typical kids…but I’m not. I’m not laughing along with everyone else. Not on the inside. On the inside, I’m straining to hold myself together. I’m giving myself chest pains trying to fight back the tears…because, though sometimes we’re blessed enough to experience just tantrums, we’re usually wading through the deep waters of autistic meltdowns. Usually, I’m holding my breath and praying for mercy. I’m secretly wondering if this will be the one that drowns us. There’s no amount of coffee that will get me through daily facing that terrified look on my two middle children’s faces as they listen to their siblings scream and cry; as they watch me try to be in two places at once. How do I try to calm the storms Autism brings to my children on the spectrum, while also comforting my typical babies as they huddle together in the other room, quietly playing with their toys and trying to be brave? How do I not break down when a therapist tells me that we can expect many of my daughter’s autistic behaviors to only worsen going forward? How do I manage the embarrassing jealousy swirling within as all of our friends and relatives go on camping trips or vacations, while my family can barely make it through going out to dinner together? What do I do with those feelings I get when other kids begin to look at and treat my children differently, simply because they’re different? How do I face the future? Period. I may laugh with friends about being in survival mode for the next twenty years…but I’m not joking. And this ache in my heart is hard to bear.
I’m not without hope. I know that God is holding us. I know that He chose me for these children and that He has a plan. I know that, along with this pain, comes a deeper joy. I know that He promises to be near; to never leave or forsake us…but I can’t feel Him.
It’s hard to even admit it, to be transparent and own up to this, but I feel forsaken sometimes. I feel alone. Utterly alone. I feel soul-weary; as though my heart is literally cracked and broken within me. And I feel guilty for feeling all of those feelings. The only light in this particular darkness is the truth. The truth that’s been proven many times in the past: Even when I can’t feel Him…He is here. Even though I don’t understand it; He is working in and through it.
There are three parts to this truth that are hard for me as an Autism Mama. First, it requires me to step it up and put my faith into action. This, right now, just feels like someone asking more from me when I’m already running on empty. Yet, faith wouldn’t be faith unless it required something of me. Faith means holding out when I feel like walking away. Faith means trusting when I feel like everything is falling apart. Faith means believing God is in control and being okay with that, despite my being a total control freak. The second struggle is fear. Specifically, not letting fear overwhelm me and, instead, leaving the very uncertain future in His hands; not taking it back to try and carry it on my own. Lastly…the hardest part (right now, anyway) of clinging to Jesus on this journey, for me, is trusting that He chose rightly when He chose me. Believing that I can do this.
Every. single. morning. I wake up with the same words in my mind: I can’t. I can’t do this anymore. Every morning, I have to make the choice to believe that, because He appointed me to this calling…I can. He can. WE can. Together. Every morning, when I feel like I’m drowning before my feet even touch the ground, I reach out and grab the hand of the only One who can pull me up from the depths. I have to choose to breathe Him in, or I just won’t make it through this.
I’ve said it before, and it’s never been more true than it is right now: This journey is the reason I have the relationship with God that I do. Autism has torn me down, so that He can rebuild me. Autism has left me empty-handed, so that He can give me things I would have missed out on otherwise. Autism has led me to the wilderness, so that I have no choice but to rely on His presence and grace…or spiritually starve.
Autism is HARD. Yes, there are joys. Every child is a joy. The reality remains that the challenges of this diagnosis are great and, at times, take the breath right out of me. Most of the struggle is lived in secret, behind closed doors. We go out into the world and put all of the skills we’ve worked so hard at to work. Then, we come back home and fall apart again…over and over again. For life. It’s an overwhelming weight for our whole family to carry. But He is greater. His love is deeper than our deepest hurts, and it never fails. He sees all that goes on in secret, and provides all that is needed for it. This truth is the key to my survival…because His faithfulness doesn’t change with my feelings.