It’s not earth shattering. In fact, it’s probably the same advice you got when you first started dating years ago. And, I wish someone had given it me.
Here it is:
Hang on to your friends.
Hang on tight.
They’ll be there for you. They won’t know what to say and will probably say things that they regret or things that make you cringe. They will probably stick their feet in their mouths (Will she ever be normal?). Yikes. But that’s just because they don’t know what to say. How could they? This is all new to them too. They’re learning along with you. If you keep them close, they’ll get better at finding the right language.
There’s a steep learning curve when faced with a diagnosis. There are appointments, specialists, there is research to do, feelings to feel, a lot of processing time. You’re gonna need to muddle your way through it. You’re going to get really busy. They’ll check in and see how you’re doing. They’ll cry with you and celebrate with you, but you’re heading down a road that can’t fully follow you down. Send postcards. Fly over to their road when you can.
This is going to make you feel lots of things. Jealous. Angry. Resentful. It might make you feel bad that you feel all these FEELINGS and none of them are good. It is going to makes your paths feel even further apart. Take a few minutes to look around and find the things that are the same on your path and reach out. (I know, you’re thinking “why should I reach out, I’m the one going through the hard time.”) Reach about because it’s boot season and you need a new pair. Then reach out because your favourite coffee is back for the season and you have to have one. No really, reach out! Because when you do, you remember that your life has many paths, and your child is just one of them. You’re still in there.
All those therapists you saw all the time and chatted with and had standing ‘dates’ with will move on to other clients and you’ll move on to a new schedule and you’ll realize you didn’t need to see your friends when you had people that really ‘got’ where you were in your life. Your regular therapists and various nurses were living the smallest details of your reality with you and you didn’t have to mention your new haircut. They noticed. But all of a sudden they are gone and 2 years have passed and where does time go? Meet a friend after your haircut. Plan a lunch after speech therapy. Call a friend on the drive to PT.
You’re going to realize that your friends don’t want to unburden to you… you who have so much on your plate. They don’t want to talk about how busy they are, knowing you’re doing twice as much. Maybe they don’t want to talk about how tired they are, knowing “my kid doesn’t sleep” means your child actually doesn’t sleep, till like 5 am every day. And sometimes they don’t want to celebrate their life with you either. And they don’t want to talk about their travel plans or their kids’ successes because they know those things aren’t your reality right now. You’re going to realize they feel bad for you. Your life is kind of a downer, with all the appointments and all the uncertainty and the unknown. Let them know you do want to know what’s going on, that you want to hear what’s bringing them down and that you are excited for their lives, their kids (even though there may be days it’s hard to hear it.)
There’s going to be a time when you realize that, in addition to being tired and worried and so incredibly busy taking care of your special needs child, you are lonely. Having a special needs child is lonely work. And it doesn’t end. So friends who are “giving you space” during this tough time will be waiting a very long time to return. Like, forever. So don’t let that happen. Hang on to your friends. Be gentle when they stuff a foot in their mouths, and then the other shortly after. Don’t begrudge them forever for being happy, or make them feel less than for having an easier time that you. Let them know you could really use a friend. Ask if they can meet near you. Or accommodate a weird schedule. Or keep inviting you to things, even though you often have to say no. There will be days you can say “yes!” So say yes. Then go. Have fun. Make more plans. Hang on. Encourage them to hang on too.
Hang on tight.