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The Things I'm Most Thankful for as a Mom With Depression to a Son With Autism

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I have struggled with depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember, and while not always evident to most of the outside world, they have always been a part of me on some level. There have of course been times where things were good and other times where my depression or anxiety became a deep dark place I simply could not escape no matter how hard I tried. As I have grown older, gotten married, had children, experienced various life changes, my depression has come and gone, and I have spent a significant amount of time working hard to manage my condition while also learning to accept that this is a part of who I am as a person, and while it certainly does not define me, it does have a significant impact on the way I interact with those around me, as well as how I respond to specific situations.

It would be easy to assume that having a young child diagnosed on the autism spectrum would be a trigger for me, that figuring out how to manage the meltdowns, lack of communication or developmental delays would all be cause for me as a mom who already struggles to delve down into the deepest pit of despair.

I am thankful to explain why this could not be further from the truth and in fact how my son’s presence in my life actually eases so many of my symptoms or at the very least makes me feel a bit understood.

I have spent countless hours coming to the realization that my son and his differences and challenges are in many ways similar to mine. We are also very unique in how we interact and perceive the world, yet there is a connection between us so strong and so genuine, and I know without a doubt it has less to do with me being his mother who loves and adores him and more to do with the simple fact that on some level we both have brains that work differently than other people’s.

It would be untrue to say I am thankful to struggle with depression and it would be untrue to say I am grateful to have to watch both my child and our family struggle as we navigate our challenges. But what I can say with sincerity is I am thankful my own personal struggles allow me to view my child a bit differently, to connect with him and to understand those nuances that may only come to those of us who are not quite like everyone else in this world. In thinking about this, here are the things I am most thankful for in being a mom with depression to a son with autism.

1. We both have an all-or-nothing mentality. This is not always fun for those who interact with us, and it is equally stressful for us as individuals. All-or-nothing can be exhausting, but it can also push us to be better or more successful than anyone ever anticipated.

2. People with depression differ from others in how we perceive the world and ourselves and with how we interpret or express our feelings.  We can be so in the dark about emotions that we don’t actually know what it is like to feel normal. In the height of my son’s most difficult times or meltdowns, it is clear to me that I have been there before on some level. It helps me and him to know we both struggle in this way.

3. My son stims when he needs it or when he is in sensory overwhelm. I do not stim in the same way someone with autism may, but I have my own techniques to help me manage my overwhelm, stress or anxiety. It helps me understand he may need the comfort but also recognize when he needs to be pulled back to reality because I also need this in much the same way.

4. We both have weak short-term memories, become easily distracted and have a hard time sitting still. When I see my own child having challenges in this area I am not always patient 100% of the time, but I do relate to him and I do know how hurtful it can be when other people assume you simply are not paying attention, don’t care, or are being difficult for no reason.

5. My son and I both love people, we are both smiling types and enjoy meeting and engaging with those around us; yet we both also become easily over-stimulated, mentally and physically exhausted and require more down-time or alone time than other people to reset ourselves.

It would be easy to list 20 more ways of how my son and I are more alike than different. There are things about autism I simply do not get and as the happiest human being I have ever encountered I am sure there are things about my depression that will never make sense to my son. It never occurred to me I would ever be grateful to have my struggle with depression or to have a son on the autism spectrum. They are both challenging, exhausting, frustrating and stigmatized. Yet here I stand as a mom admitting my struggle being thankful that in some small way my own world allows me to get a glimpse (however small) into the world of my little boy.

Perhaps the biggest lesson of all has been that in my never-ending quest to encourage both myself and those around me to embrace autism acceptance, it has inspired me to work on a bit of self-acceptance of my own.

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Thinkstock photo by SbytovaMN

Originally published: November 14, 2016
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