Almost every morning is the same.
Alarm clock. Breakfast. Clothes — grab purse, grab phone, grab keys – Leave.
On the rare occasion, I may put makeup on or wear my hair in some other style than a messy mom bun…but that is rare. On this day, though, as I walked through the motions of grabbing my purse, my phone, and the keys a glance stopped me. In that glance, the girl in the mirror above my foyer caught my eye. Her hair was graying, her eyes were stressed and exhausted, and her clothes were on the edge of sloppy – leggings and an oversized tunic. As I glanced at her I realized just how much had changed in a short amount of time.
I saw the exhaustion from sleepless nights. The sensory overload. The constant anxiety. The fear.
I had lost myself.
A while back there was an article that talked about Autism parents having brain scans that matched those of soldiers returning home from war with PTSD. It is no shock to me that there is a link. The link comes through a symptom of PTSD called Hypervigilance, and in Autism moms, it is called MASK (Mothers of Autism Spectrum Kids).
That woman staring back at me in the mirror was my MASK.
What is Hypervigilance?
Hypervigilance is a symptom of PTSD that is like fight or flight on steroids. It is an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity, a high responsiveness to stimuli, and the constant searching for threats — anxiety that will push you to the edge of exhaustion.
It is combat stress.
Hyperviligiance in Autism Moms is Real
Protecting a child in meltdown mode from self-harm. A child who may be stronger than yourself.
Constant alert of things in the environment that may send your child into sensory overload.
Constant awareness of the risk that your child may wander. The guilt and fear that floods you when they actually do wander.
Physical and mental exhaustion.
It is walking into a room and noticing how loud it is…how the voices echo or the constant hum of the background noise. It is noticing how many people there are. Thinking about if you will be able to pick up your child’s cues in time to step outside to take a breather. Or if the automatic door set them off on your way out it. It is realizing that you have to run through a cashier line that is filled with things that your child cannot have. A beeping cashier line filled with things that your child will want. It is hoping with everything you have that your child will not meltdown in that moment. That you can make it through without the stares. Without the comments.
Hypervigiliance is what robs you of your moments.
I was once told by a friend that the more I fear, the less I love. The truth in that is a painful lesson.
That anxiety and worry. That fear that has you scanning and protecting. That exhaustion – it is keeping you from connecting.
From seeing the joy. The happiness. The progress. The good.
This is something that I am working on. Small, teeny tiny baby steps at a time.
Because we are not combat soldiers and we do not need a MASK. We are moms.
And damn good ones at that.
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