The past 12 weeks (or 14, 20, or 500 billion—who’s counting anymore) have been intense while quarantined with 8 children: 8 blessed souls who range in age from 4-17, and this includes five teenagers and one with profound special needs. Prior to the worldwide pandemic, my husband Ryan and I successfully prioritized self-care. We understood the importance of remaining somewhat sane while raising numerous children and allowed breaks for ourselves and carved out time with each other through weekly date nights.
We understand how fragile our mental health can become in stressful circumstances, having each experienced bouts of overwhelm, PTSD, and anxiety. Our quarantined reality only amplifies these tendencies.
May is mental health awareness month and during these unexpected days we’ve incorporated a couple of routines to preserve the integrity of our well-being—at times in the middle of absolute chaos—and some of these suggestions may be helpful to others as well.
1. Movement. In many indigenous societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions: When did you stop dancing?
I try to move every day. Most days this involves a walk with Ryan first thing in the morning; sometimes it includes a family dance party, and often it’s practicing yoga with the kids. Research shows that “physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier, more relaxed and less anxious.” It’s also been suggested that time spent with loved ones also increases similar results. Fingers crossed that we’ll experience double endorphins while combining the two.
2. Sunshine. This is pretty self-explanatory, but so necessary. I’m grateful to live in a warmer climate where we see the sun during this isolated period, and have had the opportunity to get out often and enjoy the weather. I’ve discovered that even walking to the mailbox as I bask in the warmth of the sun is enough to restart my battery many days.
3. Creating a Beautiful Child-Free Zone. In the beginning of this new reality, my house felt like a tomb, with the walls quickly closing in and everywhere I turned, a zombie—eh, child—jumping out to greet me. It felt like a never-ending episode of the Walking Dead. I am self-employed as an author, and this career was fantastic when my children attended school. Not so convenient with them home 24/7. I currently have an October deadline for an entire book (great timing, huh?), but the Lord is faithful, this I know. To have a little bit of time to write this book, I shooed the kids out of the sunroom and completely transformed it into a beautiful stress-free office. I have six hours a week—completely child-free—to write to my heart’s content.
4. Guilt-Free Alone Time. Spinning off routine number 3 is a schedule Ryan and I created. We allow each other weekly designated time to do whatever we want to do, such as fishing, yoga, reading, a movie, sleeping, whatever—this is guilt-free time (my time always involves writing a book). I have Mondays and Thursdays from 9:00- noon, and he has Tuesday and Fridays. Six glorious hours all to myself.
5. Recognizing the Unique Nature of The Situation and Acting Accordingly. I never thought I’d resort to medicating my son with special needs, but desperate times call for desperate measures. The lack of structure led to excessive screaming and confusion, and Ryan and I felt our anxiety building as we couldn’t find a solution. Our doctor suggested medication, and we reluctantly agreed. It took a few failed attempts and dosage experimentation, but we finally have a solution that provides the family and our son relief. Moral of the story, these are strange times, and sometimes we need to think outside the box in order to pursue the higher good which is keeping our mental health a priority.
Jess Ronne is an author, speaker, and caregiver advocate. She is founder and executive director of The Lucas Project—a non-profit dedicated to providing respite opportunities for special needs families. She and her husband Ryan live in Tennessee with their 8 children, including their son Lucas who has profound special needs. Her story of beauty from ashes has been shared on The Today Show, Daily Mail and Huffington Post and is detailed in her memoir Sunlight Burning at Midnight. To follow the ongoing saga she can be found at www.jessplusthemess.com or Facebook/Jessplusthemess or Instagram/Jessplusthemess.
Source: Special Needs Parenting- Key Ministry