The Struggle is Real…for Everyone

I just left the hospital where my father is having surgery and it never felt so good to breath in the fresh air. Wearing a mask for countless hours (especially with glasses where they fog up every 5 seconds) is no walk in the park. It’s constricting and uncomfortable; just downright abnormal for me. God bless these healthcare workers who have to wear them for ungodly amounts of time and still manage to comfort you with a sincere look and an imprint of a smile through their mask.

The struggle is, for sure, real for these wonderful individuals and wearing a mask is the least of them, but it did make me think.

Being a healthcare worker or a teacher or a parent of a special needs child has always come with its struggles. Our jobs are extremely rewarding, but there are days when it can be unbearable for the mind, body, and soul. I am both a teacher and Autism mom so the catchphrase, “the struggle is real” has basically been my mantra in life, but I am now beginning to feel like this is becoming the mantra for our world and it’s as evident as a crooked, tacky bumper sticker on a brand new car—it’s ever-noticeable, annoying AF, and is going to be hell to get rid of without leaving an indelible mark.

I look around and all I see are messages and signage letting us know that we are not alone. We are “all in this together.” It’s a bit surreal when you see celebrities (unshaven and without their false lashes) just chilling in their homes, sending out well wishes on Instagram. Even my local Mexican restaurant is sending out positive vibes with its daily messages of hope (and ever-so-subtle “we are still open” pleas). My heart goes out to these small businesses who have been financially crippled by this pandemic, along with hair and nail salons (just call me Rapunzel) and the restaurant and hospitality industries. And that’s just to name a few. The sheer panic, anxiety, and discomfort that has come from all of this uncertainty has every single one us activating our internal “survival mode.” We are wading through unchartered waters with no shore in sight.

But, in seeing all of this sense of community and togetherness, I have come to the realization that I am truly not alone in my feelings of struggle, anxiety, and grief. Never before have I felt such solidarity, in struggle, amongst humankind as I do now. Now, don’t get me wrong….struggle is a very relative term and I am not making light of any struggles that were there before this pandemic because I have suffered my own struggles in the pre-pandemic era, but I truly believe that even those who have been blessed and privileged with a struggle-free life are finding themselves struggling in ways they could never have imagined. And, for this Autism mama….I find a bit of comfort in that thought knowing that empathy and a sense of community are (hopefully) growing.

No longer is it just Autism parents struggling with their kids’ needs and wants and their meltdowns and regression. I have been talking to many of my friends with neurotypical children and they are struggling with their kiddos not wanting to sit and do schoolwork virtually or go to sleep at a decent hour. They’re just as worried about their kids regressing because of a lack of structure, socialization, and explicit academic instruction. I feel so badly for my friends who have kids graduating this year; they are feeling so helpless because they cannot orchestrate efforts in a manner that allows for celebration and communal recognition. The countless high school and college seniors who deserved to enjoy all of those quintessential milestones like prom and graduation, but instead have to be celebrated and recognized from afar and in a sterile, virtual environment. It all just stinks.

And, I know it isn’t just Nico who is longing for the comfort of his classroom and his friends and a daily routine that made sense to him. All of our kids are struggling with this new normal that has cut them off from so much socially, academically, and physically.

For the first time ever, I am realizing that the struggles and the grief and the uncertainty that I am feeling are no longer just reserved for me as an Autism parent. It is being felt by everyone due to this pandemic. For Autism parents, we become somewhat immune to the feelings of loneliness and isolation, but now our world is feeling this same sense of isolation and loneliness. It isn’t just me who yearns to be more socially active with my son, but can’t for fear of what could happen. Nico has come so far, but I still worry every time we leave the house that something adverse will happen and cause him to struggle and flail. These fears are now synonymous with the fears of countless others due to the risks of COVID-19. We must limit our social interactions and travel so as to decrease our chances of getting sick or worse. The similarities in all of this, for me, are unbelievably palpable.

We truly are ALL in this together.

I hate knowing that, because of this pandemic, I will not be able to sit with my father after his surgery. It’s inconceivable to me to think of him recovering without me by his side so I can’t even fathom the thought of families being separated during a loved one’s last breaths. Healthcare workers unable to hug their children when they get home from a 24 hour shift. Fathers not being allowed in the room when their wives are giving birth. Or, a husband speaking to his wife of 50 years over FaceTime for, possibly, the last time before she is placed on a ventilator. These are real struggles and they are universal.

All of this that we are feeling is universal. The struggle IS real and it’s heavy. But, if raising a child with Autism has taught me one thing it’s this—you never know how strong you are until you have no other choice. Autism brings with it so much wonderment, but it also provides its fair share of heartache that can be hard to stomach. However, I never would have thought I could survive Autism and all the struggles that have accompanied this diagnosis, but not only am I surviving; I feel as though I have been thriving too. There is something to be said about a “healthy struggle” and I truly believe that although we are facing many struggles, not all of them have to be adverse. We should take this time to recognize and feel all of our emotions as they come, while also finding strength to push forward through them.

I am taking every day as it comes (as I have done since I began my journey with Nico through the world of Autism) and will continue to find silver linings everywhere I can. This helps me cultivate a healthy struggle with the circumstances that I have been dealt. These pandemic-era struggles will soon subside and we will, once again, find our rhythm, but for now bask in the silver lining that has been unearthed for us during these tumultuous times and that is: TOGETHERNESS.

And just to show you that I practice what I preach…my current healthy struggle is knowing that, because of this darn coronavirus, the 3-second rule no longer applies so the cheese stick I just dropped on my floor can’t satisfy my ferocious hunger conjured up by a 3+ hour waiting room stint. I just pitched it in the garbage….sigh. At least I don’t have to log those calories for the day now….silver lining!