: How do I take care of myself after years of taking care of a now-young adult with special needs? Even though I am working to get him into appropriate day programs, musical therapy, training, etc., I find it very hard to "let go." I have had to do so much in terms of guidance that I am now petrified at the thought of this young man going out on his own. He is high functioning, but I worry as to whether he will be able to make the right decisions and choices. He wants to be independent, and I want him to be. However, there is a lot he needs before he can be completely on his own. Thank you for whatever insight you can provide.
A: You are wise to anticipate some difficulty in letting go--most people are only aware of the freedom that's coming, and they get sandbagged by their feelings.
They don't expect the loss of a sense of purpose and meaning; the absence of something to organize their day around; the excess of energy and no place to put it--and, of course, “unfamiliar opportunity” to address their own needs, interests, and desires, along with the odd sense of anxiety this engenders.
Heck, I even felt this the first time I had my third kid in preschool, a new development that afforded me 2.5 hours of total, unadulterated freedom each morning! I was amazed at how anxious this made me. I didn't know what to do with myself at first! But that didn't last for more than a week or two. It was the transition, not the fact, that had me twitchy and that's so often the case.
Of course, your situation is more complex, and I don't mean in any way to trivialize it with my mundane example. Of course you'll worry about how he's doing. And you may even have to step in and bail him out once or twice then toss him out of the nest all over again, if some of his early attempts at autonomy don’t pan out.
You may even want to get help with this. It would be great if you could have someone like a case manager between you and him to help with the transition and with some of the inevitably wrong decisions. That way, you're less likely to jump in like the cavalry and in the process of rescuing him remove too much of his autonomy.
But what's great is that you're anticipating his success at this and looking to take care of yourself and thus not sabotage his efforts.
And here's the thing: Yes, you will feel at a loss, undone in some ways. After all, the central theme of your life, your primary rescue mission, your raison d'etre has been accomplished. And guess what? Those unformed, in-between, plateau times are usually the most powerfully creative, transformative, seminal periods in our lives. Don't rush to remove it; let it be and use it!
George Leonard writes beautifully about this: How we only seem to value the times of obvious accomplishment, but the real juice is in the in-between times when nothing is happening on the surface; it's all underground, absolutely necessary, and enormously generative but invisible to the naked eye. You can feel it, but you can't see it. And it can be overlooked or misperceived because of the anxiety it generates.
Richard Moss is also one who writes about this. He says times of loss and grief are times when a huge amount of new energy becomes available to us because all the usual places we have anchored and employed our energies are gone. If we don't know what to do with these newly available, high-energy states, we can get depressed. But depression is not a natural outcome of grief. It's the outcome of not using all that newly available energy.
My advice to you is use the time to explore and not rush into some premature definition of what you should be doing just because you're anxious at the temporary anomie. Open up your beginner's mind. Maybe attend a workshop or two. Journal. Meditate. Harken back to some old dreams and see if they still fit. Remember what you love. Stay open, out and about, and receptive, and the opportunities will present themselves.
Take care and best wishes to you!