How I learnt to make myself a priority whilst living with an Autistic sibling.
When it comes to making yourself a priority, when you decide to prioritise the little things that you want to do, it becomes exceedingly difficult when you have an autistic child or sibling. When you live with someone who has such complex needs, you naturally throw your own needs on the back burner. You promise yourself you’ll do it later or that it can wait until tomorrow. Knowing full well you’re lying to yourself.
You will never have time to go for that cup of coffee or use that new self tanner you’ve bought.
This was exactly the ideology I grew up with. Believing that my brother and family come first and that their happiness exceeds my own. From the age of two, I learnt very quickly that I was not the priority, my brother would always be put above. I understood why. I sought out attention from elsewhere, relatives, friends and cousins. I realised that all eyes would be on me, if I made everyone laugh.
I’ve always possessed the ability to make my mother laugh. Something I pride myself on. Yet as I’ve gotten older I’ve realised that the lines between mother and daughter have blurred, morphing into one. I became a sister, friend and therapist all in one. I don’t know if other siblings can relate to this, but in my own personal experience, I developed an unbelievable amount of anxiety surrounding my family. I sacrificed my self care and ’me time’ for everyone else.
Simple things such as taking a shower filled me with anxiety. I would have left my parents alone with my brother for too long and sooner or later my name would be called from downstairs. As well as being a third parent and primary caregiver to my brother, I began to resent not having the same life my friends were having. At times I still do. It’s been a shadow looming over my shoulder for years.
I sacrificed time with friends because I felt I couldn’t leave my family alone. I gave up watching my movies, the one thing I found to be an escape, so that my parents could watch something of their choice, often being interrupted several times by my brother. Family time is honestly exhausting in my household and I do not hold the same opinion that it’s a beautiful experience, an opinion that all of my friends seem to share.
I am now 22 years old, in a loving and committed relationship. Yet the idea of family events and spending copious amounts of time with family still trigger me to this day. When your only association of family is stress and anxiety, it’s hard to get your mind out of that place. It is only now, through my relationship, that I have realised what being a priority is. I had no idea of what it was like to be number one to someone. I had no idea what it was like to come first for somebody else, twenty four seven. It was unknown territory for me.
Before I go any further with explaining this point, I want to highlight that I have been put first at points in my life. But never twenty four seven. I understand why.
Through being in a relationship and seeing myself and my life through someone else’s eyes, I’ve really begun to realise how much I’ve sacrificed and realised that all the guilty feelings I’ve felt , for leading my own life, are completely unnecessary and I should have never ever had to feel those feelings in the first place.
For any other siblings that may feel an ounce of what I have and still do, I want to say:
It has taken me 22 years to get to this point.
We are not the pillar of our families.
We are not the foundation of our family’s happiness, nor are we the glue that keeps us together.
We are not therapists, we are our own person.
We deserve to go out with our friends and be the leaders of our own lives..
I know it’s easier said than done.
I’ve trained myself to make time for myself. I go out and do things. To some it may look like I’m running away, but I know that what I’ve actually done is stopped letting my situation walk all over me and begun walking all over my situation.
My brother will always be autistic but it doesn’t mean I have to be his mum anymore, or a therapist to my parents.
I am not the shoulder to cry on.
I got my hair done for the first time in almost ten years. I felt the guilt of taking 4 hours out for myself, but persevered. It was one of the best things I could have done for myself.
Making time to do something for me, it was bliss. I’ve since begun getting my nails done and have my hair done every three months, it feels amazing. The point I’m trying to make is, although I still wrestle with the guilt, I’ve learnt that no one is going to make you a priority if you don’t make yourself one first. You are your own priority.
The harsh truth is, our siblings are not our children.
Let me repeat that.
Our siblings are not our children.
That hurts to type more than you can possibly know.
My brother is not my son, I may love him like he was, but I’ve finally learned that I have to let go and leave the years of motherhood behind. Motherhood is a chapter that is to come and should never have been a part of my childhood in the first place. Training myself to be okay with doing things for myself has freed me of so much anger and frustration. Not all of it but enough that I no longer feel that I have to be the matriarch that holds my household up.
Like all things, it’s a work in progress. I’m working it out as I go, but I know I will be better and stronger for it. So will you.