Day 13: [Not] Handling Stress: The Emotional toll of the IEP process

Miss a post? The beginning of our story starts here.

Benji ran off to play with Micah after our talk on the back steps. He felt better, his pain shared and soothed.

I remember going into the kitchen. I put both hands on the kitchen counter, lowered my head, and cried, my shoulders silently shaking. But I couldn’t indulge in my grief. The last thing I wanted in that moment was a tiny, “Mama? What’s wrong?”BiggerButton

What would I say?

“Mama is broken, baby.”

So I gathered up all all the pieces of my shattered self and wiped my eyes, but an axiom repeated itself over and over in my mind, that day and for weeks to follow:
I am not handling this. I am not handling my life.

And I mentally beat myself:
What the hell is wrong with you?
Pull yourself together!
You are doing the right things.
You are taking the steps.
Do you think you have some sort of special pain?
Lots of people go through this.
Get a grip.

I had handled stressful situations before, not always with ease, but with grace: my first year of twin parenting, two years of grad school as a young mom, writing my master’s thesis, watching my sons go through seven surgeries.

My life had made me strong.

I don’t cry easily. If I say something made me cry, I mean my eyes got a bit misty, maybe a lump in my throat, but that’s about it.

But when we were going through the Child Study process last spring, it was different.
Every phone call home from school from the teacher or principal about behavior problems
Every meltdown at home over homework (or otherwise)
Every day that Benji came home, silent and stubborn, snatching his body away from my touch
Every time he came home crying because no one played with him on the playground again, it broke me.

I was breaking. I was falling apart. I was not handling this stress.

And I cried–big fat, streaming tears while I stirred pots in the kitchen, or after marathon homework sessions where I hated myself for yelling at my child again because I was so overwhelmed that I didn’t know what to do.

I am not handling this. I am not handling my life.

In May, I’m pretty sure I sank into an honest-to-goodness depression. The school year was ending and all I could think was What a waste with pure bitterness.*
I was angry all the time–but I struggled to know what I was angry about.
I couldn’t be angry at my son. What kind of mom did that make me?
I wanted to be angry at his teacher (and honestly, I was) but I logically knew that the reason he was struggling was, in truth, not her fault. (I was still angry at her. She was an easy target).
I wanted to be angry at God, but this was not His fault either. My past experiences with suffering had helped me understand that.
I was angry at myself–why had I ignored the signs for so long? Why were we facing a failed school year when we should have recognized that he needed help a long time ago?

My anger was illogical and misplaced on every front. I wanted to wish it, will it, pray it away. But it was still there.**
And it came out sideways in my relationships with my husband and kids. I was an angry wife and mom and I yelled a lot about things that got caught in the wake of my stress.

I am not handling this. I am not handling my life.

Many nights, I couldn’t fall asleep. Or after I nursed the baby I would lie awake, my mind racing.
Why don’t we have answers?
Why don’t they call me?
Why is this taking so long?
Are we even going to get answers before school ends?!
What if he doesn’t have a learning disability that the school can address? What then?
What if he fails first grade?
What does that mean for Micah if Benji is held back?
And then I would pray, deep soul wrenching prayers, where I didn’t have words but I knew the Spirit did. I need help. I am not handling this. I am not handling my life. Please help.

And He did.

Tomorrow: Reaching out: How God answered my prayers

*Of course, now I know that it was not a waste. If we had not struggled we would never have gone through this process and found him the help he needs.

**After talking about it with a friend, she helped me realize that I was really angry at the whole situation, angry that my child was struggling and that I felt helpless to help him. Putting a finger on it helped, a bit.

I didn’t blog at all in May last year, mostly because I was so depressed. I started writing this post in the middle of May but it took me 2 weeks to finish it. I didn’t even publish it until June 10.

Have you gone through this process with your child? Did it take an emotional toll on you?
How did you reach out for help and support?

12 Comments

  1. […] Day 1: You’re here! Welcome. Day 2: When your “normal is not Normal Day 3: Writing the Letter: Pressing for Testing Day 4: How I’m doing Write31Days + My Crazy Life Day 5: Yeah, it didn’t happen Day 6: The Pieces of SPD or How I learned to Hug my Son Day 7: The Day People Stared and I didn’t Care Day 8: The [un]Predictability of SPD: How we’ve learned to Plan for the Crash Day 9: Celebrate Benji and Micah! Day 10: Letting him hide in tiny spaces: Meeting the needs of your SPD child Day 11: Mom, I don’t have any friends: Social Challenges of SPD Day 12: What Getting an IEP really looks like Day 13: [Not] Handling Stress: The emotional toll of the IEP process […]

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  4. […] the worst moments from last year keep playing in my head: Tongue Tie Newborn exhaustion Benji’s child study, the IEP process, and the weariness of waiting for answers Teaching (too many) classes online—while being a mother of four, especially this summer Potty […]

  5. Karen

    I’m an undergraduate studying Speech Pathology, and I wanted to say thank you for sharing these posts. I’m reading them straight through. You’ve helped humanize and solidify so many concepts I’ve only learned in abstract theory in classes. By sharing your story, you’re helping me to be a better future SLP and hopefully help others in the way you would’ve liked to have been help. Please keep going! Stay strong.

    • Karen, wow. Thank you SO much for reading. I am so thankful that this is helping you. Please share with others in your classes if you think it would be helpful. What school are you at? How did you come across my blog? So glad you did. 🙂
      I’m always available by email if you ever have questions. Thanks again for reading.

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