Sitting here in my mid-forties, I can reel off lists of terrible experiences that even my thoroughly First World friends or family have endured, where simply getting up ever again was - and still is - an incredible act of courage and resilience, not just some novelty 'challenge'. Losing a child, a parent, a sibling. Dealing with a loved one's dementia or suicide or deep depression, and having to accept that they no longer feel or believe in your protection and care. Cancer. Hearing loss. Macular degeneration. Infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth. (That last word stops my breath and always will. A little boy, a little girl, two sets of grieving parents. It's different when a concept has faces and names.) What else can I list without thinking too hard? Deception. Financial disaster. Domestic violence, culminating in murder. And here I am, saying that 'not drinking something fun/bad for me' for a mere 90 days constitutes a worthy endeavour, and that I need your support.
But here's the thing: I have three (occasionally) beautiful boys with a list of diagnosed 'challenges' as long as your arm. These include Autism, ADHD, Dyspraxia, Sensory Processing Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Aspergers and probably a few other conditions I've forgotten by now. And while we are the lucky ones -- diagnosed, no wheelchairs, no feeding tubes, no life-limiting conditions -- life for my boys can be confusing and overwhelming, and the responsibility for their happiness, mental health and long-term development falls to me. Okay, I guess it's me, my husband, a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a family support worker, a member of the local challenging behaviour support service (PALMS), a family therapist, two counsellors, an occupational therapist, a SenCo or two and an endless roster of teachers and teaching assistants. But at the centre of this hub, returning the calls, chasing the reports and refereeing the kids, it's me. Mum. (I ceased to have any other name about eleven years ago, like every other parent.) You know when Special Needs (SEN/SEND) kids have those gigantic noisy tantrums that look like the result of terrible parenting and a lack of boundaries? Well, they are meltdowns, and they can be seen as an expression of panic or fear, when a child no longer feels safe or secure or in control of their body or emotions and needs to shut down and block all further input. So my job as Mum is to live with my children's fear, day in, day out. While I can try to teach them coping strategies, I can't just love the autism out of them. It's hard. If I think for too long it breaks my heart.
And yet I love my life. My kids are not like anyone else and I find them fascinating and brilliant, although they're also inflexible and combative. Our life has a greater than average share of surreal moments and I laugh every single day. Every night I bury my face in my boys' hair and breathe them in and forgive them whatever horrors they have wrought over the previous few hours and feel lucky to have them. (Disclaimer: this wears off if they refuse to sleep.) I plant flowers and enjoy the smell of washing fresh from the line. The kids are fed and put to bed and read to and we turn up to things more or less on time, and I have the enormous advantage of no longer sweating the small stuff AT ALL. And one day my slapdash housekeeping will result in all of us having truly awesome immune systems. But I am so far from having my non-Mummy sh*t together, after dealing with the kids' many needs and conflicts, that I often forget to feed myself meals and instead eat biscuits at midnight, and every now and then I just cut knots out of my hair instead of trying to brush it. But I am learning the hard way that I need to fight to be whole, or at least whole enough to keep supporting the kids and to be of use to the friends who are dealing with some of the most soul-destroying 'real' challenges that life could throw at them.
To be honest, I always found the 'self-care movement' a rather indulgent and selfish idea (I blame religion and the Brownies for that reaction), but now I look at myself and my future and see that Something Must be Done. Although part of me can see this and dares to type it, it doesn't yet feel natural or reasonable to do something that will benefit me, unless it can also benefit others. So I've made myself accountable and my ridiculous and self-indulgent (or worthy and necessary) challenge has become a fundraiser for the charity that has kept me afloat for several years. It has also become a confession: I don't have my act together, I need to do this, and right now it's as big a challenge as I can consider. World Peace will have to wait.