Autism and Mental Health: 6 Truths for Survival (#1: Self care is a part of our faith)

Hello, friends. Welcome back to the discussion.

We’re cracking open the mostly buried topic of mental health and autism today. We’ll be talking about six true things that we need to get through this confusing, demanding, and beautiful life.

But just one of those truths today. The rest are yet to come.

Today’s truth #1: Self care is not only *not* counter to our Orthodox faith. It’s very much an intrinsic part of it.

Okay okay okay, bring it in. I probably don’t mean that in the way you’re thinking it, so hang in there with me.

I’m not talking about being careless, or about indulgence, or about neglecting responsibilities again and again in order to be whimsical. Our faith would condemn all those things because, like it or not, we do exist in community, and the upholding of that community matters to our Lord.

I’m talking about guarding our hearts. I’m talking about feeding the brain the way we feed the body–with the things that are good for it. I’m talking about protecting our souls so that they don’t break and leave Christ, who is literally everything.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. –Proverbs 4:23

I like this quote. If everything we do flows from our heart, or our gut, or whatever culture dictates to be the seat of emotions, we should probably be very picky about what we expose it to and how hard we run it.

Then there’s this one:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Now granted, the context of this Corinthians passage was aimed at a church who was indulging in some wildly damaging, indulgent behavior that was wrecking their community and commitment to God.

Oh wait.

Really though–assuming that time to yourself isn’t an option, what does that do, though? We have these kids who suffer, who we fight for for their life and their everything, and we keep going like that for months, maybe years? Assuming sleep and time away is a luxury?

I promise it just lands you in the hospital, at best. Kinda like the over-eaten, over-sexed people of Corinth. Paul even says some of the people died from their behavior. 

Now I know what you’re thinking–but my kid has special needs. I am the only one who I really trust to manage my life. I’ve convinced my own self over the years that I couldn’t afford time to myself. Everything would collapse. Nobody could take care of the kids the way I do, and if they can, they’ll get tired of me asking. My husband was not well, and what would happen to him? What would happen to my dishes?

Guess what? I was unexpectedly hospitalized for a week, and it turns out: Nothing collapsed. At least five people took care of my kids and they had a great time and we’re getting on a wait list for respite care. My husband managed all of it and asked for support when he needed it. The dishes even got done.

What if I had trusted our friends to help us without developing grudges before I ended up in crisis? Or trusted my husband to manage his own wellness and our family?

It actually makes very little sense to purposefully give ourselves no break from our work to re-center. Because that kind of behavior destroys the brain. And when it breaks, what do we do? We try to abandon our lives, whether that be through suicide, divorce, emotional distance from our families, or whatever. I wound up with terrifying intrusive thoughts about all of them. Not that there’s a type of suffering in this life that can’t bring us back to Christ, but I was consumed and not brought closer to him through it at all. I was just trying to survive. Christ became like a phantom, something I thought about when I thought about how my life used to be.

So we must protect the very most important thing of all–our hearts. Our souls. Our minds. Our peace.

If you’re struggling to know what that looks like, here’s a short list to get you started:

  1. Go to the icons and pray.
  2. Hide in your room for ten minutes and pray.
  3. Read a book and pray.
  4. Play some music and pray.
  5. Take some time to read through a prayer book. Find a prayer you’ve never used and pray it.
  6. Practice silence, starting small.
  7. Get some exercise and pray. Or listen to a podcast. Elissa Bjeletich might not know it, but she’s been my workout buddy for years.
  8. Journal and pray
  9. Read Scripture, according to your need.
  10. Go outside and notice God’s creation. Also, pray.

Obviously, I’m being a little silly there, but I also want to give validity to anyone who might say they are so distraught that they *can’t* pray. I know that feel, bro. When you can’t do anything more than pray the Jesus prayer once or twice, that’s enough. Even if you can’t say anything more than “Jesus.” He hears. And he will answer and protect.

Really let me know your thoughts on this–the list, the post, everything. We need to talk about this in the church! We’re about a century late to the party, so let’s have it. 🙂

Thanks for joining me! I hope to see you back next time.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Emmie says:

    Maura,
    One of the most difficult things for me in my ongoing recovery has been knowing when it’s ok to say no.
    There are so many very real needs of others facing us each day. How do we know which ones are ours to pick up and even how to carry them without being crushed? I would say this is the number one issue I have faced in my journey to wholeness.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lisa A says:

    I think it’s wonderful that you’re talking about this. It’s important that we think about it and know where we stand so that we can be discerning when faced with all the “helpful” advice that comes our way. I would add one thing to your list: the sign of the cross. It is a wordless prayer, more powerful than we usually realize.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sarah@TheOrthodoxMama says:

    I love so much about this. Plus, Elissa has been my cleaning buddy for years without knowing it. Yep. Mopping floors and learning about raising saints. Perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

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