A conversation with an old friend I served with rattles around in my head from time to time. When he was an instructor at BUDS (Basic Underwater Demolition School) the SEAL indoctrination training, his job was to make it as difficult for candidates to make it through the program as possible. And the most effective way he found was to get them to expand their mental horizons during difficult evolutions; to help them see what they were going through as something that lasted far into the future.
It wasn’t just this thing. It was that this thing would last all night. It wasn’t just tonight…it was hell week. And it wasn’t just hell week. They had you for months. One can’t stack the burdens of the future neatly and carry them through the difficulties of the present. They weigh too much. And we collapse under the strain. We quit.
The key in specific situations of strain is to make your horizon as small as possible. To see the moment as a moment, and not a small part of a grander struggle. It’s not easy. It takes practice. But if you’re on the journey of special needs parenting, you better get used to it.
Lying in the darkness with my son on a particularly difficult night, trying to get him through one of his fits that keep him from sleeping, the key is for me to stay calm. And for him to match that calmness and eventually settle himself. Though it doesn’t happen that often any more, it used to. And it could take hours. And there’s a thought that I know breaks me down. This is my life. This is it. I’m going to be doing this for 50 years. Lying here in the darkness for hours, every night. Like water seeking into the cracks in a rock, that thought breaks me. I’ve stacked the problems of the next 50 years on top of me. And I collapse.
At it’s core, when it comes to special needs parenting, or anything really, the thought is a false one. Seasons of struggle are rarely permanent. When they are, we find ways to adjust and so their impact on us isn’t permanent. But while we’re going through them, they feel that way. If you buy into them, this life slowly breaks you down. And you quit, evolution by evolution. And then all together. You can’t carry the thoughts of future pain into your present. They’re just too heavy.
So just put them down.