“How will our children forgive us for autism and other preventable tragedies? Why is recovery not everyone’s victory? Why is it not my family’s happy ending?”
A mother asked me this recently. The weight of her guilt and the blame she places on herself was palpable. Her mourning for the loss of happiness was stark and legitimate. I had no words of wisdom or comfort for her, just because both my daughters are recovered does not make me a sage.
“How can our children forgive us?”
To be honest, I’ve never thought about that. Should I? Guilt can be a toxic emotion, we can’t force our children or other people to forgive us, though apologising profusely and making amends helps. But we must forgive ourselves too. I don’t know if our kids will grow up to blame and resent us. I hope not. All I can do is surround Mei and Min Min with love and fill their days with happy memories, in the hopes that it overshadows the darkness that they had to live through.
Though I try to stay cheerful and positive, it’s easier said than done. I fail, constantly. Trying to stay happy and optimistic is hard work. There’s sorrow, anger, resentment and all the other toxic baggage I dragged around with me, slowing me down in my quest to recover my girls. I can’t add on to that with (unresolved?) (suppressed?) guilt, blame and other toxic emotions that swirls around a life led by autism.
I found myself trying to keep a happy face and a positive attitude in private as well as in public. If I didn’t hold myself together and cling on to that elusive hope, I feared I might just break down and never get up again. It’s not just celebrities who have to keep their game face on. As an autism mum, I needed to get in touch with my inner actress. I definitely don’t have it all together. Sometimes it’s just an act, a sham, a facade. That calm, serene face I put on when bumping into acquaintances at the supermarket. That bright and breezy laugh replying “We’re doing great!” though most times that was far from the truth. Just like makeup and cool accessories, they’re my war paint and armour. That perfect, glowing BB cream, shimmery lipgloss, cool sunglasses and über chic ballerina flats draw attention away from the sleepless nights, weary soul and unpedicured toes. Masking the flaws and imperfections of my current reality, glossing over my authentic, blemished self. Or maybe I’m deluding myself, perhaps they could see right through me after all.
Where is her happy ending?
We don’t know where the future leads us, but I have faith that the foundations we lay down now, will set the path for us. And happy endings come in many different forms. Happy endings are not exclusive to recovery. My story and yours too, is far from over.
In Mei and Min Min’s recovery journey, there were many setbacks and regressions. Autism recovery is a terrifying, seemingly never-ending roller coaster ride. The highs are not high enough, the lows can be terrifying dips into a huge chasm I don’t know if I’ll ever climb out of. But somehow, I find myself trying to moving forward again and again, regardless of how many times I fail. I cannot change the past, but I can build a better future.
“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” – Johnny Cash
About the Author:
Marissa Bagshaw is a mother of 2 children who are recovered from autism. Her blog Spectrum Mum in Malaysia is inspired by her daughters’ journey through autism. Marissa is the founder of KL Biomed, a support network for autism families doing biomedical intervention in Malaysia and neighbouring Asian countries. She is also a co-founder of The Thinking Moms’ Revolution.