Last week a mom posted a powerful video about her frustrating IEP meeting. Parked in front of a CVS with her camera on the dash, she gave the world a peek into a very personal and agonizing moment. Through tears and deep breaths, comedian Dena Blizzard expressed her anger, sadness, and sense of powerlessness in the special education system. It was “the other side” of her life, “when things aren’t really that funny.” Shining through the pain like starlight was her staunch determination, hope, and belief in her daughter. The video went viral.
The raw emotion of Dena’s story hit me hard because I could relate. Vivid memories from my own child’s special education meetings flashed in my mind and fired up my empathy as I listened to her. Judging by the thousands of comments, many other parents felt the same way:
Thank you so much for sharing your story and for your incredible honesty. I’ve cried so many times after meetings with teachers and school admin. Keep fighting for your child! Insist on what you know is best for her. Trust your gut. You are a wonderful mother. You inspire me to keep fighting for my son, who also has anxiety. We are all going to get through this together.
IEP meetings rank up there as one of the most stress-provoking ordeals that parents like us have to navigate. As I listened to this mom, I realized that the way she reacted to the situation could be instructive for us all. In fact, even if special education isn’t part of your life, you can still use these techniques to help yourself through intensely stressful times.
Here are 9 ways this mom approached adversity in a super self-caring way:
1. She took deep breaths. In between sentences, she paused to breathe, opened the car window for air, and fanned her face. We all know we’re supposed to take deep breaths, but we don’t always practice it. Deep breathing is a powerful tool. It is the fastest way to reverse the stress response and calm your system so you can cope.
2. She took time to process her feelings – and named them. “I think I’m tired”… “I vacillate between anger and sadness… and somewhere in between is helpless,” she said. When you’re experiencing intense emotions, your brain pumps out stress hormones to prepare you for fight-or-flight. By choosing words to describe her emotions, she was preventing her executive brain from getting hi-jacked by her emotional limbic brain. Author and psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Siegel calls this simple tool “name it to tame it” and it’s an effective way to tamp down your emotions, so they can inform you without overwhelming you.
3. She reached out to others. Even though she was sitting in the car by herself, she wasn’t alone. First, she called her husband. Then she reached out – via Facebook Live – to connect with other parents. “I can’t believe I’m the only person that cries in the CVS parking lot after they have a bad IEP meeting” she said. By sharing the not so perfect but very real and tough side of her life, she found social support in the outpouring of comments – and showed other parents that they’re not alone.
4. She treated herself with compassion. She didn’t blame herself that the meeting didn’t play out as she had hoped. Instead, she observed “I shouldn’t have to cry in the parking lot after an IEP meeting.” And she reminded herself that she was just trying her best to make sense out of an often sense-less system. “For anyone who has to cry in a CVS parking lot, I guess we should just know that we’re doing the right thing. Whether or not it leads to actually moving in the right direction.”
5. She expressed gratitude. She pointed out that the teachers “are trying so hard to help me, and that’s why I love teachers.” And she noted that her daughter “was a gift, because without her, I don’t know that I would see this other part (of life).” Finding something to be grateful for in the midst of a lot of awfulness is a tried-and-true way of protecting yourself from going into a spiral of negative emotions.
6. She kept the situation in perspective. She zoomed out and looked at the problem from a broader point of view: “You know what, there are more kids that are different than everybody else. The ‘norm’ is becoming so small. So why are we making every kid be tested the same way?” And she also thought about the long term: “(My daughter is) still going to grow up and do wonderful things.” Having perspective helped to realize this was bad, but not the end of the world.
7. She expressed loving-kindness. She said “I know there are a lot of moms out there who deal with so much more. And to all of you, you have my heart.” Plenty of science, such as this study, has proven that offering compassion and empathy towards others promotes well-being, healing and resilience.
8. She resolved to act.“What do you do when you have a kid who is intelligent and beautiful and has a mind like no other? Everybody learns differently. We need to teach them and assess them the way that their brain works. I know that it is right to advocate for her, so I will keep doing it.” Deciding to take action, rather than giving up, is a way to build resilience.
9. She maintained a hopeful outlook. She noted that special education shouldn’t be so hard, but she will keep doing what it takes to make it work for her daughter. “I’m not looking for perfect. I’m just looking for her to feel like whatever beautiful brain she was born with is perfect and wonderful and it was given to her so that she can achieve whatever wonderful thing that she needs to do.”
I was so inspired by the way this mom dealt with difficulty. These 9 self-caring approaches will serve her well – and we can try them too.
Here’s Dena Blizzard’s Facebook Live Video: “Never stop advocating for your kids… but sometimes it’s just hard” if you want to see it for yourself.