Ask Deepak: Struggling to Raise a Child with Disabilities
By Deepak Chopra
April 28, 2010
Each week, spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra responds to Oprah.com users' questions with enlightening advice to help them live their best lives.
Q:I read your article on depression on Oprah.com and related to everything you wrote. There was a reason I stumbled onto that article today—I have come to the resolution that I must do something to change my life before I destroy myself. I am in a bad place in my life, and I feel I have lost my will and am just going through the motions. Seventeen years ago, I had a beautiful daughter with birth defects. I felt as though I moved on and made peace, but I am afraid that maybe I just buried my pain. I was so busy raising three young kids and keeping up with the doctor visits, therapists and the house. I guess it was easy to keep my pain in check. But now, it seems each new missed milestone is unbearable.
I used to be resilient, but I just can't bounce back. I am overweight, my house is a mess and I just can't seem to claw my way out. In my daughter's younger years, there was much more hope of a "normal" future for her. Now, as high school graduation comes, I see there is never going to be a normal life for her. On top of her disabilities, she can be violent and abusive. She is in therapy, but it is getting worse, not better. There is so much guilt involved. I was generally a happy person and moved on during difficult times. I've had a dark, depressed side that needed to be kept in check, but I always could. I just don't have the strength to keep fighting anymore. If I do not find a way to move on, I will be swallowed up. I am a mere shell of the person I used to be. Much of the lesson I read had to do with getting rid of things that cause sadness and breaking free of the depression cycle. In this case, the toxic relationship is my child! It is not a relationship I can just get rid of. Do you have advice for people who are depressed over their disabled children? I have never seen solutions for situations when you genuinely can't end the relationship. Any advice you can give would be greatly appreciated. Thank you for your time.
— Audrey D., Mount Sinai, New York
There are solutions to your situation, but you must take them seriously. The basic tenet I have to offer is that happiness is built up by making your day happy. You have to think long term about your daughter, but you have made it an obsession. Situations as tough as the one you describe must be disentangled here and now. Here are the steps that will make your days increasingly happy.
Step 1: Clean your house and straighten out the external mess. There's no reason to be depressed by having to look at chaos every day. If you feel inclined to being miserable, attack a chore. You need to be moving physically in a positive way.
Step 2: Set aside one hour each day to do something you enjoy a great deal. Don't skip this hour. Don't fill it in with eating, cooking or television. What you want is an inner sense of creative satisfaction.
Step 3: Spend at least one hour and preferably two hours every day connecting with other parents of disabled children. Seek a support group, telephone connections, emails and online blogs. Research has shown that personal connection of this kind is a key factor in becoming happy. I would make room for connecting with friends and family—that's also beneficial—but in your case, it's key to get sympathy and support from others who, like you, are walking the walk.
Step 4: If therapy is making your daughter worse, pull her out and go elsewhere. The source of her abusive and violent behavior isn't locked up in a mystery box. A trained therapist can locate it and treat it. Don't stop short in this area. Be patient, but keep going.
Step 5: Sit down and address your hopelessness. I am not speaking of the psychological reasons so much as the practical ones. You seem hopeless primarily because you feel your daughter is doomed. That is a negative belief and a projection—not reality. Nobody can foresee the future. By believing your daughter can have a good future, you will find opportunities will unfold to bring it about. Before that can happen, however, you need to sit down, write down the 10 things that make you feel hopeless about your daughter, followed by the realistic steps you can take to avoid those outcomes.
You are carrying a burden that doesn't need to be so obsessive, dark and difficult. The key is to find other parents who have gotten out of their dark place; in so doing, you will get out of yours. Your old self isn't dead; it's just hidden under blankets of sadness and helplessness that you can clear away.