How One Mom Overcame Her Son’s Challenging Diagnosis
Photos via Ruby Nichols
Just a handful of years ago, things were very different for Almanac of Style founder Ruby Nichols. Before starting her travel-inspired online shop, the LA-based mama worked in advertising as a brand strategist in New York, but around the eight year mark, she'd started to feel uninspired by the industry and longed for more creative pursuits. In addition to the career changes she was making, around that time she learned she was pregnant.
Though Ruby first planned to stay at home with her new son short-term before jumping back into AOS, life — as it tends to do — got in the way. The time away from work proved too much and she found herself dealing with postpartum depression. And beyond that, just a few months after giving birth, she and her husband noticed their son seemed to struggle on a daily basis. At around three years old, he was officially diagnosed with High-functioning autism. From that point until now, in the span of about a year, the entire family has undergone a major change — the majority of which was a result of Ruby's own spiritual awakening and deep internal and emotional work.
Grateful for the supportive network she's found in Fashion Mamas, Ruby is sharing the inspiring journey of overcoming those obstacles and healing herself. The fact that in turn her husband and son benefitted from the steps she took to get stronger has made things exponentially better. Read on to learn just how she did it.
At what point did you notice your son might be struggling?
I noticed as early as four months that every simple daily task felt like an all-out war. Changing clothes, taking naps, changing diapers, putting on lotion, taking a bath, leaving the house — pretty much everything you do with a baby — was a massive struggle. He seemed to fight me tooth and nail on everything, and I wrote it off as his "strong-willed personality." I'm certain that was partially the case, but things progressively got worse. At the worst points, he would scream bloody murder and bash his head into the concrete, and it felt impossible to calm him down for at least 30 minutes.
Truthfully, I was traumatized and afraid to leave the house with him for a period of time. His fits felt unpredictable, and I had no idea how to control them which made me retreat further from the world. I so badly wanted to be one of those cool, laid back moms who totes her baby everywhere and the kid just can nap anywhere. As a first-time mom, I felt like a complete failure. I assumed because I was the one spending the most time with him, that I was clearly doing something terribly wrong.
Around age 2 and a half, we were fortunate that his daycare teacher noticed the same issues and met with us to say that she strongly recommended we get him evaluated. We weren't sure exactly what that meant, but we took her suggestion and he was diagnosed with High Functioning Autism.
How did receiving that news make you feel?
Nothing will ever prepare a parent to hear those words. It stung and sent us reeling, as we weren't sure how to process it. To say we had mixed feelings is to simplify it, but it's true.
How did you and your family deal?
I was fortunate to be going through a bit of a spiritual breakthrough at the time. Prior to the diagnosis, I started doing some deep soul-searching as I recognized that I was miserable, even though I seemingly had everything I was supposed to want: a loving husband, a beautiful home, a healthy child, and the opportunity for a great career. Still, I couldn't enjoy any of it because I was swallowed by the weight of the responsibility I felt. You could say I was having a "dark night of the soul" where I hit rock bottom. Fortunately, it triggered a desire in me to find and understand the root of my unhappiness.
Not to get too airy fairy, but I started to remember that although I've never been religious, I had always been a very spiritual person. I turned to a therapist, as well as a spiritual/life coach and slowly started incorporating meditation into my daily routine, among other tools.
All of this ignited a spiritual awakening of sorts, and by continuing to do the important self-work of meditation and self-care, I slowly began to see the light. Seeing the gradual change in me, my husband was inspired to do the same and also sought therapy, both individually and as a couple. The transformation was evident not only in me and my relationship with Jason, but our son. It was practically the difference between night and day.
How is he doing now?
He is almost four and we feel so fortunate to say that he's doing amazing! My energy was definitely affecting his, and I noticed a huge improvement in him the minute I was able to change my perspective on my life. We're grateful he's so happy and thriving right now.
What advice would you give moms in a similar situation?
Truthfully, this was a tough story to share and I contemplated whether I should for a long time. On my darkest days, I mostly came across aspirational stories about mothers making it to the top — which can be helpful — but when you feel like you can barely get out of bed, it only made me more discouraged. I felt so far from where these women were that I couldn't see how I could possibly get there. I mostly wanted to know that I wasn't alone. Depression, struggles, doubts, and fears are things every mother feels but rarely reveals, and I think it's important to share.
My advice to moms is to be kind to yourself and remember that all of it is new. Throw out the books and forums and do what works for you and your family. No matter what anyone says, your happiness deserves to be a priority, whatever that happens to look like: working, not working, traveling, breastfeeding, bottle feeding, whatever. Your family will thank you for it.