“It was a cold winter day in 2002, shortly after my 9th birthday. My parents sat across the kitchen table to share something with me. All curious, I was standing in between them as my mom said, ‘Mishka, it will no longer be three of us. You are going to have a little brother.’ I felt so excited and happy to become a sister but I was also worried about something. I shared my concerns with my parents: ‘What if I will be jealous of him?’
What happened 9 months later completely changed my worries and swept it underneath the table. My brother was born. We named him Samuel.
Each night when my baby brother went to sleep, I came to give him a kiss on his tiny head and wish him a good night. One night, he suddenly wrapped his tiny hand around my little finger. I felt the purest love filling my heart. This simple yet powerful thing hit me so deeply. That was the moment that changed my whole life. I felt this huge need to protect him and his purity. I felt this longing to be there for him no matter what. It was like I was under a spell of the purest love. Since then, the love grew more and more. This moment was special and held me up when I felt down and when things got hard. And they really did.
When Samko was around 2 years old, he was still not speaking. He said a few words but not like other kids his age. People told us that it was normal and it meant nothing, that he would grow out of it. My parents went to see a psychiatrist for children. She diagnosed Samko with something we had never heard of. Autism spectrum disorder. We were told this would change our whole life. She said to ‘forget about traveling’ and we would have to ‘follow the same route’ to our destinations. Every day, repetitive cycles for the rest of our lives. No, no. My parents refused to live a life like this. Being true rebels, they decided we would keep living our life and travel for holidays and trips. They took him different routes and started diving into research on their own, as there were no therapies, resources, kindergartens, or schools for children with autism.
Samko struggled a lot. He would have meltdowns and would scream what seemed like all the time. Any small change and bam, he cried. My grandparents came to visit us, bam, he cried again. He would beat us, fight us, kick us, throw himself on a floor. He tried to communicate his needs to us, but we didn’t know whether he was in pain or what was happening in his little precious mind. This was a huge jump. People on the streets gave us looks, harsh comments, and even stopped to comment on how badly this child is behaving and how my parents can’t raise him well. When we went to a playground, we would get these endless judgemental looks from other parents who were worried Samko would hurt their children. He would touch their arm as he wanted to just connect and play with them. He didn’t know how to interact or how to tell them he wanted to be part of their play, that he wanted to be included and be friends with them. Some other older children would laugh at him and call him stupid and bad names. Seeing this broke my heart into pieces. I felt such a huge rage in my heart. I screamed at them and stood up for him. The older I got, the angrier I was and the more pain I felt. I didn’t know what to do.
No one outside our family knew Samko had autism. Not a single friend of mine knew this. I used to come straight home from school to babysit Samko and use most of my free time helping my parents take care of him. I felt my friends wouldn’t understand. I was scared to tell them. I already had many bad experiences and didn’t want to lose them. They were annoyed I spent such little time with them since I was babysitting my brother most of my free time. They said, ‘Oh God, why do you always have to babysit your brother? He should be able to be alone, he is old enough.’ I just couldn’t. I remained silent and did what I promised to this little baby face since that moment he wrapped his hand around my finger. My friends wouldn’t understand this special connection. No one did. Only my parents did. We were mostly alone in all of this.
My parents were struggling and fighting more and more and ended up separating and divorcing. My stepdad packed his bags and left. I was left alone with my mom and Samko. I had dreams. I wanted to study and live in my dream city, London. I wanted to live my own life, but what I wanted more is to see my mom and Samko happy. I dove deep into finding help everywhere. I read one self-help book after another. We tried healers and worked on our own personal development to stay strong and mentally positive. This was not a time to give up. We had to fight even harder. No matter what, we had to stay strong and keep going. What would happen if we gave up? What would happen to Samko? What would his future look like? We knew there were institutions where they put autistic children and drugged them to keep them quiet, keep them silent. We couldn’t let this happen ever. My mom and I worked to be the best ourselves we could be, to give Samko and us the best life possible.
We did everything to stay positive and inspired, to enjoy life, and enjoy simple things. To be grateful for what we have. We had each other, love, health, friends, we created this strong team. My mom gave us a nickname, ‘Holy Trinity.’ My mom was a mother and father in one. Samko was a son, our little blessing. I was the ‘positive empowering spirit,’ keeping our heads high and connected more to God, to love, to strength in our hearts. Love was what kept us strong. Love was what guided us to the light out of this darkness. Music was what kept us alive, nature kept our mind, body, and soul healthy and clear.
When I turned 19, I was accepted to my dream university in my dream city, London. It was a chance to make my dreams come true and live my own life. To be young, wild, and free. To do all the things I couldn’t do as a child and teenager. This was my chance. I went all in. I worked hard, studied hard, partied hard. I tried to be everywhere, do all the exciting projects while making money in my part-time job to be able to afford living there while having good grades. I was like a bird that was freed to go to the world. I had the best and most fun times in London. I lived 10 years in 4. No one knew what was my past, what struggles I have been through, and how it mentally affected me. I was so blind to it, I was so hungry for my dreams. Chasing them tirelessly..until I completely crashed. My body was in agony asking me to pay attention to it. I overworked myself. I was used to being selfless and being there for everyone, of being a great daughter, sister, caregiver, student… of being great at everything. I pushed through until I completely exhausted myself to the extreme where my own mom could not recognize me. I didn’t know how to relax, I felt guilty for taking care of my own self. No one in our family did that. We were used to being there for Samko and when we had a little time for ourselves, we were still worried about him. No wonder I wasn’t able to relax even when he wasn’t there right next to me. It is something so deeply integrated into our minds, you can’t just simply switch it off. It lives with you.
So when I decided to come back home, I started a journey of self-healing, which had an impact on my mom’s and Samko’s lifestyle and mindsets. I started implementing the importance of self-care and mindset work into our family life again, as I used to. Now it was different, now it was about allowing ourselves to find balance and self-care so we can truly be able to give our best selves to not just Samko but others too.
I believe having all of these transformational experiences not only helped me to help my mom and Samko but also many other people. I learned how to listen to Samko, to communicate with him in different ways. To feel him deeply emotionally. This helped me to deepen communication with people from all around the world and teach them about autism and how it changed my life. It shaped me as a person. My values have deepened. It awakened my inner warrior ready to share the message of awareness, acceptance, inclusion, diversity, and mental health. Thanks to this, I could empower Samko to be the best self, to share his beautiful gifts with the world confidently. To believe in himself and see himself as the most beautiful unique being. To show up, stand, walk, act confidently. To believe he CAN do things himself. To be more independent. I had to believe in him first. I had to act and communicate this empowered belief to him. I did not see him as an autistic kid that has a disability or is ‘slow’ or ‘unable’ to do things. I was no longer playing the role of his ‘other mommy’ or parent. I was his sister who embraced equality in our relationship.
He is not less. He is unique. I am not less by being different either. We are both amazing the way we are. We both empower each other, protect each other, support, and love each other. I no longer feel like I have to take care of him. I believe he can become more self-sufficient with his art and become a role model for other artists and children. He started painting at school, guided by a teacher as a therapy. Since I worked with him and showed him how I believe in his abilities and gifts, he has created the most breathtaking artwork that keeps me speechless.
He did it on his own. He doesn’t need anyone to tell him what to do next as we used to with almost every single activity and task. We are not fully there yet with his complete independence. But now I see that he CAN. He is able to. We have to be the ones to believe in it and show it, act on it, communicate it. He reflects it back like a mirror. The most special, beautiful, and extraordinary mirror I have ever seen. He is my biggest teacher. And I am his.
We are equal partners, we are sharing our message and story with the world, connecting with the most beautiful people. We created a business to support Samko to become more self-sufficient and to see the power of his creations, how they change people’s lives and the world. He smiles when he sees people wearing his art on hoodies and t-shirts we created together. He smiles when he finds out children are inspired to create art with their parents or teachers. He jumps around happily and walks out of a store so confidently with a bag full of new colors he bought with his own money from his sales. This is empowerment. This is what I see as the future for him and his fellow autism heroes friends. If my brother can do it, so can they. We are here to show it is possible and show how when you transform your mind, you transform your life and the whole world.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Mishka Sibert from Slovakia. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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