I’ve been thinking about writing a post like this for a long time now, but have never felt like I’ve truly embraced it. Right when Elsie was diagnosed I knew that I would have to keep myself healthy and happy if I wanted to really take care of her properly. You hear all the time about how important self care is and yet…
When your child is faced with something as life altering as a major medical diagnosis it’s easier not to think about yourself. There’s so much information to learn and a whole new lifestyle to adjust to, the last thing you want to do is worry about whether or not you’re getting any “me” time.
There’s also the guilt. You might feel guilty for thinking about how hard this is on you, when your child is the one who’s really suffering. Or you feel guilty for grieving the life you thought you had. The one where your child was healthy and you hoped your only medical concerns might be a broken bone or two somewhere down the line. Probably you feel guilty for both, and a lot more too.
And there’s a tremendous pressure to hide your negative feelings from the world. Most people will never really understand what you’re going through and hearing the truth of your pain and grief makes them uncomfortable. Wallowing in your pain somehow feels like you’re failing or that you might not make it through. It can leave you feeling incredibly scared and lonely.
I fell into depression. I didn’t want to think about all the heavy feelings I had and so I ignored them, choosing to focus solely on Elsie. I quickly gained weight and my relationships with my loved ones suffered. It wasn’t until my depression turned into anger towards Elsie that I realized I needed help. I wrote a post for the Good Mother Project, “Most Days I Didn’t Even Like Her,” detailing my postpartum depression.
Finally I realized that I needed help and began seeing a counselor and it was the best thing I could’ve done. With her help I began to see how unfair I was being to myself. I wanted to be a perfect mother who had it all together and was dealing with Elsie’s diagnosis like a champ, but the truth is I was hiding from my feelings. We had been through a lot and I never really took the time to acknowledge those dark, painful feelings I had. Suddenly all the things that I thought made me a monster didn’t seem so bad. I found that I am simply just one mother, trying her best in the face of difficult circumstances.
And I saw that I needed a break. Or rather lots of mini breaks, time to myself to get back to who I was. I started going to yoga class, leaving the kids with Dave or the grandparents more often, and journaling. Separately they were just little things but slowly I started coming back to myself. This realization hit me one day on my way home from work. A song came on the radio and I started tapping the steering wheel and humming along. I couldn’t remember the last time I got into a song like that. I used to be a huge lover of music but after Elsie’s diagnosis nothing moved me, it was just background noise, but on that day I felt like I had long ago and I thought, “maybe I’ll be okay after all.”
That experience felt so good it left me eagerly wanting more. It’s a small start but now I know that I can get back there. Only I’ve realized that I can’t go back to the person I used to be but I can be something even better, the person I want to be.
Since then I’ve started to take my health seriously. I’ve been dieting for the last few months and have lost 35 pounds (thank you Vital Body)! Losing the extra weight I gained during my depression has felt as though I’m actually shedding the depression itself. The confidence and self love it’s given back to me is tremendous. I feel more like myself and like the strong, confident, happy mother that I want to be and making my health a priority is also setting a great example for my children.
Besides my physical health I’m also taking small steps to making my mental health a priority. Writing and blogging is one of the ways I get my thoughts and feelings out and I’ve also recently started gratitude journaling in The Five Minute Journal. So far I’m loving it! It’s nice to start my day thinking of things that I’m grateful for and little things I can do to make today great. It’s only been a week and half and already I’m finding so much joy in everyday life. For example, today I’m grateful for overhearing Dave and Linden playing and laughing together while brushing their teeth, spending the afternoon at an adorable tea shop with one of my oldest friends, and Elsie clutching on to Dave’s arm while she watches him play video games. There is so much love and happiness to be found in our everyday and I’m extremely thankful that my eyes are now open to them.
I still think that I am by no means an expert of taking care of myself, or making sure my cup is full before filling those around me, but I’m working on it. And the little steps I’ve taken have shown me just how very important self care really is. You can’t ignore yourself, your feelings and your desires forever. Eventually it will catch up to you and must be dealt with. Instead of fearing your pain and putting yourself on the back burner I say embrace it and work through it. Chances are you’ll end up having to do this anyway so why not do it now. You deserve to happy. You deserve to take care of yourself as well.
* Photo taken by The MAMAS Project. I recently shared my motherhood journey with them and talk a bit more about the toll Elsie’s diagnosis took on me. Click on the link to check it out!