The Importance of Self-Care

“It all begins with you. If you do not care for yourself, you will not be strong enough
to care for anything in life.” ~ Leon Brown

Today I want to talk about self-care. Self-care is vital to everyone but, even more so for those who are caregivers. What is self-care? A great explanation can be found at the parenting blog, “This Mom Learns,” where the author explains it like this:

 What is Self Care?

Self care is the act of taking care of yourself. I learned about self care back when I was in graduate school, and how it is important to practice to avoid burn out in a career. Being a parent is a career, so it is important for us to remember that self care is important.

Self care is doing exactly what you need to do to feel the best all around. This includes mentally, physically, and emotionally. Each person has their own way to give themselves self care. This can be anything from getting your hair done to making time to exercise regularly to ensuring you have time to read each evening before bed.

Though it can be harder to practice self care as a parent, taking care of yourself should not be overlooked. There are many benefits that result from a self care routine. If you are not taking care of yourself, eventually it can lead to overwhelming stress and a lack of confidence, and these things can impact your relationships with family and friends.

Self-care is so easy to talk about, but so much harder to practice. I’ve been a mom for almost 12 years now and I have learned from some challenging situations just how important it is.

After the birth of our second child, we almost felt like we had to relearn everything about parenting since having a second is so different. You must learn to share yourself in more ways. As they grow, they have different schedules. Maybe you used to find time for self-care when your first child napped but, now, your second isn’t on the same nap schedule or the older one no longer naps. You adapt, you get busy, and any time you had for yourself has disappeared.

I, personally, have never been one to put myself first. I put the kids first, then the husband and, if there was time, I might do something for me. I’ve faced caregiver burnout on more than one occasion. I have mostly dealt with mental burnout, but I have also dealt with physical burnout from a lack of self-care. How so?

Back when Mr. C was 2-3 years old, I was wrestling with getting him dressed for preschool, so I could go to work. I was sitting on the living room floor, wrestling him into his clothes as he fought back, thoroughly enjoying the “game.” I lunged forward to grab him and stopped cold. Unbelievable pain shot out from my low back, immobilizing me. I managed to struggle up off the floor and flop onto the couch for a moment. I assessed and think I’m ok, if I move carefully. (See here? This is where I should have added some self-care and called in sick to work.) After a bit of rest, I need to go to the bathroom. As I sit down, this simple movement freezes me in my tracks. I am sitting there, with my pants down, and I cannot get up! I’m panicked. Thankfully, I had my phone in my pants pocket. I quickly dial the hubs. He can’t get away due to some emergency at work, so I call my mother-in-law, who lives in the same town. (Side note: Having your MIL come lift you off the toilet and pull up your pants should definitely be on your bucket list.) She was an amazing help. She got me into bed, got the kids to school, and took care of our family when hubby was at work, for at least two weeks. (Another aspect of self-care is accepting or, even better, asking for help.)

Later that day, my husband drove me to the chiropractor. He was able to adjust me with difficulty, and now it’s time to go but, oh, my goodness! I cannot get up. The pain is just too much. Hubby had to go get our family doctor who, thankfully, was in the office space next door. The doctor came and give me a shot of medicine for the pain and, eventually, with the use of a cane, my husband, and the chiropractor, I was able to get off the adjustment table, and into the car to go home.

I was on bed rest for three weeks. Hubby worked from home as much as possible and MIL took care of things when he couldn’t. An MRI showed a one herniated and two bulging discs in my low back. I had no choice but to rest. I’d get up and loop the kitchen island with my cane and then lay back down. It was torture for me– physically and mentally. After a time, I was able to resume limited, normal duties.

So, how does this apply to self-care? Well, if I had taken more time to rest, exercise, and take regular breaks from my hectic life, I may have been in better shape to deal with the ongoing physical pain and limitations I faced for nearly six years. I could have listened to my body when it was tired, rather than pushing through because things needed to be done.

Over the next several years, I’d have days when my back issue would flare up and I’d have to slow down and take it a bit easier. I was told to avoid things like pushing the shopping cart or vacuuming or activities like that which would cause me to bend and twist the injured area. I had to rely heavily on my husband to pick up the slack and do the normal household things that I used to do. I had to give up activities I loved, like bike riding, yard work or hiking. The irony is that these things could have been used as self-care since I enjoyed doing them.

Fast forward to January of this year. I was on a road trip with my family. After three days in the car, my back injury flared up badly. I rested for several days, rotating heat and ice, took anti-inflammatory medications, saw the chiropractor. Any little activity would set it off. Eventually, I saw an orthopedic spine surgeon who found that I had a new herniated disc, right below the previous one. I had surgery on May 4th. The surgery was a microdiscectomy and I was home that same day, carefully walking around. I am still in the recovery phase and have weekly physical therapy sessions but, I am already more active and mobile than I have been in 6 years. Not only am I in less pain, but I’m also mentally happier because I feel well enough to do the things I enjoy again.

All this, circles back to self-care. This is a must on my list now. Maybe it’s simply taking an extra-long shower, making my kids fix their own lunch instead of doing it for them, or more complex things like being okay with letting go of some things, asking for and accepting help, or even trying to get out of the house, alone, for a bit. These things all play into my self-care program. I am still learning and researching ideas to figure out what works best for my needs. I have a whole Pinterest board on self-care. Each one of us has specific things that fills our cup. Find what fills your and use it. It is so important.

If you’re struggling, as I often do, ask yourself, “If I fall apart, if I break, who is there to care of the things that I can no longer do?” Isn’t it better, not only for yourself, but those around you, if you take little bits of time to heal yourself as needed, so you can keep on caring for those ever-so-important things like your kiddos?

It’s like one of my favorite lines from the movie The Princess Bride:

“If you haven’t got your health, then you haven’t got anything.”

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Box of Chocolates

Today, I have no profound news to share but, I want to tell you the story of my day.

We live in the Pacific Northwest and, as you may or may not know, we have been under a blanket of smoke for quite some time due to various wild fires in just about every direction. The air quality has been deemed unhealthy for select groups, like those with asthma and so on. Not surprisingly, E falls into that category so, we have mostly remained indoors.

Today, the air was clear and the temperature was cooler. It just screamed, “Go Outside!” After a successful doctor’s appointment, we decided to go to the zoo; enjoy the animals, get some good exercise and, generally, just breathe in fresh air. Both of the boys were on board with this idea, which is rare. Usually, one wants the opposite of the other.

As we exit the freeway, we are already seeing a long line of cars, slowly creeping towards the zoo parking lot. Then we see signs at each lot, stating that that parking lot is full. I cannot stress enough how crowded this place was. People were everywhere! Normally, I’m a person that thinks, “ugh, people…” and would head home and come another day. Today, however, probably spurred on by a feeling of cabin fever, and the boys still wanting to go, we circle the lots and head for the overflow parking. As, we are driving, E is getting quieter and quieter. We park and hop on a school bus that’s being used as a shuttle. E, still quiet, sits by the window and stares out, while C is a wiggle-worm on my lap thanks to an over-full bus. I ask E if he is okay. He mumbles that he’s fine, just tired. A typical canned response. But he is not fine. He is overwhelmed by the thought of all the people at the zoo and those riding on the bus with us. C’s activity and noises irks him. He gets grumbly.

Mind you, the ride is likely no more than 5 minutes. However, it’s just enough time to push E over the edge towards the “Tween Attitude.” When we get off the bus, C starts skipping along ahead of us towards the gate and E starts parenting him, telling him to stop this and stop that. I, then, have to chide E and remind him that I am the parent and can handle anything C does that might be wrong.

Our first stop is the bathroom. As we wait for E, C spots the “very special” vending machine. The only place he knows of to get Dippin Dots.’ (For those who don’t know, Dippin’ Dots is an ice cream snack made by flash freezing drops of ice cream in liquid nitrogen.)  I know that eating a frozen treat will make him cold, so I tell him we will grab some on the way out so that he can have the warmth of the car after he finishes it. All is well on that front for the time being.

E seems cranky but alright, and we proceed to wander. I let the boys lead and choose what we see. E loves to stop at all the educational spots: solve all the puzzles, learn all the things. Things are going well, aside from his parenting instincts refusing to wait until he has his own child. However, as we progress, maybe ten minutes into our trip, he is starting to “act out.” Now, when E acts out, it’s not your typical bad behavior or meltdown scenario. He starts growling, walking tense, and mouthing off at every turn. This is partly due to his age and partly due to his ASD. Every time I try to chat with him and soothe him, it’s like he’s smacking me but with his words. He is cranky, and I seem to be making it worse. So, I leave him be, knowing he will soothe himself eventually.

We were able to see a few of the animals that we haven’t yet seen on this visit. Usually, they are asleep in their dens or out of sight. This time however, we saw the elusive bobcats, leopards, and tigers. Now, my boys are huge cat fans, so this worked wonders to improve Mr. Grumpy Pants’ attitude.

Danger-Will-RobinsonAfter a few hours, we were all satisfied and head for the exit. C, still skipping all over creation, but getting more and more worn out, heads for the prized vending machine. I start pulling out my wallet and find that I only have a single dollar; the Dippin’ Dots are $4, and the machine doesn’t take credit cards. “Warning! Warning! Danger, Will Robinson!”

Cue meltdown moans. Quickly, I spring into action. “Hey, lets go see if they sell any in the gift shop and, if not, maybe we will find something even better!” So, we wander around and look at everything at least twice. C starts getting wild, a sure sign he is about to go into sensory overload. He wants one of everything, and can’t make up his mind. An aspect of his executive function issues is the inability to make decisions, thus becoming overwhelmed. I step in and pick something out for him and he’s happy but, he is still hung up on what to choose. Once E makes his pick, we go to pay. I ask the cashier about cash back, which they don’t do, and am directed to the ATM outside. At this point, I’ve spent enough money, and just want to go home but, C is headed for a full-blown meltdown over those dang Dippin’ Dots so, I check out the ATM. They charge a use fee of $3 to take out money, and my penny-pinching side shows up.

“I am not going to spend almost the same amount in fees as it is for the stupid treat; I just spent more money than I planned to at the gift shop. Stop spoiling this child and go home!”

Caleb is now quite put out. He loves his new stuffed animal, but is angry that he didn’t get everything he wanted. Granted, it sounds like I’m describing a spoiled brat or a toddler, but I’m not. I’m talking about my almost-9-year-old son who, pathologically, has no control over this behavior.

As I watch him stomp down the sidewalk, arms drooping, head down, I remind myself that he is trying his best. He is not on the ground throwing a fit. He is not yelling or hitting me. He is not banging his head on a wall or my body as I’m trying to walk. He is removing himself as best he can from a situation that pushed him too far.

On the bus back to our car, he wouldn’t sit with me and he kept sniffing in his overly-dramatic way. But, in the car he said to me in a quiet voice: “Mom, I’m sorry about this. I don’t know why I act like this and I hate it.”

Oh, gut punch. He is a good kid. He is trying his best with the tools he has. He is very aware of his actions and does not like them, yet, doesn’t know how to change or control them yet. Here’ another subtle reminder of the differences of autism– no one person is the same. My two boys: case in point. One has internal meltdowns or shuts down (I recently read a post explaining internal meltdowns here) and, the other, becomes hyperactive then melts down. I guess Forest Gump was right:

“Life is like a box of chocolates. You just never know what you’re gonna get.”

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They Are Champions

Recently, I took my boys to see some of my family. It’s about half a day’s drive; not too bad but, you just never know how it will go. I packed us up: car activities, movies, tablets, snacks, and hit the road. I’m a huge fan of road trips. You get to see so much that you’d miss if flying. This wasn’t so much of a journey as a get-from-point-A-to-point-B kind of trip, although the scenery was beautiful.

This week-long vacation was a bit new for us. In the past, dad came along with us and we had stayed at my parents’ house but, this time, we would be staying with my sister, which meant new surroundings and one less parent to lean on for support.  So, I braced myself for trouble. I fretted pre-trip and worried each day as to how the next day would be. As you may know, new surroundings, new circumstances, and non-typical people all can throw a wrench in the works for our kiddos. But, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. The boys got to see their Nana and Papa each day and had two aunts to play with.

Each day started early, relaxing with coffee on the patio. We visited, listened to the coo of mourning doves and enjoyed the cooler temperatures. As is typical of the high desert, by late morning it was very hot so, we spent most of our time at the pool, where there was a beautiful, shaded lounge area off to the side, along with music, snacks, drinks and laughter. The water was warmed by the sun and we were the only ones around to enjoy it. The very definition of summer fun.

Now, E had taken swim lessons a few years ago. He got quite good and loved it, until one fateful day he was practicing with a small float board that darted out from under him, and he thought he was going to drown. Though he did get back in the water after that day, he seemed to enjoy it less as his worries and fears got in the way. Mr. C never did end up with much in the way of lessons. He hated the feel of the water on his skin, he hated that it felt cold, etc. I now understand that this is part of his sensory processing disorder but, at the time, I just didn’t get it.

But, I digress. These previous experiences added up to a new set of worry for mama bear. Are they going to enjoy it? Will they have fun, or will they find something new to be afraid of? Will they be able to use life vests or floaties? Lions! Tigers! Bears! Oh, my!

Thankfully, all my worry was for nothing. The boys did amazing! E preferred to use a life vest so that he could have full use of the pool without the fear of sinking. C didn’t care if he had it on or not. By the end of the afternoon that we arrived, C had his face in the water with a snorkel and mask, swimming from one end of the pool to the other. By the end of day two he could do it without his life vest. This is a kid who was nearly eight before he could stand to get his face wet in the bath. When speaking to his aunt about how he learned to swim so well, he said, “I just watched the techniques and practiced them. I basically taught myself how to swim!”

This kid cracks me up! No humility there. And boy, is he fearless! He went from not really having lessons, to snorkeling, to trying to dive and swim under water. He even tried surfing on a boogie board!

On a few occasions, friends from the area came over so their kids could swim, and C would appear to be happily swimming by himself at one end but, we caught him slyly watching the other kids. He would see something new and then want to try it. He even asked them for pointers. Thankfully, the other kids were wonderful, and had great manners so, it went very smoothly. Social skills practice? Check!

E took a bit longer to feel comfortable in the water. In fact, it wasn’t until our last time in the pool that he braved his fear, and took the life vest off. I’m so happy that he did. He did amazingly well– his skills came back to him easily. He was even able to swim short distances under water.

On another day, we decided to play at the nearby lake. Again, local friends to the rescue. We were provided with a private beach to play at, which included a shaded cabana, giant buried trampoline, kayaks and paddle boards. Now, I personally have kayaked only once in my life but, I remember loving it. Unfortunately, I’m still in recovery mode from my back surgery in May and didn’t feel comfortable joining in the fun. I had to satisfy myself with wading into the water or lounging in the cabana with drinks. (Awe, shucks!) It seemed like a too-good-to-be-true type of place. For E though, it was. There were dragon flies, regular flies, bees and other flying things out. It didn’t really bother me but, for a kiddo with phobias (Entomophobia), they were swarming! He had a mini panic attack. Thankfully, we were allowed use of the friends’ house as well, and E was able to be inside in the cool air, away from the “horrific” bugs.

As a mom, that day was frustrating and hard for me. I wanted him to have the same experiences as everyone else but, I knew he just couldn’t. I was frustrated that I had to monitor him, and broken-hearted that he just can’t have fun like the rest of us. Having my family with us was a great support though, and they shared the responsibility so that we all could have moments of relaxation and fun. What really surprised me though, was, that despite his fears, E would, occasionally, make the trek from the house to the water and jump in a kayak or on the paddle board, and head out onto the lake. For a little while at least, he could lock those fears away and try something new.

Both boys just blew my mind. They had never been in a kayak or used a paddle board before, and yet, they were so good at them! E loved being out on the water. He’s always been drawn to water. Seashores are his favorite. He finds it soothing and peaceful, which is a wonderful thing for someone with an anxious mind. It was such a confidence boost for these kids to excel at something.

All in all, we had an amazing getaway, and I have been beaming with pride and awe at how well my boys did. They are champions! I am such a proud mama!

 

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