“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.”