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“Most survivors tend to be the caregiver rather than the care-receiver. We tend to be good at being spouses and parents, anticipating our loved one’s needs, going the second mile when it came to self-sacrifice. But seldom can we ask our loved ones to give to us. We fool ourselves into believing we don’t need much.” – Beverly Engel, The Right to Innocence.
I came across this quote while working on my last article. I resonated deep within me. It was a perfect explanation of why the subject of self-care has been so hard for me to get. I mean looking back over my life after I’ve started this change I can really see why. By high school, it was so ingrained in my life that my wants and, sometimes needs, came last. I had chores and household responsibilities, I had my own job, I had expectations to meet for school and then college. I grew up with this crazy work ethic, I was seen as very odd when I went the extra mile in one of my culinary classes after an already hard shift as the dishwasher on an extremely busy day. But for me, it needed to be done and it had been ignored by others.
My hobbies and preferred activities were books, drawing, writing, even bike rides if the weather was nice and I had the energy. I thought I had a pretty good idea of who I was and how to take care of my self. But finally, after moving out on my own the cracks in my mask started showing. The first winter on my own I suffered from complete burnout, I barely went out. I dropped classes, worked my shift and left. When to church as much as I could stand and otherwise only left my bedroom if I absolutely had to or was dragged out on occasion by a friend. I got better in a few months after reevaluating my life a bit and making some changes – for better or worse who knows. But I’d like to think I was on the right track.
I know I was an odd girl growing up. Other girls dreamed about weddings and later on boys. I skipped all of those. my daydreams were about my future family. I had ideas of what kind of mom I wanted to be – based off of my experiences (the good and the bad) and even my friend’s moms. Of course, as I got older and understood better I knew there’d be a dad and we’d be married – but I rarely thought about those factors. I was in for a rude awakening when Wiggle-worm was born. I was told he’d change our lives forever and I knew that. But I didn’t understand it fully and more so I didn’t understand how quickly and completely he could change it.
Now I will preface that, I had been worried about my depression all through my pregnancy and had read up on Post-partum depression. I thought I knew what to look for, but when it slowly crept up on me it took someone else telling me about their PPD I realized that I had missed all the signs and changes. My previous episodes of depression affected me much differently than my PPD has been. I’m now working with a doctor to help gain control over my depression and not let it gain control of me but there’s still a lot I’m learning that I have to do. And do it often is the main factor.
Life Gets More Complicated
Before I was pregnant I didn’t have a lot of time for downtime but I valued my showers and evenings where I could read a book at my leisure. Once we moved into our home, halfway through my pregnancy, I began to have weekly baths on Saturday night that could take up to 2 hours. Now any baths I have are with Wiggle-worm and no longer than 30 minutes, showers are even less time. Alone time for me is a rare and precious commodity for me nowadays.
At first, I was in denial. I was just feeling a bit lost as a new mom and not having many people I could talk to on a regular basis about my daily life. I wasn’t accomplishing anything. Even just getting chores done each day was a great hurdle and sometimes I really wondered if I wasn’t cut out for motherhood. Did I bite off more than I could chew as a newlywed and now a mom? Was I really too young?
It Blew Up in My Face
Then came the ‘Explosion’.
Fact – Batman has Aspergers. Fact – Batman likes to play his Batman games as decompression time. Fact – Batman tends to wake earlier in the morning (because his sleep isn’t interrupted as much by a baby). So all of these things are normal. Even the idea of waking up on a Sunday morning and he’s playing a game before we have to get ready for church. I became very frustrated one of these mornings because instead of having my normal super helpful partner taking care of the baby while I got ready, I had to wrangle a baby and get myself ready to go. At this point, I was steaming and ready to blow my top like Mount Vesuvius. As he got off and started getting ready he tried to ask me, very sincerely, what was wrong and I just let it all out.
I was very upset that his ‘checking something on the computer’ turned into playing a game for almost an hour. He was so contrite and honest that I just started bawling. I was angry and jealous of the fact that he could do things he wanted to, that he had time for him, while I had to always take care of the baby and the house and the laundry list of tasks that have to be done. And then he asked the real kicker – “Why haven’t you asked to do your own thing? What do you want to do?” And the worst part was, I had no answer to the second question – and because I had no answer I couldn’t really ask him to watch the baby while I did my own thing.
I was floundering in who I was.
I couldn’t even answer what I’d like to do in any free time I had.
That really should have been my sign I was dealing with something more than ‘adjusting to motherhood’ or ‘Baby Blues’. Last time I had felt this was two years or so prior in the midst of Burnout.
New invigorating path
This thought propelled me on a quest of self re-discovery. Who I was. Who I am. Who I want to be. I asked questions to myself, other moms, veterans in this field. I still haven’t found the answers I look for but I no longer stay awake at night with these thoughts running through my head. I’ve been able to accept and progress that this is a slow and gradual process. It can’t happen overnight, I’ll probably still be asking questions a year from now.
Its been a number of months since that argument. I found new hobbies. I’m finding ways to make time for myself in the day and we make time in the week for me to have some real alone time. I’m learning to ask and if need be demand time for myself. I put it on the calendar, make it a weekly thing – which you should be grateful for my dear readers. I don’t make excuses as I may have in the past like “oh, I’ve had time for myself recently” when it has really been a month since I did anything for me.
Things are different now as an adult and as a mother than it was as a child. Then it was so much easier to do things I wanted to do. I knew what I liked to do. I use to draw and devour books each day. I’d write poems and stories. I’d bike to little-known parks and watch the little creeks flow and my imagination would roam the world. No showering is a luxury. I have to remind myself to eat three meals – but that’s mostly because of other issues. I have a list of chores for the week and to do list each day. Some days I do great and run through the list like its nothing and other days my accomplishments are “I ate lunch. Wiggle worm is happy – and has a clean diaper on even if that’s all he has on.” Those days I’ve had to learn are very hard and I just eat dinner, let the boys have their play time, and go to bed. I’ll often wake up feeling much better and ready to do better the next morning.
I’ve learned new things. My fiction to nonfiction ratio is completely flipped now. But I’ve expanded my horizon on things that interest me. New hobbies and interest. I’m exploring my world little by little. I’ve found how to be happy as a mom. I’ve found that even though I’m not in school or in the workforce, those accomplishments are still a really important thing to me. I have this need to accomplish things. Complete challenging tasks fuel my actions even when I’m down.
I’ve met my challenges head-on. I’ve started a Bullet Journal. It’s changed rapidly over the few months I’ve had it, but I keep adding to it. That’s the main point of it. I keep reading articles on things that I’ve always been confused on. Breaking out of the mold I’ve shoved myself in. I’m reanalyzing everything about myself with a critical eye. Is it something that is me still? Or is it part of the insecure little girl that wants to ‘fit in’?
I’m learning about things I’d never think I had an interest in. I keep pushing myself to improve and to grow. Nothing is wasted at this point. I started this blog. It has so far been my biggest challenge I’ve taken on since. But its just as rewarding. and it is keeping me accountable. I started it and I’m going to see it though. It also gives me something regular to work on each week. I have set blogging time at least twice a week in the evenings once Mr. Nerd is home for the evening. I’ve had to skip a few times when Wiggle-Worm was sick or going through major teething or growth pains and demanded to nurse or whatever babies want the whole evening.
Rediscovery is Self-care
Self-care isn’t just pampering yourself or eating that tub of cookie-dough Ice cream after a bad break up. It’s so much more than that. For me, I’m so much more aware of how often Batman gets time for his activities since he works during the week and makes sure to accommodate for that on the weekends. But I don’t do that for myself. Part of the problem was allowing myself to distance from our infant son and trust that he’ll be just fine with daddy. But also part of the problem was recognizing that I need to do this for myself and I’m not selfish or asking too much.
I’ve grown up too much that I am having to relearn how to relax and have fun. Recently, I’ve started relistening to a lot of old books I read as a youth in audiobook format. (Wiggle-worm can’t tear those up!) Even though I know all the stories it is almost thrilling to relive these stories again as an adult.
I think that knowing yourself is one of the most important steps in self-care. You have to have an idea of who you are and what you like to be able to take care of yourself just as you would another person. You have to put a priority on yourself – which may seem selfish at first but it is so necessary!
I recall being told once that you can fill someone else’s cup if you are empty yourself. I can’t be a happy wife and mother if I’m not taken care of. If I give and give and never take I’ll wear away to nothing. While the actual act of service is rewarding and fulfilling in itself, one needs to be able to let others serve them as well. I know that there are some great and marvelous people in the world that literally give all of themselves and in my opinion are among the rare breed that thrives off of giving and needing very little given in return. Honestly, I have no idea how they could possibly do it all. Maybe that’s their superpower.
This is just the start of my journey. I’ll flounder, but I’ll learn from every mistake. It’s hard enough as it is but then I remember why I started this journey and think on how far I’ll go.
Share below what your idea of self-care is. I’d love to hear what you think!
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