As a mother, I have never ever struggled with getting a shower in or eating food. Not because of motherhood, anyway.
You see, before mammahood came and blessed me, I realized my dire need for practicing the art of self care.
And it is an art!
I was realizing a pattern of depression and also panic attacks and I began to realize that when the care of me began to slip, I began to experience both of these things.
Actually, it really began when I was working 40 hours a week, doing 24 extra hours of volunteering in the church I work in, playing violin on a worship team and typing out words on a screen for another team. My days were 15, 16, 18 hours straight and I couldn’t breathe! Oh, and I was on a night schedule (which for me, meant getting my sleep interrupted all the time) and had been for the past year.
I like a good challenge, but this was me going under. I began to have migraines…and not just a migraine in the headache region. It was what I call a full body migraine and all I could do was pray that I could eventually sleep it off. Every vibration, even from a distance would cause me pain, even a light someone turned on that faintly came through my door.
Let’s just say, though I was in such a self-created fog, it took me a month (at the worst point) of weekly, sometimes twice weekly migraines to realize something HAD to change!
I remember feeling a phrase when I would wake up from sleeping or a rare nap: Ailene, I love it when you take care of your body. I LOVE it when you get the rest you need.
Was this still small voice really true? Wasn’t I supposed to do, do, do and then do more, to prove my worth?!
The answer slowly took over my life, even as my body began to really break down.
No. You’re precious because you’re precious, not because you do anything.
I quit the night shift hours, quit both worship team duties, pared down to what I truly wanted and needed to focus on (my job I was being paid for and my dream job, at that!) I only worked a 40 hour work week, not whatever I had been doing – pretty much only work and volunteer work and nothing else. I let myself take naps and I mean, at that point I actually could go to sleep at 6pm and sleep in late AND I needed 4 hour naps. It was that way for an entire summer and it took a full year and a half for me to be able to start getting back into a schedule.
My body slowly healed. I had time to figure out the many causes of the body migraines. And this is when I realized how life-saving self care is. Having the awareness of it and then implementing it without shame.
That last part was so hard. I had to realize that other people would misunderstand me. I did get made fun of, lightly, for sleeping so much. 😂😂
I buckled down and went to the chiropractor (my jaw was in so much pain I could barely eat & when I saw my childhood Chiro at Christmas she made me promise to start seeing someone in the state I live in.) I made time for friends. Made time to commit and fall in love with dear people and be loved back. Not for what I could do but for who I am. (I already had some amazing people in my life like this, but I had no time to focus on them!)
I got my power back. I began to love myself again and see myself as worth being friends with. Something I had struggled with being on a night schedule and not getting enough sleep. (I do not regret the night schedule- in many other ways it was life-changing and perfect, but I didn’t realize it was time for me to move on & take care of myself.)
Going gluten free was another key in the journey to not getting body migraines. Since I went gluten free, I haven’t had ONE – I can’t begin to tell you what a miracle that is for me. I also had to cut out caffeine and I swore off NyQuil. (I had been doing huge amounts of caffeine to get through that too-busy schedule and then I was so tired I couldn’t sleep and also in pain, so I’d take NyQuil to bring me down, even though I didn’t have a cold). And on that note, I finally realized I was abusing medication and felt really lucky that I realized it before I really got into trouble. I don’t keep NyQuil anywhere near me and will not go back to using it ever. I’m also careful not to take anything when I have the option (after surgery, etc.) Regular painkillers have always worked for me, so far.
I began to have panic attacks and had no idea what it was at first or why. It was terrible. The first one happened while I was driving and I was sure I was going to swerve and we would die. It was really hard to even admit what I was going through (horrible sweating & heartbeat out of control and losing ability to breathe). But I finally told the people I was driving with and didn’t drive the rest of the road trip.
It would take me a year of having those attacks while driving before I began to realize what caused them. It never came down to an exact science; I don’t think that’s how panic works.
But I did realize that if I wasn’t in a routine of stopping life, breathing and living slower, caring for my heart, my mental health, my relationship health and opening my heart to give and receive love from humans, I wasn’t in a good place and was more likely to have an attack.
It also was really connected to diet for me. A year later, in a random conversation, I found out that the first attack came after I’d been snacking on what I thought were gluten free cupcakes but were actually not. It was crazy to realize how strongly I was affected!
So, fast forward to becoming a mommy. I will not let myself go so far that I’m unable to take a necessary shower or eat. I’ve been there, before kids and it took me down a dark path. I share my story because I want others to realize you can make it through to a stable place, too. Self care is not frivolous and it’s not something to be guilty about. YOU are worth it.
You’re worth scheduling that fun time with friends. The kind that really celebrate you and don’t drain the life from you.
You’re worth setting up good boundaries around those you love, but are taking too much from your life, mind and heart.
You’re worth taking a bath tonight, after the kids hopefully go to sleep.
Your sanity is worth figuring out a sleep schedule for your child that works for you, even if takes years! Don’t give up!
Your sanity is worth your child learning to play independently from you, just for appropriate moments at a time, while you’re in the same room. It’s totally okay to disengage for moments and then be there when they are ready to make eye contact again.
You’re worth finding a good counselor who can help you a little bit more than just bouncing things off of your good friends (although there is really something to be said about that!)
You’re even worth taking a 6 month group counseling class to look at deeper places in your heart and broken places and finding the healing. It is life-changing. I did that while I was engaged which is an intense time but it was so worth it. Some triggers of mine are completely healed over and the relationships that used to help bring them up are healed, too. (Deep conversations and finally asking for & receiving forgiveness has healed them and made my whole life new in that area.)
Actually, more importantly than all my amazing advice; you’re worth finding your own journey. What works for you.
What works for you! It may not look like me and you don’t have to feel guilty.
So here’s to self-love, friend. It’s not just a crazy millennial term.
You’re worth it.
P.s. Also, can I say something ridiculous at the bottom here?! I only have 1 kid! When I have more than 1, I’ll come back and let you know how my self care is going. 😂😂😂(I’ll still be doing it, even if it looks different, promise!) 🙏🏼🙏🏼
Hi, I’m Ailene! A mama of one & one on the way. My husband and I make our home in the often underestimated Midwest- it really is wonderful! 🙂 I love laughing, reading fiction and writing through tons of journals all at the same time. 2nd grade is when my passion for writing came to the forefront. I loved it but felt overwhelmed by it & thankfully both my teacher and mother told me I definitely had a gift and to keep writing! Fast forward to junior high and I was writing articles for my school newspaper. And after graduation, I helped create The Looking Glass, the newsletter of South Carolina School of Leadership. My blog is the beginning of a lifelong dream to write books. Come visit me over at CourageisintheLeap.com!