May was a month! We had our family trip planned to Florida for my cousin’s wedding, the weekend of my birthday. The kids were excited, my husband was excited and I was simply excited about May. I even made a Facebook post early in the month declaring just that, “I’m excited about May”. Well, the roller coaster ride that was May is behind me, but not so fast. There were some lessons to learn.
My husband’s health started declining soon into the month, evidenced by 2 ER hospital visits, with one culminating into a brain surgery that occurred on, of all days, my birthday. We didn’t know what was happening at the time it was happening. Although this was serious, some of it was funny even while we went through it. Out of respect for my husband because he wouldn’t like me sharing his personal business, I won’t go into details. In addition to physical symptoms, he also had some cognitive problems that were similar to dementia (e.g., confusion/short-term memory loss).
I did my first year, social work, graduate school internship at a nursing home, so this was eerily familiar, except it was happening in my house, to my 50-year-old husband. It was an episode out of the Twilight Zone. Long story short, we did not go to Florida. My daughter cried her eyes out the night we told her we weren’t going because daddy was sick. My oldest was upset with my daughter for not understanding why we couldn’t go. Let’s just say that there was drama in the house that night. I spent the days prior to and after my birthday at the hospital, praying for his recovery. There was no birthday cake. He was in pain, confused, and desperate for relief. As a seasoned social worker, I was outwardly calm, but internally, anxious, confused and exhausted.
Throughout this ordeal, friends, coworkers and family kept reminding me to take care of myself. Initially, I thought yes, of course. Sure, I exercise most days of the week, eat well, devote time for prayer and read scriptures first thing in the morning anyway. After being told to “take care” of myself over and over again, it got to the point that I questioned where I would fit “self-care” in because my husband needed my support, my kids needed me to drop them off/pick them up from school, feed them, and provide reassurance that their dad would be ok. Listen, I had just committed to a weight loss program the week before, yet, I hadn’t exercised in a few days, which was not ideal.
I was facing an unfamiliar role and it seemed to require that I prioritize my family’s needs over my own for a period of time. Although I knew this before and showed my appreciation, I realized how much my husband has contributed to our household. The reality was that I would be my husband’s caretaker until we got through this thing. And we didn’t know how long that would be. I was scared about what that meant for me and our family. The second day home after the surgery, both of our moods were down and I was attempting to describe my feeling and his response was, “It’s hard being the caretaker”.
So what did I do for self-care? I cut myself some slack. I was flexible. I was at my husband’s side at the hospital because he needed me. While there, I read my weight loss materials. I bought groceries and trusted my son (not without calls & texts) to walk home from school and pop a frozen pizza in the oven. I accepted help by letting a parent pick up my daughter. After his release, I accepted meals and visits from my wonderful church family and coworkers. I asked for prayers from everybody. I let people encourage and empathize with me. I told people what was going on. I allowed myself to be vulnerable, accept help and be loved. This last piece is huge because I’m the strong one. I’m SUPER WOMAN…NOT! I used to think I was and tried to lead others to believe that, but I acknowledge, accept and sometimes embrace my limitations.
I learned that the foundation of my self-care toolkit is love. The act of loving on myself by being kind, patient and understanding allows me to love onto others, especially when they really need me. And this conclusion didn’t come about as perfectly as it sounds. It was scary, messy and bleak for a bit, but then again, that’s the roller coaster ride called life.