I’d love to believe that “self care” meant a day to yourself, lunching at the loveliest restaurant your town has to offer, indulging in a facial and a massage, and capping off the warm and balmy evening with a cocktail on the rooftop of a luxury hotel. Just imagine it, a king size bed all to yourself, room service, breakfast in bed — it’s too good to be true!
Seriously, I tried it. I was trying out some “self care” after an unexpected Hospital stay left me with serious heartburn, indigestion, nausea, and anxiety. I figured a night alone to regroup would be all I needed to reset. I probably slept as well in that hotel bed as I did sharing a twin size hospital bed with my toddler. Don’t get me wrong - I know how lucky I am to be able to afford this sort of indulgence, I know my privelege is showing. But this is exactly the point I am trying to make — trying to take care of yourself with expensive meals, spa services, and designer handbags will not heal your mind, body, and spirit. Sure, they can take the edge off, and provide temporary comfort, but they won’t truly heal.
The last time I took Oscar to the ER, we ended up getting admitted and staying the night. I was a complete mess — you’d think these Hospital stays get easier, but they don’t. It’s just another stressful event piled on top of the rest of the stressful events you never had time to fully process. (Put it on my tab!) Forget five star hotels, what medical moms consider a luxury is the ability to emotionally work through the stress and trauma that permeates through every aspect of our lives.
After my expensive experiment in self care proved to solve absolutely nothing, I needed to figure out how to really take care of myself. After all, I have a child to raise — a child who depends on me for everything. The pressure is unbelievable, and if I am not at my best, I can’t do my job. Falling apart is not an option.
Except, it is. It has to be. I need the time to cry, sob even, scream into my pillow. The tension that builds up from each surpressed emotion while trying to keep it together only results in severe chest pain and an exorbitant amount of Pepto Bismol.
I was listening to a podcast lately, recommended to me by my Sister in Law, called Forever35. They’re two gals who love to talk about serums, and one day they were discussing self care. For such a hot topic, I thought I had heard it all — you know, meditation, yoga, massage, a glass of wine, a mani/pedi. And while these are all great, the hosts presented an email from a listener which brought up a very interesting and unique point: why do we believe self care has to be done alone? Why can’t self care include other people?
I love being alone, I need time alone. I always have. But in dealing with this new type of stress as a medical mom, I realized I lean on others to cope. My ongoing group texts with friends and family — self care. My writing, publishing, and discussion right here on this website — self care. Going to dinner with friends — self care. Going to a counselor —more obvious self care. Serving my community — self care. I’ve realized, at least for myself, that maintaining my relationships and sense of community outside of clinical environments is so, so important. It reminds me that there is an entire world out there outside of our little bubble, and if we don’t connect with it every now and then, we’ll stay stuck in our lonely, sad, and sterile little bubble. There are so many interesting people to meet and places to discover, and these experiences can be the main event, even if they’ll involve wheelchairs, feeding tubes, and hearing aids. The medical stuff doesn’t have to be our whole lives, even though it certainly feels like it.
So yes, medical mom or not, take care of yourself, whatever that means for you. For me, a good old lounge by the pool with a new (fiction) book surrounded by the other residents in my apartment building, an evening with friends, anything that keeps a foot in the world outside of my own helps me to decompress. The occasional mani / pedi, hair appointment, or shopping spree don’t hurt, but they won’t really help. I’m relieved to be finding my way of coping, and to be finding the time to do it. A lifetime loner and homebody, I never would have thought that surrounding myself with other people would be so comforting. Next time I book a spa appointment, I think I’ll take a friend along with me. Who’s in?!