In which MJ encourages caregivers to consider their own needs
I’m going to be practical for a moment. I’m going to stop talking about our kids and loved ones with needs. I’m going to talk about us. Okay, I’m also going to assume that a lot of my readers are women because that’s who tends to comment.
When I first became a mother, the first thing to go out the window was my appearance. We can all go round and round about society, media, and all that, but let’s be honest. Who feels good about themselves going three days without a shower? Who feels like engaging in lovemaking or any sort of sexy talk with unshaven legs and pits not to mention the…ahem…nether regions? I don’t care if you go au natural, maintain a landing strip, or pay homage to Brazil. We like to feel clean and maintain whatever regimen we’re used to. When babies arrive, it all seems to fall apart. Suddenly, we aren’t sleeping, we either smell like formula or breast milk, and we can’t seem to even find time to go to the bathroom and choke down a bowl of cereal. We are in no way the center of the universe. We don’t even register as a planet. We’re Pluto now.
Square that experience when that child is suddenly diagnosed with a developmental disability or a mental illness. Why? Well, that hope that you’ve held that one day your child will become independent evaporates. As it turns out, you will most likely always be needed with a certain level of intensity that parents with neurotypical children do not experience. You won’t be making those vacation plans. Your future looks really different from what you thought it would. Your child may never move out. You may always be taking care of that child for the rest of his or her life. At this point, it becomes a lot harder to even bother with yourself. Marriage is hard to begin with. Now it’s a pressure cooker.
This is why I so strongly encourage women and men to always take time for themselves in a way that is meaningful to them. Whatever it looks like in your life, do it. DO IT! Your child is not going anywhere, but your capacity to be present just might be. Do everything it takes to be fully present.
In my life, I feel energized when I look nice. It might sound shallow, but I grew up in the South. Part of being feminine meant looking put together. When I can get up in the morning, get dressed, blow dry my hair, and put some bareMinerals on a clean, moisturized face, I just feel better. I feel like I had a moment that was mine. I feel like I don’t have to apologize for my appearance to people who might see me should I go out and about. I want to look nice. When I’m not taking care of myself, then I know something is wrong. I know that I need a break or some help.
I strongly encourage caregivers to consider their own needs and desires. If you want to get your hair done, then get it done. Enlist some help. I color my hair, but I often can’t get to the salon because of scheduling conflicts. I just discovered John Frieda’s new line of hair color. Amazing! I did it at home, and last night as I was out at a bookstore a natural redhead let me pass her in the aisle and said, “From one redhead to another! We have to look out for one another.” Yep. That’s how good it looked (I’m 6RC). A lot is possible with a bit of drive and desire. Just siphon some of that drive that you pour into your loved ones and put it into yourself. All that creativity that we use to problem-solve on behalf of others can and should be used on our behalf from time to time be it for fun hair colors, a new outfit (Go pop some tags at a thrift store. I just got a brand new Ralph Lauren cashmere sweater for $10. No lie!), a way to get a discount on a gym membership (Check your health insurance. Many will give you a discount), or even discounts on books, games, and movies (Find a Half Price Books). Make a commitment to set aside one hour for yourself to read or take a bath or exercise or invest in a hobby. Start with one hour a week.
For some people, that sounds ludicrous. One hour a week? I know people who can’t even commit to one hour a week just for themselves. Frankly, that’s a problem, but the demands placed upon them are so high that it’s nearly impossible for them to commit to anything where self-care is concerned. These people are also ill a lot. I used to be one of these people. I am deliberately working on this. So, take an inventory. Be honest. Can you do any of the following and feel good about it?
Go hiking with a friend. Take a break at your favorite café. Go to the museum. Get a discount ticket to hear your local symphony play. Stand in a rush line at your local theatre. We live in a city with a huge theatre community, and the biggest theatre in town offers rush tickets for $25 a show. It’s a great price, and a great opportunity to see amazing shows. Look around and plan a little bit. There are ways to keep your spirit alive in the midst of what can be experienced as soul-crushing circumstances. Pursue beauty by spending time in nature. Beauty heals and refreshes. Visit your local arboretum or conservatory. Go to the zoo. Visit a bookstore and just smell the books. Revisit the idea of reading a book that you always wished you had read but simply never got around to.
Go on a picnic. Learn to cook or bake something new. Learn a new skill like knitting. Go visit your local humane society just to pet some of the animals. There’s nothing like showing love to another vulnerable creature to make you feel full on the inside. Find out if there’s an animal show in your town. We once went to a rabbit show. It was very odd but so enjoyable.
Life is strange, painful, beautiful, and weird. It’s full of diversions and adventures even if we bear burdens that are often too heavy to bear alone. We must not forget ourselves though. We must always remember that we matter, too.
The landscape of our lives may have changed, but how we show ourselves proper care and respect should not.
Be good to yourself. Believe it or not, you are modeling love to the people in your life, and it matters. A lot.