Well-meaning relatives and baby magazines advised me to sleep when my firstborn slept. They said the soiled laundry and dishes could wait. They said things didn’t have to be perfect, and to do the best I could.
A few weeks ago, I shared this advice as part of the #SoGladTheyToldMe social media movement.
They told me, but I didn’t listen.
I was glad they told me because it meant they loved me. I took a proud “mother knows best” attitude toward the advice, and refused to buy-in. I’m not a halfway kind of person; if something’s worth doing, I do it well. To me, that’s doing the best I can. The house was pristine, hair bows were homemade and my stories were always turned in before deadline. I was both a stay-at-home mom and a freelance journalist, working at my paying gig during naptime and nighttime because I didn’t use a sitter. Even when the baby slept, I did not.
Online, parent friends posted notes that said things like, “A good mom has muddy floors and sticky children!” They, too, were telling me that they weren’t perfect and they were proud of it.
I still didn’t listen.
I wasn’t convinced. I didn’t see messy floors and unkempt children when I visited their homes. I saw fun crafts and cupcakes they’d stayed up until 2 a.m. to bake. I watched videos of three-year-olds who could read Highlights magazines, and intricate summer activity bucket lists. I attended children’s birthday parties that featured llamas and ponies.
My second pregnancy was accompanied by nine months of round-the-clock morning sickness, and included the deaths of three beloved family members in three months’ time. It slowed me down, but after my son was born, I reverted to my typical frenetic pace because it was what I knew.
Then, I got sick.
One August morning several years ago, I picked up my seven-month-old son and realized my entire left side was physically numb. I paid such little attention to myself that I didn’t realize anything was wrong with me until I thought something was wrong with him. My immune system was down, my body was weak, and I was physically numb.
Suddenly, I was in the hospital, undergoing thousands of dollars in tests and while I was there, my right side went numb, too. I went from spending every waking moment with my children to seeing them for 15 minutes per day, and even during their brief visits, struggled to keep my youngest from playfully ripping out my IV while hugging me.
I wished right then that I had listened.
There were educated guesses as to what may have occurred: post-viral syndrome, the start of multiple sclerosis or even conversion disorder, meaning that stress led to my symptoms. Yes, apparently you can stress yourself numb. I never did receive a diagnosis, an answer, or a cure. It never fully resolved.
The order I received from doctors was to take care of myself. They warned that my illness could progress, if I didn’t.
Out of necessity, I followed their orders. I slept more, ate well and exercised regularly. If I don’t do these simple things, I fall ill, like on that day in August when my body refused to cooperate with the way I punished it anymore.
Please, take care of YOU.
Walk with a good friend during your lunch break, or after getting the kids onto the school bus.
Eat a healthy snack you prepared for you … not just a handful of crackers you were feeding to someone else.
Take a Wednesday night art class with a friend.
Whatever you need to do to take care of you, please do it.
It’s not optional. Important people in your life need you, and your life might just depend on it.