Originally posted in Broken but Priceless Ministries’ e-magazine, volume II
When so much of your life is dedicated to taking care of someone else, it’s easy to become a passenger in your own life. In your overwhelming need to be there for the person that is ill, you can almost forget you are a person too. So much time, energy, stress, and worry goes into the one you love. You focus on their pain, their recovery, their medication, their doctor appointments, their treatment options, their progress, and their entire life. It feels like it’s the very least you should do. You are, of course, the lucky one. The healthy one. And you would give anything to make them better and to take it all away so this is how you show it.
I didn’t understand just a few years ago, that I could only do so much. Forcing the life out of myself because I didn’t feel I should have the right to laugh. Passing on offers to do something fun because I didn’t feel I should be away from my son. It’s some of the deepest guilt I’ve ever experienced. And not just guilt, but shame and embarrassment. How dare I live my life when my son is suffering so much, I chastised myself. I thought somehow I owed it to him to suffer with him, as best as I could. It was out of pure love and sacrifice, however misguided. And so suffer I did. I put everything I ever had into my sick child until I was just a shell of a person. I gave everything I had away until I wasn’t anyone anymore. I lost myself in the grief and the relentless fear over someone I so desperately wanted to protect.
One day, I was outside running by myself for the first time in a long time, instead of running downstairs on the treadmill while my son napped like I had started to after he was diagnosed. It struck me suddenly like a bolt of lightning; life was all around me. The wind through the trees, the blue sky above me, and the dirt crunching under my feet. I had missed it so much, being outside, having a few minutes to myself to think, and the overwhelming feeling of being alive. The pain came in waves. I screamed, cried, and prayed over and over in a strange mixture of guilt and relief. I was still here. I had not disappeared after all. When I got home, I felt a little bit better. That was the day I resolved to try harder, to not just take care of my son, but to take care of myself.
So what can you do if you find yourself in the same well-intentioned but ultimately destructive shoes as I was in? Take a good, hard look at your life. Be honest with yourself and remember that you are a person too. It doesn’t mean you love them any less or take care of them any less. It means you make the time to take care of yourself more. Because you are important too! Ask others for help if you need some time to yourself. Enlist your spouse, friends, family, a home nurse, or whatever you may need in order to give you the peace of mind to take time for yourself.
Set aside a few minutes in the early morning to do something that calms you: reflect, write in a journal, sit outside and watch the sun rise, read, pray, or do anything peaceful. Just make sure to do something you want to do, not that you feel you have to do. Aim to be active a few days each week. You don’t have to start running marathons or do 50 push-ups each morning. Just go for a walk around the block, ride your bike down the street, or dance in your living room. Exercise is a fantastic stress reducer, energy booster, and confidence enhancer. Use it to your benefit! Take time to get out and do something fun every once in awhile. Have lunch with a friend, go shopping at your favorite store, or do something that you genuinely look forward to. When you make taking care of yourself a priority, you can take better care for others!