I started writing this blog a few years ago to share some of my view points on life. I try to provide positive encouragement and information on leading a happy, healthy life in which we are kind to each other and to ourselves. Today’s post is extremely personal because I want to share my experience from the last six months in the hope you will understand how anyone can lose themselves when we stop taking care of ourselves. It wasn’t easy to write because it feels very self-indulgent to ask you to read about me, but I am hoping that by sharing this I might help someone who may be going through a time in their life that is overwhelming. This post is a way to say it's okay to admit you can't do it all and to ask for help.
Back in April I wrote about how a moment can change your life. My father’s stroke affected all of us and continues to affect our every day life. Not only is the recovery ongoing, we are learning what it is like to be confined to a wheelchair. Activities that most of us take for granted become events that must be planned in advance. This includes everything from going to the dentist to going to the bathroom. We have become new experts on services available and how valuable social workers are for providing information and guidance on finding those services. We had already been coping with all the heartache and complications that go with dealing with Alzheimer’s in my mom, so the stroke added a whole new level of stress to our lives.
Dad was in rehab until the end of July and I spent many hours in hospitals and medical facilities. The personnel who took care of him, the therapists who worked with him and the staff who looked after all of us were amazing. Since dad had been mom’s caregiver prior to the stroke, we had to step in and take over, which included taking care of their house, bills, car and, most importantly, her. I felt lucky that I had the flexibility to take on a lot of those duties as well as dealing with dad’s care and the insurance company (a nightmare when you’re well, so you can imagine how bad it was when he was ill). Here is what I learned about myself: I was willing to do everything, but my brain was not ready to deal with everything.
I always viewed myself as a problem solver. As new situations arose with my parents I kept saying, “I got this.” Help was offered but I didn’t want to burden anyone else. Besides, I thought I had it covered! And then I didn’t. I can’t tell you how many magazine articles I’ve read, conversations I’ve had and interviews I’ve seen on tv over my lifetime with women who found it hard to ever say no. I never thought that was me. It always seemed it was about taking on too many activities or projects related to kids or work. I was simply taking care of my parents. Turns out there is nothing simple about that and I needed to start saying no.
The best way I can describe what happened to me is to say I felt my life got consumed by my parents needs. I rarely cooked a meal, I didn’t have time to socialize and I no longer had time to do activities I enjoyed (including writing my blog). Eating, sleeping and exercise became sporadic. And then my mother-in-law went into hospice and passed away. (She was an amazing woman). Yes, I was a walking time bomb of stress! I started experiencing symptoms completely foreign to me. I couldn’t stop crying, I was hyperventilating, a phone call could set my pulse racing. I was in full blown crisis mode all the time and my body was reacting. My husband looked up symptoms of a nervous break down and I had 9 out of 12! It was time to start taking care of myself.
I am incredibly lucky to have siblings who I could call and say I needed help and I needed it immediately and they were there. I can never thank my sister enough for showing up the day I felt I couldn’t face another decision related to my parents and she took over. That was a month ago and I have been to my doctor and I am taking steps to heal myself. I am learning how our brains can only take so much crisis until fight mode becomes flight mode. I am still learning how to find a balance between my life and my parents’ needs without feeling guilty about not doing more. I am taking time to heal myself.
I also need to thank my husband for the many meals he made for us and for being willing to learn how to roast vegetables and to prepare frozen veggie burgers. When I was home in time to make dinner, an easy meal for me to make was pizza using grilled flatbreads that I bought at the Public Market. It was therapeutic to chop the vegetables and grate the cheese and mash the beans for the base. Below are a series of pictures I took as I created two pizzas, one for my husband and one for me. The individual breads are great because we each get our toppings of choice. For a quick base I use mashed beans, either store bought hummus or I mash a can of beans with some olive oil and herbs (in the pictures I mixed it with homemade pesto), spread it on the bread and top as desired. Meanwhile I heat a pizza stone in oven set to 400. I bake the pizzas for 10-12 minutes and enjoy!