It’s been nearly 18 years since my then little kindergartener was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. And, oh, how I’ve learned and grown and advocated since that day.
I am proud of so many things I managed to make happen: getting my daughter to be the first young kid on our state on a pump, helping her thrive in school; sending her to diabetes camp (and serving on the board of that camp); sending her off to college armed with the knowledge she needed to succeed; becoming a leader in the diabetes advocacy and research community; helping other families far and wide. I look at my thriving young-adult daughter today and think “Good job, Mom.”
But there was one thing I forgot to tend to in all those years: Me.
That’s right. While I worked hard and constantly not only to keep my daughter with diabetes healthy: blood checks, doctors appointments, the seemingly endless battle with insurance, educating others, setting things up so she could embrace the life of a “normal” child, etc, I forgot to focus on me.
It’s an easy thing for parents of children with chronic illnesses to do. After all, we love them and care about them way more than we will ever care about ourselves. We throw our whole being into their care and their needs and turn away from our own, almost crowing about how selfless we are (at least I did). How can I take care of me? I have to take care of her! We say it as if being kind to ourselves is difficult, but as I look back, I have to wonder if ignoring myself was the easy out. I also wonder if not taking care of my needs was a way to avoid focusing on the hard work of accepting that your child has an incurable disease. Today, however, I have finally learned to take care of myself. This has shown me that had I made myself a priority all along, perhaps, I could have been a better mother.
I’m telling you this now, having just returned from a shopping spree. You see, I am five sizes smaller than I was a year ago. For me, over the years, not taking care of me translated into weight gain. Year by year, I crept up a size here and there. I fooled myself. I can still ski down double blacks, I’d say (as I struggled in the men’s department to find a large ski jacket that looked at least somewhat feminine). I could still beat the skinny girls at tennis (as I searched online for plus-sized tennis clothes).
So last fall, with my daughter on her own and living a full life thanks to hard work, I no longer had responsibility for her daily care. There wasn’t anything stopping me from taking care of myself. And I realized something: not only was I overweight, I was emotionally out of shape, too. That extra weight – and the things that led me to it (eating wrong, not moving as much, not focusing on my needs) had served as a thick insulation; one I needed to strip away.
I knew it was time to focus on me. I took baby steps. First, in the early fall, I scheduled time every single day to walk a few miles. I treated it like an appointment. No one and nothing could trump it. As I stuck to that, I realized how easy that would have been – even back in the days when I had a little bitty child with Type 1 diabetes.
Soon, the walking and the time for “me” that was a priority led me to taking the time to eat better. I shopped the good produce. I looked up recipes and took the time to prepare them with care. I emptied all my cabinets and filled them with whole, good, healthful foods. And I made sure I always had what I needed.
By January, I could tell I was on to something. I realized, though, that I needed more, and I needed something for my soul as much as for my body.
I signed up for personal training at my gym. Expensive, yes. But I knew that it would make a huge difference. And I also started doing yoga, which, at first, was comical. My core was so far gone I could barely do a thing. But I gave it my all. The instructor kept talking about breathing… and your “own practice” and one day it just clicked. I felt it: the power and the peace and the surge and the rest one gets from yoga. Now I’m a regular (I’m still pretty bad at it, but my own practice works for me.)
Ten months later, I’m not only five sizes down in clothing, but my skin looks better. My hair shines more, I swear. And you know what?
I’m happy. I have a way to go (that darn lower stomach!) but, I know this: I am a better person for making me a priority.
Which makes me realize that really, I should have done this all along. Even in the most challenging of situations, it’s not impossible to find some time for yourself. And I probably should have way, way sooner: like right after my daughter’s diagnosis.
Today, I’m a better wife, worker and mom. My feeling better and being happier translates to having the stamina, power and pure drive to not only do what needs to be done in life, but to face the struggles and emotional pain, and work past those, too. It’s just like in the airplane: all that time I was struggling so much to fit the oxygen mask on my child, I should have just adjusted my own first. I am proud of the job I did raising my kids, but I could have been better.
I’m still a work in progress. I’m just glad I finally realized I needed to take care of me, too.