It all began with labor pains and a drive through a severe snowstorm on New Years Eve of 2008. I went with my husband to the hospital and was admitted to begin the most extraordinary 36 hours of my life. I endured more than I ever thought possible and tapped into a well of strength within myself I did not know existed. I was pushed past any limit I had previously envisioned for myself. It was the most incredible and powerful I have ever felt before in my life.
When I became a mom for the first time it was my ultimate dream come true. I had a very complicated and often frightening childhood that I was longing to “undo” by becoming the best mother I could be. In my mind I was convinced that in order to be the “perfect mom” I had to be emotionally, mentally and physically available at all times. My needs did not matter anymore. When I looked for the first time into this perfect little face I disappeared.
It began with little pieces of my former self slipping away. I slowly lost touch with most friends outside of electronic means. All of the good intentions I had to stay in touch as often as I previously had went largely unrealized. I adored being a mom but I used all my energy to just get through the day, meeting the needs of those around me. My version of “me time” was staying up until 1am doing my homework.
It became normal to never have time to get out on my own or to spend time with friends and I felt guilty when I did. I was often exhausted and overwhelmed but I felt it was my purpose to focus all of my energy into mothering. It seemed wrong to complain and I really cherished watching her develop and discover the world around her. I freely admit that I put all of this pressure and expectations on myself. I have a wonderful and supportive husband who is a really devoted father but I pushed myself to take it all on.
School began to become more intense and I became pregnant with my baby son a little over a year after my daughter was born. The “to do list” in my mind began to hit an all time high. When he was born I was overjoyed but began to fear my ability to do it all had run out. I was still convinced I had to forget about myself in order to be successful as a mother. I was so afraid to fail this additional perfect little person who I was so lucky to have.
During my Practicum and Internship I was also required to be part of a group supervision conference call. It was during one of these calls that my professor said something that resonated me with on a deep level. He told us one day “you must make time for self care or you will not last in this work.” It hit me like a bucket of water waking me up. “Oh yeah, remember you?” the voice inside my head said. “Remember when you mattered a little too?” I finally let myself listen to my own advice which I gave out like a Pez dispenser. You know the old saying “If you don’t care for yourself what do you have to give?”
As therapists we are driven to give of ourselves in such a deep and complete way. We sit hour after hour fully investing ourselves into the lives of others and we make their well being our whole world within that time. Then we go home and give ourselves to those we love. It is so vital to find the balance to allow us to replenish ourselves.
I am finally at a place where I am working to actively seek out time to work on my own self care. In the wise words of Lori Fields “We only get what we believe we deserve.” I now accept that I deserve to give myself a little love and peace. I still have plenty to share.
Nicole Michaud is a counselor in training in Central Connecticut. She is also the voice behind the cooking Blog MyLoveForCooking.com