Time is a rare gift for any working mom. Where do we find the time to work, take care of our children, shop, cook, clean? As a full-time high school English teacher and single mom of a child with an intellectual disability and autism, I simply don’t have the time to take care of myself. My days are consumed with essay grading, lesson planning, working with therapists to help my son, researching all-things autism, caring for my son and boyfriend, and simply trying to stay afloat. As the self-sacrificing single-mom I felt I needed to be, I had no time to fight for myself. At least that’s what I thought. But in November 2018, my reality changed.
Last November, I had surgery on my left foot to repair two ripped tendons. Five days later, I ended up in tremendous pain and nearly lost my foot to something called compartment syndrome. I was hospitalized for a week after having a fasciotomy for the compartment syndrome. Unable to care for my son like I normally world, I had to rely on others, let go of the reins, and take life slowly. I found myself forced to find time for myself. Caring for myself and relying on others became a necessity for survival.
After being bed-ridden for nearly 6 weeks post-surgery, I then had to spend many more months in physical therapy. Even though I went back to teaching full-time, I still had to take time off work in order to make these appointments. I was lucky to be surrounded by compassionate colleagues who made accommodations for me as I transitioned from a wheelchair to crutches. There were those who brought me copies of my handouts, taught my students, and shared their lessons with me. If I needed to miss a meeting or leave work for another appointment, I never felt judged. Instead, I felt encouraged to take the time to care for myself, and this further helped me realize the importance of self-care.
I must have the same mind-set at home. Letting go of the reins at home meant that someone had to help out. For four months, my boyfriend moved in and took care of all the chores. He even watched my son while I went to my many appointments. And again, he never judged me or pushed me to get better faster (if that were even a possibility). This allowed me to take time to care for myself. Even my son took hold of some new responsibilities. Even though he has autism, I had to trust that he could do new tasks on his own, and he flourished! He brought me things, made his own lunches, entertained himself, and learned to care for himself much more than before.
Because of my foot trauma, I have recently been diagnosed with a chronic pain condition called Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). The pain I feel every day is worse than an amputation or childbirth. So, I must care for myself every day and realize my own limitations. I decided to lose weight and start exercising to relieve extra pressure from my feet and possibly overcome my condition. Before my trauma, I don’t think I would have taken the time or spent the money to take care of me. But here I am now, 25 pounds lighter and much healthier. I have also made changes to live a less stressful life. Stress exacerbates my chronic pain and causes severe flare-ups. Therefore, I take time to meditate at night and have learned to complete a “body-scan” to help myself focus on releasing tension. And I must prioritize daily activities depending on my pain. All of this means making myself a priority—something I never did before my trauma.
I know many moms like me who are perfectionists and feel they must do it all—be everything to everyone. I foolishly thought it was selfish to take the time to care for myself, buy myself new clothes, or spend the money for a gym membership. But eventually, life can give us a wake-up call where we learn that we must care for ourselves if we want to care for our families too. We must realize that self-care is not a selfish act.
This is a guest post by Jeanene Lyons. Jeanene is a high school English teacher who lives in Cheshire, CT with her son. She loves reading, writing, researching, learning about history, and going to the movies.