Are you wondering why you need to please take care of yourself first? This is the crazy thing that can happen if you don’t… and it’s not what you think! Read through for some important self care tips for moms.
Sleep is not something that most of us associate with motherhood.
Sleep deprivation is.
Moms are notorious for walking around looking like zombies, doing absent-minded things. I had given up on really getting sleep long ago.
But I never realized how badly things could spiral downward. I never knew how low rock bottom really was.
Can I say that I HOPE that what I hit was indeed rock bottom? Because it was sheer torture, and leaves me dealing with the trauma and anxiety that it will happen again.
No, this post is not about to admonish you to get your zzz’s.
I’m not about to tell you to shut that phone two hours before bedtime, or to avoid caffeine after 2 PM.
Because at rock bottom, none of this helps.
At rock bottom, it’s about basic survival. It’s about making it to the next day.
At rock bottom, everything slides backwards and your kids don’t have a mom. At all.
What can happen when you don’t take care of yourself.
It’s hard to describe what I’ve been through because people don’t relate to “insomnia” as something very traumatic.
But I need to find a way to describe it, so that I can impress upon you the importance of caring for yourself.
Deliberate sleep deprivation is actually used as a form of torture. While the human body is adaptable, and can compensate for missing a day of sleep, going periods longer than 24 hours without sleep can cause things to start going haywire.
According to Psychology Today: “If a person is deprived of sleep for longer than that, several mental and physical problems begin to develop.”
For years, stress gave me trouble sleeping, but with a little bit of determination and a whole lotta caffeine, I was functional most days.
But then came a few days where I got shockingly little sleep.
And then right after that, I had a night with no sleep.
By the next night, 36 hours with no sleep, my limbs were heavy and hard to handle. But that night I couldn’t sleep again.
My heart was racing.
By the 48 hour mark, my limbs were on fire and felt like they were burning. At that point, you just want to die. I kept finding myself drifting and then suddenly catching myself like I was falling, and then I was wide awake again.
It would happen 20 times in a 20 minute span and was sheer torture. Physically and psychologically it was torture.
But during that day, with my husband home, the kids cared for, I still couldn’t sleep. In the end, I went well over 60 hours without catching a wink.
By night, I doubled down on melatonin and ZzzQuil and fell asleep for an hour before waking again. And then another hour. And then 4 hours. Needless to say, I went to my doctor – finally!
He prescribed medications that sometimes worked, sometimes didn’t, then switched it to something that didn’t work.
On these medications, I’d pass out for most of the night, and during the day I was a zombie. I was withdrawn and lifeless.
Then there was that Monday, when I was ready to snap back and get things done…
I had a follow-up doctor’s appointment to deal with Baby Y’s health issues that we’ve been trying to get to the bottom of. I had to cancel the first follow-up visit because my lack of sleep made it impossible to drive.
I thought I was fine to drive now that I was on the medications and mostly sleeping. I felt fine.
But what I hadn’t realized was that the hypnotic effect of the medications were still lingering, and they caused me to get totally hypnotized while driving. It took me 25 minutes of driving to realize there’s no way I’ll make it. I was shaking violently, on the verge of a panic attack, far from home, and realized there’s no way I’ll make it to the doctor.
My husband left work to fetch me, but he was close to an hour away…
I stepped out of the car with my son, and a kind woman who passed by asked me if I’m okay. I said no. She happened to be a nurse at a local rehab place, and invited me to wait inside, supervised. It was such a huge blessing.
That night, I tried a new medication which didn’t work.
The next night I got fed up.
Fed up with having to call in carpool favors because I couldn’t drive. Fed up with having to take advantage of others’ kindness.
Obviously, if this situation was simple, I’d have helped myself by now. All the things I had tried weren’t helping because they were the easy way out. I wasn’t taking care of myself like I REALLY needed to.
I was dealing now not only with the trauma of those 60+ hours straight of not sleeping, but the added trauma of driving.
I stopped taking the sleep medications. I slowly started sleeping again. I went two weeks sleeping every night, and then I regressed again.
And then I went through the same “sleep for a week, regress” cycle again. And again.
Eventually, I realized that I need to take care of myself. I need to get myself help.
I realized that if my child was going through this, it would be neglectful and possibly abusive of me to deprive him of the proper therapy and help that he really needs.
I realized that I was seriously neglecting myself.
What self-care really means:
“Self-care for moms is important”
“Take care of yourself, because if you don’t, who will?”
These are some of the inspiring statements you’ll read all over the place.
These are true statements that are designed to empower you to be just a little bit selfish, just a little bit of the time. And they are valuable pieces of advice.
But what does self-care really mean?
I learned the very hard way that self-care is not about squeezing in an hour before bedtime to watch your favorite show. It’s not about the occasional splurge, or compromise. It’s not about remembering to slap on some eyeliner once a week. I nailed all that down ages ago.
Self-care is about seeing to it that your basic needs are cared for.
We joke all the time that we “forgot to shower”.
I’ll laugh with a friend about how when I’m not pregnant, I see my doctor every ten years. Oh wait, I’m only married for eight…
We find humor in our diets of “whoops I should probably have some crackers for breakfast at 12PM.”
But it’s really not a joke.
Our kids need constant care because they can’t care for themselves.
We need the same amount of care except we’re capable of giving it to ourselves, so no one else will.
We also need to be “bathed” regularly.
We also need to be fed wholesome meals three times a day.
We also need a bedtime routine.
We also need daily outdoor, active time.
We also need to take our vitamins and get proper nutrition.
We NEED it. Not “should get” it. Not “can use” it. We NEED it and if we don’t get it we will collapse. And what good is a dysfunctional mom?
I learned the hard way that if it would be a necessity if my child would need it, it’s a necessity for me too.
I learned the hard way that it’s okay if my baby cries for ten minutes because he wants MY breakfast a minute after he ate his.
I learned the hard way that it’s okay if my son cries in his crib for two minutes while I refill my water bottle.
I learned the very very difficult way that my son will be fine if I don’t hear him whining for ten minutes if he wakes while I’m in the shower.
And it took a brutal slap-in-the-face to realize that my kids will not be okay without their mother. That if the above doesn’t happen, she’ll be reduced to a dazed, crying, traumatized remnant of herself, and THAT is what can have everlasting effects.
I am currently working through my sleep issues with a very competent therapist.
I wish I could say that my story is over, that I’m back to normal. This morning in particular was a nightmare, coming after a very difficult night.
But as we work through her techniques my bad nights are not as bad. My good days are much better. And my only regret is that I didn’t see her sooner.
So what’s my message for you in all of this?
Basic self-care for moms and the critical lesson in all of this
- Eat those meals. Cook them. You can afford half an hour 3 times a day. Brownies and coffee don’t count as breakfast.
- Take that multivitamin. Even if you’re not pregnant or breastfeeding. You’re taking it for yourself too, not just your baby.
- Visit the doctor after 48 hours of no sleep, don’t wait for the next day!!!
- If you’re in a rut, feeling anxious, visit a therapist before things blow up. If you’re dealing with extreme insomnia a cognitive behavioral therapist can help! This workbook helped me enormously.
- Visit your doctor. Visit your dentist. Don’t walk around in a blur for a whole year before getting a correction on your eyeglasses prescription. And if you’re struggling with depression, insomnia, or anything of the sort GET HELP before your kids need help too!
- Hug your babies a little tighter – you have no idea what they’d forgive you for.
- Never take for granted those around you. I can’t begin to tell you how many people stepped in and helped.
- Music is a necessity
- Go for that walk – you can’t afford NOT to. Cut your work day short by half an hour if you need to (if you’re self-employed), or walk during your lunch break and eat lunch over work.
- Don’t look at what others are doing. Everyone’s success looks totally different. Comparing yourself to other moms, or others in your industry is a recipe for disaster.
- If you’re a work-at-home mompreneur, cleaning help is NOT a luxury.
And of course, appreciate every last second of sleep you ever get.
Update: I wanted to address something some readers have been commenting about (mostly on social media shares of this article) – the guilt they feel when they read it.
Some people have been complaining that this article guilts them about something that they can’t help. That’s about as far from my goal as I wanted to be…
The point of “oversharing” and writing this post was to impress upon fellow moms the importance of self-care with the mindset that if something is important enough it somehow gets done.
I didn’t necessarily share tips on exactly how to do it when you’re struggling. Everyone’s struggle looks different. So I can’t really tell you exactly what your solution will be. I CAN tell you that the best way to find your solution is to reach out to those who are struggling in the same way.
I also wanted to impress on you that you should feel LESS guilty about the sacrifices that your family might make for self-care – whether it’s your child going to a sub-par day care while you go to an urgent doctor’s appointment, whether it means dipping into your kids’ college funds for your own therapy, or even if it means reaching out to charity organizations because even if you JUSTIFY the expense, if you’re drowning in debt it doesn’t help.
At the end of the day, self-care IS another chore on the list, and while I hate to burden my fellow moms with this, it’s 1000% necessary.
And it’s an investment too.
Had I gone to the therapist for the underlying issues that were keeping me awake at night before it escalated to this degree, I would have saved myself the 6-7 VERY expensive sessions that were dedicated just to getting me to sleep okay.
And I would have done it had I felt there was a way.
But I didn’t.
My house is flying, I’m behind on my work calendar, and my kids’ have frozen dinners too often. And this is before taking a few hours off a week.
I barely make it to carpool time with half the day’s tasks checked off so now you want me to also prepare myself proper meals?
Whatever your challenge is, it hurts me the most to hear about mothers who neglect serious medical issues (yes, this is what I’ve been hearing, these are the mothers who feel the most guilty when reading this!) because they are overwhelmed with parenting.
There needs to be another way.
You need to reach out for help if you can’t do it yourself.
Look for a reliable charity. Reach out to your synagogue or church. Don’t be afraid, don’t be guilty to ask for favors, to reach out. And I pray for you your solutions will come quickly.
Get the coloring page packet!
Through all this mess, one thing I took up again was coloring -for myself!
I love the idea of sitting down with some gel pens and these positive messages, and they’re an easy color – they don’t take forever to complete. When I was at my worst, I colored the page that says “It will work out even if not how I planned” and hung it near my work space.
You can get this top-rated coloring page packet on Etsy or right below:
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