It was twelve years ago this weekend. I was covered head to toe with a miserable, bright, red, itchy rash. I had no idea what was going on at the time or how it had come to this. But there I was – in Philadelphia, the first week of May, so that Haylie could perform a gymnastics routine for the World Organization for Human Potential, an annual meeting of the finest minds in the world, gathering to share their knowledge for the purpose of understanding child brain development and apply it to the brain-injured kids who needed it most. My daughter was one of those kids. Having been diagnosed as a toddler with a whole slew of labels like epilepsy, cerebral palsy, gross motor delays, and learning disabilities, she had spent the last many years of her life fighting her way up the developmental profile to achieve a higher neurological age than her peers.
What exactly does that mean?
Well, she was maturing faster now, thanks to her intense program of neurological organization. She was literally out-growing her brain injury. Instead of being clumsy and uncoordinated from the spasticity in her legs, now she was a triathlete and a fine gymnast. She was working on an independent round-off back handspring, which would be the grand finale of the routine that she had spent months in training to prepare, the routine she would perform for these brilliant doctors, scientists, researchers and specialists as a way to illustrate the true potential that brain-injured kids have and just how much they could achieve under the right conditions. She was at the peak of her journey. And I was a hot mess.
I tried not to let it show. I kept going, taking care of everything but me.
Looking back on that time, I applaud myself for doing what I had to do. But, it came at a very high price in terms of my own health. It took me a while to realize the truth of what had happened to me. I had been running so hard, for so long, as a single mom, rehabilitating my daughter’s brain injury. I was trying to do it all. And then one night, as I sat in the bleachers at Haylie’s swim meet with all the other moms, feeling like a huge fraud for trying to be like all those other moms with “normal kids,” it happened. I felt a “pop” inside me. I learned later, it was my adrenal glands - after trying to manage so much stress, for so long, they just gave out.
Once one end of your HPA (Hypothalamus-Pituitary-Adrenal) axis goes down, it’s not long before it knocks the whole shebang way out of whack. So, soon my thyroid wasn’t functioning well, then my immune system wobbled. What followed was months of steady weight gain, hormonal imbalance, emotional instability, food allergies, and finally the full-on whole-body rash that covered me head to toe the week I took Haylie for her medical revisit in Philadelphia, the same week she was invited to perform that gymnastics routine for the World Organization for Human Potential. She did beautifully, by the way. She nailed it. She never looked at herself quite the same way again. And now, well you know where her story goes.
And mine? Though it took me years to completely recover, that breakdown was the thing that put me on the path to becoming my best self ever. And I’m proud to say that, with the help of some brilliant people in functional medicine, I did it without any pharmaceutical medication. In the process, I learned some very important things about food, exercise, sleep, hormone balance, but especially about the fact that we women were not made to go full tilt all the time. We are naturally cyclical creatures, and we are made to ebb and flow, to work and rest, to focus and dream, to shine bright and soften back down in the dark. Easier said than done.
In our culture, mothering gets a bad rap, really. Its ideals become distorted in a world that doesn’t respect women very much. Retailers will profit from a lot of flower and pedicure sales today. The restaurants will make big bucks at brunch. Card companies can cash in on their witty sentimental slogans about how much everyone should love their mom because of all the sacrifices she made. Then tomorrow, we’ll return to normal. Women will go back to work in a culture that expects them to do the invisible work of holding it all together at the expense of their very own bodily well-being. And often with very little support. The last thing I would have ever done, as my health was literally unravelling, was ask for help. I wouldn’t have even known what to ask for, honestly.
So, on this Mothers’ Day, I’m reminding all of you mamas out there to take care of yourselves. Today and every day.
Every. Single. Day.
Not because you owe it to the ones you love to show up as your best self (maybe you do). But because you are not Wonder Woman. Well, actually you are. But you are also a human being. With human needs. Like 8 hours of sleep in a dark room. Like a healthy balanced diet of whole foods. Like a long walk or weight training session. Like some time to express your creativity – to read, write, paint, draw, dance, sing, play for pleasure. For your very own pleasure. You’re so good at mothering your beloveds. Don’t forget to mother yourself, too.
If you’d like some help mothering your health and becoming your best self yet, I’ve got you covered. My Vibrant Woman Course will teach you what I’ve learned on my journey.
I began this blog to share pieces of the book I'm writing about my daughter's courageous march down the path from brain injury to wellness. It's the story of how one little girl overcame the odds, a long list of labels, and limiting diagnoses. I hope it inspires other parents to dream bigger by knowing what is possible.