Do you take pride in being a superhero to others? I used to beam when people would compliment me on how much I helped others. If I'm being honest, I think helping others gave me my "value". I chose relationships with people that "needed" me. When someone needed help, I offered.
I felt happy. I felt valued. I felt integral to my job, my relationships, and more than anything... I felt invincible.
I have always been the eternal optimist. I assume the best in people, which has caused some disappointment for me, but I still openly trust as if I have never been hurt. I’ve always assumed I would stay strong and healthy, and it NEVER occurred to me that I may have physical limits. It NEVER occurred to me that I may not actually be invincible.
The beauty of being an optimist is that I don't spend my time worrying about what might happen in the future. Unfortunately, that left me completely unprepared when I was diagnosed with MS in my early 30's.
I knew something was up when I started going numb on my right side, but it never occurred to me that it would be something serious. Not until I met with a neurologist, and he admitted me to the hospital after only a quick consult at his office… Not until I showed up at the hospital, and there was an orderly waiting to take me for an MRI, did it really hit home..."shit..this may not be good!"
So after the MRI, and admitted to the hospital, I was in my room when a team of doctors came in.
I don't remember much of what they said but they began with: "the MRI shows active lesions on your thoracic spine that are causing the numbness. The lesions lead us to believe you have Multiple Sclerosis." My head began to spin... I didn't even know what MS was!
They kept me spinning by saying I needed a spinal tap to rule out an infection and confirm the diagnosis.
I had woken up that day an invincible superwoman, who assumed her path was never ending, but I went to sleep that night lying in a hospital bed, alone with my thoughts, wondering what the actual F%%# was happening!!!
I spent the next 10 days in hospital getting my relapse under control and learning more about my diagnosis, and what it would mean for me moving forward.
I am someone who needs to understand why things happen. In this case, they couldn't tell me why. They couldn't tell me if I could have avoided it. They couldn't tell me what would happen in the future. What they could tell me was that I needed to avoid stress, get enough sleep, and avoid being around infections, all of which could trigger a relapse and cause progression.
For the days that followed in the hospital, I began to see myself in a different light. I watched as I spent my days comforting my loved ones and reassuring them that I was ok! Then, in the evenings, when it was quiet, my devastation would surface. I cried myself to sleep each night because the reality was setting in. I was not ready for others to see me as "broken". When you are the fixer, no one knows how to handle you when you're not ok... and worst of all.. I didn't know how to handle it.
I had no idea what to do next… I had no idea how to accept this! The only thing I did know was that I needed to make some changes, and that started with taking better care of myself. I knew I needed to put some boundaries in place so I wasn’t giving away more of myself than I could afford, but wasn't sure how to do that.
When I got home from the hospital, I knew it would take time to change some habits, and even more time to figure out how to find the right balance between selfcare and caregiving to others.
I knew the one thing I could do was to stop saying YES to everyone! I could no longer be as much a superwoman for others. I knew that would be very difficult since I defined who I was by helping others.
I knew I would need a regular reminder to prioritize myself and my needs, and to be more selective in when I said yes, and to spend some time redefining myself, and what I would be capable of.
After spending some time thinking about how to prioritize my own health, I realized even superheroes need a break.
I decided it was time to hang up my cape… at least for a little while.
To help remind me each day, I put a large nail in the wall by my front door, and hung my "cape" on it, so I was reminded every time I left the house and every time I got home, to focus more on my needs.
That nail helped keep me accountable to myself, and it led to significant changes. I have learned that I can't care for others if I don't take care of myself, and I learned my value is not determined by always helping others.
Most importantly, I found my optimism again. I realized I wouldn't have made the changes I made, have the personal growth I have had, and I wouldn't have found this path in my life, if I hadn’t been forced to look within.
I have found a way to give my diagnosis a purpose. I found a way to help others take better care of themselves without compromising my own self care.
I am so passionate about this because I see so many people giving ALL of themselves to others. I hear people say they will practice self care LATER, they will catch up on their sleep LATER, and they will take time for themselves LATER.
Here's the thing... LATER might be too late. Our bodies don't wait because you need to do a little bit more. Our bodies will let us know it needs self care and if we ignore it, our bodies will force us to take a break.
In my case, my body forced me to take a break and unfortunately left me with a permanent reminder to respect it.
If you are someone who can relate to this at all...I encourage you take a little time for yourself, and hang up your cape up… at least for a little while.