Don't say, "You just need a vacation" - by Christy Smith

Published on 25 August 2022 at 20:10

I previously mentioned how I began to drown. Time passed, but I had been traumatized to the point where I lost track of it.  My mind went numb as I went into survival mode.  Even though I was sitting, I felt as if I could not stop moving. On the outside, I seemed to be doing well, but on the inside I was missing.  Someone asked what I did for myself (self-care), and I replied, "With what time?" I absolutely hated when people would ask me this question. I always knew what would happen next. The worst thing you can say to someone who is fighting to save their child and is currently on survival mode. DO NOT DO IT.  We know what comes next: "You just need a vacation". You will further push them away because in their eyes you don't hear them. Please, simply listen. They need to be heard. Support them. 

We need to find a way to change our mindset.  Mommas are stuck in survival mode, guilt-tripping themselves out of shame because they believe they are choosing themselves over their struggling children, so we throw ourselves under the bus. Instead of telling us we need a vacation have us think to ourselves to form a different perspective. You could have Momma imagine herself sitting on a sinking boat with their children. Tell them they do not have enough life rafts for all of their children. They are short one raft.  They must find a way to get their last child to safety without using the raft, which is incapable of saving itself. Ask them, "Will your child survive if you leave them on the boat while you swim across?" Or would their child remain afloat without assistance?" The obvious response is no. Consider a different situation. Tell them, "If you are too exhausted and mentally incapable of carrying your child while attempting to keep your heads above water, what happens to you and your child if you do not stay afloat?" We all know the obvious answer.  We drown. We are drowning together. We become far too weak when we do not take care of ourselves. We are not going to swim to shore without attempting to save our child. We also understand that our child has no chance without us.  So we continue to try to survive. A mother's instinct is to fight with all of her strength to love and protect her children, at least until her last breath or until she is unable to swim. "Can not swim anymore"; unfortunately, some of us drown. This is an unbelievable fight; it feels like it is life or death.

This is why self-care is so important. If we drown, we cannot save our children. If a mother cannot find a way to allow self-care, or mind space, to develop into mental and physical strength, she will be unable to survive the swim. We are sinking, and until we have a "life raft," no one will persuade a mother to stop trying to save her child just to give herself some time off.  This "lift raft" is when momma learns to prioritize herself. Allowing herself the grace of being worthy of salvation. We are not thinking about ourselves; this feels selfish and leaves us feeling guilty.  During a crisis, a mother does everything she can to survive, keep the child alive, and the family safe. Mommas get caught up in a never-ending cycle of searching for HOPE or miracles. All we want are "fix it" potions. The last thing you want to hear is someone telling you to take a vacation, go somewhere, read a book, or find a hobby (you can't even leave the house without hell breaking loose). In this mindset, we are also teaching our children that self-care is unnecessary. Remember, our children are watching everything we do. They learn from us, both good and bad.

At times, I had to give myself time to breathe. It felt like I was walking around holding my breath, waiting for the next bad thing to occur.  I was constantly feeling as if I was the person standing between life and death. Until the parent is relieved of some of their stressors, they will not be able to give themselves that grace. I gave myself 5 minutes to sit in a closet alone and cry. I forced myself to allow these powerful emotions of anger, pain, and loneliness to flow through me. Then I gave myself time to think about it and figure out what I could do to improve it slightly. As time passed, I allowed myself to heal, and my journey toward self-care progressed.

I had not thought about myself in so long that I did not know what I liked. I did not recognize myself anymore, and I was drowning so much that I was missing out on spending time with my growing children. I had no idea how much I would miss those days when I reflected on them later.  During this crisis, all I could think about was when they would grow up.  Yes, that guilt.  The guilt of a life lost that I had no idea about. I was surviving. This time, I cannot take it back. I grieve. 

My life had taken a turn that I had never expected. All the dreams I thought I had, and the adventures I had waited my entire life for, were so far in the back of my mind that I could not imagine anything other than getting through the day. Every day, I strived for one more day. One. More. Day. I was imprisoned in my mind and at home.  There seemed to be no end, no hope, and nothing.  I am a generally positive person. I could not "fix" it. I was unable to fix my son.  I started by pleading with him.  I could not understand why he could not change his behavior and how he reacted.  Mr. I was becoming increasingly verbally and physically aggressive, which tore me up inside. His colorful language and aggressive behavior appeared to be directed primarily at me. I was his safe place and person.  I was where all of his masking ended; I was the one who attempted to defuse all of the explosions. Where would he be without me? This entire process has felt like I have gone through every stage of grief.  Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and then acceptance. Acceptance was when I finally started giving myself time to heal. Acceptance is when our family started to change.  Acceptance was the moment my son, Mr. I, began to thrive and blossom into the flower he was meant to be. I was finally able to see my child in a new light and discover our connections to grow and heal together. I had the energy to learn to adapt and become what my child required in a way I had not seen before. 

If you are a reader and are working with someone who is going through a similar situation, I ask that you allow them to go through each stage. Follow them on their journey and listen.  Listen with all your heart as they continue to process what is going on. It is an extremely difficult journey.