Until recently, I did very little in my life just for me.
Don’t get me wrong…I am not the world’s most selfless person. I can be stubborn. I can pout. I can whine until I get my way.
But…I also seemed to lack the courage and the confidence to ever simply be me.
It started young–I took care of others. That was my role. I was the peacekeeper, the nurturer, the comforter.
I mothered my mother. I soothed her guilt and assured her that I loved her, that she was a good mom. I kept all of the secrets, despite the ever mounting anxiety that grew inside of me. I lived in fear…if I couldn’t keep it together, then who could? Who would?
Unconsciously, these roles became my identity. I lost my sense of self–I became who others needed. I believed, as I grew older, that my needs were less important than the needs of the people I took care of.
I married young. At 21, I grasped onto the relationship. It was stable. He took care of me. I could never hurt him. So, I settled in. I pushed the relationship, testing it’s boundaries. I knew it felt different from what I had always imagined. But, if I could make him happy, that was enough, right?
And then, I got pregnant.
At 22, I became a mama to a beautiful, sweet girl. I wanted her desperately. She was my clean slate. My precious child–someone who I could love the way I always wished I had been loved.
In the following years, I mostly stayed home with her. We moved closer to family, from the country to a town, and yet, I felt more isolated than ever.
I felt fat. I felt ugly. I felt unwanted. Unknown.
I felt more love for this little person than I ever thought possible.
But, I wondered…where had I gone?
At 25, my son joined the family. Again, I was overwhelmed with joy and love for this little person.
But, again, I struggled. What was I DOING with my life?
People would ask me what I “did” and I would always feel almost shame as I said, “Oh…I just stay at home with the kids.”
Please don’t misunderstand: I, never in a million years, would trade in the moments that I got to see in the early years of my babies’ lives. It was invaluable.
But, it was also hard.
I felt so lost. Like I had been reduced to only one role: a mother. I was no longer the super successful high school student. The high honors college grad. My successes were no longer about me.
Motherhood was a role I had always wanted. One I had always dreamed about. But, I did not know that, by accepting it, I would trade in so much of myself. We would go to an event, and it was as if I ceased to exist. People would talk to my children, and ignore me. They would address my husband, and see me as an after thought.
It felt lonely.
My marriage? It became safe. But, it also became so much different from a what I imagined marriage would be like. It was all about the kids. No time for us.
I didn’t imagine simply co-living. I imagined lots of affection, lots of touches. I imagined good, quality sex at least most of the time (and not just for him…). I imagined talking and bonding and spending time together.
But, that isn’t how it was.
Then, I got hit with anxiety and depression. I finally dragged myself to counseling. I heard a phrase I knew about–one I told myself that I practiced: self care.
Suddenly, I began to see the necessity of taking care of myself. Of re-discovering–or, honestly, discovering for the first time–my worth.
Who was I, independent of anyone else?
Self care always felt selfish. It meant I might have to leave the kids with my husband, who would then get stressed out. It meant that I might spend money on myself, when money was already tight. It meant that I would have to make time…
I would have to learn to value myself enough to make me a priority.
I started walking. For miles. Then, I started running. These workouts became non-negotiable. They helped. I felt somewhat better.
A side effect? I also lost weight. I started to like how I looked more. I took more time with my hair, my makeup. I bought new clothes that I actually liked.
I felt better.
Then, I did an even bigger, more selfish thing..I left my family for half a month and traveled to a different country. It hurt. I ached for my kids. I missed home like crazy.
But, I also felt so much more like me. I realized…I’m still in here.
Doing things for me? That doesn’t come naturally.
It comes with an intense, inner battle.
But, I am learning how to win it.
Am I perfect? I am not.
I get sad, often. I worry that my husband’s lack of interest in sex, his lack of desire is about me. Am I still not sexy enough? I know my body isn’t perfect after two kids. Am I just….??? I worry that I resent the choices I made in my 20’s. I love being a mother…I wanted to be a wife…but I also frequently imagine the things I could have done if I had waited.
Self blame, after all, comes so much easier than self-care.
As I have changed, I have become a bit more assertive with my needs.
I make time to see people who make me feel better. I run. I go out with friends every so often.
And I have realized…I HAVE TO DO THIS FOR ME.
This journey to growth is uniquely mine. I want to make others happy. I want to please.
It is part of me.
But…I deserve some things, too. I deserve to know who I am. I deserve to feel pretty. I deserve to take a breather. I deserve to learn my value.
Not for anyone else.
But for me.
Because, when I do this for me? I feel better. I am more capable of loving those around me. Of being authentic with my children. Of simply enjoying the moment.
I would rather my kids remember the trip I took and shared with them, than a sad mom who was too depressed to play and connect.
I am doing this for me…but it will also benefit them.