At some point I think everyone in my life said that to me. Make sure you are taking care of you. Find time to take care of yourself. In response I would always say I would try and that was my honest reply. I would try but no guarantees that I would succeed.
I will tell you, it’s nearly impossible in the beginning to take care of yourself. Jason didn’t want to be left alone once he got out of ICU and we didn’t want to leave him alone. After too many fiascos it was better that someone be with him all the time and it helped him with his anxiety. So my mother in law and I took turns sleeping over night with him. And from June to October I don’t think I got more than a couple hours sleep a night. The reasons were varied, from worry to incredibly uncomfortable “beds” in the inpatient rooms to attending to Jason when he needed something.
The lack of sleep coupled with increased stress and anxiety caused me to have many emotional breakdowns, most of which happened in my Fisher House room on my night off from staying overnight with Jason. I remember one particular night lying in bed and I kept thinking I don’t know myself anymore. I couldn’t be there for my friends, couldn’t rejoice with them over new babies or new jobs. I couldn’t be comforting to them when they were struggling. I didn’t have my job that I loved. I wasn’t a student anymore in the school that I loved. My husband literally lost half of himself and all the plans that we had made were gone. I was literally on the opposite side of the country from my support network.
I was too emotionally and physically spent to even begin to think of my needs. Jason’s needs absolutely had to come first. Some people didn’t understand this, but the people who did were either people going through my situation or parents. A wounded warrior spouse once told me that if you can make it through all this, you are set for children. As a parent you put your child’s needs before your own (or so I’m told, we don’t have any children) and this is what had to happen with Jason. And please know that I am not complaining or whining. I would do it all again in a millisecond for him. But I say this to tell others, to promise them, that you will be able to think about yourself again one day. Everyone is different and I can’t tell you when it will happen but I promise it will.
It took a long time but I did very slowly manage to find time to take care of myself. And if you are going through what I went through I know exactly what you are thinking, Seriously? When do I have time for myself? How do I do this and take care of my husband? Here are some things that I found beneficial for me:
-If you are staying the nights with your loved one in the hospital, get others involved. If there are family members that you trust and want to help, get them to stay a few nights while you get sleep, shower, whatever you need to do to put yourself together again.
-Can I just say how essential it is to shower? If it’s been a while, go take one. Now.
-While hanging out with your loved one, don’t just sit and stare at each other. Read a book (or read to him), play card games or board games, knit or crochet, etc. It can be easy to just sit and watch TV all day but that will drive both your loved one and yourself crazy after a while. Jason’s attention span in the beginning was very short but gradually built up over time.
-To stay active I did little things like take the stairs instead of the elevator. At Walter Reed there is a field with a track by the school that I used to do a few laps on my days away from the hospital. I was nowhere near what I was prior to Jason getting hurt, but it felt good to do a little work out.
-Make sure you eat and try to make good choices when eating. A part of feeling good is eating good. On the other hand, pretzel M&Ms are pretty awesome too.
-Some dear friends of mine sent us a care package that actually had things in there for me; face masks, my favorite lip balm, lotion, etc. Little things like that were so special and welcome. If you know someone going through something like this or similar, send them a care package. They need it.
-Pray, pray, pray. Most of my strength came from relying on God because I had none to begin with. I know that on days when I felt hopeless, I could always put hope in Him. I will admit that the first few weeks I couldn’t pray. I couldn’t bring myself to speak to God. At one point I told Him, “I can’t talk to you right now. Know that I still believe, but I can’t talk.” I know that He was still with me and continues to be. And ask others to pray for you too. I swear I could feel the love and prayers from those that knew our story. It is overwhelming in a positive way.
-Journaling is wonderful. A dear sweet relative of Jason’s gave me a journal and a daily devotional and both turned out to be essential to me and Jason. The journal let me get it all out there, the brokenness and hurt, all the things I didn’t dare say out loud. It let me get it out of my body, out of my system. The devotional always seemed to fit the day I was having. I usually ended up crying after I read the days devotional because it was like reading what I had been through that day. I told Jason about the devotional and he asked me to bring it with me. Every day we read it together. It was a special time just for us to reflect and pray, to hear God’s word and try to apply it in our lives.
At this point we are seven and half months from Jason’s injury date. He can pretty much take care of himself independently now and I have a lot of free time on my hands. My life is slowly going back to the way it was; I’ll be starting school again soon, I’m trying to find a good hair stylist, I’ve resumed a new workout routine. However, my life will never be what it used to be. But right now it’s in a good place and it’s taken a lot of baby steps (and pretzel M&Ms) to get here.