I remember the exact moment when I first realized that caregiving had taken over my entire life. I remember that lightbulb moment when something in my mind clicked. I looked around and understood that the whole of my identity had transformed into that of a medical caregiver. And that was it. That was all of who I had become.
It was an uncomfortable realization....
I believe it is common for new parents, especially moms, to become wrapped up in parenting. Women often talk about having to re-discover themselves after having children. I believe it is to be expected that a big part of our lives and our identities, that were wholly ours to shape up until the point of becoming a parent, suddenly shift after having kids.
My life would certainly have changed after having a child, regardless of their needs.
This was more than that.
When you have a child that requires a significantly higher level of caregiving support, which you know will extend for an indefinite period of time, that transformation of identity becomes an entirely different experience altogether. Caregiving becomes your life in a way that far exceeds the typical parenting journey.
That was the place I was at....
Caregiving had become me.
On that day, I was sitting in the living room area of the little high-rise apartment where Malachi and I had moved in 2019 to be closer to Seattle Children's Hospital. Malachi was just over two years old, and we were still living apart from my husband, who had remained in our first home to continue working until he found new employment. I had spent the better part of those first two years of Malachi's life living with him in the hospital, providing acute home care and responding to various degrees of health emergencies. I was working part-time in a remote position that allowed me to remain always by his side. Despite having some nursing coverage in our home, I did not feel comfortable leaving him. When emergencies happened, he required more than just two skilled hands. He needed me.
So, I was sitting in that living room. It was a nice living room that looked down over the Main Street corridor of a city just outside of Seattle. It was just me and him. He was playing on his little mat, and I was sitting there, watching him tap two toys together.
It really hit me all at once -- everything in my life that had changed over those two years. My job, my home, my family, my ambitions for the future, my dreams, every single item on that mental bucket list we carry around inside our head... All of it. I had become consumed with caregiving to the point that I never allowed myself time to think of anything but caregiving. I no longer had any interests, activities or hobbies outside of caregiving. I had given up everything that interested me, everything that lit that fire in my belly.
And I kept thinking about it. For a long time.
Just thinking and thinking....
And the deep conclusion all that thinking amounted to was one giant:
And that, my friends, was the day I realized just how unhealthy my life had become.
It is not healthy to become fully consumed in caregiving responsibilities. It is not healthy to lose yourself completely in the care you give to another -- regardless of your relationship with that person or how deep that love runs. It is not healthy to wrap up the whole of your identity under the title of "parent" or "caregiver." It is not healthy to surrender your personal interests, passions, projects and hobbies to fully pour every ounce of your being into someone else.
That is not healthy.
I love my son so, so much. But that was not healthy.
I love being a parent more than anything in the world. But that was. not. healthy.
It was not healthy for anyone.
That afternoon, I vowed to be better. I promised myself that I was going to rediscover my interests and redefine my identity. I was going to reclaim myself, for myself.
So, I started writing again.
Reading again. Audio books because I like them. And topics that I find interesting.
I started exercising again. Movement brings me sooo much joy. Regular movement on its own makes me a kinder person.
I started attending online conferences on work topics that used to make me happy: wildlife conservation, historic preservation, social justice issues, women's rights... all of it.
It's taken time.
But now, over two years later, I look at my life, and I am so much happier, and I feel healthier because I am more well-rounded in how I care for myself, how I care for my son, and how I care for my family.
I am a better mom and wife, and I am a better person because of that moment when I decided to reclaim myself.