Shortly after I became a mama for the first time in September 1999, it quickly became obvious that I was going to be “that mom.” That mom who kept a spotless house, cooked a big meal every night and still spent quality time with her family. When my sons were 3 and 5, I worked full-time, went to school part-time and had a husband who worked 12-16 hour shifts. However, we still made all sports practices and games, completed all homework, ate a big meal every night and had a neat and tidy home. I packed lunches every day and they contained homemade cakes and cookies, not processed stuff. By all outward appearances I was supermom.
However, as my kids approached upper elementary school, I noticed that it was harder for me to do everything I’d always done. I was slipping, buying processed snacks and having hot dogs for supper. Another year or two passed and the feelings of exhaustion were accompanied by pain. I hurt everywhere. Additionally, I had a kind of fatigue like I’d never felt. Of course, I went on with my routine and didn’t dare let anyone know how I was really feeling. How could supermom be sick and tired?
One night, when I thought my husband was asleep, I buried my face in my pillow and had the ugly cry. The cry that leaves you gasping for air, coughing and looking like you’ve been hunting crystal skulls with Indiana Jones. But my husband wasn’t asleep; he heard every second of me trying to cry away the pain and exhaustion that followed me day after day. I told him about everything: the fatigue, the pain, the days showering felt like I was being pelted by glass shards and the nights when every inch of my body that touched the sheets hurt.
Two days later I was in a doctor’s office being tested for every disease, disorder and syndrome known to man. About two weeks later the diagnosis was in: fibromyalgia. “It can be treated, but not cured,” said the doctor. “Our goal will be to get your pain level to a four on a scale of one to 10 but most of my patients don’t get much lower than a six.”
Six?!?!? So basically just hurt every day and there’s nothing they can do? Walk around feeling like I’m trudging through quicksand or wet concrete and keep that smile on. You might get to a pain level of six one day?! I was frustrated, dejected and heartbroken. What was I supposed to do? I had children to take care of, ballgames to attend, a full-time job, church responsibilities and certainly not time for chronic illness!
“I can do a lot of stuff,” my husband said. “And the kids are old enough to help out. You have to realize you can’t do everything by yourself. Let us help.” I couldn’t even speak; as tears slowly filled my eyes, finally overflowing onto my cheeks all I could think of is what a “loser” mom I’d be, unable to perform all of my duties.
For more than a year, I pushed myself and my body, determined not to become the “lazy” mom, the “loser” mom – or even the “normal” mom. Eventually it all caught up with me and I collapsed at work. I was mentally, physically and emotionally drained. For two days, I stayed in bed and my family took care of me. And guess what? It was OK. They actually enjoyed the opportunity to do things for me after my years of doing things for them. (OK, maybe enjoyed is a bit of a stretch… but they definitely didn’t mind.)
That was the beginning of my revelation that being a mom didn’t mean I had to do everything, or even almost everything. Our family was like a community and, depending on how each of us felt, we all did our parts. I also learned that if the kids wanted to watch a movie and I hadn’t swept the floor, it was OK. Being in pain so much of the time really helped me enjoy every second of quality time I could get.
Looking back, I don’t regret being Supermom those years. Certainly that isn’t what caused my illness. I think every stage of life is meant to teach us something. My Supermom years taught me that I was strong and could do whatever needed to be done.
My chronic years are teaching me that it’s OK to take help – or even ask for it – when it’s needed.
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