Brain Injury, Caregiving, and Self-Care

Sage, rosemary, eucalyptus—there is always an aromatherapy-like lotion sitting on my mom’s bathroom sink. The towels that have been hung neatly on their racks are perpetually fluffy and fresh, and in her shower is a seasonal smelling body scrub. I take my time in this bathroom. Long showers and fancy lotions, and I exit rejuvenated. Her bathroom has always been this way, but I’m not sure I appreciated its amenities until this past year. It was just months before my wedding last October when things started swinging from hectic to crazy. The nights I spent at my parents’ house, I’d treat myself to a mini-spa session, because lotions and scrubs and fluffy towels were no longer part of my routine. Who has time for a luxe lotion? I haven’t had time for that since 2014.

This year, I’m coming to understand the value of time. For the past 20 years, my mom has had little to no time alone. From early adolescence on, my mom had two full-time jobs: full-time executive at a family services agency and full-time caregiver to one John Leyde. Maybe three, if you count raising me. Or four, if you include the upkeep of their beautiful, old brick house. Today she is still working, still keeping up the house, still the caregiver extraordinaire for my dad, and when I call her out of the blue, exasperated, crying, or just some over-emotion I am experiencing, she is most definitely still the mom. Slivers of time for herself are precious. She reads books, rides her horse, has a glass of wine on the porch, and no one rushes my mom when she’s getting ready.

At 34, I can’t hold a candle to what my mom does for the world. I’m a daughter, a wife, a homeowner, a dog owner, and a small business owner with a handful of side gigs. I pull up my hair, swap on my mascara and call it a day. I fill up my alone time with other people, believing that I have to make every hour either productive or engaging, and my biggest complaint is that I never have time to paint my nails, get to a yoga class (says the yoga studio owner), or eat lunch. Sure, I’m busier than I ever imagined, but my husband does not have a TBI, and I do not have a kid or run an agency. So…nail polish, big deal, right?

It is. Taking time for myself is not only precious, but it’s necessary, it’s healthy, and it’s what keeps anyone keeping calm and carrying on. I didn’t realize it until recently, but nail polish, yoga, and sandwiches are my barometers of how well I am taking care of myself. Painting my nails makes me feel polished and put together—pun intended. Yoga keeps me sane, because when I go days without getting in a good practice taught by another teacher, I am not a human being you want to spend time with. I’m snappy, sensitive as all get out, sometimes unkind, and my body feels like garbage. Skipping lunch? Not healthy—end of story there. I’ve run myself clean out of alone time and become a disheveled, emotionally volatile, very hungry version of myself. You can ask Chad (my husband) how much fun that has been.

I can see my mother shaking her head right now. She’s already taught me this lesson in self-care.

Make time for yourself, so you can make time for other people and other things. Put yourself last, and you will begin to fail miserably at the roles and responsibilities you aim to fulfill.

I’m not here to compare roles. Whether you are a caregiver or a small business owner or a new mom (or dad) or someone who simply feels beat, overworked, or under-appreciated, I’m going to challenge you this month. Make time to take care of you. I get it—it’s hard. We never have time. But maybe it’s that we never give ourselves time. Maybe we need reminders that we are just as important as the things we are doing for the world and others. After all, there are days, when I talk to my mom and ask, “Did you ride today?” to which she counters with “Did you do yoga?” She’s been riding more than I’ve been yoga-ing.

Whatever it is that fuels your energy, your confidence, your calm, go do it this month.

Get a massage. Cook a real dinner. Run with your dog. Eat ice cream. Ride a horse, a bike, a wave. Buy pumpkins. Buy a pumpkin spice latte. Read a book. Write a poem. Bake a cake. Knit. Meditate. Sing. Listen to music. Play music. Go on a walk or a drive. Have a glass of wine or a beer or a whiskey—by yourself. Do yoga or CrossFit or a bootcamp class or Zumba or Barre or lift something heavy at the gym—whatever feels good in your body.  Maybe it’s ten minutes or an hour or an afternoon. Whatever it is, make time for you. This will be a challenge for me too because I have no idea how I’m going to do it, because I have no time. So in the midst of yoga teaching, traveling, being a bridesmaid, hanging out with my family, running around and editing this week, I will make time to paint my nails, practice some yoga, and eat my lunch. I will be a better person—bridesmaid—for it.