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Back against the wall

It took 20 minutes to walk my 5-year-old two blocks to pre-school. It took twice as long to get him up, fed, dressed and out the door.

He didn’t want to wear the school’s field trip shirt. And he wanted to eat his snack right then, on the walk to school, because he refused to eat what I made for breakfast. 

Nathalie Hardy

Hardy writes in the margins of her life with two little boys.

> See her column

I ran through all my Love and Logic options by the end of the first block. At that point, I told him if he didn’t start walking to school I would pick him up and carry him in a way he didn’t like.

He crossed his arms and stared me down as if to say: “Oh, yeah?”

So I picked up that 40 pounds of stubborn and carried it the rest of the way. I was determined to keep my promise, even with him screaming about how mean I was being.

As a thank you for being so consistent, he kicked me in front of the teacher. So I picked him up and put his back against the wall and we had a brief chat about that.

Surely there were better ways to handle that, but in that moment, I was fresh out of them. It was the only way I could put my hands on him without physically hurting him. I love that kid too much to let him get away with that sort of nonsense.

But truth be told, my back’s up against the wall, too. I’m at a place where I find it hard to breathe.

Small things overwhelm. I’m not my best self these days — not even close. 

I literally lost my ability to breathe recently, and ended up in the emergency room. I ignored little signs suggesting some self-care was in order and instead pushed further and harder toward who and what I thought others expected me to be. 

And as a reward for that choice, I came to a moment of understanding I never thought I would reach. 

I get now why some people quit and find a way to check out. Sometimes it really is just too damn much, and you find yourself without the reserves, stamina or ability to move forward.

Those extreme feelings may not make sense. But in that moment at the bottom, nothing does. 

I’ve come to understand it’s a slippery fall down the rabbit hole of depression and a long crawl out.

For me, the path back to health and a sound mind is paved with grace. For me it’s about learning to let go of what isn’t important and embracing what is.

For me, it’s about making the profound shift to take care of myself first, so I can take better care of the people I’ve been entrusted with. After all, my boys deserve the best of me, even when they’re pushing my buttons. 

One of the hardest things about acclimating to motherhood was the realization that my time was no longer truly my own. Not in the shower, not while sleeping, just never. That came as a shock.

While my boys were really young, it was appropriate to be responsive to their needs utterly without fail. But it gradually became a habit.

As I was putting myself back together after my little stint in the hospital, I realized one thing I could change, and change immediately, was putting myself back at the center.

At 7 and 5, the boys are old enough to find me if they need something. They can wait a few minutes while I finish what I’m doing.

Eventually, I will tend to their request to prepare a snack, tie a shoe, find a lost object or whatever. Better still, they can learn to do that for themselves, if I let them.

It sounds obvious, I know. But like I said, my hovering over them became my default mode, without even realizing it.

There will, obviously, be some growing pains as we adjust. But I can already tell this is going to work better for me.

I’m going to take back some of my time to tend to little things like sitting down to eat properly, instead of shoving fistfuls of this and that in my mouth as we hurry here and there. 

Let me preface this next part by assuring you that I’m physically fine now, at least for the most part, and I have a medical bill to prove it. 

One minute, I was standing at the counter, chopping sweet peppers for a stir-fry. Then came a stabbing pain in my chest. I felt the sensation of a hand squeezing my heart, as if it was wringing out a towel.

I became dizzy and began struggling to catch my breath. A series of textbook heart-attack symptoms followed. Finally, my dad, a retired cardiologist known for telling us “You’ll be fine!” at every opportunity, suggested I call 9-1-1. 

I fretted, telling my husband I thought I ought to, but then, maybe not, because it could just prove a big waste of money. “Funerals are expensive, too,” he said in his oddly comforting way.

It turned out my heart was fine. I was just suffering from asthma. And two hernias. And a bout of anxiety and depression.

I share this here, in such a public way, because I’m tired of so many of us suffering unnecessarily in shame and silence, smiling to mask internal turmoil. Frankly, I think we’re all a little bit broken, one way or another. 

I almost had an actual heart attack when I opened the hospital bill. But maybe that’s just the right-sized price for the reboot I needed to take self-care more seriously.

If you heed my message, good for you. It’ll save you a few bucks. 

I’ll have you know, I’m totally keeping my pair of beige, $3,000, skid-safe, one-size-fits-all socks as a memento.

I plan to wear them after soaking my feet and painting my toes. Who says self-care stuff can’t feel good?

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