“If you so choose, even the unexpected setbacks can bring new and positive possibilities. If you so choose, you can find value and fulfillment in every circumstance.” – Ralph Marston
I could have written this post last summer when I realized my postpartum body wasn’t healing properly, and I was left with ongoing discomfort and pain from birth (it’s still there, in fact). I could have also written it in January when my left knee suddenly gave out due to weak glutes and overstretched hamstrings, making it impossible for me to bend it without the help of my hands.
In both cases, I wanted to tell my readers – especially the new mamas out there – to take it easy and not be so hard on themselves. For real. But time got away on me, and I’m finally writing about it now.
I know as well as any new mama how it feels when that-friend-who-started-trail-running-a-month-after-delivering-a-baby posts a photo of her latest baby-free jaunt through the woods. I’ll admit I still feel those pangs of jealousy as I think back to my own first month postpartum, to my post-baby body. I still feel them now. On the surface some women make it seem like they just plopped a baby out and then it’s business as usual. (Is this actually ever the case!?) Physically speaking, it seems they heal quickly and their bodies are good to them.
This just wasn’t, isn’t, the case for me. And I discovered that comparing myself to others really is futile because I don’t want others to compare themselves to me. I know that I post a lot of photos of me doing active, outdoorsy things, so I wanted to set the record straight. Since May, I have only been doing those things when I feel good enough to do them. Otherwise, I’ve been coping with health issues that have come as a major surprise to me.
A surprise and a major wake-up call.
Hitting Rock Bottom and the Path to Healing
Last July I started to have issues with my vision. I thought it was due to a slight astigmatism in my left eye, exacerbated by fatigue (otherwise my vision is perfect). By Christmas, my world felt wonky. I’d look out into a room and things wouldn’t register properly. I felt constantly “out of it”, somehow removed from my surroundings. Good sleep improved the condition, but then we set off on our 70-day adventure in the South Pacific and any hope of good sleep went down the tubes.
As the weeks went by and our little girl’s sleep became increasingly interrupted, I struggled to get more than an hour of sleep at a time. I was still enjoying my surroundings, but feeling removed from them was disconcerting to me.
On May 1st we came home and my condition deteriorated. I suddenly became so dizzy while I was walking that I felt nauseous. I became incredibly sensitive to movement and easily overwhelmed by a toddler running around me, or even the thought of leaning over to tie my shoes. Staring at a computer screen was often out of the question, so my work and passion for writing was sent to the back burner. Even if I could stare at a screen, my brain sat in a heavy fog for weeks on end, accompanied by a low-level, nagging pressure. My eyes felt so tired I felt a constant desire to just close them, to rest, to tune out the world. Driving was out of the question. As if motherhood wasn’t hard enough already, I was unable to operate at full capacity and grew increasingly anxious, restless and unable to sleep.
All this with a daughter who either runs full-tilt or sleeps. There’s no in between with her.
After visits to the doctor (“could be vertigo”), osteopath (“sounds like a concussion, but it isn’t”), and optometrist (“look elsewhere”), my own research landed me on vestibular.org. And upon advice from friends and family who had dealt with vestibular (or inner ear) disorders before, I booked an appointment at the end of June with a physiotherapist who had specialized training for vestibular rehabilitation. She ran a number of tests and told me it was either vestibular neuritis or vestibular migraine.
Finally, after two months of searching, I at least had a name for this condition. I can’t know when it truly started, since the symptoms are similar to those that accompany exhaustion and fatigue. But I left the clinic with an action plan, and after a few weeks of rehabilitative exercises, I’m starting to feel better. Better enough to commit to some work contracts and finally write this post.
Finding Value in the Hardest of Times
I’m not sure exactly why I wanted to tell you this, but I think it’s to burst a bubble on our notions of adventure and finding balance in motherhood.
Lately I have felt anything but adventurous. We have beautiful evenings here in the summer in Banff, and even if my husband is home to watch the baby, I have found myself surrendering to the couch for episodes of Gossip Girl and a cup of tea. I have napped more in the last two months than I ever have in my life, foregoing my precious “hour of power” (writing time) during Maya’s naps and hitting the pillow myself. I have toned down my outdoor adventures, backed out of commitments and stopped being the one to contact friends to set up plans, all in an effort to take a step back from life so that I can focus on my health.
It has been difficult to “find value and fulfillment”, as the quote at the beginning of this post mentions, when on the worst of days I am cooped up in a dark room, willing myself to fall asleep so that I can escape the feelings of disorientation and unease that come with vestibular dysfunction. But looking back I see a lot of value in the process I went through of pruning all the non-essential things from my life. I was forced to. And being forced to ‘sit on the sidelines’ for a time has made me eager to explore the outdoors once again and very grateful that I feel well enough to do so.
Finally, I see value in having a story to tell. I see value in being able to share my experiences with other women who may be wondering, like I did, how some mamas seem to “bounce back” and float through motherhood like it’s a piece of cake.
Because it’s simply not true. Motherhood is amazing and incredibly rewarding, but no one simply floats. Sure, not all women have the health issues I’ve encountered, but if I’ve learned anything from my experience it’s that you never know what’s going on behind closed doors. The best we can do is stop comparing, be honest with our trusted family and friends and reach out for support. Just because others make it look like a breeze doesn’t mean you need to handle it on your own. There’s even a time to put your passions aside and focus on you. Your passions will be there when you’re ready again, like a loyal friend.
Lately my outdoor excursions have been far from adventurous, and that’s OK. My adventurous spirit lives on. And it’s ready and waiting for me to come knocking.