“The Road Not Taken“, a poem by Robert Frost provoked much thought on this topic over the years, but it does propose that our own path may be the best one for us.
In 1993, married at 22 years old to my first husband, life was casual with a fair work to home life balance. Our careers were building and starting a family was within reach. In 2000 after the birth of my first child, the fall from my seven-year marriage dropped me at the trail-head of a path to very dark, scary places which psychologists today conclude as “traumatic events”.
It started when the father of my child left me to care for our medically fragile son whose diagnosis was rare and life expectancy unclear.
Born January 2000, by emergency C-section, the doctors immediately had concerns for my son but infants are born everyday with challenges so they had no conclusions. Immediately, it was noticed that he had a soft cleft pallet and some unique mid-line abnormalities that could not be diagnosed. It was at one year, after his cleft pallet surgery when the doctors identified his rare condition to be what they believed Kabuki Sydrome. This diagnosis brought so many more questions that there were answers.
The first four years of life for my son included hospital stays with multiple surgeries, doctor visits and early intervention therapy. My life was out of control. I was alone, and trying to accept my career was on hold and my new purpose in life was to keep my son alive. Dealing with the betrayal, heartbreak, divorce, loneliness, anxiety and fear of losing my child was bad enough. But since my son could not swallow his own saliva let alone food, he had a G-tube placed into his stomach and I was forced to pour liquid nutrition through a tube into his tiny belly, one ounce at a time, every 1-2 hours, 24 hours a day. The feedings were small and required skill and patience so it would not make him sick. Living with sleep deprivation, constant crisis and the sadness from mourning the loss of my family dream my body ached all day, everyday and the pain was increasing. I was clearly burned out, and believed my life was in atrophy . Physically, my 33-year-old body was deteriorating into what felt like an 80-year old’s physical condition.
In 2004, my increasing back and body pain, lethargy and emotional instability led me to see one of those secret doctors they call a “Physiatrist”. I say secret because it takes powering your way through the army of medical professionals, procedures and tests until they send you to the powerful wizard to put all the facts together. He validated my pain and explained what high anxiety, living in crisis, sleep deprivation and depression does to a body.
“Well”, he literally paused for affect. “If you don’t start making some drastic changes immediately to care for your own health, you could be in a wheelchair in about a year.” The sign was clear and bold. I had no choice but to prioritize time for myself. The first step: Sleep.
I’ve spent the last 16 years trying any idea to stay on a healthy path. I have learned to care for myself by accepting emotional pain and disappointment, finding forgiveness and practicing a holistic lifestyle. My son is thriving, happy and healthy and our family of five includes my second husband and two beautiful step daughters. The only label I live with today is “Human”.
Today, staying healthy requires lots of sleep, balance and routines managing my list of microsteps daily. It requires making tough decisions to stay on my own path and learn to see my signs of distress when anxiety starts to build.
I see the signs clearly and decide my steps one day at a time. I recognize that unhealthy choices or occasions of poor personal care are triggered by circumstances, environments or experiences that resemble and remind me of past emotional, traumatic experiences. At specific times, in certain environments or in toxic situations, (you know what these are) the emotional neon signs lights up and I know what I need to do. I recognize the emotional “sign”, and I turn around only to follow my footsteps back to the path I know that is safe and healthy.
Getting side-tracked, as I call it, is a skill. Some days it may help to leave a situation, change your mind or even go outside to a safe healthy environment (off the path). Once safe from those triggering emotions you feel calm and looking back, the sign is now posted for future reference. Today, I take it one step further and try new things with new people to create new experiences which make new memories. I choose every day to leave the unhealthy memories of traumatic experiences where they belong, in the past.