I went for a walk today.
Not a going-to-buy-slime-ingredients walk.
Not a this-dog-is-climbing-the-walls-and-needs-to-get-out walk.
Not a going-to-catch-the-train-for-work walk.
No, this was an honest-to-goodness walk. Alone. Just for me.
They talk about muscle memory. My body remembers. I once ran hard and smoothly over cross-country courses, around the lines on painted tracks, on beaches and up and down steep hills. I was, once upon a long time ago, a runner. When I stopped running, I used to go for intense walks, every morning at a fast pace, before I even had a coffee.
I was driven, in part, by the horrible illnesses my dad faced through those years. Heart attacks. Surgeries. Diabetes. Amputation. Strokes. Feeding tubes. Early death. Ironically, the closer I get to his age of death, the more lax I have become about my own health.
I can talk a good talk about the need for parental wellbeing when raising a child with FASD. I did so in front of hundreds of people over the past two weeks. Hypocrite.
So today, today rather than losing myself in emails or burrowing deeper into the pillows, rather than finishing that steaming cup of tea I had prepared, there I was tying my laces, thinking how nice it would be to wear out, once again after way too long, a pair of running shoes.
I went at my pace. Realising all the while what a luxury it is. I saw the texture of centuries-old bricks. The sun peeking over rooftops. The vibrant colours of spring flowers in gardens across this gentle town. I even saw the milkman. Such a cliché! But I did.
I felt my own heartbeat. I was sweating. My muscles remembered when this was easier, faster. That old determination to not stop until the finish line rose up in me, even as I contemplated the poetic beauty of living up an incline so that returning home is always an uphill battle that can, if I don’t pace myself, leave me breathless even before I arrive to whatever might be waiting there for me.
I stood a few moments, breathing deeply, slowing my heartbeat. Just standing on my front drive, looking at the overgrown garden, thinking how rare it is for me just to be out here like this. Quietly looking. Usually I throw back my shoulders and dive in.
But this morning there was no rush. While the dog looked at me accusingly, the rest of the house was still asleep.
It flashed through my mind that yes, I could do this every day. But I don’t. Maybe I will now. Or maybe I won’t. Somewhere in the last couple of decades my body started owning me and not the other way around. I don’t know if my will can reclaim this wreck, but maybe, just maybe I will try.
So, why is all of this in a blog about raising a child with FASD?
Because I noticed yesterday how hard it was for me to bend over the bath to help brush out his tangled hair. Okay, it was quite tangled and it took a long time, but still, I felt stiff. I felt old. It was hard for me the last time I changed the sheets on his bed, the mattress is on the floor. I was sore getting up after I spent 30 minutes the other day literally scraping slime off his carpet with a knife and hot water. He wanted a foot rub two days ago after getting thoroughly wound up after a visit to the doctor about a rash on his arms, chest and back that needs medicated cream. I was too tired after a day in London and found an excuse not to do a proper foot massage like I would normally have.
I can’t grow that old yet. There is a great deal of work to be done before I am ready to step out of this picture. Our little one still needs hands-on active parenting. And I need to be able to do that for some decades more yet. So no, my walk was not simply selfish.
But equally, my every move cannot be about the three males in my world. And I really do feel sometimes like I have lost a bit of me.
I know I am not the only mother to feel this way. I know I am not the only 50-something parent to feel this way. I am not having a midlife crisis. I just simply went for a walk this morning. And for me, for however it is that I got to this ridiculous place, that was a radical act.
And yes, I am pretty sure I am going to pay for this. I am ready for my muscles to ache a bit in their own rebellion. Those muscles do have memory and they are already starting to remind me that it was not long ago I could not rely on my left side following some odd neurological symptoms. My leg had become so weak I would not have been able to walk this far back then. My muscles are reminding me that my back, neck and shoulder used to be so locked up I had trouble just sitting in meetings, that I needed injections and physical therapy to help release the movement. Yes, my muscles are a bit surprised at this morning’s turn of events.
I have come far as this whole family has been climbing out a dark hole we had been falling into just a few years ago. We weren’t doing so well not that long ago.
This blog is called ‘FASD Learning with Hope’ for a reason.
I believe with every ounce of my being that holding onto hope in the dark times is the only way forward. I have had the chance over the past couple of weeks to look into the eyes of some people who are still in those darker days. It makes my heart ache for them. My muscles remember those days too. How tense my whole body would become, not knowing if I was likely to get hit or kicked or spat at when simply walking into a room. My body remembers the high alert, rapid heartbeat, the cascade of stress hormones of my own fight or flight instincts kicking in as hinges were broken on doors, holes smashed through, CDs hurled with force enough to shatter them.
But it also remembers the warmth of a tired and weary body relaxing into mine. Even as a toddler, I remember the way it felt when his out of control, flailing, screaming, eye-gouging distress would finally release and he would lean into me for the comfort his little self didn’t know how to find on his own. A little toddler, denied those mummy cuddles for the first 16 months of his life. Oh yes, my muscles remember that feeling of protectiveness of that little lost toddler, that worn out child home from a confusing day at primary school, the overwhelmed pre-teen at wits’ end after another impossible day at mainstream secondary school, and now our more stable teen, who still leans into mum for a quick hug of reassurance when he knows he has been teetering at the edge of dysregulation.
Motherhood is a physical state as much as a mental state. I had not been prepared for that with our first child. I was independent, in control of my own body. I pushed my body to excel. To run 10 miles just for fun. Or to meet some random finish line I had in my head. I welcomed the hypnotic rhythm of my feet pounding the pavement, arms swaying easily with the motion. I ran because I was part of a team but only dependent on and responsible for my own control of my own body. But as a mum, even when still pregnant, I remember thinking how my personal space has now been invaded, taken over. It was a shock that it was such a physical thing to hold an infant, a clinging toddler day after day after day after day. You physically feel their absence when you are away from them.
It’s how it’s meant to be. And yes, my muscles remember that too.
But even still.
Today I went for a walk just for me. And even if I don’t do it again for another decade, I did it today and that claiming of ‘me’ time was hard fought for in my own head. (No one has stopped me from doing this previously.)
So, for today, for this moment, I will claim it as a success. And I encourage everyone out there to find a few moments to reconnect with yourselves. Go for a walk or watch the steam over your cuppa. Whatever it is, wherever you are, claim a little sliver of this day just for you and remember to let your muscles remember, within you there is strength.
The Huffington Post UK published a shortened version of this post on 27 May 2019, “For A Special Needs Mum, Even A Walk Can Be A Radical Act Of Self-Care”