For A Special Needs Mum, Even A Walk Can Be A Radical Act Of Self-Care

My every move cannot be about others. And I really do feel sometimes like I have lost a bit of me.
Igor Ustynskyy via Getty Images

Stop presses! Breaking news! 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 need-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.

I was driven, in part, by the horrible illnesses my dad faced through those years. Heart attacks. Surgeries. Diabetes. Amputation. Strokes. Early death. Ironically, the closer I get to the age he died, 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 a Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. I did so in front of hundreds of people over the past two weeks. Hypocrite.

So 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 once again wear out a pair of running shoes.

I went at my own pace. 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. England can really shine sometimes.

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.

Home again, I stood a few moments, 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. 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.

I am raising a child with a FASD, organic brain damage resulting from alcohol exposure in the womb. I can’t grow 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 will do for decades. So no, my walk was not simply selfish.

But equally, my every move cannot be about others. 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, however it is that I got to this ridiculous place, that was a radical act.

This whole family has been climbing out a dark hole we had been falling into just a few years ago before proper supports were in place for our son. 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. 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, CDs hurled with force enough to shatter them.

But I also remember the way it felt when as a toddler 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.

Motherhood is a physical state as much as a mental state. I had not been prepared for that. It was a shock that it was such a physical thing to hold a child day after day after day after day. You physically feel their absence when you are away from them, even now in the teen years. It’s how it’s meant to be.

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.

A version of this post originally appeared on the FASD Learning With Hope blog under the title, “When Going For a Walk is a Radical Act