I am grateful that God spoke to me in a nightmare and so it became a dream that would guide me on this journey of intense trials and immeasurable blessing. I never dreaded the dreams that began shortly after Johannaʼs birth, because somehow I knew that there was a lesson to be learned. Each night they occurred, I woke feeling like I couldnʼt breathe. While water scenes changed, the premise was always the same. I was in the middle of the ocean trying to keep my and Johannaʼs head above water so that we wouldnʼt drown. It was up to me to keep us alive- at least thatʼs what I thought- till God spoke to me in the dream and told me to let go in that ocean of mercy and He would teach me how to breathe underwater.
Over the past few weeks I have shared with you these “strategies” for breathing when the tidal waves of life take you under. The come from the lessons I learned, the wisdom that Iʼve gained from swimming in struggles.
Believe – Restore – Exercise – Advocate – Take Time – Heal – Engage
One of the hardest strategies I have had to adjust to these past 17 years is the “t” and the “h” of the acronym “breathe”. They go together; take time and heal.
When I washed my daughter Johannaʼs hair this morning, I ran my fingers over the staples on the right side of her head and the two sets of stitches on the left side of her head. It reminded me that life is not yet back to normal. One thing is for certain; my normal is most peopleʼs nightmare. Yet I feel and know that I am abundantly blessed. How can this be? Each day I learn to B-R-E-A-T-H-E and take time to heal.
The last year has been a whirlwind for me and my daughter. She has been hospitalized every other month since March 2013 and had over a half dozen brain surgeries in that time. The last month was really hard. At the end of February, Facebook informed me that I hadnʼt been to Riverhead in 3 weeks. Facebook was correct, but whose counting? When the whirlwind started with insurance changes (again), an older daughter with seizures, starting treatments and Johanna hospitalized with bleeding and low pressure in the brain, I felt a surprising sense of peace.
We have been home now for 10 days and I feel like crap. I am dragging with exhaustion, finding it hard to focus and I just canʼt seem to bring myself to unpack my suitcase from the hospital. I washed and folded the laundry, but I canʼt seem to put the clothes away. Iʼm having a tough time focusing and when I wake up, I feel like I could go back to sleep. At the end of this week, as I looked at my plans for this column, I was reminded of the answers to my problem. I need to take time to heal.
When the ocean waves pull us out to sea and the floodwaters of stress rise over our heads, we need to take time to heal. For people who are under severe stress, especially for caregivers and those struggling with chronic disease, taking time to heal takes some creativity.
Years ago, when I had only two children under 6, I read a fabulous book on motherhood stress. The book led me to research the topic and develop a seminar on this topic, for mothers of young children. I learned a great strategy from that book which I passed along to the moms that I directed on retreat. The author called it going on vacation in your mind. The thought was that even if you didnʼt have time, money or circumstances which allowed you to take a vacation, you could take a mental vacation and take the time to heal. It was kind of a combination of positive thinking, relaxation breathing and plain old day-dreaming.
When the kids were young, I used take a break on the basement stairs while I ran laundry or outside the kitchen door for a few minutes in the sunshine. I told myself that I was on vacation and for those moments I had nothing else to do but relax. It was easier because there were no cell phones. I learned to shut the world and the kids and the stress of mothering young children off and focus inside to heal. I remember the strategy, but I honestly donʼt remember, what I possibly thought was stressful about raising two young kids.
This week, in the midst of feeling the post traumatic stress of the last few months, I found myself thinking of how I wished I could fly to somewhere like Hawaii. I was reminded of the motherhood stress strategy and how desperately I needed to take time to heal. The only problem was that when I thought about this I was at the MS Center, getting an infusion while The Terminator played on a television in the infusion suite (talk about stress.) Next to me, was my 20 year old daughter, who was preparing for her own appointment to see the neurologist.
When it was time for her to enter the exam room, I pushed my own IV pole down the hallway and watched where she was going, as I headed for the bathroom. As I tried to enter the bathroom, the IV pole got stuck in the doorway. In that moment, the last month of my life flashed before my eyes. I was trying to lower the darn pole without dumping the very expensive medication or injure my arm where the IV was connected. I felt like I was going to lose it but instead I started laughing hysterically. Thankfully, the bathroom stalls were empty as I forced the IV pole into the stall amidst fits of laughter emerging from the depths of my being. I was taking the little time I had to heal, with a gift of laughter, right there in the bathroom. My mind and my body was relieved of some stress in the laughter and I was able to return to the exam room to assist my daughter in her appointment. It was crazy. But it worked. My perspective changed, my mood lightened and I had the energy to help my daughter-all because I took the little time I had to heal.
Itʼs not always that easy to take time to heal. Still, taking time to heal is a vital part of persevering through chronic stress and the pain of trials. Like the new incisions on Johannaʼs head, it takes time to heal. Sometimes that time comes in little ways, like laughter at the absurdity of our situations and sometimes it happens through therapy and long vacations in a sunny and warm climate. However it happens, taking time to heal gives us life and hope and strength for the day.
Eileen Benthal is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a B.A. in Theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Their youngest, Johanna, is a teenager with special needs. Eileen can be reached at FreeIndeedFreelance.com.