Anyone who reads this blog regularly will have gathered that I live my life by lists. I organise my life around lists. And I tyrannise myself with lists. Lately, the pressures of looking after the kids (6-year-old whirling dervish, Sissyboo, and 2-year-old, Boo, my little bundle of amazingness who just happens to have cerebral palsy), holding down my job, managing Boo’s gazillion appointments (3-5 a week), daily therapies, keep on top of house stuff, well … I can’t finish the sentence because I’m too tired to think about it. Let’s just say, it’s a struggle.
And now, I find I can’t remember the simplest things. Everything has to be written down or it doesn’t happen. Everyday the lists get longer (despite me ticking off things) and I go to bed each night thinking of everything left to do. I even made a list in a dream the other night. I am not kidding.
The one thing that is never on the list is me. My list is organised in categories: Boo (he has separate lists for equipment, therapy and a new one for schooling – get the feeling I’m a bit anal?); Sissyboo, House, Work and Miscellaneous. I don’t even give myself space in the miscellaneous list.
I don’t have the time to think about me. Which is why my eyes haven’t been tested for 3 years, and I am long overdue a couple of routine medical things at the GPs.
But I also can’t ignore me either because I am not just a parent, I am a carer. If I break, other things won’t work so well either. I’m not indispensable (who is?) but not looking after myself will make the Boos’ lives a lot harder, as my recent back problems (the consequence of lifting an immobile and lengthy toddler-who-can’t-toddle) have painfully brought home.
I have to look after myself. I just have to. If I can’t do it for me, I have to for the Boos. And so I will.
And I am.
This week, and now that I have a lovely physio helping me to manage my back pain, I have started back in earnest doing something I never thought I would ever do before having Boo: running.
My running journey started just weeks after he got out of a 6-week NICU stay. I wanted to set myself a challenge. To do something tough to thank those who had helped Boo battle prematurity and meningitis. I wanted to help other families going through similar things, too. I wanted to raise money. So I rashly decided to run a half marathon. With no running history. With no fitness. With depression. With a newborn. While breastfeeding. I’ve told that story on the blog before, so I won’t tell it again. All you need to know is I did it. I ran a half marathon in 2 hours 11 minutes and raised £1500 for Bliss.
And then I got injured. And depression hit harder. And I returned to work. And… I stopped. But I knew I would start again. I knew I had to. And now I am training for a hilly (gulp!) half marathon in September to raise money for a charity that has done lots to help Boo and us in the past nine months.
Three years ago, running wouldn’t have sounded much like self care to me. You run, you get blisters. Your muscles ache. You get rained and sleeted on. If you have to run late at night (as I often do) you tread in dog crap and don’t realise until you find you can’t run away from the smell. It hurts for crying out loud. But for me, it is healing.
I’ve been trying to work out why.
It’s partly because it doesn’t feel selfish. I know rationally that doing something for me is for the kids, too, but can’t always persuade my heart to feel that way. Running is different. I run not to go faster or further but to fundraise. That gives me drive. And it helps get me fitter and boy, I need to be. Boo is getting bigger and bigger. My back has been in a terrible state and it just can’t be. You see despite all the gadgets and gizmos Boo is slowly getting through physio and OT, we as his parents, are the most essential pieces of equipment he has. Just as I clean and maintain his standing frame, chair and adapted buggy, I have to maintain me, too. Running helps me do that. It helps me work better for him. Knowing that means dashing out for a 30 minute jog feels much less selfish than it probably is.
I also run because it gives me head space. The only time my head is ever fully clear and free is when I run. Often I think a lot about Boo when I run. And I use Boo to keep me going when it’s tough. When my legs burn and my lungs feel overused, I think about every day he spent in the NICU, very time I’ve asked Boo to roll over again, or go from sitting to standing in physio when he hasn’t wanted to. I think about every negative pronouncement from medical professionals and how he has proved them wrong. He has never ever given up. Why should I?
But I also spend a lot of time running not thinking about Boo. On short runs (3 milers) I have taken to running in the graveyard near my house. OK, I know that sounds odd. Let me explain. I started doing it for practical reasons. The graveyard is large and I can run laps in it. But, I can also be home in 3 minutes, if I’m needed. When I was breastfeeding and when Boo was having seizures this felt important. Now I run there because I find peace in this place. Because it’s beautiful. And quiet. Because there are bluebells and buttercups there now and the odd, confused bumble bee. Because there will be butterflies soon. Because I feel part of something bigger, a world beyond the claustrophobic one contained in our four walls. I need that. I need a little piece of a different life, if only for brief 30 minute intervals three times a week.
Running is respite. And respite is vital. If I didn’t run away sometimes, I worry I wouldn’t know just how much I want to come back.