Self Care in Crisis: The Health Scare That Left Me Challenging My Beliefs About Self Care

This blog was supposed to be about all of the glorious things I learned through a week of unapologetic self care in Panama. A few weeks ago I wrote about how I had come to desperately need some time to recharge so I left my family and job in search of some space to recharge and devote some time to solely to making myself a better mom, wife and leader because I made a commitment to fill my own cup.


I was going to write about the beauty of investing in myself, in immersing myself in the company of remarkable and supportive women and about my epiphany that regular self care is my responsibility.


But life doesn’t just get fixed by 6 days away.


I absolutely did come back rejuvenated and inspired. So much so I jumped into life with enthusiasm and probably working harder than before I left. In my rested state, I felt passionate and excited about what I was doing again and decided to run with it. I could control it though…until I couldn’t.


We don’t get to control what happens in life, we only get to control how we show up to each and every situation.


My daughter started to get sick. In fact she collapsed with a high fever and spent the next 12 days oscillating between kitchen dance parties and barely being able to lift her head. For the record, I am fully in support of kindergarten classrooms being fumigated every 6 weeks.


But then my world really got turned upside down. My Dad had a stroke. More specifically a hemorrhagic bleed of the temporal lobe which has left him without logical speech.


To put this in perspective, at age 69, my dad teaches spinning and gravity multiple times a week. He eats annoyingly well, takes all the right supplements, doesn’t smoke and rarely drinks. In other words he is one of the healthiest people I know.


So what is the point of all of that self care when someone so devoted to it is lying in a hospital bed barely able to string together a sentence?


I’m struggling with it right now.


After 14 hours between two hospitals, I came home drank two glasses of wine and had a dinner of potato chips and ice cream (see ya later ketosis). In that moment, that was the self love I needed and I don’t regret it because part of self love is being kind to yourself even when you are off track.


But this morning when I woke up, guess what? I felt like shit.


Then I remembered my Dad last night in the hospital. In what fragmented language he had and through pure exasperation of not being able to express himself he was still begging us to take care of ourselves. He was pushing us to go home, to take care of each other, to look out for our mom.


This man whom self care had betrayed was still advocating for it from his hospital bed.


That’s when I remembered all the lessons I learned in Panama. If I am going to take care of him and help my mom and sister, I need to take care of myself. If I want to teach my daughter how to make herself feel better, I need model the same behaviour. If I want to hold space for myself to feel everything I am feeling, I need to be kind to myself so I can better cope.


Here is the tricky thing about self care, it isn’t all massages and sparkly black sand beaches. It also needs to live in the dark places. The scary places. In the moments where you don’t know where to start because you have no idea where you are going.


The lesson isn’t in creating a perfect life, it is in fitting goodness in the cracks to glue the pieces together.


And above all, it is in knowing that you always deserve to be kind to yourself.

***This post was written in early February. Since then my father has come home from hospital and is improving daily with the help of the wonderful team at Toronto Rehab.

Melanie Stevens Sutherland, Clinic Director & Senior Orthopaedic and Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist

Melanie is a graduate of McMaster University and brings 17 years of experience as a senior physiotherapist to Body Co. She has enjoyed a long tenure working with active populations at prestigious sport medicine clinics. Past clients include Provincial, National and Olympic level athletes as well as members of the National Football League, the Canadian Football League, the Ontario Hockey League, the American Hockey League, the National Lacrosse League and Major League Soccer.

Following the birth of her own children, Melanie developed a strong interest in women’s health. She has taken specialized courses in pelvic floor physiotherapy and women’s nutrition. She is passionate about helping women find strength and confidence in their post-natal bodies following pregnancy and delivery.


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