Sidelined and Struggling as an Injured Parent
I am a terrible parent.
At least that’s what I frequently felt like, especially at the beginning of this long ordeal.
Being an injured parent, and rendered physically unable to take on the extensive duties of being a mom was life-altering; both for me and my family.
I’m an active mountain mama and enjoy being on the go. I like to take my almost-4-year old hiking, skiing and biking every week. We play tag and have tickle fights. We are going way more than we are standing still, especially during ski season.
Then my life came screeching to an abrupt halt.
One morning, five months ago, I woke up in excruciating pain. My foot was numb, and it felt like someone was stabbing my leg. I had been in physical therapy for a few months for moderate sciatica already, but on this morning, something had changed because my pain ramped up by 1000%.
I would find out later that my bulging disc had massively herniated and was absolutely crushing the nerves in my spine. The disc completely ruined, but since then I also developed scoliosis, spinal stenosis, and my vertebrae became bruised from laying directly on top of each other.
Walking was suddenly a serious battle and just standing or sitting was only possible for short periods. I was completely incapacitated and all I could do was lay in bed. My physician ordered an MRI and put me on medication.
During the weeks I was waiting for my MRI, the pain got worse. I was put on progressively stronger pain meds, I tried acupuncture and even got a personal tens unit to try to find some relief, but nothing helped. It felt like I was using a squirt bottle to fight a forest fire.
I couldn’t sleep. Instead, I was bawling in pain every night. If childbirth was a 10/10 on the pain scale, this blowtorch in my leg was a 12/10 and had no end in sight. As it dragged on, I had serious thoughts about killing myself, just to make the pain stop. To say my mental state was low is an understatement.
After an MRI, I went through 3 epidural steroid injections in 3 weeks and I have been in physical therapy almost 7 months now. I had to quit working because the pain meds made me too spacey to focus well, and I couldn’t sit at my laptop for more than 20 minutes anyways.
While all the medical interventions have finally provided some relief from the worst pain, I still can’t walk more than a block round-trip and I’m in constant pain or discomfort. We had to move my little boy from part-time to full-time daycare because I can’t manage him at home by myself.
I am completely sidelined from my life.
Why It’s So Hard To Be an Injured Parent
When things first went south, I experienced enormous guilt.
Guilt I couldn’t be there for my family. Guilt I wasn’t pulling my weight. Guilt that I couldn’t cook a meal, do the dishes, bring in a paycheck, and I struggled to get my son ready for bed at night.
I felt guilty I was holding my family back from getting outside and doing fun things.
I felt like a terrible parent.
I got depressed. I honestly even contemplated suicide. I didn’t want to live in a world where I couldn’t do ANYTHING I loved.
I completely missed ski season. I got a refund on my ski pass and haven’t spent a single day on the mountain. I couldn’t even go up there to watch because it’s too far to walk from the lot to the lodge.
No nordic skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, or biking. Everything I love to do is outside, and I couldn’t (and still can’t) do any of it. I absolutely hated my new reality.
I couldn’t walk my kid to his daycare, which is only a half-mile away. Playing with him has been a real challenge, as I’m pretty much confined to my bed or the couch. We watch shows, read books, and occasionally, when I feel good, do puzzles or play board games.
I felt like a terrible parent.
But I am not.
Finding A Way Forward
I spent many nights crying about all the things I couldn’t do. I lost months of my life, and missed out on months of my child’s life. I was mourning, which is a natural stage of grief.
I needed to find a way forward.
Ask For Help
I had to accept that I needed help and that it was okay to ask. Help with laundry. Help with cooking. Help with shoveling the sidewalks. Help when my medication made me too dizzy to drive, or sometimes to even walk. Help to take my snow boots off.
My husband took over the day-to-day management of the house. Our family and neighbors brought meals over and picked up grocery orders. My little boy even rose to the challenge and helped by getting himself dressed, picking up dishes, and bringing me his nightly books to read.
Asking for help is really difficult. I hate not being able to do things on my own because I am fiercely independent. But I have had to accept where I’m at right now and to shelf my pride.
I had to adapt. From wheeling around the house in an office chair, to sitting down in the shower, I’ve had to figure out new ways to do almost everything.
I cook easier meals and sit on a barstool next to the stove. My kid snuggles with me in bed now, while I read books to him. There is so much I can’t do, that I had to figure out small things I could do, so I could feel like I was contributing.
I had to forgive myself for all those things I couldn’t do. From missing family ski days, to being unable to help my kid in the bathtub, it’s hard to not feel like a parenting failure.
But this pain is not my fault. It’s ok to just be where I’m at and do what I can. I know I’ll catch up when I am physically able.
Focus on You
I had to shift my focus from my family to myself. We talk a lot about practicing self-care. Actually doing it is much harder.
Many moms are the care-givers in the house. We take care of everyone else until we are run absolutely ragged. I physically can’t do many of those care-giver things now.
I focus instead on my recovery, rigorously doing my physical therapy exercises and getting to all my medical appointments. I keep close tabs how I feel and make sure I rest when I get tired, or when my back and leg start flaring up. I try to keep my brain busy with reading.
Lean on Someone
I had to find mental support. I reached out to my close friends to let them know what was going on and to find encouragement. Sometimes, I just need to vent about my pain and frustration because it’s better than keeping it bottled up.
I have also really leaned on my physical therapist, Sam, for support, both mental and physical. She is full of hope and optimism for me, and always keeps me motivated to keep moving forward. I really can’t say enough good things about the physical therapists at Lone Peak Physical Therapy.
I’ve worked hard to pull myself out of my well of despair and self-pity. Talking with friends and family about it has helped a lot. Having a support network is probably the most challenging, but important piece of recovery.
I also had to find gratitude when it didn’t feel like there was much to be thankful for.
My husband was my knight in shining armor through all of this. He’s taken on all the child care and my regular mom-duties, while working full-time at a busy hospital during a stressful global pandemic.
No matter how tired he is, he spends time playing with our son every night. He takes him skiing, biking, or ice fishing on the weekends. He cooks fancy dinners and runs errands. He helps me get to appointments when I need him to.
I literally would not have made it through this without him. I am so grateful for him.
I’m thankful for my little boy too. He is smart, silly, and has been so understanding that I have an “owie.” He always tries to help and make me feel better. We make silly videos, take selfies, read books, make forts, and do what we can together.
When he asks which leg is my “good” leg, so he can climb up and sit in my lap, it makes my heart want to burst. He is a sweet kid and is learning to be more empathetic and patient through this experience.
I’m grateful for my friends, family, and co-workers for all their support. I’m grateful it was a mild winter. I’m grateful for days the sun is shining and I can sit on the patio.
Even though things have been pretty rough, I still have so much to be grateful for.
Celebrate the Little Things
Finally, I had to learn to celebrate the small wins. It’s the only way to find hope in the darkness.
I have improved enough to hobble around the yard and throw the frisbee for my dog, so she is much happier (and thankfully, more tired). I can sit for almost an hour at a time now, and can load the dishwasher. I can help my son build a racetrack for his cars on the living room floor and I can sit outside and watch while he rides his scooter on our sidewalk.
These are all small things that feel like huge wins, because at least I’m out of bed. That’s how you keep the forward momentum going.
Lessons I’ve Learned about being a Sidelined parent
I am having major spine surgery shortly, which I hope will permanently fix the issue. While surgery is a shining light on the horizon after 5 long months of misery, I’ve had to learn to think, live, and parent in a whole new way in the meantime. These are lessons I’ll carry with me as I work towards a full recovery.
I am NOT a terrible parent.
I’m a good parent, under extraordinary circumstances. Not being able to be there for my family sucks. Sometimes though, it’s ok to not be ok.
This season of life will change with time and I am fortunate that my current physical impairment will not be permanent. I have the most supportive family and friends to help me every step of the way.
Until I’m healed, I’ll continue to be the best parent I can. Outside or inside, stuck in bed or finally on my feet again; it’s all about doing what I can, when I can.
If you find yourself in a similar position someday, I hope this helps you keep some perspective and gives you a small ray of hope.
Being physically sidelined from parenting is like climbing a mountain. It’s arduous, mentally taxing, and not much fun at times. But don’t give up. Mountain mamas love to climb.
**If you are struggling with mental health or suicidal thoughts, I encourage you to seek help from a doctor, trusted family member, or a friend.**
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Sidelined and Struggling as an Injured Parent
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