Growing up, our freezer always had a bag of nestle chocolate chips. My mother would bake chocolate chip cookies each week, sometimes even twice a week. She had taken the recipe from the back of the bag of nestle chocolate chip cookies and modified it over the years and created what became known to friends and family as “Mommy Cookies”. I associated these cookies with love, family, pleasure and something that was always there for me. My mother was always there for me as well. She was my best friend and I could tell her anything without fear of embarrassment or judgement. She was my ultimate cheerleader and a second mom to many of my friends. So in 2003, right after the time of my diagnosis with ulcerative colitis, and the birth of my preemie son, I was unprepared for the confusing experience I would have with my Mom when she came to visit. My son had finally came home after his extended stay in the NICU, still awaiting a second surgery that he would need later in the year. I continued to recover and regain my strength and all I wanted was the comfort of my mother to spend time with me, assist me with my new baby and help me to feel normal again. I just wanted to hear “everything is going to be alright.” Soon, I began to see that everything was not alright, that is…… with my Mom.
I lived in a small 2 bedroom apartment just outside of Boston, and each time my mother needed something from the kitchen she would ask, “Where is the kitchen?” and seem disoriented as how to navigate the small space we were living in. In addition, she began repeating the same story to me multiple times throughout the day. The attentive mother I had remembered who would rush home from work at lunch to check on me if I was home sick as a teenager, seemed distracted and unable to help me as I had always envisioned my mother would do after I had my first child. I knew something was wrong, but at the time, I and my mother’s doctor attributed the changes in her memory to stress. Why would anyone think otherwise? My mother was a healthy 52-year-old woman.
Two years later in 2005, I was pregnant with my second son. I received a phone call from my mother’s co-worker explaining that something was not right with my mom. She was the lead teacher of a Montessori school teaching 3, 4 and 5-year-old children. The co-worker explained that my mother, who had helped structure the organization of the classroom was not able to find things around the room, seemed confused, and was repeating the same stories throughout the day.
At the time, I had moved back home from Boston to NJ and was a few months away from giving birth to my second child. Now being immersed in my mother’s world and having the opportunity to speak with her co-workers, I had come to believe that my mother was not suffering from stress, and that it was probably something much more serious. We saw a top Neurologist out of Columbia, had MRI’s, spinal taps and several neuropsychological tests were completed. My mother was ultimately diagnosed with early onset dementia.
I began to mourn the mother I had known that was beginning to slip away from me; the mother that was always there for me. As my mother slipped away, I turned to what also was always there for me, food, my reliable “Mommy cookies”. I stopped caring about my health and what I put in my body. I believe I was mourning for what my mother did not even realize she was loosing, her memory. “If my mother could not enjoy and live a good life, then neither would I” became my new philosophy. Food can often be such a secretive way to self harm unlike drugs or alcohol. From the outside I did not look like someone who was self harming with food. However, I began to vacillate between times of eating very little, to times of grabbing comfort food.
At this point in time, the ulcerative colitis caused by the inflammation in my body was being alleviated by my daily medication. However, I continued to suffer from severe allergies, severe migraines and fatigue. The further damage I continued to do to my gut through unhealthy food was significant, but the pain of gradually loosing my mother and the stress over the years coordinating her care was even more damaging than the food.
If we really step back and think about it. Food is not always the main cause of our illnesses. At that point in my life, a gormet chef could have prepared me 3 healthy meals a day, and spoon fed it to me and I still would have been sick. When our relationships, our careers, our finances and our spirituality are suffering we will never be truly healthy and fulfilled. All the veggies will not heal our sickness and all the “mommy cookies” will not serve as a substitue to fulfill our souls.
Our nourishment to help us all heal must come from multiple areas in our lives. The first step in my beginning to heal was to come to see that I was allowed to have a good and fulfilled life, even if my mother would not be enjoying the same. I had to believe that my mother would never want me to be ill as well and would only want me to have a wonderful life , as every nurturuing mother wants for their children. I had to come to a place in my life where I would begin to put myself first on the list. By doing so, I would not only be on a path of healing, I would also be teaching my children something critical.
I challenge you to get to the source of the pain in your own life. Are you feeding your self with “mommy cookies” instead of true nourishment? Where do you fall on list when it comes to taking care of people? When you start your day, are you on a mission to take care of yourself? What is one new way you can begin to start doing something for you that will lead to a better, less exhausted, more fulfilled and happy version of yourself?
Now Go Love You, Jill 🙂