For a long time, I told myself, “All it takes to make me happy is if my kids are happy and healthy.” This was my mantra when I became a mother. But, what happens when they’re not happy and not healthy? Can we be happy? Could I be happy?
A few years back, I was at the top of my game. Closing deals and developing properties as a commercial real estate broker. Raising two amazing kids with a loving husband. Then, during elementary school, both my daughter and my son began suffering from chronic illnesses and frequent bouts of anxiety.
It was a gradual decline as the years went on and during that time by children attended several programs for anxiety and depression and they also experienced chronic fatigue, joint pain, and headaches. My daughter was much more impacted than my son. During the worst of it, she had an eating disorder, suffered from hallucinations and severe OCD. Coping with the growing list of illnesses and special needs became a struggle, one that began to impact our entire household.
After many doctor’s appointments, evaluations, medications, and lab work, I finally tested my daughter for Lyme disease, just to rule it out. She tested positive! And my son did too. Who would have known?
According to the Center for Disease Control, CDC, it is estimated that 35,000 people are diagnosed with Lyme each year. Yet, according to the Global Lyme Alliance, it’s estimated that there are 476,000 new cases of Lyme disease in the U.S. each year and all tick-borne disease cases have more than doubled in the last 13 years. From my personal experience I believe there is so much that is unknown. Lyme can be a rabbit hole of mystery and a complicated journey that tests your mental resilience like no other.
When my daughter’s treatment for Lyme Disease started it was painful for her to experience and painful for me to watch. The first four months were brutal, but she did begin to turn the corner. I saw glimpses of her coming back. I thought, she’s getting healthy; we’re going to be ok. It’s what every parent wants, a healthy child, again. Ahhh. Happiness, or so I thought.
Physically she was better, but she still experienced episodes of depression. We were still seeing her therapist and during one particular visit I expressed to her therapist that I was concerned my daughter didn’t have the desire to be happy. Her therapist asked her, “What would make you happy?” My daughter replied, “I’ll be happy if my mom’s happy.”
What? WAIT A SEC. She doesn’t think I’m happy? How would she know? I thought I was doing a great job with showing a positive attitude and staying upbeat. How did she know? So, if I’m happy…she’ll be happy? WOW. After a quiet ride home, I realized that I wasn’t really happy; I’d been faking it a lot. Some days, it just seems like too much. Any time we have a child who struggles with health issues, neurodiversity or diagnosed long-term or life-term diseases, it is too much some days. How could I be happy when I was suffering so much grief?
More than that, over the years I had lived this false narrative that “all it takes for me to be happy is for my children to be happy and healthy.” The reality was they both were not happy or healthy and it wasn’t even their fault. Over the years, I had taken all my happiness goals and put it on someone else’s shoulders – my kids. And at the end of the day, I was tangled up in this endless cycle of trying to “fix them,” in order for me to finally be happy.
I considered it a wake-up call. This whole time, my daughter was waiting for me to be happy, while I was waiting for her to be happy. I needed to break this vicious cycle of unhappiness so that we could all just be happy and healed.
So, how did I break this cycle? I took my energy back. I re-invested all my energy into me, instead of them. I stopped focusing on their shortcomings. I stopped putting out their fires. I gave them the space to figure things out on their own a lot more. More than that, I discovered and remembered how much I love stories, real stories. I’m a storyteller at heart, and I decided to lean into sharing my stories. When I re-examined my journal, I found entries that ended with more gratitude than grievance. That’s how I made it through my darkest days. I realized what would make me happy was to share my stories of grief, shame, illness and most of all gratitude.
And it was then that I launched Very Happy Stories via podcast, speaking engagements and now my blogs. Thank you to my beautiful daughter for this life-changing lesson and for the energetic permission slip to stop focusing all my energy on them and re-investing back in myself. I have healed these last few months by this new and creative endeavor and by retelling my stories from a place of gratitude.
Since this pivot, both my children have experienced more contentment, increased physical health and independence. My heart is fuller today after learning that their happiness comes from my happiness.
When you reflect on the last year or two, what has made you happy? Are you authentically happy? Are you serving your life’s purposes or are you stuck in a cycle of self-sacrifice? Is your contribution to your family happiness, strength or resilience or is your contribution driven by anxiety, fear, and fixing the shortcomings of your children?
I learned my happiness plan was upside down for a long time! It's inverted. Our children’s happiness starts with our happiness. Their health starts with our health. Heal yourself to heal your children. I write this in hopes that you will break the cycle and begin to start with you. Put your sacred energy back into making YOU happy, healthy and healed. If you need help, reach out to me. It is my mission to help other moms find their happiness and transform into the most empowered versions of themselves. Heal yourself first and start experiencing Very Happy Stories of your own.