My Story

{My speech from the 2018 Moms TO Wine Fest)

Hi Everyone. My name is Dr Aliya Visram and I am a chiropractor and acupuncturist.

I want begin by telling you a STORY.  A story of a mother who had it all. A wonderful husband, two beautiful children – a newborn and a spunky toddler, a supportive family, tons of friends,  a successful career helping others, and what seemed like the most positive outlook on life.

But what people didn’t see was that this woman, who appeared to have her shit together, killing it in life,  seemingly happy and in bliss, was on the inside, crumbling.  She was barely hanging on, hoping that someone, somewhere could hear her own thoughts and save her from her feelings of despair.

You see, she felt like there was no way she could tell a soul about what she was thinking or feeling.  In her mind, her job was to help and support others, be a role model, give hope and sprinkle positivity to everyone she met. So she kept trying to live her “instagram-worthy” life…but behind closed doors she cried herself to sleep, fearful of the thoughts she kept having, feeling fragmented and empty.  She couldn’t bring herself to get out of bed each morning, let alone nurse her baby and care for her toddler.

This woman was me.    

You see, my “realstagram” life was an entirely different story.  Realstagram was that my husband was suffering from a serious concussion leaving him bedridden and completely estranged from mine and our children’s lives.  Our marriage was hanging by a thread. During this time, our son was born leaving me to care for a newborn and a toddler completely alone. Four months before my son was born, my father who was my best friend had died, leaving my family in utter shock.  To add insult to injury, during this time, I was diagnosed with pneumonia,  which left my immune system completely depleted.

I woke up each day feeling more and more isolated.

I don’t know whether it was the exhaustion, grief, postpartum depression, or a combination of those things.  And in a lot of ways, I don’t think a label was necessary.  I was struggling. My awareness of myself and my needs dropped away and I was falling deeper and deeper into darkness

On January 18 2017, I hit bottom.  I got into my car at 2 am with my car keys in hand.  Willing myself to put the key in the ignition and drive my car as far as I could until I found a bridge.  The rest of my plan was a foggy memory. It must have been divine guidance that woke my husband up, urging him outside in minus 30 degree weather pulling me from behind the wheel before I could leave the driveway. 

This was and is the lowest point of my entire life.

This is a story I’ve held close and haven’t shared publicly. Until today. This is my story back from being energetically bankrupt.  And it’s become a story that gives me strength instead of feeling shame or judgement. I wanted to share it with you not to depress you but rather to give you hope and to empower you.   

During that time, under the weight of all of that distress, both my nervous system and immune system were fried.  I was constantly on edge, rageful and irritable. I started to avoid social situations and isolated myself from my friends and family. 

The medical system had offered me some options to help me cope and feel better. But I felt that there was more out there that I could explore.  I thankfully found a counsellor that I deeply connected with and she introduced me to the concept of “self care”.   Of course,  I had heard of “self care” before….you know, tips like getting a massage, or going to the spa or doing yoga.

But true  “self care” was foreign to me.  And for the first time I was able to truly understand what it meant to care for myself.  At the most basic level, self care meant the ability to get myself fed, dressed and washed, and to generally function in the world. Self care didn’t have to cost money and you didn’t have to wear fancy yoga leggings to do it.  It was the path I took to nourish myself, rebuild my depleted energy stores so that I could weather and heal from the storm of stress. It  didn’t miraculously remove the pain but it gave me a way to navigate the journey through it.

Learning self care was like building my own LIFEBOAT, plank by plank. Sure I would still be rocked by waves of stress and pain, but in my lifeboat I felt secure, safe and stable.

We joke that in early motherhood, taking a shower every day, eating a nourishing meal or going to the bathroom by oneself are luxuries.  But the act of showering and eating is basic human self preservation. Why do we make them optional during those early days when they are so essential? They are not selfish things or self-indulgences, they are ways to become your healthiest, happiest  best self.

During my darkest times, my self care was non-existent.  I was not taking care of myself, running on fumes. And if I was operating on empty – who was filling up my kids?  Think of self care as the oxygen masks on a plane in the case of an emergency. For the safety of all those in your care, you must ensure your mask is on and fitted first before you can attend to any of those in your care.  

As I started my journey back to myself, reclaiming my health and well being, I started to realize I wasn’t alone in feeling deprived of my self-love and self-compassion.  

The lack of self care that was happening amongst my friends and patients was rampant.   In fact, less than 15% of mothers state that they eat a nourishing meal and/or have a decent night sleep (more than 6 hours) on a regular basis.  This means that more than 85% of us are deprived, depleted, fatigued and not operating as the best versions of ourselves.

This is called SuperWoman Syndrome and it’s an epidemic. 

From Moms to MomBosses to Household Managers – women have 20 different roles in life and are empowered to do whatever we want. 

However, at the same time, women are stressed. More stressed than any other generation of women before us and this stress can manifest itself as anxiety, depression, thyroid disorders, pain and other conditions.  As a generation of women we are suffering from Super Woman Syndrome and we don’t have the self care tools to navigate through it.

 It’s about meeting yourself where you are and thinking about small things you can do to take care of yourself better. Those small steps and micro moments can be surprisingly transformative.

Those small steps that I took in taking care of myself helped cultivate a shift in my well-being and in my thinking.  Over the years, my passion for self care grew and so did the desire to share and empower others with tools and strategies to reclaim their own health and well-being.  

Self care will mean different things to different people at different times in their life. 

But there are a few things that I started with that may help some of you – I call them my Self Care Basics:

1. Eliminate negative self talk, shame and guilt.

A lot of us are brought up to believe that we need to be better or do better.  It’s time to accept yourself as exactly how you are right now. You might think loving yourself sounds self-indulgent.  It’s not narcissism or self centeredness – it’s being kind and compassionate to yourself.

2. Check in with your body

Checking in with your body and doing a quick body scan every day is super powerful tool.  It gives you very clear information, and takes less than 20 seconds. Here’s what you need to do:  Sit still with your feet on the ground. Eyes closed. Notice your body and pay attention to your breath.  How do you feel? How is your energy? What is your posture like? Are you clenching your jaw? Do you have any pain, discomfort or tension?  How do you feel emotionally? Don’t judge, just notice. If you feel pain, it’s a warning from your body. A lot of self care is about noticing things.  

3. Do Something for your Body

Take 2-3 hours per week to do something for your body.  This will help manage your stress levels. Do something that not only brings you passion, but something that lowers cortisol (the stress hormone).  If your exercise is high intensity – it still keeps cortisol elevated. Things like  yoga, or taichi, a walk in nature or even a gentle swim or float will help decrease cortisol. You can do this in small moments.

4. Nourish Yourself.  

Virginia Woolf said “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”  

Feeding yourself well is a very simple way to show yourself some love and care everyday.  If you do one thing from this talk, I hope it will be to cook yourself a meal that nourishes your body.  EAting well helps you stay mentally well. Sure, an anti-inflammatory diet, semi-plant based with lowered gluten and dairy and more healthy fats is ideal.  But eat what makes you feel good and what your body needs at that moment. Make mealtimes sacred by making it a no device, no screen time zone. 

5. Find your team.

Your team isn’t exactly the same thing as your friends, although there may be some crossover.  Your tribe provides self care because it gives you a sense of belonging, which is an essential human need.  It can be a yoga class, or your pottery class or mama group – it’s the ability to feel open and honest and vulnerable amongst a group of people.  Make the effort to meet your tribe regularly and really listen. Be connected to your tribe and they will anchor you.
Let’s be clear, our stress isn’t going anywhere.  A 2015 study found that 9 out of 10 women reported feeling stressed, with half reporting that they were stressed every day.  When the going gets tough it’s common to drop self care from our list of to-do’s to make space and time for other things.  But self care needs to be at the top of your list and an active part of your life.  

It isn’t selfish – it’s not about me first, it’s about me as well.

Engaging in self care gives you the chance to be your very best version of you, the opportunity to be the person you aspire to be for yourself and everyone around you and the strength to continue to kick down barriers and blow past challenges.   THank you so much for coming to hear my story.  I hope I’ve inspired you with some tools to take care of yourself – physically, emotionally, energetically. 

While much of this is common sense, it can be hard to implement. Go slowly and go gently.

And remember, we’re all in it together.   

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