who puts on their oxygen mask first?

Something grabbed my attention last week when we were on an airplane. As always, right when we got in our seats, the flight attendant was giving out instructions on how to use the equipment in an emergency. I looked around to see that nobody was really paying attention. I’m surprised I was because I had just traded seats with my youngest daughter because she didn’t want to sit by the large man who was next to her. He had raised the armrest up because he was too large to sit in his space and was merging into hers. Wow, I didn’t want her to be in that position either. So I traded her seats. I was then checking to see where all of my other kids ended up on the plane. Someone (me) forgot (imagine that!) to get early seat assignments so we could sit together- and this was a crowded airplane. I usually don’t watch the flight attendant shows how to use the seat cushions in an emergency, or how to put on your seatbelt – really does anyone NOT know how to latch their seatbelt? but this time when she got to the oxygen mask falling out of the ceiling my ears perked up. She said, “If there is a change in air pressure, an oxygen mask will fall from the ceiling. Put on your oxygen mask FIRST, then help your children and those around you.” Hmm… Even though this has been put in my head for years and years, if it came right down to that time, I think I would put the oxygen mask on my child first. That’s just my personality, but is that the right thing to do? That one decision could put my life and my child’s life in jeopardy. Ah-ha, this started to make me think…

I have been doing some soul-searching lately and this is probably why the information the flight attendant was saying hit me. Maybe I should have listened to the advice of the professionals all along my journey. But seriously–Put the oxygen mask on me FIRST? That sounds so selfish. I have always put my kids first. Now that I look back 20/20, I have learned that you can help others best when you are healthy and you can only love someone as much as you love yourself.

The first few years after I married Matt in 2009, while I was inside our homemade cocoon, I made sure my children were healing. These 9 people were my number one concern. I didn’t want to be selfish. The psychologists we talked to said each of our kids would have hard times at different times of their lives, and so would Matt and I. We were on the roller coaster ride of a lifetime! Throughout most of the last 7 years, we have had at least one child going through a hard time. During those years I felt pretty healthy inside. I felt like I had been healed, but now I realize I was putting a band-aid on a gushing wound. As a mother, I had put the oxygen mask on my children first.

I was trying my best to make them feel safe and secure and kept busy making sure they all were ok. I was spread thin like many of us feel, with the emotions on high power. When you are busy, there is no time to think deeply (and I liked it like that.) I know why- It hurt to go deep within. After about 4 years of living this wild and crazy ride, I started to be able to concentrate again. I could read more than a paragraph and remember it. I have learned through studying the brain that when you have a trauma, your body goes into protection mode. My body was awesome about protecting my heart. If I don’t go inside, it won’t hurt. The dust was settling and I started to slowly lift the band-aid off. Ouch! Where’s my oxygen mask?!

I wondered why things had happened the way they did. Not “why me?” but a psychological “WHY?” I had to figure out my past, so I could live in the now and look forward to my future. History is important so we can repeat the good, and delete the bad in the future. I wondered why on so many levels about my first marriage and the things we went through. That’s a hard thing to figure out when half of the relationship (my husband) is gone and not here to ask.

6 years into my new marriage with Matt, he said, in the sweet caring way Matt always does, “Maybe you could think about you?” “What? No, I’m fine.” Or in other words, “This does not sound safe at all. That’s opening the wound wide open again! That’s like taking off all the bandaids and letting the open air get to it! I can put the oxygen mask on my kids, but I don’t need one- I’m fine. I don’t need help.” OR Did I?

Then I started reading self-help books. Hmmm… maybe Matt’s right? Maybe I need to look inside? I read many books and started to grow. Growing is hard, but it’s much better than being stuck. I understood now- If you’re not growing, you’re dying. One book my friend suggested was about being codependent. I could see part of this was true. I thought I was a victim but realized I had a part in what happened. I was then willing to take responsibility for my actions and my life. Matt was always such a great example of this to me and helped me talk through this. For months and months. You can see why I love this man. It hit pretty hard deep inside- I had to take responsibility for things. I also realized, though, I did the best I could with what I knew at the time and so had all of us. That’s why awareness is so important.

From what I have been researching for the past year or two, I decided that it’s best to do inner work before trying to help others. I needed to be safe and secure inside myself, then it would be much easier for my kids to feel this way. I did it backward but found any time is a good time to do soul searching and am glad I am on this path. I know I am a different person having gone through everything I have and would never go back to that person who thought I had it all right. I was so wrong. I love the way my eyes and EARS have been opened.

From now on I will put the oxygen mask on myself first. For most moms and dads, it’s a really hard thing to put ourselves first because we are programmed differently. I have to find things each day that fill me up. When we are depleted of energy, it’s really hard to give. Fill up that oxygen tank!

Go ahead, breathe in the fresh air.


pic taken August 20, 2015, Above Salt Lake City, Utah