I spoke with Selena on a sunny day in September, and her voice definitely matched the feel of the weather: warm, bright, and vibrant. Even during moments wherein our phone receptions would give out or we couldn’t hear each other, her “hello?” sounded more concerned about me than irritable. When we’d hear each other again, she’d give a clear, relieved laugh and continue talking as if nothing ever happened. It was hard not to feel what she was feeling, as it was clear that I was talking to a person who genuinely cared about our conversation.
It turns out that this is just part of who she is. From the beginning of her formative years growing up on Maui, Selena was an empathetic and big-hearted child, one she herself describes as a “good girl and a people-pleaser.” While her mother struggled with a complicated and taxing pregnancy, Selena found herself caring for her mother so diligently that she was the preferred method of help, even above other, older family members.
“My grandmother would offer to help, and my mother would say ‘no, that’s okay. Selena’s got it.’” Selena laughs. “I got used to being a caregiver, and it just kind of stuck.”
Selena grew up visiting her mother at work often, and so her “home away from home was a bar.” It was there that she was taught that unwelcome remarks from bar patrons were to be treated gently, so as not to upset them. She was expected to keep people happy, even if it meant sacrificing her own comfort and happiness for theirs. This only seemed to further stoke her need to make people happy, and it didn’t look like her teenage years were going to get any better, as she struggled with a constant need for praise and fulfillment that threatened to put her in some difficult situations.
“I learned that I needed to work really hard for praise, and that sometimes you don’t receive praise from the people who matter.” She says, “But it was running that saved me. It let me know that I was really good at something, and that I was worthy of praise.”
The running started after a cross country coach from the local high school knocked on her door unannounced to recruit her. This coach would eventually become her second family, and someone she still speaks of with an added warmth. The impact was so great that she continued running when she entered college, and never lost her interest in health and movement.
Selena continued to struggle with a sort of Imposter Syndrome, feeling as if she still needed to give fully of herself despite excelling at much of whatever she set out to do, including becoming a CNA and training as a paramedic.
Then, in 2012, things changed.
In the same year, Selena divorced from her husband and father of her two children and was diagnosed with Stage one Adrenal Fatigue. The one-two punch affected both her emotions and her physical health, and it was surprisingly eye-opening to her.
“I was in bed all the time. I cried all the time. I hurt all the time. I had to ask for help, and it taught me that I had to make my health a priority, even over my own ego.” She says. “I started writing these words over and over again: ‘love me more. Love me more. This is all of the ways that I can love me more.’ And that was where The Love You More Project came from.”
Following the loss of her mother, who Selena admits “didn’t love herself at all,” the drive to make her project a reality, and to start setting her own boundaries, became even stronger. She gradually learned to care for herself as well as she cared for everyone else, and — surprise — the world didn’t crumble, and her children didn’t hate her.
“I found that, through it all, my kids gave me love unconditionally,” she says, “even if I was a complete disaster.”
Since then, Selena has made it her mission to teach as many mothers as she can that parenthood can — and should — be an even trade.
“Motherhood is not martyrdom.” She says. “Just because we become mothers, it doesn’t give people the right to assume that we’re going to give up who we are before kids. Just because we’re moms, we don’t need to let go of everything. We can still live in ways that feel good, and be good moms. Denying basic needs makes you feel isolated and depressed, and we don’t take anything for ourselves. It absolutely does not have to be that way.”
To find out more about Selena’s Love You More Project and all it has to offer, go here.