Approximately one year ago, I began to navigate living with chronic migraine. With symptoms of about the same frequency and intensity of last fall, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect.
Perhaps the most challenging thing about this past year has been finding a balance between taking care of myself and doing all the things I want to do in the midst of never-ending, uninvited change. I’ve got lists. Lists and lists of blog ideas, treatment options, housework, reading, and craft projects for miles. This is the norm for me; it’s how I’ve always operated, but this year I’ve had to learn to be, in Budge Wilson’s words, a be-er. A do-er mentality with underlying virgo- perfectionism is hard to shake, and learning to rest and slow down just about every minute of every day is still a challenge, but it’s one that I’m certain will serve me in the long run. The lists can wait; the here-and-now trumps all the lists. Always. Esther Ekhart (of ekhartyoga.com), I couldn’t do it without you.
Despite my best efforts to be a be-er, I’m still driven by the notion that my value lies in how “productive” I am, and so I’m still wrangling with guilt. It’s been a pretty consistent theme. But having spent the last year learning how to take care of myself with my new pal migraine, I know that I am doing what is necessary. I know I deserve the chance to be loved and supported and propped up so I can be as healthy as possible; that this is what I would want for anyone else; and that if I were to barrel back into full-time work again I’d surely land on my bottom just like the last two times. So, the guilt is illogical and has faded over time, but it’s still there.
More than learning to be a be-er, wrangling with guilt, feeling sad, angry, strong, or proud, when I think about the past year I am in a state disbelief. How is it that my habits and plans and expectations were thrown up into the air, left to land where the wind dropped them? Before 2012 I had never really given more than a moment’s thought to the challenges of living with chronic pain, let alone considered that I could actually have chronic pain before I was thoroughly covered in well-earned, papery, soft and wrinkled skin. On the five stages of grief model (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance), I expected to be further along by now. But I suppose dealing with chronic pain (or anything else) is never so tidy as a five-stage model, and even if a person could move elegantly through these stages without looking back, the persistence of chronic migraine would not have it.
One year later, chronic migraine continues to be a relentless source of challenges and frustrations, but there is one small, crucial little thing that has changed, and that is this: in contrast to the lows of last winter, there is not even a smidgen of doubt in my mind that the struggle is worth it, and even when I’m a sad sack of immobile migraine covered in peppermint oil, ice packs, and tears, I know that tomorrow will likely be more wonderful than today was shitty.
“Our lives will only ever always continue to be a balancing act that has less to do with pain and more to do with beauty.” –Shane Koyczan