By Louise Houle, January 24, 2016
Life is filled with losses, big and small. From the loss of a tender moment gone by to the loss of a loved one. Anyone who has lived with chronic illness and pain develops a rather intimate knowledge of loss. Of many losses over time.
I promise I will come through the pain and loss, but bear with me as I reflect on the journey. Having developed Psoriatic Arthritis in my late thirties and soon after chronic migraine, this path has not been easy. I’m now officially pushing 50, so I need to travel back a bit.
First I had to go on sick leave and lost my full time job. I had to stop my passion of teaching, performing and choreographing line dances for a social club of which I was vice president and a happily dancing member. I lost my pride when I fell on welfare, and almost lost my home.
I lost the ability to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it. Oh, and of course, to do it ALL! I could no longer stay up late at night playing games on my computer. I could no longer sleep well, even after deciding to kick the animals out. I could no longer stay in choir and practice theatre improv games as recreation.
Any idea that I had about being able to have or do it all was quickly thrown out the window. I started to lose confidence in my abilities. What could I still do? Where was I headed? If I wasn’t working, where was my intrinsic value?
I lost control over how many medications I was taking not wanting to take so many, but knowing that without them I couldn’t function.
I lost friends and missed out on many social and family gatherings. Even in my primary love relationship, with my libido plummeting as pain rose in frequency, I questioned how I could fully nurture and fully participate in this partnership. What did I have to offer her still? Who was I becoming?
I feel blessed today for the multitude of realizations that helped turn my life around so that I could live fully, with great adaption, along with the pain and illness. But not before grieving deeply. I still sometimes grieve little losses but I don’t dwell in them or allow them free reign of my mind.
Learning more about Buddhism, and in particular, Mindfulness Meditation helped me in a myriad of ways. The first important understanding on a profound level was that life is impermanence. We cling to our lives wanting nothing to change, to be able to control as much as we can. But loss is life. The great news about this, and what can be so freeing, is to understand that if life is impermanence, then so is pain. I am never all about the pain. And even if I perceive myself to always have pain, those sensations wax and wane greatly. I know for a fact that every migraine will pass. And every joint pain can be iced into submission! It reminds me of the biblical reference “this too shall pass”. How encouraging?
The second concept that helped me is being mindful in the present moment, in each breath. I would catch my anxious brain as it spun stories – such crazy anxiety-riddled stories of disaster and impending doom, and I began to recognize them as just stories. Not real life. This gave me such freedom and helped calm down my overtaxed nervous system.
I recognized deeply the need to respect the new limitations of both my body but also my mind which had become cognitively challenged living with such pain for so long. The brain of a migraineur is hyper sensitive to all stimuli. I am still learning to respect this on a deep level and trying to live more in harmony with my environment – to create conditions more conducive to being well and not triggering migraines. Some triggers I can control, others I cannot. I sit more easily with the anxiety and the knowing that more migraine attacks will follow. I’ve let go of the anger and injustice that goes hand in hand with such a debilitating disease as chronic migraine.
While on disability, I changed the focus of my life by getting involved with Migraine Zéro, and later Migraine Québec to try to help give tools and perspective to others on similar journeys. This has been the greatest reward of all, to see my dear members and “migraine” friends if I may say… journey, struggle, get angry, find peace and yes even flourish.
We are a strong bunch, we chronic migraineurs. So much lies in how we perceive ourselves and our lives. I’m not saying here that we should just all adopt positive thinking and our lives would be great. Or if we just stress out less, the migraines will completely disappear. But there is power in acceptance on a deep level, and having the uttermost compassion toward ourselves as we journey toward wholeness. Be patient. Breathe deeply. And most of all laugh and love!