I woke up on the emergency room floor. I assume my dad carried me, pulling me from my bed and dragging me along as he helped my mom get to the ER.
At age 5 they couldn’t leave me home alone. Some nights they would find a babysitter, often our next door neighbor Mrs. Hishrick, but I surmise that was only possibly if my mom’s pain came on early enough that Mrs. Hishrick was still awake.
She would have headaches so violently that it shook our whole house, not just her inner world. When it was bad enough, high octane meds from the local ER were here only relief.
I don’t remember much but can still feel her desperation and I remember knowing she was in trouble. Then, rather all at once, she was gone, moved away from my dad and me, unable to function any longer and so desperate no other choice remained.
One of my most significant memories after her leaving was her pain being gone.
Before she left, pain. After, no pain.
I never drew any connections but I distinctly observed the difference. We remained intimately connected and so I observed her healing first hand even while we didn’t live together. What I remember most distinctly was it felt like a light switch. Pain, No pain.
What could do something like that? What miracle or medicine could possibly have worked? I asked her:
“I don’t remember when I had my first migraine headache, but I do remember the day when Dr. Brooken’s, our family physician, said I would probably have them the rest of my life. Anyone who has ever had a migraine knows they are unpredictable, excruciatingly painful, and absolutely relentless. To be told I would have them the rest of my life was much like a prison sentence.
In my late twenties I woke up around four in the morning with the familiar headache throb. My first thoughts were directed to assessing how much pain had taken hold. Sometimes I could feel the pain train coming down the cerebral tracks, other times it was already there. I would quietly make my way to the bathroom floor where I wrapped my body in a deep amber colored cotton blanket as I waited for the first early morning dose of Excedrin to lessen the pain. The first dose would slightly dull the edges of the knifing pain. The second dose would penetrate the heated curse just a little more than the first. Through-out the day, every hour I would two more.
In the early morning hours lying on the bathroom floor, I distracted my mind from the throbbing by inviting images from around the world to surface in my consciousness —I imagined a neighborhood in Southern China, herds of giraffes running across the African tundra, small villages of people bowing to the early morning or evening mist, doorways in Columbia, highways in Japan, thatched roofs in Ireland, the smiling face of a bride, little children in plaid shirts playing kickball, elders sitting in nursing homes eating their breakfast, and junkyards full of rusted out cars. I saw the skyscrapers in New York City, pine forests in the Rocky Mountains, and small cafes in southern France. I traveled the world and as various scenes entered the screen of my mind, I blessed each and every one.
Despite the migraine, I was grateful I could lie on my bathroom floor, wrapped in my blanket, and travel the world. I knew the early morning sun would make her way and send her rays of light through the small window by the sink. And at some level, I didn’t believe I would have them the rest of my life. I didn’t know how or when they were going to end, but I trusted that somehow the pain would derail. I had to trust this. I also knew that despite my pain, I wasn’t the only one in the early morning hours in pain. I knew many people were suffering all around the world. Many of us must do hard. I knew someone, somewhere in the world was caught in the cerebral pain train with me.
The idea that others also suffered helped me to feel less alone because I had learned not to tell anyone about my migraines. If I did slip and mention it, I was flooded with all sorts of advice and repeatedly told I needed to learn to relax and not take life so seriously. Admittedly, I was driven and ambitious to excel in all aspects of life. I longed to be around people who were like me. I looked for them everywhere. Whenever I met people who were more like me (my tribe) my life at home seemed smaller and smaller. Sitting across the kitchen table with my husband, I could feel the tightness of our conversations and his constricted thinking. He would put limits on life while I was taking the gates down.
One day I decided to try to tell him about my travels to other parts of the world in the early morning as I lay on the bathroom floor. He listened, scratched his head and told me I was weird. There was no interest, no playfulness, and no curiosity. However, when I felt his judgment that day, I noticed something. I noticed how my body tightened and how stiff I felt as I tried to protect my heart from his judgment of me. I noticed that I often felt as if he had a tightrope around my neck so I could only go so far.
Noticing this with him, I began to also notice what happened when I began to feel self-conscious or judged by someone outside of our home. I noticed that one hundred percent of the time when I felt judged, it was as if a nuclear bomb went off in my body, and the pathways to my heart closed down. I also noticed that when I was around people who could fly with ideas and who wanted to expand their view of the world, my body relaxed, my heart and spirit opened, and my forehead was quiet.
I started to pay close attention, and realized I was mostly living around people who looked at life in terms of right and wrong, should and should not’s. I was around people who believed you had to drink three glasses of milk a day and who never considered this guideline might be being promoted by the dairy industry. I was around people who insisted on the knife and spoon being on the right side of the dinner plate and the fork on the left. I was married to a man who wanted tenure at a university so he would feel secure and who would have never considered the living room having anything in it other than a couch, coffee table, two wing back chairs and maybe some books. He was mortified when I wanted to turn our living room into a creative art space and put up art easels.
Gradually, I realized I was a trying to squeeze my consciousness into a world way too narrow for me. My energy was bigger than my container. However, I loved the people I was around. I valued them. It was confusing to want more than their kindness. Why couldn’t that be enough? I only knew it wasn’t. I was tired of keeping my inner travels a secret and eventually taking up to 23 Excedrin a day.
I began to see that in order to live in this constricted world, I would have to keep reaching for the Excedrin bottle and traveling alone in the bathroom. This awareness was breaking my heart as well as my head. I couldn’t stand it anymore. But I didn’t know how to expand my life with people who already felt they were expanded.
So one day, I walked backwards to my office. I waved to the neighborhood as I slowly, step by step, made my way the couple of blocks to campus. This wasn’t a well-thought out plan. It just happened.
Somehow I knew I had to change my life and try to see every single thing from a different perspective. I invited others to join me in widening the view on the programs we were offering at the university; I took my lunch out of the staff lounge and ate on the manicured lawn, asked the janitor to remove all the florescent lights in my office and put in warmly lit lamps, and told my secretary to take the afternoon off and do something outrageous for a change. Gradually, I started rocking my world. And with each rock, the pain train rocked and gradually……… derailed in favor of the expanded view.
I began to see that in order for me to be with a man who didn’t want to consciously grow and participate in a larger world, I could only so far. I also saw that I certainly wasn’t smart enough to make a very big impact with the age-old traditions at a major university who prided themselves in running the freshman orientation the same way for over twenty years. Simply, I began to see that in order for me to fit into this lifestyle, I would have to continue to wear the leash and squeeze my consciousness into the little green Excedrin bottle. I would have to suit up, shut up, and drink three glasses of milk. There truly wasn’t a lot of room for another way, or at least I wasn’t able to find it.
So I traded in my migraine headaches to follow my heart and find my grain in life. I threw the Excedrin bottles into the garbage can, burned my amber colored cotton blanket, gave away my nylons and pumps, and hit the road. I’ve never had a full-blown migraine since. But I did try an Excedrin a few years ago. The two little white tablets made me sick to my stomach.”