What pain has taught me
I’ve been struggling with frequent migraines for the past few years. It’s not the most fun part of my life, so I very rarely talk about it. Who wants to talk about a big bummer all the time? Not me!
But the experience of chronic pain has taught me more than a few lessons about life, faith, and perseverance.
Today I’m going to share some of what I’ve learned (lucky you!).
- That it’s okay to cry when something hurts: I have always prided myself for being a tough cookie with a high pain tolerance. I mean, I can handle a lot before I reach the breaking point. BUT over the past few years I’ve been at the brink more than once (actually, at least a dozen times). When I’ve allowed myself to cry (like real life physical tears) I somehow recover more quickly. No kidding! It’s science! It’s just one more way we’re fearfully and wonderfully made! Crying releases oxytocin and other stuff that get adrenaline pumping. In fact, there are all kinds of health benefits to crying. Who knew?
- That I HAVE to take care of myself: My migraines are caused by an enormous list of factors. Dehydration, too much caffeine, too little caffeine, lack of sleep, too much sugar, change in weather, hormones, stress, inactivity, eye strain…it all contributes to giving me an ouchy head. I’m learning that in order to be healthy, I need to stay on top of taking care of myself by eating well, sleeping plenty, and getting some exercise every day. When I slack, I regret it.
- That pushing through the pain usually just makes it worse: I’m a tough old bird (see point 1) and have tried to push through the pain for my whole life. In fact, when I was in middle school I had a molar knocked out before it was ready (don’t worry, it was a baby tooth). I went to the sidelines and shoved gauze in my mouth to stop the bleeding, gritting my teeth to hold it in place, and finished the game. It hurt like the dickens, but I played through it. I’m learning that pushing through the pain doesn’t work for migraine. It just causes more strain, more fatigue, and more time down and out later. It’s far better if I allow myself to take it easy, which is so hard for me to do. But in the long run, it pays off. I’ve come to realize that it’s not quitting, it’s practicing a different kind of perseverance.
- Not to minimize the impact migraines have on my life: When someone asks me how I am my default answer is, “GREAT!” with as much pep as I can muster. If ever I do mention that my head hurts, I usually say that it isn’t too bad or that I’m fine. Part of that is because I get all awkward and fidgety over small talk. Mostly though, it’s because I don’t want to admit my vulnerabilities. But when the person asking is someone I have a good relationship with, I really need to be honest with them. I need to trust that they’ll be understanding and that they genuinely care about me just as much as I care about them.
- To take advice with a grain of salt: When some people do find out about my migraines, they tend to have super solutions to cure them. I’ve heard all kinds of ideas: getting my daith pierced (it’s a bumpy part of the ear), taking this or that supplement, buying this kind of powder for my smoothies or that kind of oil to rub on my temples, special diets, certain exercises…I could go on all day. I’ve tried a few of them with mixed results (for example, some essential oils actually cause migraines for me even when other people have them on). What I’ve learned is that just because something works for someone else doesn’t mean it will work for me. If there’s a suggestion I know doesn’t work for me or that I’m uncomfortable with, I can thank them for the idea…but I don’t have to feel pressure to give it a try. When folks offer advice it’s usually because they care and want to help.
- To find a way to be thankful, even on the most painful days: The other day, when in the middle of a brain crusher, I wondered if I could possibly be thankful. I’ve been coming back to that thought ever since. As I write this, with a minor migraine, I’m able to say that, yes, I can. While I’m not thankful FOR the pain, I’m grateful for the ways it’s made me a more compassionate person. I can offer thanks for the days when I’m not in pain, for the very moment when the aches subside. I’m thankful for the people around me (most of all my husband) who support me with prayer, pills, and peppermint oil. But most of all, I’m thankful for the way pain has taught me to rely on God in ways I’ve never had to before.
Living with pain isn’t fun. It sure can derail a lot in our lives. But it can also be used by God in order to refine us into what He’s forming us to become. And, for that, I’m grateful.
(Note: I’m scheduled for an appointment with a new-to-me doctor to look into finding solutions to this problem. If you’re a person who prays, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if you thought of me once or twice. Thanks!)