|This is a story about how we talk to ourselves and listen to our bodies.
This is my story of awakening to my wholeness.
Last year at this time I spent my birthday in the ER, an I.V. attached to my arm, injecting what the doctor jokingly referred to as “our migraine cocktail of choice.” For a woman who rarely goes even to her naturopathic doctor, works at a natural health and wellness store, and is passionate about guiding women to self-care this was the lowest of lows. Gone were my birthday dinner plans. As they say, I had hit bottom.
There is nothing wrong with choosing to use drugs to manage migraines. I just knew that it wasn’t what worked for me – although I was no longer certain what did.
I started getting my first migraines when I was 30. At the time, I owned a small boutique in the city. When I felt a migraine coming on I would hang up my “back in five minutes” sign and walk around the block to the corner store to get my migraine remedy: two excedrin, a can of diet coke, and a small box of wheat thins. Usually, if I caught the signs early enough, this worked. If not, I was in for the long haul. Three days total — no more, no less. Back then I didn’t have kids and I was able to work through it. I would crawl into bed with the lights out as soon as I got home.
I knew the migraines were hormone-related — they came with my cycle, once a month. My mom and her mom had the same. When I was pregnant and nursing they went away. Sweet relief.
But as soon as I was done nursing my second baby the migraines returned. This time, they were worse.
I’m sharing this story (exactly one year later) because I’ve realized it isn’t really about migraines. Not entirely. This is a story about parenthood and perfection. About pushing and letting go. About feeling broken and realizing you are already whole.
Migraine management and good old-fashioned fear
Through my late 30s and into my 40s, I managed my migraines the best I could. I was passionate about slowing down, simplifying, and creating a meaningful life. We moved out of the city to a nearby Island to expand our little urban homestead and surround ourselves with nature. I tried not to focus on my migraines or take them too personally. The quieter lifestyle, a cleaner diet of local produce and eggs from our backyard, and the breathing practices of yoga seemed to help.
Things changed when my divorce was finalized. I no longer had the built in support of another parent in the home. Mom needing to go to bed in the dark and quiet and not speak to anyone was no longer feasible. My body was also changing: between the stress of all the life changes and the beginning of perimenopause my endocrine system was thrown out of balance.
I remember telling a mentor in 2016, shortly after signing my divorce papers, that I was going to get to the root of my migraines once and for all. Looking back, under all that “I can do this!” bravado, I was terrified of being a single mom and beginning a career as a solopreneur. What would I do if the debilitating migraines continued? I was 45 years old, I had finished two life coach training programs and a yoga teacher training, and was working part-time at our local health and wellness store while I grew my coaching practice.
Over the next two years I tried every kind of alternative healing modality I could think of. I was healing my heartbreak first and foremost, along with the migraines. Nothing got to the root of the problem. I tried EFT, herbal medicine, acupuncture, chiropractic, energy healing, shamanic journeying, feng-shui, mushroom microdosing while meditating, and massage. All of these can and do help but there was something else I wasn’t seeing in all this seeking. Not yet.
Letting go of blame and shame
That night in the ER, my birthday plans ruined, painkillers trickling in through the IV, my body asked me to surrender. My nervous system couldn’t handle the pain anymore.
I was stuck in fear and judgemental shoulds. I should be able to take care of myself. I can’t be sick because I have to work and be there for my kids. I’m flawed. I went so far as to wonder why a man would want to be in relationship with me when I’m not in control of my health.
When I woke up the day after my birthday, I could see all of this was preventing me from being well. I realized I could shift this with love and a change of perspective. I knew I would do this now. I needed to believe I could heal, and in fact that I was already whole.
All migraines are different. What worked for me won’t necessarily work for someone else. I started making changes. I had a long talk with my naturopath, expressing how overwhelmed I was by all the possible triggers. We chose a few things to focus on. Hormone balancing (we continue to adjust with plant based medicine), a supplement for preventing migraines (a combination of magnesium, riboflavin, butterbur), and Ashwaganda (an Ayurvedic herb that helps the body deal with stress).
I talked to a nutritionist friend about food triggers. I cut the top five migraine triggers (dairy, wheat, chocolate, alcohol, and sugar) out of my diet. I read books on migraines from a Western neurological perspective as well as Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda.
Trusting my body to lead the way
It was the Ayurvedic Lifestyle Wisdom that brought me home to myself. It was so similar to all I knew, practiced, and taught about self-care. I re-committed to going to bed at 10pm and waking at 6:30am. Eating three meals a day, and placing more attention on sitting down for a real lunch mid-day. I drank warm water before and between meals but not during. This increased my digestive fire. Our digestion is linked to many other systems of the body.
Mindfulness practices such as meditation, doing one thing at a time, pranayama, EFT, and yoga have helped me out of the cycle of living in the past or the future.
My favorite shift was one my body had been telling me. No more caffeine. By not drinking a daily dose of caffeine I’m able to treat myself to a beautiful coffee medicine (a hemp milk latte or americano from a local cafe) when my other remedies don’t work. I look forward to sitting down with this treat I have on special occasions (migraines!). Our mental states are powerful when it comes to healing our bodies.
What is real strength? Kindness.
Migraines have taught me a ton about wellness and the way hormones work in the body. About my relationship to self-care and self-love too. I believe a lot of their power over me had to do with issues around worth. They became the part of me that was wrong, not enough, unfit, weak. It was me against migraines. Who would win? When I got another migraine I was the loser.
Much of my healing came from taking the pressure off myself to be other than who I am or where I’m at today. I’ve always tried to treat myself with kindness, but this is different. This is deeper and more lasting.
I hadn’t realized that the self-care I was doing before had stopped working. I needed to shift it, tweak it, and start anew. Most importantly I needed to look at the motivation, the why behind my self-care choices. After my trip to the ER I let myself drop all the extraneous and focus on getting my nervous system back together. I was motivated to get well not because there was something wrong with me that I had to eradicate but because I wanted my kids to see me well and thriving. I wanted to get well because of love.
It’s been twelve months since I’ve been knocked out with a three-day migraine. This is huge for me. I’ve had the initial symptoms but by following my migraine protocol I’ve avoided landing in bed, wrung out with nausea, vomiting, fever, and off-the-chart pain. The best part is I’m no longer afraid at the onset of a migraine. I know who I am and what works for me. I have tools in my pocket that align with my body’s wisdom.
I celebrated my 47th birthday just a few days ago with my kids at a local flamenco performance. I let myself take in how far I’ve come in a year. I’ve created a new story for myself, for my children. I feel my wholeness, my OK-ness, my alive-ness. This is where my attention lives.
Thank you for reading along. May you feel your wholeness in this story too.