Throwing Out the Welcome Mat to Pain
Rather than mounting an armed resistance to pain, have you considered throwing out the welcome mat instead?
Pain comes in many forms—physical, emotional, spiritual—an unwelcome and uninvited intruder. We use a variety of strategies to resist and fend it off. We battle and try to kill it, even using terms like pain-killer. Some ease our discomfort for a short time, but often the pain returns, persists, and can become chronic. That causes even more turmoil and the fight is on.
I’ve lived with migraines for more than fifty years, longer than I’ve lived with motorcycles. It’s only recently that I’m starting to come to terms with them. While not everyone deals with migraines, we all carry pain from time to time.
It’s not that I’ve ignored them. How can you ignore a knife sticking in your eye or spending days on end in bed, getting up only to vomit, trying to sleep, waiting for the torment to pass? Over the years, I’ve modified my lifestyle to avert and control them. I’ve consulted with specialists and holistic practitioners. I avoid known triggers, eat healthy foods, and maintain a regular schedule.
Migraines are unpredictable and interfere with your lifestyle. You can’t make plans without fear of letting people down. And there’s a stigma. I can’t let a little thing like a headache derail me!
Many years ago, during my hospital nursing career, a coworker and I were making a patient’s bed while he’d gone for surgery. I’d felt the insidious signs, like clouds billowing to form thunder heads, but thought I could will them away. (I thought that every time one started.) I did my inherited stoic best to put on a healthy front. It was only when I ran into the patient’s washroom to throw up that I had to admit defeat and go home.
Thanks to self-management and pre-emptive medications they no longer debilitate me to this extent. But there’s a downside of trying to wrest them into submission.
So disabling and painful are migraines, you do whatever’s necessary to avoid one. Overuse of preventative prescription meds and over-the-counter analgesics, like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, create another type of headache—Medication Overuse Headache. Even staying within the daily limit, inadvertently you increase their intensity and frequency. It’s a vicious cycle.
It’s taken a long time but finally, I’ve had to accept that I’m not infallible. Resisting and trying to muscle them into submission has been futile. They always find another way in. Instead, I’ve begun opening the door and throwing out the welcome mat. Pain never arrives alone, it brings colleagues like anxiety irritability, and anger. It’s a crowded space and makes it hard to think straight.
Extending a welcome shocks them. “Come in, make yourself at home.” I say. They don’t know what to do. I speak with them as I might with anyone I’m getting to know. “Why are you here? What message do you have for me? What can I do to make you comfortable? Where would you rather be than here in the dark?” I’ll invite them to come along for a walk. They’re caught off guard by throwing out the welcome mat. They’re used to being shown the door.
There may be nothing to do except surrender, acknowledge, and be with them. Accept there are things I can’t control. Even that can diffuse pain.
Pain doesn’t apologize for disrupting my life and go away. It’s come for a reason. I may need to give my eyes a rest, avoid overcommitting myself, stop overthinking, or take more time for stillness and listening. Maybe it’s time to let go of old stories. The pain and its posse are still there, but we are getting to know each other.
They may not go away entirely. But if I can reduce the use and frequency of both my headaches and medication, I can put the energy of pain to better use. Already I’ve learned valuable lessons—insights inaudible during the heat of battle.Life is about embracing all it throws at me, not just the good stuff.
Pain comes in many forms. Not everyone gets migraine but everyone has pain. Next time pain visits, try throwing out the welcome mat. See what happens.