From childhood on, I endured horrendous migraines. The typical headache started on the left side of my neck, crawled up to my temple, and there it did sit for three days, hammering away at my sanity. Nothing worked. Not the wonder drugs, not dietary restrictions, not massage, certainly not exercise, not acupuncture. Nothing.
Life was hard, and I felt cursed. Eventually, I realized that if I caught the stinkin’ thing early, early, early, at the first twinge of neck pain, and hit it with caffeine, and never, never, never consumed caffeine for any other purpose, I could sometimes knock a headache down. Sometimes.
After a few years of focusing on early detection, I realized how many migraine triggers I have: Fatigue, dehydration, low blood sugar, stress, anxiety, overexertion, overheating even if I wasn’t exercising, prolonged noise, sitting in the truck all day no matter how happy I was to be on the road, working out too hard… Except, wait a minute.
These stressors might not give everybody migraines, but they aren’t subtle. The human body is designed to signal when it’s in want of something basic—like food, water, rest, quiet, movement, warmth, cool—and my triggers were simple indeed.
Fast forward, to me on the phone with a foster mom, who’s lamenting that the foster child in her house is impossible to put to bed. Little Britches is up roaming half the night, though he might fall asleep in school. He’ll eat until his stomach rebels but will also skip multiple meals without thinking anything of it. He still has accidents though he’s in kindergarten. The boy is a rolling wreck, and when foster mom asks him why he does what he does, the kid can’t understand the question.
This child and I have something in common. He’s learned to focus on his outward environment intensely and at all times, because when your parents are substance abusers, or mentally ill, you dare not take your eyes off them. You learn to live without sleep, without regular meals, and so forth, because your survival depends on being able to ignore bodily needs, even bodily urges.
I was never abused as a child (thank you, Mom and Dad), but I suffer vestiges of the SuperMom complex, and have to accuse myself of self-neglect, at least. I bit off more than I could chew, and might have gotten better about asking for help, except I was an utter failure at recognizing when I even needed or deserved help. I often didn’t know when I was thirsty, hungry, lonely, tired…. What I knew, was that my to do list never ended. No wonder life was tough.
I’m happy to report I haven’t had a bad headache for years. My grandma and my dad noticed their migraines abated as the kids left home, the career settled down, and the finances came to heel, though my dad also swears inchoate hardening of the arteries probably helped too.
I don’t think so. I think Paying Attention is the start of a lot of wisdom, and one of the things we expect of ourselves toward our loved ones.
So this week’s question (drum roll please): What signals to you that you need some TLC? How do you know you need to delegate, say no, put your feet up, or otherwise circle the wagons, and how did you learn this about yourself?
And of course… To one commenter, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I’ll give away a $25 Amazon card and signed copy of Joanna Bourne’s “The Black Hawk,” which is about the best romance novel I have ever read, and infinitely more worthy of attention than a boring old to do list.