I was born into a legacy and brought up alongside it.
When my mother became pregnant with her third and final child, migraines descended on her like mosquitoes on sweet fruit. Doctors buzzed around her with drugs they themselves would never ingest. She dutifully tried each offering with a new baby and two young kids in tow.
An extra sense of responsibility was stirred in me by the simplistic math of my two older siblings. Me plus Mother equaled pain in their eyes and they were not so shy in the sharing of this information.
So it was I who sat by her bedside drawing circles on the back of her hand for distraction. Me, climbing up to the facet to cool off her compress each time her body would burn through the damp facecloth. I learned to be quiet and still while she moaned in pain beside me. As I grew I witnessed pain strengthen it’s grip on her.
Conversations from my adult life have led me to believe that my brother and sister felt abandoned by the emergence of each new migraine. Not me. No. I was busy feeling responsible. But with responsibility came a bond. Perhaps it was born out of understanding. Children understand so much before they set about the business of forgetting, of growing. I had seen all that hid in the dark waiting for my mother. I had not turned and looked away.
By the time I was a teenager there was less of my mother left. Dark rooms were her domain. Most of her friends and hobbies were only distant flickers from a previous life. I often stayed home from school to tend to her. Later when I had my drivers license- she’d call me in class and I’d be excused to be her caregiver. There were times I left before the phone ever rang, just feeling something over the airwaves. The teachers would tell her: “she knew, she is already on her way”.
All this made for a rather serious child. In the throws of unbearable pain my mother would beg for an end. She would ask me to make it happen. This was a considerable conflict for a daughter who would do anything to help her mother. It did little to lighten the load of belief that the burden of responsibility was mine. In all that discomfort and writhing I chose to believe my mom knew not what she asked of me. It took many years and many more therapists to remove responsibility from my being.
An uncomfortable awakening came some time later. I was living one country over from my family. It happened in the living room of my West El Norte Parkway home, in Escondido, California, on an unremarkable afternoon, alone. I lost the vision in my right eye. This was sudden like a summer storm. My field of vision looked like it was filled with static. Initially, I was unconcerned, it seemed like an interesting anomaly. Like something out of the movie The Abyss. But the circuit boards in my brain were were lighting up. Within twenty minutes I was completely paralyzed by pain. Light had transformed into daggers. I’d experienced forms of migraine headaches before but this was my first migraine with aura. None of my training could have prepared me for the intensity of this event.
Additional migraines came on-board to collaborate with the first one shortly thereafter. My mother sent pain medication via post. The eyes with which my newlywed husband had looked at me with widened in fear. He had met my mother. This was not what he had signed up for. We had both thought that avoiding the chemistry of pregnancy would keep me safe. Not so.
It was age thirty that pain dropped down out of the sky to land squarely on (my Mom) Sandra’s shoulders. I was twenty four when it came for me.
Ignorance can indeed equate to blissfulness. Sometimes being blind sighted is better than knowing the demons personally which are making plans for you. You may need to trust me on this .
Fear emptied directly into my life. No area remained untouched. I wandered wild eyed and white knuckled from one late night into the spilling over of each morning. It felt like amy DNA was in the process of betraying me. I meditated. One hour each morning and evening. We had specialized testing performed to find any possible food allergies. We ate like the animals do. Our food was raw and unprocessed. No sugar. No booze. No caffeine. Strangely, no oranges, no strawberries and a veritable laundry list of possible allergy inducing foods further restricted my diet. I increased my therapy sessions thinking that I’d unwittingly unscrewed something in my psyche. My migraines took no notice of these measures.
Regardless of my meditation practice, present time was proving a hard place to stay seated in. Panic had gotten a hold of my cell phone number and was proceeding to light me up with esteemed urgency.
The body has a whole system of bells and whistles. It has an intelligence greater than the developed mind. However without a decoder ring it can be maddening to try and tied it all together. My mother was was enjoying the new found commiseration, though was proving to offer little actual insight.
Around this time I started using my eternal optimist to lie myself happy. After each migraine I would gather myself up like a coach with his team in locker room before a big game. There were some great speeches delivered. Real peppy. By the end of each one I was convinced no migraine would lay it’s sticky fingers on me again.
Vacillating between optimist and incubus left me feeling like I just needed a lab coat for my new namesake of Dr Jekyll and Mrs. Rose. Both were authentic enough versions to sign their names to my cheques. All it ever takes is serious injury or pain to awaken understanding in the individual nature of the soul’s path. We are born alone. We die alone. Those who experience chronic pain know it can lock you in a room without a phone.
I think this is why sickness scares us. Even the flu can make us suspect our lines of connection are more fragile than we’s like to imagine. Perhaps this explains all the attention and comfort the common cold demands. Illness, pain, injury draws us up into the recesses of ourselves. Finding our way out can often feel difficult. this is why we rush in with all sorts of remedies, rather than relaxing and trusting that time will care for what ails us.
I’ve come to understand that much of the time my reaction to what is, is worse that the experience itself. My reaction rarely exists in the moment. I’d get enrapture with concerns for two hours away and come down with an awful case of the “What if’s”. It took the passage of time for me to open to the moment, to be with my pain, to even remove some judgements from it. Instead of accompanying pain with dread I began trying on a little trust. I even started greeting the experience with inquiry. “What is this sensation”? Feeling it without automatically running for ugly labels. These were small moments I worked to expand on.
Intuition told me no one would be coming to rub circles on my hand. I had to find a different destination. My mother and I could not arrive at the same darkened room for one. We knew different things but feared the same darkness.
I needed to be free from fear. Instead I became more intimate with pain.
Over the next few years I got worse. My migraines became severe and constant.
I watched my husband withdraw. He couldn’t hack my pain. Can you guess what comes next? Enter an emotionally complicated divorce which broke my heart and severed my relationship with my parents for years.
And so my path truly began. In many ways it began alone. I lived in a huge house on top of a mountain. The sun would rise over the ocean and set over the lake. I would wake with the clouds nestled in around me. I still have reoccurring dreams that I reside there.
My friends would show up and put on music. They would chat around me and stay for days. I remember one of my girlfriends telling me, (because I never spoke then,) it looked like I’d been smacked clear across the face. She went on to say it seemed I was in a constant state of shock. When I reflect on that time, it is a time lapse scene in a movie. Everyone moving around me, and me, still and calm.
Around this time my autoimmune issues started rearing up. I assumed it was all psychosomatic and ignored it. That is until I became housebound. My health became impossible to ignore at that point. My internal cheerleader had pom-poms for every occasion. I don’t know what I would have done without her.
People find their path in strange places. I’ve had lifetimes of experiences between then and now. From where I stand, it is true that pain changes us. I’ll tell you now that I like who I am today. I understand the importance of integrity. I value strength in character and I fear next to nothing. For those who value my friendship and my love, I am loyal and I am faithful. So for everything that has come thus far, and everything that is to come.. I will welcome you as the student welcomes the master.
“Grace is God as a heart surgeon, cracking open your chest, removing your heart- poisoned as it is, with pride and pain- and replacing it with his own” Max Lucado