Emotional,  Mental,  My Journey,  Physical,  Wellness

The Toll of Stress on Our Bodies – For Me It Caused Chronic Migraines

Day two of a migraine triggered by the stress and anxiety I feel when I drop my children back at their fathers. It’s scary to me, I never had migraines until a little over two years ago, when all this heartache over the children and seeing them so little just really began to affect my body. Once my migraines began, in Spring 2018, they took over my life.

Each week I would suffer 4-5 days a week, feeling like my world was reduced to intense head pain followed by the brain fog as a migraine subsided only to have a new migraine begin a day or two later. After trying countless medications with no success, last May I began to see the results from a monthly injection medication, and hadn’t had a migraine until September. Which was huge – I went from my migraines ruling my life to being migraine free – for 4 months! So nervous they are going to come back regularly.

Been crawling through my day, fighting the intense pain in my head and feeling out of it, decided after the grocery store I stopped at Dunkin’ Donuts for an iced tea. While sitting in the parking lot I took a look at my emails. And started crying, reading a nasty email from my ex-husband. Tears of exhaustion, frustration and anger. The stress and pain this man causes for the kids and me is endless and soul destroying.

And then the anxiety starts, the helpless worry about them. Who’s being punished? Who’s being hurt? And that’s how every migraine begins – with worry. The painful reality of our situation is that I am yoked to this man until my daughter turns 18, meaning 7 more years of abuse, narcissism, lying, damage, chaos. For now, I have to accept this misery as our reality and try and support the children. To be their safe place, to make sure they never lose hope that their lives can and will be better, to listen to them, to always remind them that the way they’re treated is not and will never be acceptable.

Migraines are my body’s way of rebelling, of telling me that it’s too much, this stress, worry and pain that never subsides. I never understood the link between our physical, mental and emotional well being. I had always been the master of my body, until a few years ago, when my body was asserting its power. The flashing “stop” signs were impossible to ignore. As I started to research and read endlessly, I began to see the powerful connection between our bodies and what’s happening in our souls, hearts and minds. Most crucially, I realized that I would have to change how I was coping with my situation, because my life wasn’t going to get better anytime in the foreseeable future.

Self-care felt selfish, if I wasn’t sacrificing myself for my children, then I wasn’t a good mother. And my martyr tendencies were even more complex, because in my active alcoholism, back in Fall 2016 – Spring 2017, I had profoundly failed my children. So I felt the need to push myself even further down the priority list, as if that would somehow help to redeem my epic failure as a mother. Inpatient treatment, in June 2017, taught me that self-care is non-negotiable, and for people in recovery, self-care is an essential tool for staying sober.

And how about now? In month 7 of the pandemic, have we just been bandaging things together? Can we feel the toll daily stress, anxiety and worry is taking on us? How do we build a habit of self-care? First and most important is treating ourselves with kindness and accepting that there will be good days, the days that we keep all the plates up in the air, and actually accomplish what we set out to do – including taking time for ourselves. And there will be bad days too – and on those days, all we might be able to accomplish is that we made it through to bedtime.

We have to be realistic, and set ourselves up for success by setting achievable goals. What’s doable? How about 1 wellness practice you commit to daily for 1 month? Schedule it and try your very best not to make an excuse. Maybe it’s trying a 10 minute meditation, starting a gratitude list, or a daily walk. You might feel the positive effects immediately, that walk outside giving you a few minutes to breath deeply and center yourself. Sometimes, I find my self-care is most important to my cumulative well-being. I get off track and days go by that I haven’t checked in with myself. My wake-up call is the dull ache in the back of my head that signifies a migraine starting.

If you’ve missed a few days of your self-care routine, don’t be discouraged. Each day is an opportunity to get back on track, to honor ourselves with a few minutes of wellness. Taking a self-care break pays off in dividends – stronger coping skills, lower anxiety and more authentic relationships. And most of all, treat yourself with the same kindness you show everyone else in your life. Because the most important relationship, the bedrock upon which you build your life, is with you.

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