Migraines & The Tower

A few days ago I was watching TV with my husband (why yes, it was the Fyre Festival documentary - why can’t I get enough of that trainwreck?) when I noticed an odd shimmer at the corner of my eye. It was late at night, so I figured I was just tired. But it suck around, following me wherever I looked, and a sinking feeling in my stomach took over. I knew what this was: a migraine.

I’ve been getting migraines since college and, while the debilitating pain has decreased over the years, I still get the full-blown aura effect, followed by days of disorientation, fatigue, and a throbbing, persistent headache. Over the next 24-hours I had four episodes, the most in recent memory. Clearly, my plans for the next few days would have to be put on the backburner.

I pulled the blinds, popped a few painkillers, and settled in for the long-haul.

When I first started getting these headaches I was massively upset by them. There’s no way around it: they’re really and truly terrible. I had never experienced a health issue that completely incapacitated me before. Sick days? Who needs them! Time off? No thank you, I’ll just keep going!

Well, that was certainly the old Gina. I prided myself in being a person who kept going no matter what. Migraines forced me to see the limits to my strength and accept my helplessness in the face of physical suffering. I simply couldn’t function when half my vision was a blurred mess and my head hurt so much I had to bite my pillow.

Majors 16 Tower.jpg

In many ways migraines are like The Tower. I’m even laughing a little as I type this because it works so well and I’ve never thought of it until now. You have the jagged bolt of lightning (the headache!) striking the top of the tower (the head!), sending the body crashing to the ground along with its two inhabitants.

The image perfectly captures the terror when something outside of our control wreaks havoc on our lives. It’s jarring, upsetting, and abrupt.

And what’s more, despite all our planning, the goals and aspirations of our conscious mind are helpless in the face of intense physical suffering.

And, hoo boy, does this mess with our deeply entrenched ideas of productivity and self-worth!

Like The Tower, this process is not at all dignified, at least in my experience. I raged against my physical limitations at first, trying to push through the issue. The migraine won. I let myself get consumed with guilt: who am I if I can’t do things? Don’t I have to constantly be proving my worth? The migraine still won.

And, oddly enough, once the dust settled the only thing to really crumble were these stale thoughts. My health recovers as does my ability to be productive. The only difference is that I’ve been forced to see my true vulnerability and accept that so much of life is outside my control.

Through my experiences with migraines I’ve realized that I don’t have to go around making things happen in my life through sheer force, much like old Atlas holding the world on my shoulders. Things go along fine without me and people still love me without having to prove my worth. I can be a quivering blob for a few days and everything’s still okay. My only job, then, is to just be there for myself - to be present in the fall from The Tower with all the gentleness and acceptance I can muster. After all, I can’t do anything to change what’s happening, but I sure can make it more pleasant for myself by focusing on the reality of the situation instead of fighting against it.

So this time I sighed and let the whole experience take its course. I set aside my long to-do list and simply rested, trusting that I’d be back to my healthy self soon enough. And while it wasn’t ideal and certainly didn’t feel pleasant, I was grateful for the opportunity to just be there for myself: to feel my body, care for myself in the most basic ways (lots of water, a warm shower), and let my support network step up.

Now, on the other end, I feel oddly refreshed. My Tower experience hasn’t brought down my entire world, rather it’s reminded me of how delicate and special it is. With this newfound appreciation I feel eager to ease back into things and motivated to balance my energy with plenty of rest and gentleness, no lightning bolt required.

Some questions for working with The Tower

  • What change outside of my control is frightening me?

  • How can I be present for myself during this experience?

  • What control am I afraid of losing?

  • What’s the worst that can happen? Is is really happening?

  • How do I actually feel right now?

  • What kindness & softness can I give to myself right now? How can I reach out to others?