Mindfulness Check-In 1/26: Migraines and Joy

“Better late than never.”

So I know it’s in the evening, but posting late is better than not posting at all, and this is an important update! I want to tell you about my migraine, my pain, my progress, and how at the end of the day I overlooked the pain and saw the joy, all while watching a hockey game. First off, I am horrible at getting into watching most sports. Though I love to play many sports, watching them is a completely different experience, and usually I find myself in “squirrel! mode” where I simply cannot pay attention. During my undergrad times, all my friends would become ecstatic for the football and hockey games. I would go for the “experience” of friendship and raw excitement, but I often found myself just dazing off and completely missing every goal or touch-down- I just wasn’t interested. So by late Sophomore year, I told myself I would never attend another game. Sure, I take part in the Super Bowl festivities, but only for the food and people.

Now let me tell you a key piece of information. My significant other and his family love hockey. I was luck my family never stressed about watching sports in a crazed fashion but I also respect that for some families, it’s what they do. For Christmas I had the genius idea of buying hockey tickets at my University for myself, my significant other, and his parents. They live 2 hours away so we thought it would be a good idea for them to come out, experience the school pride and hockey, and get some awesome local pizza! What a great idea, except for the migraine.

Since I was 6, I’ve experienced chronic headaches and migraines. I go through waves of time where it seems my life just consists of tension headaches, spasms, and then the migraines. Then I have times where it’s just peace and quiet, and yes, NO MIGRAINES. Well since the new semester began last Tuesday, my sleep has been completely off and my stress levels higher than usual. That’s a great equation for, yep, a migraine that lingers for almost a week. In fact, I can feel it still here now, but luckily only as a headache. Yesterday I felt the dull pain encasing my entire skull, like a heavy crown just pressing on my head. I went through my mental checklist and took the precautions I normally take to avoid medicine and thought, “Maybe I’m just really hungry but will be okay after some pizza?”. (This pizza is from Antonio’s and I had been waiting for it for 2 weeks as my indulgent meal, so I couldn’t tell if it was a hunger headache or a craving headache- though I was mindful in trying to discern the source of my hunger and headache.) I took my time eating the pizza, to really enjoy it and experience what was happening around me in the process: the packed restaurant, the people skirting around outside, the bright sun coming in through the windows, the different pizza slices around me, and the pure blissful silence of our family eating pizza happily amongst the buzzing restaurant chatter. I didn’t finish one slice because I really was trying to see if I was truly full by scanning how I felt! Well right after I finished eating and left for the arena, that’s when it came- the migraine came. 

All I will indulge in the experience of the migraine’s pain is that I actually had to visit the EMT to ask for ice packs, and kept them on my head during the game while borrowing some sunglasses to shade my eyes from the bright lights. What’s more important here is how I still had a great time. Remember how I said I would never attend another hockey game? I knew this one was either going to be 2 hours of horror (migraine) and boredom (hockey), or 2 hours of joy with family. As soon as the puck was in play I made sure to keep my eyes focused on the general picture of what was in front of me. In the past I tried to just focus on the puck, or certain players, or even just the goals. But through my yoga and meditation practice, I’m learning to let my gaze just look out, and not necessarily focus on one image but just take in what it notices naturally. I also kept reminding myself to breathe long breaths in and out, since I knew I would be there for a while with a migraine, and wanted to have a good time. This reminder to breathe and just take time in that moment despite the pain I felt, just be there amongst the lights, loud noises, and distractions, was extremely challenging but also gratifying. By the end of the game though my head still hurt, I was so excited at my progress- I had seen every goal shot, and actually enjoyed my time there!! I laughed, allowed myself to eat a bit of candy, cheered for my team, bonded with the family, and barely thought about anything on my to-do list. I was “in the moment”.

I wanted to write about this today because I know I had a choice. I had a choice to be honest about my feelings and experiences, and how I was going to explain my mindfulness progress while having a migraine. The best part about my mindfulness challenge is being able to just “be” with whatever my experience is at that moment and the feelings it stirs within me and decide how I want to engage with them. I don’t have to feel bad that I had a migraine and then have that stir up more emotions and pain for me if I don’t want to. I’m not saying that I felt glorious during that game, and that I didn’t think about asking to leave or crying. But what I am saying is that I was able to accept what was going on and just sit with it, and not let the migraine ruin my time by choosing not to engage with it in a way to endure more suffering. I definitely want to get to the bottom of these headaches/migraines, but also would like to go to another hockey game again. Without this experience, I wouldn’t have learned that I could in fact stay at a hockey game and watch its entirety. I wouldn’t have learned that even though I had a migraine, one of the worst I’ve had in a few years, I could still have a good time. I definitely would not have known I had the power to take this into my own hands and ground myself in the pain through acceptance, and then letting it go instead of resenting it. I don’t resent my migraines, and if anything I feel much stronger and more equipped to handle them in the future after this past Sunday. This is what is gratifying and empowering, and this is why I will continue to practice.

New “Mindfulness Mondays” and Practice!

I want to announce that every Monday will now officially be “Mindfulness Mondays”, where I will update with my progress in my mindfulness practice and try to link in a helpful article or blog that I think is really great (sharing resources makes friends!). This past week since my first Mindfulness post, I’ve done a lot of reflecting. With regards to this blog, I decided that as a mindful planner, I wanted to stay true to my intentions in discussing urban and rural planning material while still bringing resources useful to the planner or anyone that interacts with the public. However, I do believe it is important to share my personal mindfulness practice and how it helps me in my daily life as a person, blogger, student, and planner.

We all know the expression “manic Monday” and while singing the tune to myself I thought how great it would be to start the week devoting a post that basically tells “manic Mondays” to take a hike. Sure it may sound a bit overly optimistic, but thinking about having a negative attitude towards the start of the week just seems like a waste of time. Getting worried over the tasks I have to complete for the week, along with the ones I don’t even know exist yet, yes I could do that but I have the choice to also not. Instead I can be mindful through reflection on my past practice, as well as how to progress forward throughout the week to make every day count despite the mania. And thus- Mindfulness Mondays!

keep-calm-it-s-just-another-manic-monday

Mindfulness Mondays > Manic Mondays!

With that said, let’s get on with what I’ve noticed throughout my practice and a helpful article I found that has given me some time to think about being kind towards my body and condition. Every day I have started my morning with some sort of yoga or stretching sequence, and often times I’ll do some more stretching in the afternoon (I start school again tomorrow so that is something I’ve been thinking about and how to keep up my routine I’ve developed). I’ve also been doing the daily workout from Neila Rey’s ‘90 Days of Action‘, and it is definitely working! Yes, there have been some mornings where I’ve woken up knowing that all day my back was going to be my personal upheaval, and yes I got back on my living room carpet, did my yoga, had my coffee and got on my way. Yes I want to get fit, yes I want to be healthy, yes to it all. But guess what is the best thing about this practice? Every morning throughout my poses (some of them I’ve really got down) I have the chance to start fresh and just focus on being alive and breathing in that moment. During the challenging poses, I’m reminded that I will always be a lifelong learner and what a humbling moment that can be. I’m also reminded of my tight muscles and the stresses that are racing through my mind already at 6:30am, and then (exhale) I’m in downward dog noticing the tightness and focusing just on that- noticing.

Even though I’m working through a lot in my mind and body, it is getting easier to go back and work through whatever I have to work through, in that moment.  Each day when I feel that tense spot in my shoulders, I deliberately take a deep breath in, a long audible breath out, and I smile. It’s then that I’m reminded of my practice, my commitment, and my progress. This positive feedback loop only keeps reinforcing my want to learn more, practice as often as I can, and be content with whatever is happening. I know that I can choose to do something that helps me feel better and think clearer, or I can just be upset that my back hurts and try all day to forget about the pain.  On mindful I found a wonderful article on Mindfulness and Coping with Pain, which shares just how to approach living with chronic or acute pain through compassion and kindness.

Bauer-Wu’s main prescription for working with pain and limitation is to “tune in to your body” and what’s going on with it rather than turn away from it…The cornerstone of the mindfulness approach to illness is that you need to learn how to accept where you are, and then you can notice the sensations and respond appropriately.

In realistic expectations of long days and nights ahead, knowing is half of the battle. I feel the pit in my stomach, the dull aching behind my eyes, and the fear that I won’t make it through this semester successfully. But by looking at this fear head on, noticing the bodily reactions and just identifying them as they are, current feelings and sensations, it gives me a lot more control over how I choose to react in that moment. I don’t have to become overwhelmed by these feelings! I don’t have to feel helpless or lost, and that I’ll just have to live like this. Instead I can just notice my thoughts and reactions, and think about how I want to engage with them in a way that will not increase my suffering and even help me feel some relief. I can sit in my car while the wind is howling outside, and just watch the mass of trees in the distance sway back and forth. I can hear how the wind sounds and how it pushes my car, almost knocking on my doors. I can breathe in that moment and be thankful that I’m safe in my car, that I’m not in the cold, and that I can appreciate the trees around me that are still standing tall despite their almost too vigorous dance with the wind. I remind myself that I’ve done this before, that I’ve felt success and happiness, and that I can continue to work on feeling that.

It is compassion that enables you to rediscover “your innate goodness” and the warmth of your heart. It enables you to communicate and connect with others, and counteract the isolation and self-involvement that turns a painful condition into repeated suffering.

I want to shed some light on a blog that really inspired my writing throughout this post. The Green Study is wonderfully raw and yet kindly brings you to a place where you feel like you really are in the moment with her. Michelle writes about the many things she finds relevant, but in such an elegant and descriptive manner, with such honesty that I wish I could just be there in person with her. A small section from her About page:

I started a blog to force myself out into the open, to make a commitment, to learn how to take criticism and most of all, to stop being comfortable. Mission accomplished.

Thank you Michelle for being the inspiration of my post and reminding me to always stay authentic in life and writing.