Monday, August 8, 2016



I live my life in staccato, each day discrete and disconnected from the last, separated by episodes of head pain and nausea. Thinking, the other day, about this particular piece of my struggle with migraine, a memory came to mind - of a zoetrope, a 19th century optical toy my husband built years ago for our kids. It consists of a cylinder with vertical slits and a series or strip of individual pictures drawn on the inside. Looking on from the outside, when you spin the cylinder at just the right speed, the serial images run together appearing as figures in continuous motion. But the real truth? Slow down or interrupt the motion of the cylinder and the action reverts to disconnected, individual images.


Now, as I sit here writing, after a few morning hours of productive, concentrated work, I suddenly become aware of my right neck and shoulder beginning to knot into a tight muscle spasm.  I stop what I'm doing to check in with myself, a body scan to see how my individual parts are fitting together.  I feel a kind of density on the right side of my face and a tiny throb in my temple.

I stop writing mid flow and get up to treat myself with the SpringTMS in hopes of preventing an impending migraine.  I check my calendar to see how many pain pills I've taken this week, look at the clock to see when I can take one that will get me through the afternoon and an early evening concert, tickets already bought and paid for with maybe a 50/50 chance that I'll actually be able to go.

It's complicated, living with pain that comes and goes in unpredictable fits and starts.  I am an English tutor, a grandparent who babysits.  I write, draw and paint.  I like to walk and swim, do yoga and travel, go to the movies and meet with friends.  I still do these things but with an impaired sense of rhythm.  I cope with my splintered life by having a strict order of priorities.

Babysitting and tutoring usually come first because they involve a commitment to other people as well as myself.  In order to pull this off I reserve 2 of my headache abortives and 2 pain pills per week, only 2 because taking more pills risks rebound, which would ultimately lead to even more frequent headaches.  The rest of my routine is subject to frequent cancellations.

Episodic pain has eroded my ability to build on skills and develop interests, leaving me hanging on in frustration instead of making calm choices with the freedom to follow through.  I have a perpetual sense of being unfinished in all things.  Often I have to beg from Peter to pay Paul.  If I push my energy envelope today, tomorrow may see me in bed or on the couch.  I may start a drawing, a weaving or a written piece and have to abandon it for days.  I return to projects disoriented, searching for my original inspiration.  These frequent interruptions undermine the sense of continuity in my days and weeks.


What if?

But what if I could view my pain breaks differently?  In fact, the most recent suspension of my writing allowed for a different take on things when I returned to work.  Instead of seeing a series of frustrating, interrupted moments, I began to envision water flowing over and around the rocks and snags, but flowing nonetheless, a continuous stream shrinking and swelling, slowing down and speeding up with the seasonal runoff, changing channels during floods but forever moving with its own sense of direction.

While an imperfect solution, this imagery gives me a little distance from the frustration and also reminds me that we all have obstacles of every shape and size, whether it's physical pain, divorce, financial troubles or family problems.  My challenge, ultimately, is to develop a certain acceptance of the obstacles and a respect for my own way of flowing around and through them. 

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