This piece originally appeared on elephant journal, here.
I am now a firm believer that our body is trying to tell us something when we have distressing physical symptoms—and it is in our best interest to find out what that something is.
Not listening has significant consequences.
I have had a few bouts with my old foe—chronic migraines—but the most recent was debilitating. The migraines were constant for six months and I experienced auras with scattered spots the majority of the day.
Every morning I woke up, hopeful, searching my eyes to see if the dreaded spots were still there. I took naps in my car in the parking garage at work, because I felt feverish and my eyelids were so heavy with fatigue. I felt helpless and didn’t see any options.
When I reached a breaking point, my doctor suggested I go on leave from my demanding corporate job to focus on my health. I felt shameful for letting everyone down at the time, but it’s the best decision I could have made. Some surprising things happened to not just my health, but my life along the way. I realize now that you can’t help anyone else until you fix yourself.
I wasn’t doing anyone any good by being a shell of myself.
I had already tried all of the natural remedies I could find in an attempt to eliminate any possible migraine triggers. I exercised, slept like a bear in hibernation, had weekly acupuncture, chiropractic care, deep-tissue massages—and ate a whole food diet of organic fruits, vegetables, legumes, and wild caught fish.
Hasta la vista processed foods and alcohol. I quit the juice (coffee) and even my delightful green tea. Thank heaven for herbal teas. I stopped eating lunchmeat—RIP turkey sandwiches. I dramatically cut back on chocolate. We replaced every fluorescent bulb in the house.
I wanted the migraines gone and as quickly as possible, but I wasn’t willing to medicate. I tried medication in the past and it didn’t help keep my migraines at bay long-term. I now don’t believe in hiding symptoms without addressing the root cause.
I underwent a series of tests with a doctor that practiced integrative medicine. We uncovered that I was deficient in Vitamin D and my Epstein-Barr (EPV) virus was active. I invested in Vitamin D and zinc whole food supplements. We added in some riboflavin and magnesium—common antidotes for migraines—for good measure. By using whole food supplements, it could take four to six weeks before I would see results. In the meantime, I continued on my quest for the root cause.
A few things happened that pointed to stress as the primary trigger for my migraines. My integrative doctor informed me that I was constantly in a state of fight or flight mode. My pupils were dilated. My lip or nose twitched regularly. My monkey mind was out of control, playing out ridiculous scenario after scenario.
After acupuncture, my entire body felt relieved. My migraine aura would often clear when doing yoga—and then quickly return. When I went on leave, a good friend bought me three sessions with a psychotherapist and made me promise I would try them before I decided whether I would return to my corporate job or quit.
We focused my treatment plan on yoga, meditation, and therapy to develop coping mechanisms for stress. By addressing the stress, I could decrease my anxiety, calm down my nervous system, increase my serotonin and dopamine counts, decrease my fatigue, and improve my concentration.
When I was tired, I slept. My body ruled the roost.
Life doesn’t stop and you go on living despite (or in spite of) the migraines. I started a dog walking company that allowed me flexibility in my day should a migraine hit. This was a low-stress venture. I still got to meet new people and had the perk of getting to be outside and playing with dogs.
The migraines spurred an entirely different path for me.
My career decisions were made out of practicality and for financial reasons. I clambered up the corporate ladder. I had stopped dreaming somewhere along the way. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my migraines were like a flashing light (literally and figuratively), letting me know it was time to leave the sensible job and move toward my purpose. That sensible job was making me sick—it wasn’t right for me.
My migraines gave me the push I needed to pursue my passions and not a dollar sign.
As my leave was coming to a close and it was decision time, my decision was made for me. The company I worked for let everyone on leave go, along with hundreds of other employees. I now had a severance package that seemed like a gift to start me on my way. A thank you for working yourself to the bone. We are going to use it to travel and start a SUP yoga company. At the same time, a friend was opening a yoga studio and needed a studio manager.
The universe always seems to provide, if we just get out of the way.
I redefined success for myself and it was no longer climbing the corporate ladder. I now was focused on my health and passion to help others—human and animal.
I now meditate every morning to calm myself at the start of the day. I do yoga. I’ll teach yoga in a few months when I’m certified—to help others manage stress. I write. I cook. I walk dogs. I hike in nature. I’ve slowed down and listen to my intuition. I spend time with friends and family. I set boundaries so I can remain healthy. I realize I always have choices. And I’m happy.
It took my body six months to heal. Most things in nature heal themselves, if we give them enough time.
Initially—I didn’t pay attention to the signs of chronic stress so that I could increase self-care or address the underlying causes of the stress. If you get migraines, you may not have the same causes I did, but don’t give up finding yours. We are not our migraines; we are people overcoming our migraines.
The next time my body talks to me, I will listen. I won’t wait until a breaking point.
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’” ~ Mary Anne Radmacher