12. The positives outweigh the negatives

12. The positives outweigh the negatives

5 April 2024

I often say I have two great loves, yoga and migraines, as both have taught me so much. The well world disbelieves my claim about migraine. Yoga yes; migraine no.

While it is true this condition has orchestrated my life in often inconvenient ways, it has been far from completely negative. Certainly, several things are a lot harder, but at least part of that is because some of the well world cannot accommodate disability and would like me to find answers. Thus the constant question: ‘have you tried …?’ which is well meant but implies I’m a semi-halfwit. Most people can cope with temporary illnesses that are possibly curable and time-limited, but unpredictable semi-permanent conditions like epilepsy or migraine are, for many but by no means all, hard to relate to. We are like a bomb that may go off at any time and ruin everything!

I have already dealt with the obvious negatives. We all know we are going to miss weddings, funerals (not our own), celebrations and meetings of all sorts, but few mention the pressure to be well which produces the anxiety that begets sleepless nights. This makes sleeplessness an unacknowledged symptom, at least for me. I never sleep when in pain, migraines often arrive in the middle of the night and my sleep is easily disturbed by the need to be well the next day. This is why I always have sleeping pills handy. I have had to convince GPs of the role that sleeping pills play as part of my medication and I understand why. But they are not an indulgence or an extra. Of course, I am sparing with them as I am with all medication. I do not want my brain to have to deal with an addiction. But I do know that lack of sleep can produce a migraine. And the sleep pills offer is not true or fundamentally restorative.

It is interesting to note that while I have missed several weddings, I did not miss my own but was very bad immediately afterwards. This is, I believe, fairly typical of many conditions. We manage to be well when it is crucial.

Both jobs and relationships are harder to maintain because an unreliable friend is not as shiny as a reliable one. What sort of a social asset needs to keep to a regular and, in my case, early bedtime because a late night with moderate debauchery can lead to days in bed? Routine is not just important, it’s vital. This makes having people to stay a nightmare of anxiety I try to override. I mostly love having people but have learnt to restrict the time, further adding to the likelihood of being thought anti-social. I have spent hours attempting to explain myself! And mostly failed. I see a look of indulgent incomprehension.

But yes, there are positives, and they have made me who I am. I take my health and therefore my self seriously.

Yoga taught me the need for an intelligent body and that this does not just happen. I am fit and healthy because I have had to be to entertain migraines. I have never had the option of riding a wave of good health that is the lot of the well, especially when young. And I have watched as so many get a huge surprise when something goes wrong physically and mentally or their ignored bodies begin to let them down and they wonder: ‘why me?’

Migraineurs know that humans are not well all the time and that being unwell is as normal as being well.

Of all the migraine positives, some I control, others arrived as gifts. As a child I was sometimes, but only sometimes, extremely able. Ironically, a teacher prophetically identified my condition when I was ten. ‘Pauline is erratic,’ she wrote on my report. Indeed, I was. I had times when I was way ahead of everyone, making her think she had a genius to teach; but this was never maintained and I did not connect it to a migraine brain for many years. I was of course easily able to manage the strange things we are taught at school.

From an early age, I now know, my brain took shortcuts. To this day I am sometimes able to do cryptic crosswords very rapidly. My husband was amazed the first time he read a clue and almost before he had finished I had the answer, and I was certainly not thinking! These were isolated events and invariably meant a migraine was coming. I was also sometimes psychic, had hallucinations and visions of the future. While many have these experiences, not so many acknowledge them and fewer still are aware that our brains, like our hormones, can be very independent. Call this a migraine brain or call it nothing. But I am glad of it.

My brain also has a reliable subconscious. It was inspired that I took up yoga in my twenties. I did not know then that I was going to get debilitating migraines but I knew I wanted to be fit for whatever came my way. I wanted to function as well as possible and, as I eliminated games that required partners and/or equipment, my subconscious spoke as it so often has. And adult education was just beginning to offer yoga classes in London near where I lived.

Yoga, meaning union, unites the body, mind and spirit. Its practice illuminates and spreads intelligence throughout our beings, starting with the miracle which is our physical body. The fact is that each one of us is as interesting as any astral body yet, unless we have studied medicine or an allied subject, we don’t have a clue about how and why we work. The naming, location and functioning of parts is not taught; shame and body hatred is taught. Our amazing bodies are embraced by a large sensitive organ known as skin. What we need to do to keep ourselves intelligent and working efficiently and therefore able to deal with malfunctions is not part of schooling – or the most minor part. Yet it is our most important job.

This denial of the physical has deep roots. The fathers of the church controlled the body of knowledge, teaching us ignorance and shame. Bodies to them were not miracles but inconvenient encumbrances, keeping the devil busy making us sinners. Women to this day are drowning in the idea that female bodies are not only dirty, but never measure up. Our minds are even less celebrated. We are constantly advised that we must purify and beautify not our complete beings but the object that will be looked at and judged. Whole industries exist to make sure we spend a great deal of time and money mutilating ourselves so we appear externally beautiful and this varies with fashion. I am not referring to mere makeup here.

Yoga and my migraine brain has partly addressed this issue for me and redressed the imbalance it creates in all of us, but I can never unknow or unsee the doctrine of body denial.

Yet I know I am a created miracle and wonder, and with migraine sometimes a quite ill miracle and wonder.


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