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With a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction degree (Goucher College, August 2014), I am looking at a new phase in my life. From 1992 to 2009, I served as Founding Executive Director of Miriam's House, a residence for homeless women living with AIDS. I left this position when Chronic Migraine Disease overtook my ability to do my job. Now I hope that a writing career will both accommodate the migraines and give me a creative, productive outlet. And soon, September 4, I will launch my Inkshares author page in a bid to hit the 1,000 pre-order goal in 90  days. The book I want to publish is "Nowhere Else I Want to Be," a memoir of ten of my years at Miriam's House.

05 November 2010

Motivation for Change: The Role of Pain

This is my first post since October 10, making it the longest interval yet between posts.  I have been busy with another project and, more importantly, have been emotionally fatigued.  To be brief, life has presented its share of sorrows to me lately: two persons dear to me have undergone radical surgeries - one for a life-threatening disease; a close friend has been laid off her job of 12 years; the economy has forced serious changes in the lives of many people I love.

All of this got me thinking about how emotional pain affects physical pain and how the combination of the two can motivate change in the way we approach our lives.  This is shaping up as a 2-post subject, so today's post will be about emotional pain and physical pain together, the next post about motivation for change.

We all know that stress affects our bodies, but take a look at this link to the American Institute of Stress: a page listing 50 physical symptoms of stress and a diagram of the parts of the body affected by it.  (It is interesting information unless you are a hypochondriac, in which case I don't encourage clicking the link.)  The page makes the point that stress affects different people in different ways, and so in that way is a highly subjective and personal phenomenon.

In the stressors of my life these past few months has been no physical stress aside from the chronic migraines: the new stressors have caused emotional pain.  So when I had one of those terrible headaches I call "crashers" on Sunday, then continual migraines from Monday to this morning, I realized that the stress of the past five months had finally taken its toll.  Or, at least, finally taken a toll that got my attention.  Which realization took me by surprise, as not even the stress last January of leaving the job and organization I loved was reflected so painfully in the migraines.  So, what is different?

1. Powerlessness: There has been little I can do to alleviate the suffering - mental and physical - of persons who mean an awful lot to me.  The decision to leave Miriam's House, as painful as it possibly could be, was still my decision and my decisive action.  I hated doing it, but the resolution was in my power, even though I was powerless over the migraines themselves.  Aside from helping out for a week and knitting needed comforting things, I have found that the current stressors feel out of control.

2. Expectations: I had expected by now - after ten months of rest, acupuncture, trying new medications, etc. - the migraines would have abated to the point that I could at least look for part-time work.  I let that expectation create a future for me that now turns from happy expectation to stressful upset because it has not come about.
I am not beating myself up about this - why add the pain of guilt and self-incrimination to the list? - but I do have a desire for honest self-awareness and -reflection.  It is so much more constructive to allow ourselves to be informed by our realizations of our human-ness rather than indulging in grandiose ideas that we should be perfect or, at least, should not still be having to learn new lessons.  Or, more accurately, old lessons learned again in a slightly different circumstance.

Without the denial and/or fear of blame, the honest reflection opens up doors to understanding and, ultimately, healing change.  Were I to refuse to look at how my powerlessness and expectations set me up for a physical reaction because I supposedly have learned that lesson already, I would be stuck not only with the migraines but with the paralysis of denial.

There's ego in it, also, naturally.  I had a hard time beginning this post because I realized that I'd recently forgotten practices and bits of wisdom I myself wrote about in this blog.  How embarrassing to have to write a blog in which I reveal that I lost track of the philosophy of staying in the moment, of using my yoga to help relieve both physical and emotional stress, and of realizing when to let go?

Oh, well, my secret is out.  A big surprise to no one but myself, surely.

So, here we are: emotional stress and pain enhance and affect physical pain.  And it is easy to get lost in the midst of the hurting, difficult days.  It happens that life can overwhelm our ability to make wise choices, even to stick to the wise ones we know worked for us before.  Ironically - or thankfully - our bodies have a way of showing us what we are trying not to know, so that the added pain finally becomes enough of a burden that we simply have to stop, take a look and reflect.

It is at this point that motivation for change can happen, and that will be the topic of my next post.

I would love to hear from you.  Please click on the Commnet box, below, or contact me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.

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