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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.

26 August 2011

Suffering is Optional

Pain is inevitable.  Suffering is optional.

This unattributed Zen aphorism has been in my mind and spirit this week, while I wait to find out if the Botox treatment I had on Monday will take care of the chronic migraines that have plagued me for almost seven years now.

Since I love and try to live by the Buddhist concept of "equanimity" - which I have posted about before - my desire is to spend this waiting time in a state of tranquility with a peaceful awareness that maybe the Botox will work for me, maybe it will not. 

Equanimity.  If you click on the link above, you will find that one way to define this concept is:

"to stand in the middle of all this." 

This has to do with balance.  It means that one finds and stands in a place of steady, quiet inner strength that depends not at all on the vagaries of circumstance, mood or situation.  Losing equanimity is suffering: this has become an essential tenet of my pain management.  When I lose my equanimity, the pain that is inevitable - that of the migraines - is miserably augmented by the suffering that is optional - that of worry, or fear, or anxiety, or anger.

I would not have thought that hope could be added to that list.  Yet today during quiet time I realized that it can swamp equanimity: I hope so much that the Botox will work! I'll exercise more!  I'll find meaningful work of the sort I was doing before!  My life will be normal again!  I feel these attractive, positive and exciting thoughts lure me from tranquility by focusing my thoughts upon a future that is not at all certain.  There is inherent in them a wild plunging back and forth: It will work and I'll feel better!  It won't and I'll feel worse!  I ride the teeter-totter of suffering.   It might work.  It might not work.  It might.  It might not.

And so, however much I have heard all my life that hope is precious and not to be discarded, this week hope makes me suffer.   

Perhaps, however, it is only where I choose to place hope that causes me suffering, not hope itself.  Rather than focusing hope outwardly on an outcome that I cannot know and that will assuredly be accompanied by its own temptation to suffering, I can focus hope inwardly on my own spirit.

I can find hope in equanimity: inner balance that I choose to cultivate whether or not the migraines go away. I can hope in the power of spiritual tranquility to serve me steadily whether I am set forth on a newly pain-free life, or on the next phase of the pain-filled life. Without planning for exactly what this will be like for me, I can hope in the journey that is a moment-to-moment choice for balance.

Thus is suffering made to be optional, and hope to bloom. 


I would love to hear from you.  Please use the Comment link below, or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.  Thank you.



21 August 2011

More on Michele Bachman's Migraines

It is tempting for me to read some of the "can she be President if she has migraines?" commentary about Ms. Bachman as yet another example of the stigma of migraine or the extra scrutiny that comes with being a female Presidential candidate.  And it may well be that such prejudices are behind some of it.

But I have just finished reading - actually, listening to, since reading and migraines do not mix - a book about John F. Kennedy (An Unfinished Life, by Robert Dallek).  Besides being a fascinating, well-written and detailed narrative about JFK's life, it is a revelation of his numerous health problems and how they impacted his life and political career.

JFK, his family, staff and friends lied and obfuscated about his Addison's disease, intestinal difficulties, chronic back pain, and prostate problems during the whole of his political career.  The very real fear was that his life in politics would be over if the facts of his health and/or the amount and type of medications he was taking ever leaked out. Indeed, the book raises questions and then speculates about how the pain and the medications may have influenced his actions and decisions as Senator and as President.

Had I not been reading this book at the time of the Michele migraine discussions, I would likely have allowed my comments to devolve into decrying the deplorable prejudice - against migraineurs, against women in and with power - evident in some of what I saw.  I have enough experience on my own and have connected with enough women with migraine to be sure there is some political hay-making going on while the spotlight shines.  I recall being infuriated, for example, by the snide and sly coverage and questions asked of Hilary Clinton during her run for Presidential nomination.  So it is out there, and I know it, but that can be the subject of another post.

What I also know is that it is all too easy to cast ourselves as victims.  Being a migraineur myself, I could cite my own and my cyber friends' examples of migraine bias and the painful ways it has affected us.  To do so in the light of what has been said about Ms. Bachman would be justifiable and understandable.  But sometimes it is just not right to revert to the constant, if true, refrain of victimhood.  Sometimes it just feels right to be honest about how complicated it all is.

This is a blog about how living the limited life of chronic pain has influenced my spiritual life, and vice versa.  In the case of Michele Bachman's migraines, the chronic pain encourages a dyspeptic monologue about migraine bias, while the spiritual living encourages a step back and a casting of a glance inwardly to that place of clear-eyed wisdom that is so attractive to me.

Both are real.  And balance is what I desire, along with the peace that accompanies it, so I am compelled by my desires and my own blogging to be equitable about this.  It seems inadequate, even to me and even as I write it, though.  Aren't we supposed to take a stand and stay by it?  Don't people decide what they think about things and then trumpet incontrovertible opinions to their world?  Fence-sitters are not respected, after all.

Oh well.  With apologies to all of us who want certainty and facts and categorical statements on which to rely, here is what I can say about Michele Bachman's headaches:

It may be that her migraines cause her little enough distress that she can manage a high-powered and influential career.  It may be that the seriousness of her migraines are being shielded - a la JFK - from public view.  It may be that persons with fear of and prejudice against powerful women are using the reports of migraines to derail a career that frightens them.  It may be political.

All I can write with any certainty is that I hope - in case the migraines are truly and often debilitating - Ms. Bachman is realistic and self-honest enough, that her handlers, friends and family are brave enough, or that the terrible effects of frequent migraines become debilitating enough to end her run. 

And I hope - in case the migraines are easily managed and inconsequential - that Ms. Bachman continues her career to the best of her ability, attentive to the noble and honorable possibilities inherent in a public service career.

More particularly, I hope and pray that she allows pain she has suffered - from migraine or whatever - to bring her closer in compassion to the pain being suffered now by people in America.


Next Post: Some discussion on stepping away from victim status and the power of honest vulnerability.

I would love to hear from you.  Please use the Comment link below, or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com









16 August 2011

Michele's Migraines

Politics aside -- I being liberal of the bleeding-heart-on-the-sleeve kind -- I quite naturally have a lot of empathy for Michele Bachman.  Living with migraine pain gives us common ground.  Again, politics aside -- she being conservative of the I-talk-alot-about-compassion-because-otherwise-it's-assumed-I-have-none variety -- I also feel some admiration for her.  Campaigning for nomination for president is rigorous in the extreme, but to do it with WITH migraines?  The mind boggles.

Of course, there is very little information from her about the migraines, their frequency and severity, what meds she takes, how she manages pain, when the alleged hospitalizations occurred, etc.  I'm no political pundit, but I agree with Judith Warner's opinion in the July 21 NY Times: leaving the information to speculation isn't helping. 

Finally, I do not assume that my experience with migraines, which caused me to leave my well-loved work at Miriam's House in 2009 and continues to render me unable to work, gives me any right to judge Ms. Bachman.  Migraine is an idiosyncratic disease, difficult to treat partly due to the varied ways in which it manifests itself in different people.  And it is not very well researched as of now. 

All that being said, and given that I live a greatly circumscribed life due to painful and chronic migraines, I cannot imagine how Ms. Backman could even begin to conduct a nomination campaign if her migraines are, as alleged by The Daily Caller, "frequent" and "incapacitating."  If she is having a level of pain and frequency that still allows her to run for the Republican nomination, then until I hear otherwise, I have to think that her migraines are wimpy, unremarkable things that are fairly easily managed by medication.

That makes me envy her.

All that being said, and given that I forced myself to work a good five years with ever-worsening migraines because I loved my job and could not imagine giving it up, I know the toll that ignored migraine episodes take upon health, vigor, mental acuity, memory, and patience.  I know the level of self-delusion required to maintain the fiction that one is well and functioning at top capacity.  If Ms. Bachman is deluding herself in this way and trying to hide her difficulties from others as well, I have to hope that someone tells her no one else is fooled, and that it will catch up with her in a big way some day.

That makes me pity her.

I would love to hear from you.  Please use the Comment link below, or email me at carold.marsh@gmail.com.