Last Sunday I accomplished very little. I had a migraine, the first since before I became pregnant with Lucy. I have had migraines since I was 4 years old. I was around ten years old when my neurologist told me they would probably go away either when I was pregnant or when I hit menopause.
As a new parent, I am learning the twisting, tearful roller coaster of trying to determine your child’s needs while their tears break your heart. It must have been wrenching for my parents, watching me scream in pain and suffer. I can’t imagine what I was able to articulate at 4; how I explained the splitting headache behind my eye felt like it would tear me in two, the seemingly never ending cycle of crying and vomiting, the sudden exhausted weakness. I know they feared that horrendous six-letter word was the cause; there were a lot of different scans where I remember needing to lay very, very still. I imagine their relief at ruling out cancer, and their frustration for no real cause. I would be down for the count up to every seven to ten days. I missed a lot of birthday parties and field trips. The doctors played medication roulette; by the time I was ten, I was taking medicine not yet approved for children. I was always on one exclusion diet or another; I can look back and see this as one of the cornerstones of my more disordered eating habits.
Now, when I stick to a proper sleeping schedule, eat decently, drink a lot of water, and am relatively active, I tend to get about one a month. Having an infant at home? We will see.
Oscar gave me many precious gifts, including a full year without migraines. Instead I had what I referred to as shadow migraines, days of the month where I would have some of the symptoms but never the full out, catastrophic headache. Lucy followed inn his silent footsteps. That sort of pain stays with you, though, locked in the basement of the brain, ready to break open the bulkhead doors in a rage or quietly pick the lock and creep in again. When I was experiencing pre-eclampsia and my blood pressure was climbing to dangerous levels, i would rate my headache maybe a 4 or 5 on the ten-point scale. Hawthorne wondered if the doctors were taking my symptoms seriously; pre-eclampsia is often described as “the worst headache you will ever have.” For me, it wasn’t. The headache sucked, absolutely, but I had migraines that were indescribably more painful. I knew how much worse the pain could get, and I didn’t want to complain about “off-the-scale” pain, so my measurement was tempered by experience.
On Sunday, though, that reprieve was over. I could feel it sliding through my body, clenching my neck muscles, weaving its way through my brain. I felt foggy, like it was hard to understand. Why was Lucy crying? Why have I sat there, staring into space for ten minutes? Ugh, why is my stomach so upset? I tried to gulp down coffee in the silly hope that this was a caffeine headache. Migraines, as I’ve come to know them, have many masks to fool you away from taking the one medication that obliterates them. In between feeding, changing, and soothing Lucy, I kept running to the bathroom. I finally woke up Hawthorne after an hour that took days to end.
Hawthorne took over with Lucy without question and practically without coffee – which was brewing, at least. I’m not a monster. I took my meds after my stomach cleared out and went to bed. Two hours later, I started to come through it, waking up in a heavy, disoriented daze. It took a few hours for it to fully retreat, leaving me in a body that hurt up to three feet away from me. The medicine feels like you are taking poison; but it’s the only thing that works.
My to-do list sat in my journal, check boxes blank. I had no energy, no get-up-and-go. Every injury my body had ever sustained returned, another lovely side effect of the medication. I hobbled through preparing bottles and changing diapers while Hawthorne played music and kept the fire stoked. I managed to fold the laundry and put it away in only about twice the time it normally took. We took the day to relax and rest up for the coming week.
In the evening, while Lucy took her pre-bedtime snooze and Hawthorne was already asleep, I looked at my journal and all the things I didn’t do. I felt unsteady and unprepared for the week ahead. As I reflected on my day, I waited for the stress to wash over me, my unwelcome evening visitor. But it didn’t. Instead, I realized something. While I hadn’t completed much (the one task checked off my to-do list was laundry), I had done a lot. I had cuddled Lucy much of the day. I had fed her while she grabbed my finger and stared into my eyes. I had paused and relaxed at home, spent time just being with Hawthorne and Lucy. I had pet Ella, given Lucy a bath, and had simply let time pass in comfortable pants.
It strikes me sometimes how, in many ways, I am a product of my parents. My mom never quite got idioms when she learned English in the 60s. While trying to describe my father as anal-retentive, she came out with “He is obsessed with his own asshole!” If I were a blood type, I’d be A+; A for anal-retentive, with a silent O for over-achiever, and since I was raised to believe that A- was not a good enough grade, so I’ve got to be extra. I need tangible evidence of work completed in order to feel like I did not waste time. I have an internal, self-perpetuating drive to be constantly in motion, or at least, my mind must be actively working. Because of all this I find it difficult to relax, I don’t like naps, and when I am unable to complete my often-irrationally full lists of things to do, I have a very hard time.
So Sunday was a day of triumph for me. My body smashed me upside the head with a brick to tell me to relax, and I had to listen. I was unable to function and needed help, and I had to ask. Instead of constantly grinding, I was able to look back on a day full of love and given comfort, of relaxation and baby snuggles, and finally – maybe – understand that not everything important that needs to be done can be put on a to-do list.