Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What stress?

I have had headaches for most of my adult life. By "most" I mean for weeks, months and years straight since my early 20s. When I was about 24 years old, I started taking my happy pills for an unrelated issue (i.e. daily sobbing). Suddenly I realized I had gone almost a week without a headache! I couldn't believe it. I told the doctor that I was down from a constant headache for almost 3 years to two minor headaches in a week long period. I was free!!!!

I attempted to wean off the happy pills at one point (years later) after the doctor and I decided I didn't need them to prevent me from sobbing in public any more. I went a week on a lower dose and then down to one pill every other day -- surprise, surprise -- no pill meant instant migraine. I decided to stay on my happy pills.

Then, last month I mentioned to my doctor I had been having constant headaches for about 3 months again. I wouldn't have mentioned it, but my massage therapist is positive I have a tumor. (She's a little hysterical, but I promised I would mention it.) The doctor listened and told me all I was having was a migraine.

It wasn't the knock-down-drag-out variety like crazybarefeet has on a regular basis (I don't throw up or pass out, thank the good Lord) but my version of the migraine was a constant, ever-present, incredible pressure with occasional outbursts of shooting pain. The doctor (in her own amused little way) made a comment about people with "intense personalities" who allow stresses in their lives to create such a tension in the body that medications are needed to ease some of that stress. She seemed very smug when she said it too.

She then put me on "don't worry" drugs. These drugs are used for migraine suffers as they do something magical that I don't' understand. Most people I know with migraines are on them. They act as sleeping pills too and I love them. LOVE. THEM.

Any who.

The other day, I was talking with someone I love dearly (and so won't name names thus saving his or her life from judgement and lynching) about the fact that I have such stupid headaches. We were in the middle of a conversation when I had to stop talking, press my fingers deep into my eye sockets and breath slowly for 10 mins until the pain went away. This concerned the person who asked why the doctors couldn't find a reason for the headaches instead of just giving my a zillion meds to be on and take when they do make it through the barrier haze of drugs.

I explained it all has to do with stress. I keep all my stress in my body and that tension turns into muscle spasms and migraines. Thus, I cannot actually prevent them as it is not something I can stop. I cannot stop stress from occurring. It was then this person looked at me and said "No offence, but... what stress?"

Um... well. That caused me to think. What stress is causing me to have constant tension? What stress is leading me to have these headaches, backaches, unaligned spine, stomach ulcers, IBS and interrupted sleep? What stress?

It's more than just my job. People think my work is what causes me stress. But, no, for the most part, I can keep myself separate from that. I can compartmentalize for the most part. So, no. It is not the child abuse, tragic events, domestic violence, homelessness, suicides, dead bodies, death threats, or out of control teens bothering me.

It's more than my personal life. More than the difference between my spiritual beliefs and that of the man I love. More than the worry about my siblings, my father, my grandmother, my aunts, my dogs. More than the constant feeling of responsibility (real or imagined) that follows me. It is more than the lasting grief from my mother's death, the loneliness for her I feel, the way I want to lash out at the world and scream unfair.

It is more than my financial situation. My inability to maintain a budget. My need to buy things and not have money for the important things like basic repairs, groceries, gas for my car, new winter jacket, etc. It is more than the knowledge I have screwed myself up, yet again and am not sure if I will get myself out before it's too late.

It's more than my internal struggle with my spirituality. More than the fact my beliefs are staid, but my ability to follow through on them is inherently flawed. More than the fact that what I want to talk is not how I walk. More than the guilt and hurt that plague me when I know what I should do, want to do, need to do, and then do the opposite.

It is everything. Everything.

My life -- from conception until now -- is compiled into a system of constant tension. Every moment, every incident, every event, every good, every bad... it is all in my body. I carry everything. From the time I got in trouble for hosing down my neighbour during her birthday party when I was 10, to the time I tried to steal a Coke from a coworker and got caught when I was 19. I have kept every bit of stress from then until now and I hold it in my body.

Each new thing is another click on the tension scale. The dog is whining. Click. I banged my shin. Click. Someone cut me off. Click.

Every time I have disappointed myself or someone else, I store it. Every time something happens to me or around me, I store it. Every bad day or emotional eating binge or crying jag or problem, I put it directly into my body and it stays.

So, that is your answer. I take medications to gain some control over what my head has done to my body. I need something to keep myself at bay. In order for me to present any level of calm, I hear another click in the tension scale. But, I am here, and I must be doing something right if you are asking: What stress?


  1. Maybe you should start trying to release some of that tension. Like, take a boxing class. Or do yoga.

  2. You really really should come to my boxing class with me. I'm very much like you and my therapist says that I need to workout to the point of exhaustion at least three times a week to keep me from either killing someone or becoming a raging alcoholic. This class kicks my ass every time I go. Seriously. AND you get to punch things. It's so awesome.

  3. I agree with the others here. I'm also one of those "intense personalities" that holds everything in and allows it to work against me. But running (before the RA) was my savior. I swear it's the only way I got through my divorce without killing myself or someone else. Now yoga helps, but I can't do it to the intensity I really need to in order to release the tension. I guess you just have to try a few things and see what works for you.

  4. My god. That was powerful. And more power to you.

    I'll add a plug for finding some (physical) way of releasing tension. Endorphins do a mind/body good. For me it was walking/dancing/yoga/discovering sunglasses (for light sensitivity). Also, there is a very interesting book called Raising the Sensitive Child that really spoke to me and might relate to your situation.

  5. Wow, I so relate to this post. I carry all of my stress in my body too... My muscles are constantly tense and I get a migraine now and then as well. Teh suck.

  6. I felt like I was reading about myself here. I think that people like you and I would find some good in beating the crap out of something at least once a week.


Crap monkies say "what?"