Friday, April 8, 2011

When Change Smacks You Upside the Head

I was "out" with a bad migraine Sunday through Tuesday of this week. By out, I mean the pain was so intense I couldn't do or think. I merely survived. Though I "resumed normal activity" on Wednesday, I am still recovering.

I was planning to write about Overwhelm this week anyway; the migraine provided a refresher course.

I love change. I love the sense of expansive possibility it brings with it. I love the excitement and variety it adds to my life. I love the illusion of progress I get because things are different now.

That's all true for changes I choose.  It's even partly true for some changes that are thrust upon me.

Then there are the bad news changes: friends that leave, disasters, accidents, diagnoses, migraines.Those changes, I don't love. They send me spinning.

First, there's the actual factual change. Something in my environment is different. My head hurts and I feel nauseous. I'm not used to it. It puts me off balance.

Then, there are my thoughts about the change. My wonderful human brain thinks about the past, the present and the future. In the present, I have judgments about whether the differences are good or bad. (Pain + nausea = bad.) Looking back, I have ideas about what caused the changes or what I could've done to prevent them. (Maybe that piece of chocolate was the culprit. Maybe I tried to do too much.) Looking ahead, I project how these changes will affect my life in the future. (I have a speaking gig the first weekend of next month.What if I have another migraine then? The horror!)

Thoughts beget feelings. I feel guilty and/or sad about what I should have done. I feel angry about any "badness" I identified. I feel fearful about what could happen in the future.

From one change has come weighty mental and emotional activity.  To it, I add one more pair: I am exhausted and overwhelmed.

In my experience, this is the normal and natural road I travel. In my younger days, I beat myself up for not being able to avoid the thoughts and feelings. It seemed I should be able to choose not to have them.

If I'm lucky, I am evolving in that direction.

In the meantime, I try to catch the unhelpful thoughts when they begin. I try to understand the unhelpful emotions as natural descendents of the unhelpful thoughts. I try to pull myself back to the here and now and return to the facts.

Last Monday, I told myself: "the back of my head really hurts and I'm retching.  It doesn't mean anything about my character or about my future. Right now, I am resting."

Calling this part of my experience "overwhelm" is helpful for me because it reminds me that I am not in control and don't need to try to be. My primary job during such times is to take care of myself and let the sensations, thoughts and feelings, come and go without embellishment.


nicole said...

I find your commentary has a certain familiar Buddhist flair to it.....which for me is very welcoming.

Kate Wolfe-Jenson said...

Buddhist practices and philosophies are very helpful to me as I deal with chronic illness. I was raised--and continue to connect--with Christianity too.