Be-ers and Doers and Migraine

When I first read Nova Scotian author Budge Wilson’s “Be-ers and Doers” I grasped the story’s message readily: a busy lifestyle is no better than a meditative one, and we shouldn’t try to change other people to suit our own tendencies. But I still identified strongly with the (albeit unlikeable) mother character:

“ ‘Look at your Father!’ … ‘He thinks that all he’s gotta do is be. Well bein’ aint good enough. You gotta do, too. Me, I’m a doer.' All the time she was talking, she’d be knitting up a storm, or mixing dough, or pushing a mop – hands forever and ever on the move.”

For most of my life, I have been like this. Other than some brief teenage malaise and university burnout, I have been a “doer” and have actually had to hold myself back from taking on too much. Before migraine entered my life, it was normal for me, both as a student and as a teacher, to sometimes spend twelve-hour days at school, pushing through hunger and exhaustion to make music. I usually opted for biking or walking versus driving or transit, and on weekends, I typically spent a couple of hours cleaning the house and actually enjoyed it!

Losing my identity...

This “doer” lifestyle has come to feel like a large part of my identity, and while I admire and sometimes envy those who can sit still for hours on end, being on-the-go is an aspect of myself that I have typically been proud of and commended for.

When chronic migraine took hold of my health, I felt that my doer identity was shaken to the core. Not being able to do my job -- let alone a gazillion other things -- made me feel as if I had lost my essence; even my value as a family member, friend, and citizen. I’m sure these thoughts didn’t help the depression I experienced as I grappled with the major changes and major pain in my life.

Luckily, I had help interrupting those harmful thoughts. A friend asked me,

Would you judge another person that way? Would you think they had less value or worth because they had lost their abilities, or because they were less productive? Would I think of them as a fundamentally different person?

Did I think any less of Wilson’s be-er characters because they weren’t running around like chickens with their heads cut off?

No. I wouldn’t intentionally judge another person in this way! And yet, it’s a line of thinking that is pervasive in daily life for many of us. Countries are judged by their GDP. Employees are judged by their productivity. Students are judged by their marks. And sometimes our productivity is valued above all else, including our mental and physical health.

Accepting a new perspective

Unlearning the notion that my value lies in my productivity is not small feat, and it is a lesson I will probably have to work on for as long as I live. But I know this much is true: the more I learn to slow down, breathe, and incorporate mindfulness and meditation to my days, the better I feel.

If all goes well, by the time I retire you'll be able to find me somewhere in the valley of Nova Scotia, emulating the father character from Wilson's Be-ers and Doers:

“He liked to just sit on our old porch swing and watch the spring unfold or the summer blossom. And in the fall, he sat there smiling, admiring the rows of vegetables, the giant sunflowers, the golden leaves gathering on the trees of the North Mountain.”

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