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Be-ers and Doers and Migraine

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!

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.

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.”

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Kathrine
    3 years ago

    Before, I had to give up work in 2014 when migraines for me became almost daily, I was managing a full-time job and life although being a struggle was busy, I was a do-er, always on the move, or doing something. Now I am left with the guilt of not being able to be a do-er, I have to cancel appointments, and let family and/or friends down because of migraine, some days I can only do one thing, and other days I achieve absolutely nothing because migraine has taken over. I hope that I can someday get to the point of not worrying so much about having to leave behind being a do-er. Thanks for your encouragement Anna.

  • DonnaFA moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Katherine! Thanks for reaching out and sharing your thoughts. Please know that you are not alone, many of our contributors and members struggle with acceptance and finding ways to be gentle with themselves.

    You may also want to read Another take on acceptance and Acceptance, Not Resignation. Feeling Bad about Feeling Bad: Visiting with Family talks about the issues you discussed surrounding family.

    Please know that we’re always here to provide information, to provide support or just to listen and share your walk with you. -All Best, Donna ( team)

  • Shelly
    3 years ago

    I have migraines where I lose days of my life laying in bed, so when there are days when I can say I have only accomplished only one thing, it’s okay.

  • Bonny
    3 years ago

    This post resonated with me as well! I really enjoy being busy working or socializing and there are times when migraine gets in the way. Those times find me canceling plans or work I intended to do. I dislike letting people know that I have yet again, a migraine. But I would very much understand if someone told me that same thing. To me, it is all about acceptance- people accepting us and we accepting ourselves. I will always be working on that. We didn’t choose this illness. But we still have to figure out how to live with it. It’s a work in progress.

  • Lnsu78
    3 years ago

    Not being a do-ER makes me cry

  • Maureen
    3 years ago

    I can really relate to this post, although I don’t really consider myself a doer. I am fundamentally lazy:)BUT I find GREAT validation and identity in what I accomplish. I am that person who wants to maximize my efficiency, so I can maximize my downtime. That, however, sets me up to look like a big, fat, loser when chronic migraine has me not accomplishing anything, at all, ever, right?!

    Of course, this is the ugly monster inside my head talking. And of course, I, like you Anna, would never think that of someone else. Only myself. It is the fear, the worry, the shame of my condition that lurks beneath my usually optimistic, fun-loving, joy-seeking disposition.

    How I combat that is to break down my to do list (which is how you accomplish things) into little teeny tiny steps, and I do just one at a time. Just one. The goal is to do just one. After I do that just one thing, I head back to couch. (If I am in bed (there are no “just ones” getting done. That is just the reality.) Then the next goal is to do just one. When I feel up to it. I try to to do one more. Then the next goal is to do just one. It is amazing how all of those “just ones” will add up to a whole task:)

  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Anna,

    I couldn’t have said this any better. You’ve described my feelings perfectly. You’d think that after almost 20 years I’d be OK having left my former “doer” life behind when I sustained a TBI.

    Some days are easier than others being a “be-er” other days it’s a struggle.

    Thank you!

  • Colorado4Now
    3 years ago

    OMG! I finally have found a way to verbalize what I’ve been feeling like thanks to your article! All the times I’ve chastised myself for not being able to “contribute,” to be “doing” so much less than I want to. Thank you, thank you!

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