Migraine and the Rubber Tree Plant
What happened to my life while I was sick?
This is a question many Migraine patients find themselves asking each other and themselves when they find that life after a long stretch of Migraine attacks or chronic Migraine, doesn’t end in an immediate ability to get back to *normal*.
Similar questions come to the mind of friends, family and care partners when a Migraineur miraculously wakes up after a long bout and feels better, or a chronic patient lowers frequency or severity of their attacks. “Why are you still having problems now that you’re feeling better?”
The misunderstanding is *better* is not well.
Most people understand that there is a period of recuperation required to rebuild lost strength after a long illness like the flu, pneumonia, cancer etc. This is just as vital in the case of a chronic illness like Migraine, and is vitally important to understand and work toward.
The Rubber Tree Plant
Right after our wedding, I purchased a small rubber tree plant. It was about 10 inches tall and its home was a little black plastic pot.
I LOVED that plant. I watered it. Fed it. Turned it daily in the sunshine so it would be happy and thrive. I had no kids, and no pets but an aquarium filled with fish, so my little rubber tree was very doted-upon which was a fact that amused my hubs and the neighbors who watered it when we were away on vacation.
My little rubber tree was happy and it grew. It grew and it grew and it grew. The root bundle got so packed that it broke its little plastic pot, and I re-potted it into a much larger pot. By that time we’d moved and it took up residence in front of our entry and got sun through the window of the door.
I’d made a mistake though. In my enthusiasm to save some work, I’d not gone up one pot size, but several. I thought taller meant healthier and happier.
My little rubber tree plant stretched out its roots to the edges of the pot, and stretched its leaves higher and higher into the sun. Instead of growing out and bushy, it grew up, like a tree.
Eventually my little rubber tree was taller than my husband, and it began to collapse upon itself because in its enthusiasm to grow tall, it wasn’t able to be strong too, as its roots couldn’t grow out like they needed.
First it began to bow its head. Soon the weight pulled the tree to a defined angle, and the top began to try to grow upwards in a funny S shape. By now it really had some amusing character to it, but without the support of other heavy leafy branches or a wide base of roots, it lacked the strength to hold itself upright. Although it looked healthy because it was green and tall, it was also struggling.
I was proud of my indoor tree. I wanted to protect my tree, so I staked it.
I found a broom handle that closely matched the color of my tree’s trunk, and I tied the tree to it, hoping it would straighten up.
It worked. The tree grew so tall that it touched the ceiling, and then we moved.
The next home for the tree was the landing in our new stairway. That gave the tree a height of approximately 18 feet in total to live.
I re-potted it when we moved, which was a feat in itself. I thought I was doing the right thing by my little tree, but the taller my tree grew, the harder it was to care for it. I staked it with a loooong stick and put it in the landing to live.
Within a couple of years, my little rubber tree plant had grown nearly to the ceiling! The taller it grew, the more dependent it became to the support of the stake. Eventually the weight of the tree was too much for the stake, and we had to support the stake itself by wiring it to the corner of the wall.
My little tree looked perfectly healthy. Most that saw it were amazed at its height and beauty, but I cared for it every day and I knew the truth.
The truth was that my tree was not healthy as it looked, and without the support of the stake, it would bend until it broke.
When planting a new tree outdoors, we are instructed to stake it and wire it in at least 3 places to keep it stable in the weather so new roots can take hold and support its height. In fact, the roots of a tree will grow out as wide as the tree is tall, just to keep it strong. After a period of 1-3 years (depending on its height) the wires can be removed because the tree has gained the ability to support itself, even in the wind.
Did you know that the strongest trees are lone trees which are exposed to a lot of wind? Their roots are challenged each day because a lone tree lacks the protection and support of other trees. It grows strong and dense because it has to. If you take a forest and cut it back to a single tree, that tree will usually die – a victim of its own weakness.
Patients who have been sick a long time have become dependent upon those who help us get through each day. The truth is, without them we couldn’t care for ourselves. But when we have had to depend on them for a long time, we can become a lot like my little rubber tree plant – dependent upon its stake to keep from breaking. Like the tree, our bodies grow as strong as they need, and no stronger. Like the tree planted outdoors, we need time for our roots to grow wide and a trunk thick enough to be able to support our bodies so we can be strong again.
Not challenging our bodies a little each day is a mistake. Depending upon others too much is a mistake even when we’re sick. When we stop pushing ourselves, we stop growing the supporting structures that make it possible to be healthy. Yes, it is painful to get up and move when we’re hurting. Our body’s retaliation can be violent. It’s easy to give in and only do what is comfortable. But, this isn’t smart for us.
Some days my personal challenges make me feel like superwoman. Other days I feel like a slug because just rolling over in bed is almost too much to manage on my own. Each day I try to take a few minutes out to challenge my body for the day, doing something that will help keep my *roots* happy and healthy. Sometimes I:
- Walk to the mailbox
- Trim bushes in the back yard for a few minutes
- Walk to the kitchen for my own water
- Do simple stretching exercises
My plea to other Migraineurs is that you plan for the long term. Plan to get better and prepare your body for the time that physically happens. Challenge yourself every day with something simple. Something to maintain your physical strength. It doesn’t have to be overwhelming, it just has to help your roots stay strong.