On Acceptance: Productivity and Pain

At a seminar on pain management a few years ago, the facilitator asked, “What is an acceptable percentage at which you are willing to function in your life? 50%? 75%?” My hand rose involuntarily. “100%,” I said confidently. “Anything less is unacceptable to me.”

I’m a type A personality by nature.  A workaholic. Can you tell? I used to pride myself on little sleep and major productivity.  I believed it was possible to do it all: raise my boys and work more than full time – be a creative singer/songwriter/performer on the side all while having chronic migraine.  Over the course of many years, the condition brought me to my knees. I had the sense of fighting everyday: both engaged in an emotional fight with the idea of migraine which was clearly targeting me unjustly just by showing up day after day after day AND in a physical fight to try unsuccessfully to quiet the relentless pain.  Trying so hard to win- but losing so very badly.  Each day, I was striving for a pain-free day and once it became clear I could no longer attain those, fighting for a pain free hour at least.  I was spending more time hugging a vomit bucket than I was hugging my children.  I was missing loads of work and watching my sons grow up from the bedroom.  I was doing so much- and doing it so poorly.

So, as soon as those words exited my mouth, I realized what I was saying was actually completely unreasonable for me. In reality, it had been years since I had been living at 100%. It had never occurred to me to accept the idea that I would live my life at “less than”. Wouldn’t that mean defeat? Letting the pain win? This was a battle, wasn't it? And it's not my nature to give up. I am stubborn redhead after all.

When I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I functioned at 100%, something in me loosened. Something let go. What if this wasn’t a fight? What if I stopped using my energy to fight a battle I couldn’t win and instead accepted my pain and learned to live with and around it?

These days I wake up with the image of greeting the pain as if it’s an old friend.  We go hand in hand through parts of the day.  It no longer surprises, shocks or angers me.  I’ve made peace with this daily visitor and have come to respect the limitations it places on me.  While it’s an ongoing challenge to let go of my old definitions of productivity, there are many interesting and healthy gifts that have come with learning how to pace my life more slowly in response to chronic migraine.  So, while I may not be able to “do it all,” I now do less – really well.

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