A Healing Community of Two

Witnessing my child’s layers of pain
Lands like an uppercut—
Not unexpected, given everything,
but stiff enough to drop me.

Pain connects us, suffering separates. A freakin’ hard lesson, this.

As a kid I suffered—that is, I was alone with the pain. I dealt with it by focusing on it, targeting its center in a kind of home-made meditation. By putting all my attention on it, I could for a moment experience it as a mere physical sensation, like any other.

I also tried to inure myself by asking my sisters to punch me or walking across a dry field barefoot (yeah, I know--too weird). Toughness and perseverance and stamina were my goals, my virtues.

But that was in rural Montana a long time ago, when American parents didn’t really check in with their kids and no one I knew had even the slightest idea about migraine.

Now, after years of coming to terms with the chronic nature of this thing, playing tag with hope, migraine has appeared in the life of my teenage daughter, Jo. Starting when she was around ten she had maybe four migraines a year, but last fall they became more frequent—two or three or even four a month.

Initially I was stunned (thus the poem above). I couldn’t help but imagine that her experience with migraine would be like mine at her age, filled with loneliness and frustration and just hard, hard going.

I could hardly bear to think about it, and whenever she had a headache I focused on action, on trying to relieve her pain (and her fatigue and her nausea and all the rest). We started a migraine journal and I began teaching her what I know, which naturally is quite a lot.

Soon I realized that our success in “dealing” with Jo's migraines lies not only in sharing my wealth of knowledge or in any specific treatment. It also has a lot to do with our small community of two, our kinship in pain.

It first struck me in the car on the way to school. “Do you have a headache, Mom?” “No. Why do you ask?” “I want to play you this song.” Now she not only knew about my sound sensitivity—she knew what it felt like, and she was making sure the sound wouldn’t hurt me.

How sweet, right? Yeah. ☺

But there’s more here than being thoughtful. There’s compassion, which means “feeling with” (com meaning “with” and passion meaning “feeling”). Because Jo also has migraine, she is more sensitive, better equipped to help me, just as I am better equipped to help her.

That, I think, is the deeper value of tools like Migraine.com—by creating community they transform our individual, isolated suffering, which is all about disconnection and being judged and judging ourselves, into something more concrete, be it pain or nausea or vertigo. That’s certainly not a cure, and having migraine still sucks big time. But compassion in community does engender a kind of healing. And that’s the true virtue.

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