NOTE: This post was originally published on my previous blog, The Healing Project.
Sometimes a headache isn’t just a headache… This is something I’ve pondered in recent months as I’ve considered how often I suffer from migraines.
Could it be possible that my headaches serve another purpose beyond causing me extreme pain and discomfort? My thoughts and realizations on this subject will be the focus of today’s post.
Inconvenient Migraines & Other Such Ailments
Last summer and fall, I attended classes three nights per week. Every two or three weeks, we would have a project to complete and hand in for course credit. We would usually be given one class period to use as a “work night” for our projects. After a few months of class, I noticed that I would almost invariably have a migraine on each project night. Was this just a mere coincidence, or was something else behind it?
As I considered my project night migraines, I noticed that I would also get migraines on days or nights on which I had certain other commitments, such as a Toastmasters speech or a social function to attend. It is highly unlikely that my migraines on all of these days happened by chance, so perhaps there were other forces at play…
I’ve also begun to notice that my other health issues have a tendency to come to the forefront at certain critical junctures in my life. My digestive problems, sore throat and swallowing issues, neck and chest pains, and various other ailments often crop up under times of stress or discomfort.
Sometimes my headaches or other health challenges allow me to escape commitments in my life. After all, if I am writhing in pain, who would expect me to attend a party or give a speech? I am able to “bow out” of certain obligations by claiming illness without suffering the wrath of others or other such consequences. I don’t consciously create the illnesses, but whenever there is a glaring pattern being displayed, it is worthwhile to examine the situation and any potential “payoffs” therein.
“Payoffs” of Illness
It may be strange to consider the “payoffs” of a migraine, digestive distress, or any other seriously uncomfortable condition. After all, I am not exactly swinging from the chandeliers and celebrating when I am afflicted with such maladies. But truth be told, I am getting a payoff from being sick. I “get” to avoid a commitment that I have perhaps been dreading on either a conscious or subconscious level. But at what cost? Is it really better to be at home suffering in my body than to be in a situation with which I am not fully comfortable? This is something I never really considered until recently…
Another “payoff” for me in my physical maladies is that my focus shifts from other problems or concerns to the illness at hand. I no longer have to think about what else is bothering me; all of my attention moves to my body and its discomfort. This was the case on my class project nights. I was worried about doing a good job on my projects, about measuring up to the teacher’s standards and impressing my classmates. Once the migraine would appear on the scene, however, it was all I could do to stay in class and work on the task at hand. I didn’t have the energy to worry about my fears of not being good enough, so I just did my best on the project and let that be that.
The Lesser of Two Evils…
Do I like being in physical pain? Of course not, but that pain is easier for me to bear – and more familiar – than any emotional pain which I may be feeling. I don’t know what to do with the emotional pain; the possibilities are seemingly endless. Plus, it isn’t socially acceptable to talk about our psychological pain, yet the discussion of health problems has no such taboos. How many people will tell their co-workers about an appointment with a physician, yet guard a counseling appointment as a secret from all but their closest confidantes?
Awareness Leads to Choice
Realizing the ways in which my illnesses serve as vehicles of avoidance has helped me to change the ways in which I interact with my infirmities – and with other people. I now give myself permission to say no to commitments I don’t wish to fulfill. If I don’t want to do something (and it isn’t necessary for my work, relationships, or life), I decline to commit, and I don’t allow any feelings of guilt to enter my consciousness. If I don’t commit in the first place, I don’t need to create an illness in order to avoid doing something which I’m dreading.
However, if I have already agreed to do something and the time is at hand, I no longer use existing physical complaints as excuses for not honoring my commitments. Only on a very rare occasion will I now cancel an obligation due to a health issue. In almost all cases, I do what I have committed to do. If I am in pain, I do my best not to show it and instead strive to move past it as best as I can. What I’ve found is that I often end up feeling better once I get out of the house and am engaging with others at a social or business function. The reason for my ailment (the avoidance) is no longer needed, so the pain gradually dissipates.
A Powerful Decision
I have made a decision not to let my physical pain stop me in life. If I have decided to do certain activities on a given day, I will do them, pain or no pain. Unless the pain is downright excruciating, I am not going to let it sideline me. Pain isn’t going to stop me from living – and enjoying – my life!
I don’t believe that all of my aches and pains (or anyone else’s, for that matter) are means of avoiding commitments or thinking about uncomfortable situations. But I’ve come to understand that some of my pain serves the purpose of avoidance.
My awareness of the subconscious functions of my pain has helped me to fight back and prevail. I am no longer a helpless victim to my seemingly endless list of physical complaints. I can be at choice in my life, and I choose to live each day to the fullest!
Something to Consider…
The next time you get a headache or some other type of pain, stop and consider what might be brewing beneath the surface. Could it be that you have created your physical pain in order to prevent or avoid potential psychological discomfort? If so, how would it be for you to face the challenges at hand and not let your ailments stop you? Perhaps if our ailments no longer serve a purpose in our lives, they will gradually fade away, and we will be free!