Avoiding prolongation of a chronic pain episode while keeping guilt and shame at bay
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that chanting, “Don’t come, just don’t come,” in your head is not an effective preventative measure for migraine. Yet, that’s what I do – sometimes all day long. And yes, it does come back. More often than not, it creeps up on me slowly and steadily when I am deeply engaged in loving life.
For as long as I’ve had migraine, the moment of arrival has been the one that causes me the most panic, sometimes more than the actual pain itself. It brings on a massive amount of hopelessness and helplessness all at once: “Didn’t I plead with you not to come? Didn’t I?”
My already cognitively-compromised brain begins to make either of the following terrible choices by this point:
- “Let’s power through this.” Let me spell it out if it’s not already sufficiently clear: Power through = more pain = longer recovery time = regret guaranteed.
- Uncontrolled Panic Spiral = Chanting “Please go now” repeatedly while remembering every task, however inane, that’s undone: “I have 4 lesson plans to make, 3 emails to write, 2 stacks of papers to grade, 1 kitchen slab to clean. Why can’t you just go now?”
It is not hard to guess that both of the above choices are neither wise nor productive. Both of them reliably ensure that I end up collapsing in a dark room as a heap of crying mess when my phonophobia makes my own whimpers unbearable.
I have had to learn the hard way that I must not power through a bout of pain, nor must I incessantly worry about what I could be doing instead of lying down with an eye mask and ear plugs in a dark room.
I’ve also come to learn the hard way that knowing what not to do is never enough. The part I hate about any life-changing realization is that it doesn’t come with guidance about what to replace a bad habit with. One has to figure it out by trudging through the long-winded, hurdle-filled path of behaviour change.
While I needed to understand that migraine IS the very signal my body is giving me to STOP WORKING, I also needed to stop my ever-lingering guilt about NOT WORKING* to take a rest. That’s when I began to write bare minimum lists.
A bare minimum list is a list of just enough tasks
- to trick myself into believing that I am not wasting time especially when there’s urgent work to do.
- that are truly indispensable on a day-to-day basis that ensure that my brain fog doesn’t misguide me into reorganizing my attic when prints for the next day’s class are not ready. It consists of carefully chosen tasks that prevent a giant mess from unraveling once the pain subsides.
- that expedite recovery. I am embarrassed to admit that I have overworked through dull-witted stupors leading to the doubling or even tripling of the duration and intensity of pain.
Here’s a snapshot of my bare minimum list:
- The Next Meal
- Tomorrow’s Lesson Plans
- Prints for Tomorrow
Yes. Only 3 tasks.
This list was not always so short. A great amount of literal pain has led to its correct current size that is devoid of all tasks that can wait.
This list has prevented me from having to prioritize tasks in the middle of agony. It has also reduced the stress of having to find time for reset days after the postdrome and is now at the top of the list of my life savers, next only to Crocin Pain Relief.
Whether you’re suffering from chronic pain like me, or wrestle with issues like anxiety that lead to piles of pending work and pangs of guilt and shame waiting at the other end, the bare minimum list may potentially be your friend.
*The reader might assume that I deem myself to be too important to consider what I do to be ever urgent. That’s, unfortunately, not true. It is the nature of my job, of teaching, that doesn’t allow one to rest without the burden of dreadful guilt coupled with catastrophic consequences in the classroom the next day. Fear is a more appropriate word to describe the cause of my constant on-the-run anxious existence.