My son suffers from migraines. For a while I kept a careful headache journal and tried to identify triggers. In fact, I drove myself crazy attempting to finger the culprit. Dairy? Sleep deprivation? Dehydration? Watching a screen? Too much reading? Not enough riboflavin? Ice cream? Frustration? Barometric pressure?
His migraines became one of my triggers. I got angry, I got sad, I got anxious. I told myself it was because I felt helpless. I was helpless in the face of my child’s suffering. I was helpless when we had to cancel schoolwork–yet again–due to a migraine. I was helpless when a migraine prevented us from going to art or piano lesson, or to a playdate, or to another planned excursion.
I also told myself I was flexible. In practice, I was flexible: I set aside the schoolwork, rescheduled the lessons, cancelled the playdates and outings. But internally I seethed. I wasn’t angry at my child, although occasionally I’d chastise him (“how long have you known it was developing? why didn’t you tell me?” or ” drink more water!” or “THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE GO TO BED TOO LATE!”). The truth is, I was angry at myself. I placed the blame for migraines on my own shoulders: I wasn’t attentive enough….lunch was too late…..I should make him drink more water….I wasn’t giving him enough vitamins…I was letting him get too frustrated….I should be able to control my child’s environment…and all of these control issues led to a judgment: I’m a bad mother…..
I recently realized that helplessness is not the problem; it’s control. The migraines feel beyond my control. As a result, I hate them. They make me anxious. They make me angry. They make me seethe. But I’m not helpless.
I can help him. I can sit with him while he vomits. I can offer a cool washcloth. I can show love. I can make sure he feels that it’s okay to be sick and that we’re not missing out on something more important–because illness is as much a part of life as wellness. I can smile. I give excellent hugs. I can just do the next right thing to do, whatever that thing is. Tonight when he came to me just as I was turning in for an early bedtime (for once!), I stayed with him in his room for an hour and a half, riding the wave of migraine out until he could sleep once more. And I didn’t resent the migraine for messing up my schedule and throwing a wrench into my plans.
This perspective applies to more than migraines, doesn’t it? If I’m constantly attempting to control situations, it’s hard to see the places where I can be genuinely helpful. The natural result of striving for continuous control is just despair. But surrendering control (and the judgment of self and others that accompanies control) and hunting for the little ways to help….I can do that.
And I shall.