Sunday, December 21, 2014

Facing the Facts of My Pain

“It’s frustrating, but it’s just a headache.”

“I’ve already had it for three days, so it will be over soon.”

“It’s not a big deal. There are so many people who have worse problems – like cancer or a serious illness.”

“After dealing with migraines for more than 40 years, I’m used to it.”

That’s how I’d respond when people offered sympathy for my migraines. And I truly meant every single one of those things.

I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me. I consider myself to be a strong (and successful) person and having this debilitating condition made me feel as though I’d be perceived as weak or a hypochondriac.

The Impact of it All
But the reality is that my migraines significantly affect my life – and even worse, the life of my family.

Nearly every day, my husband and daughter greet me in the morning by asking, “Do you have a headache today?”

My answer usually ranges from “just a small one” to “it’s brutal today.” I rarely answer, “Nope! I feel great!”

In spite of having a headache – of varying severity – nearly every day, I can typically power through the pain, fulfilling the majority of my responsibilities. At least for the first 48 hours.

But eventually the pain, nausea, inability to concentrate and sensitivity to light/sound/smell/movement drive me to my bed where I lie in silent darkness. It hurts too much to sleep and it hurts too much be awake. As strange as it sounds, even my hair hurts.I just have to wait it out.

Because of this, I rarely attend church with my family (because my migraines usually hit on the weekend), I miss out on my kids’ school activities and other events are cancelled. When I'm in the midst of a three- or four-day migraine, the house falls apart (my husband takes over as much as he has time for), I don’t cook meals, I’m not able to help my kids with their homework and many other basic functions cease.

When I finally get better, I work like a crazy person to make up for lost time – and to get the piles of laundry, dishes and paperwork back under control. It’s a vicious circle.

Accepting the Reality
After dealing with this since I was five, I accept it as part of my life. Sure, I’ve sought diagnosis and treatment, but none of the options have provided long-term relief.

Then one day, it hit me. I have a legitimate chronic illness.

That doesn’t mean I’m weak. It’s not “just a headache” that I can ignore. It’s a genuine condition that has a significant impact on my life.

According to, “Practical clinical criteria define Chronic Migraine as headache that occurs 15 or more days a month with headache lasting 4 hours or longer for at least 3 consecutive months… By this definition, people with Chronic Migraine are spending half their month living with debilitating migraines.”*

Since I easily meet that definition, I now have a new paradigm.

I have a chronic condition. And that’s okay.


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Turning My Back On My Kids

I turn away from my kids on a regular basis. And it facilitates great communication.

Before you Mom-shame me for this behavior, let me explain.

Our 13-year-old daughter will talk to us about nearly any subject, any time, at any length. (Case in point, she literally JUST asked me if she’s talking too much right now.)

While I’m thankful that she talks to me so easily, our 11-year-old son is a bit more reticent. With both kids – and especially my son – sometimes the more difficult subjects are better conquered when we’re not face-to-face.

For us, the best talks often come when we’re in the car and they're seated behind or beside me. Of course, I can’t take credit for this idea – I read this advice many years ago. But there are many other situations where we can communicate with our children and teens in a non-threatening way.

At our house, the kitchen is great place for us to share what’s happening in our lives. While we work side-by-side (or as I cook and they do homework), I’m often amazed at all the different things we talk about. And I’m fairly certain that we’re digging in much deeper to these important topics than if our chats had a forced feeling about them.

If you’re looking for new ideas to connect with your kids, here are a few activities that could lend themselves to relaxed interactions:
• Shooting hoops or going for a bike ride
• Cooking dinner for your family – or for an elderly neighbor
• Volunteering with a group like Habitat for Humanity
• Grocery shopping or picking up supplies from the hardware store
• Walking the dog or hiking some trails

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

This or That

It’s definitely an ego boost to be aggressively recruited for not one – but two – great opportunities.

Within the last 10 days, I’ve experienced this and feel blessed to have been contacted (out of the blue) for jobs that I would definitely enjoy. And one of them would nearly double our family’s income.

All in the family
Although we don’t put the pressure of making big decisions on our kids, we do keep them in the loop about life changes that could affect them. So while I was cooking dinner the other night, I tossed out this latest possibility.

I explained that while we’re fine in our current situation, if I went back to work full-time, we could enjoy some extras – like eating out, replacing our worn-out carpet and going on vacations. In the past few years, we haven’t even gone on a weekend getaway.

Immediately, our 11-year-old son said that he likes things just the way they are. Our 13-year-old daughter quickly agreed. (How weird is that? Siblings agreeing on something!)
Keep in mind that these are the same kids who get annoyed when I remind them about homework assignments and ask them to do basic chores around the house.

Our son, in particular, gets frustrated when I ask about his day at school. When he gets in the car, he is often grumpy and uncommunicative. Yet, he was the first one to say he wanted me to continue picking him up from school, dropping him off and generally just being there when he needs me.

So, while my daughter immediately shares all about her day – the good, the bad and the ugly – my son takes time to thaw. He eventually begins peeling away the layers of his day, which leads to relationship-strengthening communication. His personality requires unrushed time before he’ll tell me about his concerns and triumphs.

Making a list – and checking it twice
Of course my husband and I have discussed this in detail. And, as I typically do, I created a pros and cons spreadsheet. As I made the list, I pictured myself wearing heels and make-up again, taking in the magic of a Disney vacation, sitting on furniture that isn’t threadbare and updating our landscape.

And then my mind came back around to this moment in time. This moment in which my tween and teen said they need me. Suddenly my decision became crystal clear.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Say what?

“Hang on a second,” I said to my sister. Our oldest child was still struggling in school so I’d called my sister – who is a teacher – to ask her advice. She had also successfully raised her own daughter who was now a responsible mom of her own. I felt as though my husband and I had already tried every possible way to motivate our daughter and I just didn’t know what else to do. I needed my sister's wisdom and encouragement.

Knowing how many different attempts my husband and I have made to help our daughter – including ADHD meds, regular counseling sessions, rewards, revoking privileges, working with her teachers, etc. – my sister suggested that perhaps it was time to let our daughter experience the natural consequences of her actions ... even if it resulted in failure.

When failure fails
I agreed with my sister's concept. However, we’d already done that – without the desired results. During our daughter’s seventh grade school year, she failed in a very public way. The first consequence was being put on academic probation by the school. This was a warning about her ability to continue with cheerleading and choir – two activities she loved.

The next time grades were checked by administration, she was deemed ineligible and was required to sit on the sidelines rather than cheer with her squad. Even THAT wasn’t enough to spur her to action and she was ultimately kicked off the squad. The very squad that she’d begged us to let her join. In her very small close-knit school, her absence in these activities was very evident.

Good at heart
Our daughter wasn’t defiant about not doing her schoolwork. She’s a sweet and loving girl who wants to please us and her teachers. She always feels badly when she thinks she’s let us down. And yet, she still failed to turn in her assignments on time and was generally irresponsible with her schoolwork. Not intentionally. Not defiantly. Just by default. It was tough to punish a good kid who is kind to others and has developed such a good set of personal values.

Heading into our fifth year of dealing with a daughter who wasn’t taking responsibility for her actions was mentally and emotionally draining. I’d even left full-time employment several years ago so I could provide our kids with better support during those critical right-after-school hours.

That being said, I don’t have helicopter-parenting tendencies. I am the type of person who wants – and expects – people to step up to the plate and be responsible for their own actions. Yet, I’m now morphing into a hovering parent who's stepping in deeper and deeper to help prepare her kids for high school.

So as I chatted with my sister while cooking dinner (Thank goodness for Bluetooth!), I continued to feel anxiety about our daughter’s academic performance. As my stress level rose and my optimism waned, I heard my husband talking to my son upstairs.

“You are NOT allowed to eat popcorn in the bathtub,” I heard him say with exasperation.

Yes, while I was cooking dinner, doing dishes and talking to my sister about my daughter’s academic future, my son had settled into a nice warm bath with a big bowl of popcorn.

Almost as quickly as my stress level had elevated, I was now able to laugh at the absurdity of a tween enjoying a pre-dinner snack in the tub. After sharing a laugh with my sister, I hung up and turned back to my job of imperfect parenting.