How Chronic Illness Made Me a Champion Worrywart

I worry about everything. Barometric pressure. Fluorescent lights. Hormones. My bedtime. You name it, I can fret over it.

So move over, Muhammad Ali: I’m the Greatest!

I can worry anyone into the ground.

Try me.

Here is a short list of things that worry me on a regular basis. Each one has knocked me flat with migraines at some point. So I get very upset by each of the following:

– Clouds blowing in after it’s been sunny for several days
– Clouds blowing out after it’s been overcast for several days
– Drinking coffee
– Staying up past 11pm
– Waking up after 7am
– Skipping a meal
– Or even just eating it a couple hours late
– Not eating every four hours
– Not working out
– Working out too enthusiastically
– Bending over to pet my cat or take off my shoes
– A time change, as in spring or fall or even just driving to another state
– Any activity I find exciting, stressful, or both–like my first date with my fiancé or swimming in open water or turning in my finals for the quarter
– Getting my period
– Coming off my period (A physician once had me try oral contraceptives to manage this rollercoaster, and I dryheaved my way to dehydration)
– Did I mention dehydration? My body defines this as not getting 8-10 glasses of water daily.
– Drinking red wine or really any colored alcohol at all (Hello, bottle of rubbing alcohol, otherwise known as vodka! You are a bitter disappointment after your cousin, whiskey.)
– Taking painkillers (And everyone thinks this is the solution? Pfft. The weaklings don’t worry enough.)
– Being around fluorescent lights for hours on end, like at every fucking job in America
– Lots of loud noise, as in bars or at concerts
– Car headlights and streetlights at night
– Smoking

So yeah, life’s a bitch. Basically, migraines are the body’s natural pain response run amok. Pain exists for one simple reason: to signal danger or injury, so we can do something about it. Migraines are an overreaction to small changes that don’t actually pose any threat. But the migrainous brain insists that they do and reacts accordingly. So unless I avoid living, I will have a bad migraine eventually. The only question is when.

But I’ve got it all figured out because I invest my time in worrying. It’s a sport that doesn’t get enough respect from the world–because I’m telling you, it works. There is no migraine trigger that can sting me like a bee these days. I see it coming a mile off. And since there’s absolutely nothing I can do about weather and hormones and which hemisphere tilts towards the sun–there’s only one thing I can do.


That’s right.

In my daydreams, I am giving a TED talk five years from now about how my health hit rock bottom when I could count on having a vertiginous migraine every fall for two months. And then I lean towards that microphone on their spiffy red carpet and say, “So I decided it was time to take control of my life.”

But the trouble is, what comes next?

See, I’ve done regular exercise five to six days a week for the better part of a year, with just a few weeks off. I drink my water, goddammit. I eat my fucking fruits and veggies and whole grains and low-fat dairy every four hours at the same fucking time. I avoid sugars and processed foods at home. I stick to my bedtime like an obedient seven-year-old. I take iron for my blasted anemic blood. I meditate and journal and om my way to stress management.

And sure, I’m better. I’m better than I was when I sipped whiskey and went to bed when I damn well pleased and hung out with ex-friends who stressed me out.

But I’m not better in the pop-a-pill sort of way we Westerners expect. Like better better. Like “all gone!” better. And I worry about that, too.

Because maybe if I end up giving that TED talk, it won’t be about how I magically made my problems disappear. One idea, and BOOM! I get a new life. Nope.

I’m starting to realize part of the problem with Western conceptions of the human body is that we accept only a very limited range of experience as “normal.” And we want our medicine to make us all fit inside that narrow experience. The truth is–sorry Paleo fans–disability IS a normal part of human experience. It’s been with us since the beginning. And even in the idealistic future of Star Trek, the blind are still blind and the immobilized still wrestle with equal access. 

Maybe my new normal isn’t about making migraines go away. Maybe it’s about challenging myself, my loved ones, and my society to do better at accommodating and supporting that full range of experience. Maybe it’s time that, alongside research and medical care, we shift our cultural attitudes from fixing to accepting the many variations of bodies and brains that are all legitimate and valuable.

And that’s something interesting to worry about.

Published by M.C. Easton

Novelist and teacher.

3 thoughts on “How Chronic Illness Made Me a Champion Worrywart

  1. What a wonderfully out together article. I suffer from ocular migraines and I have anxiety, though I refuse to identify with the a diagnosis of anxiety. I’m trying to work through it on my own, to mellow out a bit. reassuring myself usually helps.
    Thanks for the post!

    1. Yup, I don’t like thinking of myself as an anxious person, either. But it’s still there, and I have to work through it, too. It definitely takes a lot of work, doesn’t it? Thanks for reading, Shannon, and best wishes on your journey through migraines, too.

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