Dark Tide

Yesterday morning I finished formatting the four services that I have given over the past 4 summers at First Parish Watertown, and put them up on this blog as a more permanent record. People might wonder–heck, I wonder myself–how I had time to prepare a church service this year in the middle of getting ready to move to California. I don’t know. I’m trying to figure it out.

I had a migraine in the afternoon. After doing the blogging, I went out shopping to Home Depot with my husband to look at bathroom fixtures, tiles, and cabinets, for the new house in CA. Somehow, without really realizing what it was going to entail, I agreed to remodel the master bathroom in that house. We remodeled the master bath before we moved into this house as well, but I don’t remember that process making me feel like my head was going to explode, the way I felt yesterday. I was riding around in a hot car, too.

I have had these headaches off and on since adolescence. They occur less frequently now than they used to, for which I am grateful. They happened several times a month in college and graduate school, and still 1-2 times a month, sometimes more frequently, when I was working full time. Nowadays I think I am down to only a handful of times a year. I can’t remember for sure the last time I had one, it might have been last fall.

I wrote “migraine” here but I still don’t know if that’s the right word. I’ve been hesitant to use the term because I’ve read about migraines and my symptoms don’t match. “Real” migraines sound worse than what I get, and I don’t want to belittle the suffering of others. My headaches don’t follow classic symptoms: no aura, usually not on one side of the head. Sometimes there is throbbing, but not always. They almost always occur in the mid-to-late afternoon, never the morning. And, most difficult to describe, the pain isn’t excruciating or sharp. It’s not like this article in Huff Post Healthy Living (and my heart goes out to these people in the article and all migraine sufferers).  The metaphors that come to mind for me are not nails, hammers, baseball bats, vises, semi-trucks, or bricks. The metaphors that come to mind when I’m in the throes of it are more along the lines of something stealthy, sticky, and vicious. Cold, clammy, not-sweet molasses that I have to swim through. There was a molasses flood in Boston that killed people–there’s a book about it. I just want to break free, run away, get it off me, but I can’t run fast enough and it engulfs me and I succumb. That’s what my migraines feel like: the Dark Tide of 1919.

Where I also think I’m fortunate is that my migraines can almost always be cured by lying down in a dark room, where I’ll fall asleep for an hour or two, and feel better upon waking. The problem is, I don’t generally have the time, or even the place, to do that. When I was working standard work hours in an office or lab I definitely didn’t. And more to the point, wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, I feel like people resent it if, especially in the middle of the afternoon (which is when they occur), I have to excuse myself and go lie down.

In the morning before the migraine, I had been reading an interesting article about busy-ness: The Disease of Being Busy, by Omid Safi. I loved this article, it articulated just how I feel about the busy-ness that pervades so much of the society in which I live. Mr. Safi writes:

This disease of being “busy” (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. It saps our ability to be fully present with those we love the most in our families, and keeps us from forming the kind of community that we all so desperately crave.

It echoes a number of the themes I touched upon in my service last Sunday. In that service, I included a responsive reading called “Keep Calm and Parent On,” which I edited and condensed for brevity from an article in Palo Alto Online by Dr. Adam Strassberg.  That article, written in the aftermath of a suicide cluster in Palo Alto CA, had an eloquent list of things that parents could do to help their teenagers, spiritually. This Safi article could have been written by a kindred spirit. He writes:

Let us insist on a type of human-to-human connection where when one of us responds by saying, “I am just so busy,” we can follow up by saying, “I know, love. We all are. But I want to know how your heart is doing.”

Yet my experience of this article also brings up an uncomfortable reality for me: I live with, and interact on a daily basis with, a number of people who simply don’t mind being busy, who even enjoy or thrive on it. In fact, most people I know who work serious full-time jobs seem to have a higher tolerance for it than I do and an expectation that I will be mostly like them. I’ve had to pull back and set boundaries on even my part-time work to prevent the relentless creep of busy-ness, to counter the assumption that I will be a happier and better employee if I am busy.  Blogger and author Gretchen Rubin, whose work I admire, has a favorite question for helping people who struggle with small talk: “What’s keeping you busy these days?” I do struggle with small talk, and so I appreciate most of her list, and even the spirit behind this question.

But . . . yuck. Just, yuck. The layers of assumptions–that everyone wants to be busy, that being busy is good, that I will have something keeping me busy that I want to talk about–can make me feel like my head is going to explode.

If I’m honest with myself and take a broad view, I have to admit that there are times when even I like to be busy. For example, last week I was “busy” preparing my church service. I read articles, I picked out hymns, I chose music, I practiced my viola and rehearsed with others. II wrote a 15-minute sermon and practiced delivering it several times. That sounds busy, but somehow, it didn’t feel like busy. It wasn’t a migraine trigger. I need to figure out the difference.


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