The Headache Theory Re-Examined: Flying by the Seats of our Pants

A few weeks ago, I reported being floored by a headache. My theory, at the time, was that said headache was caused primarily by work-related stress (and one client in particular, truth be told).  Having struck on this theory, I went so far as to draft a resignation letter, to see how it felt. And, whatdyaknow my headache eased.

Therefore, work caused my distress.  It seemed plausible, if somewhat simplistic.

Two days later, on Superbowl Sunday, I happened to visit my parents. While getting caught up on the latest news with my mom, I mentioned this headache I’d had.

“The worst I’ve had in years,” I said. “I actually had to go to bed and bury my head under the covers.”

“I had a nasty headache on Friday, too,” she said. “It lasted all night.”

“Friday night?” I asked, blinking.

“Yes, it went right across my forehead,” she said, running her hand across her brow.

“Really? That’s exactly where mine was,” I said, touching my hand to my own forehead.

“I had a bit of the visual aura thing before it started, too,” she said, “though fortunately it didn’t turn into a migraine.”

No way, I thought. My mom had the same headache that I did? I took a moment to process this news and then launched a barrage of questions: How long did it last? Did she take anything for the pain? Did she have an idea what caused it?

“Barometric pressure,” she said.

My mom is a veteran of migraine and sinus headaches, and given that she was a full-time working mom with three kids, she certainly had cause for tension headaches to boot.  If she says, barometric pressure, then I have to allow for that.

So what does that do to my theory?  What about I can’t help but feel as though my body is sending me a message?  I still believe that work issues are a contributing factor, but I can’t help feeling as though I have just walked into another one of the Universe’s curve balls, a back-handed reminder about The Stories We Tell Ourselves and How They’re All Fiction.

I do know this. What I don’t know, in any given moment, is what is true and what is just a good story I’ve made up (ergo, two blogs and a book underway). Where on earth is the line? If we can’t count on ourselves to make reliable judgments about what is and what isn’t true, then how the heck do we ever make a sensible decision? Just fly by the seat of our pants?

Watch people. Listen to them. You’ll see that we all do this all the time. We string together a series of observations – and call them fact even though they are, of necessity, skewed – and then we draw conclusions, of which we quickly become thoroughly convinced. If we examine these conclusions, though, what we may find is that we’ve built a reality from paper clips and elastic bands. A reality capable of any number of permutations, combinations and interpretations. And thereby, we may cause our own stress, or our own joy, as the case may be.

If I were a religious sort, I might see this insight as part of living in the Divine Mystery or something mystical-sounding, but I think I’ll stick with the Theory of Flying by the Seat of the Pants.

So where does this leave me, coming back to the question of lightening up on my work life? Or my married life for that matter? This is where I do know the answer.  And, of course, it lands squarely on my own shoulders. Doesn’t it always?

If a situation, or heaven forbid, a person, is driving me nuts (or apparently causing me stress), what do I do? I attempt to wedge open my mind and re-examine the “facts”. And then what? I notice and take responsibility for my part. So where does that leave me? Sigh. If work is causing me stress, I always have a choice. I have no control over other people, for instance, but I do have control over me, myself, how I interpret a situation and how I respond. I can try on something new. It’s always that way, and I know it. Thus, leaving me with my work cut out for me – taking into account barometric pressure – and, of course flying by the seat of my pants.

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