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Finding (and Missing) My “True Sanctuary”

Though my migraines have been better in the last couple months — except for last week, when I accidentally halved my dose of magnesium — I’ve been feeling kind of blah. Not depressed, but not motivated or energetic either. This, I’ve discovered, has in large part been because I haven’t been able to practice yoga, which generally boosts my health and my mood. Beyond providing exercise, yoga occupies the all-important third space for this migraineur.

Migraine didn’t keep me away this time, at least not directly. Instead, I developed joint pain as a result of my sedentary life. After a year of taking only gentle yoga classes, I moved to all-levels classes. I felt like I’d developed some stamina and was ready to start building some muscle. I expected a lot of muscle aches — the good, I-can-tell-I’ve-been-working-out kind of soreness. It never came even though I was going all-out in class. It turns out that my natural flexibility (which hasn’t waned) was working against me. My muscles aren’t strong enough to support me when I’m splayed out in a pose, so my joints took the brunt of my workouts. I kept going to classes for awhile, thinking I’d work through it. Nope. So I tried only gentle classes, but the pain persisted. I had no choice but to stop and heal.

I bought an ancient treadmill so I could exercise without leaving the house. I’m one of those weird people who doesn’t mind exercising on a treadmill, but “exercise” and “yoga” are not synonymous experiences for me. Walking on a treadmill and listening to podcasts is fine; yoga classes are a time of (almost) pure enjoyment for me. I’d rather follow my bliss. Engaging in a third space, which is a meaningful activity outside of work or home, can reduce stress and social isolation. In A Third Space for Migraine Patients, headache specialist William Young writes:

I think that finding a good third space can be very hard for a person with bad migraine, but that finding something is truly important. I think it works best when it requires interacting with people outside of work or home and consumes someone in such a way that it becomes very hard to focus on pain.  I don’t think it needs that much time, and if an hour a week is all you can find, that is fine, if you have found a true sanctuary. Find something, try it on and if it doesn’t fit, keep trying until you find something meaningful. Fight for one tiny, special activity that takes you away from the places in your life that the pain resides. Keeping a seed of contented normalcy somewhere in one’s world is critical, and provides hope in the darkest times.

I will spare you the poetic waxing. Suffice it to say that classes provide me with much pleasure, which I have missed. While I don’t talk to a lot of people at the studio (how outgoing I am depends on how migrainey I am), I appreciate seeing different people than my friends and family. The studio I go to has a strong community feeling and I like the support implicit in that. People notice when I’m gone and ask how I am when I return.

I have described yoga as a lifeline before. Until this forced hiatus, I didn’t know how true that was. I’ve been back for a few gentle classes and have felt great emotionally and migraine-wise afterward. My joints were OK with one class, but they are complaining a bit after classes on consecutive days. Next week I will get suggestions from a physical therapist/pilates instructor/massage therapist for improving muscle tone and protecting my joints.

The work required to regain muscle strength is daunting, especially knowing that migraine will continue to interrupt my attempts to exercise. I fear that I will never come out ahead. At which point I have to remind myself to be mindful of the present moment, not lost in the past or anticipating the future. One step — whether forward or back — at a time.

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Trying to Find My New “Home”

Home is where I want to be when I have a migraine. Being nearly housebound since I moved to Boston in August, you’d think I’d be all set. Except that “home” is far more metaphorical than literal. In Seattle, my home was on the couch in front of the fire. Even if my apartment here had a fireplace, it wouldn’t be the same. Home is an emotional place, an emotional state. One that is found by feeling it. One I haven’t found since moving to Boston, not in my apartment or in the city.

Driving from the airport into Seattle the first time Hart and I visited, I knew I’d found my home. In fact, when I was 13 and first visited the Pacific Northwest, it felt like home even though I wasn’t aware of what that meant. Now I’m 3,000 miles away and I feel the distance acutely. I know Boston is a great city and there’s a ton to see and do in the Northeast. Enough friends of friends are here that I’m confident we can build a great social circle. The move isn’t intended to be permanent. All this logic doesn’t erase the ache for Seattle and the forests of the northwest.

Hart and I went back at Thanksgiving. The first morning, we went mushroom hunting. My heart sang as we drove through the city, seeing the water and evergreens. The ferns, the moss and the drizzle in the forest felt so good that I turned my face to the sky to soak it in. Then a severe migraine hit on the drive back to our friends’ place. The subsequent migraines were so bad that, except for a massage appointment, I didn’t leave their house until we went to the airport, 10 days after our intended departure. I have to wonder if not wanting to leave my beloved city was the primary migraine trigger.

Over the last month, the migraines have improved steadily. I even went to Hart’s work’s holiday party Tuesday night and had a great, low-pain time. I also met a lot of new people, all of whom were curious about Seattle. Talking about my city was soothing yet heartrending. The next day, I stumbled upon The Place I Love: Songs About Longing, written by someone from Portland who recently moved to New York. Listening to the songs she shared was another bittersweet comfort.

Seattle from Kerry ParkSeattle’s lakes and trees and cranes and Space Needle fill my soul. Even when I didn’t leave the house, the glimpses out the windows cheered me. I didn’t realize how much the city carried me as I struggled with an ever-worsening chronic illness. Moving to Boston was the right choice for Hart and me and I want to make it home while we’re here. But how do I find my place in a city that doesn’t nurture me?