There was one Sunday, not long ago, when I had a splitting headache. I didn’t want to have a headache. I shouldn’t have had a headache. I grouchily thought through all of the common headache culprits and decided that I did not meet any headache instigation criteria. I thought to myself - “This isn’t fair! I have been going to physical therapy. I’ve been getting massage. I’ve been doing my exercises. I’m plenty hydrated. I don’t deserve this headache! What, am I just going to have to deal with a lifetime of unfair headaches?” I spent the day arguing with the reality of my headache. I went to my previously scheduled massage, which didn’t put a dent in my headache (or my mood). I came home, even grumpier, ruminating about the unfairness of it all, and mumbled to my husband that I was going to try to take a nap for a few hours. I still didn’t think my headache should be here and I was going to try to ignore it by sleeping. After an unsuccessful-at-headache-negation nap, I laid on the couch, getting angry about how this headache had ruined my entire Sunday. It was already 6 in the evening, and I had precious few hours left in my weekend. It wasn’t fair! I was trying to stay mindful, paying attention to the sensations of my headache, noticing it pulse and fade. But whenever it returned, I felt agitated. The story in my mind would wind up again - “It isn’t fair! I don’t want it!” Looking at the clock again and feeling disappointed in the time, I accepted that I wasn’t going to be able to get much done today. I just didn’t feel well, and that was that.
And then it dawned on me.
I could take some ibuprophen.
This had not occurred to me in the last 8 hours of suffering through this headache.
Within 45 minutes my headache was gone, and I was reminded of this equation that I love to forget. Pain, multiplied by the resistance to that pain, equals suffering. I found myself both smiling and rolling my eyes at myself. Had I addressed the pain immediately, instead of trying to a) fight it or b) ignore it, my day could have gone much differently. Instead, I spent the day resisting my pain and getting stuck in my suffering. The moment I accepted the reality of my headache was the moment I was able to do something about it.
Does this sound familiar to you? If so, I’d love to hear about it! How do you get stuck in your suffering?
I'm a mindfulness based psychotherapist in Seattle.