An Important (And Unexpected) Life Lesson…From My GP

InsertBrainHere_1280I was at a work meeting discussing Twitter (of all things) when it happened.

The text on my notebook started to blur. I blinked again and again but the letters seemed to be flashing in and out.

Oh no. Not this again.

I silently prayed I wouldn’t get asked anything. No such luck.

“Christina, you’re active on Twitter. What can we do to increase our followers?” My colleagues were looking at me with interest.

Oh I knew the answer to this one! Too easy. I started to say: “Well, to get more followers, we…uh, have to, uh…you see we need to pay attention to….uh…other users and…”

To my dismay, my ability to formulate sentences had seemingly evaporated into thin air.

Oh man, was it awful. It was like the most extreme case of Monday-itis you’ve ever seen. I stopped, excused myself from the meeting, and hauled myself and my non-functioning brain outta there.

Needless to say, I was immediately sent home with strict orders to see a doctor.

The Diagnosis

I had suffered a similar episode a few months earlier. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but after concerns expressed by work and family members (“Blurred vision? Sounds like you’re having a stroke!”), I reluctantly went and had blood tests, a CT scan, and various eye tests. All came back clear. So it definitely wasn’t me noggin’ OR me peepers.

This time, I went to a new GP. I explained the symptoms and he said without hesitation: “It’s a migraine. One hundred percent. Caused by stress.”

Stress? “But I’m not a stressy, anxious person!” I protested.

He said: “What’s been going on in your life?”

Oh. Um, well in the last 6 months I’ve done a 12 week tutorial course for my architecture registration, sat my exams, I started a blog, I did a 4 week podcasting course, I launched a podcast and built a website, all the while working a full time job, doing CrossFit three times a week and training for a half marathon.

The doctor gave me a long look. “Do you think you put too much pressure on yourself?”

What’s all this about? I thought. Aren’t you just meant to prescribe some pills or something? This was turning into a shrink session. “Um, I don’t think I do,” I said. “It’s just that when I get an idea in my head, I feel like I have to follow it through. It’s what I believe in. If I say I’m going to do something, I do it.”

“You’re stressing your body out,” the doctor said. “You’ve undergone a lot of change in the last 6 months. Change is good, but not when it happens too often and too quickly. By literally inhibiting your sight and speech,  your body is telling you that it can’t take the stress any more. You need to take time out, calm down, and spend some time practicing mindfulness.”

I thought about this for a moment. Yeah, come to think of it, every waking moment outside my day job of late I’ve spent working on the podcast or website. I couldn’t remember the last time I had just flaked out on the couch watching TV or a DVD. Even when I go for a walk, I listen to podcasts on things like social media marketing strategies and how to grow your online business. Shit, maybe I am running myself into the ground, I thought. Maybe he does have a point.

The Prescription

mind-fullThe doctor explained that it’s ok to not be ‘on’ all the time. He suggested I schedule in blocks of ‘down time’ to do things like yoga, reading, meditating, walking or lying in the park. And I need to do it every day, like for half an hour in morning. Then he scribbled something on a sheet of paper and handed it to me. It was a list of words:



“I’d like you to practice not saying those first five words to yourself,” he said. “Words have a very powerful effect on your brain. Every time you say something like ‘I have to get this blog post done by today’, you’re putting unnecessary pressure on yourself. Instead, replace it with ‘sometimes’, or ‘could’, for example: ‘I could get this done today, but it’s ok if I don’t.’ So try doing that, and just…take it easy, ok?”

Sure. That didn’t sound too hard. Spending more time relaxing and giving myself positive affirmations? Seemed like a pretty good prescription!

I just had one last question. “So if I happen to get another migraine, what should I do?” (I was expecting him to say ‘take a nap’ or ‘rehydrate’ or something)

“Stop, and gauge where you are in life.”

*sigh* Ok fine.

Ahh, reflections.

Often in life we learn things unexpectedly. I only went into the clinic that day to get a ‘fit to work’ certificate, but instead came out with a changed life perspective. Who’da thunk it??

Have you ever experienced a time where your body was trying to tell you to stop, calm down, and take it easy? Maybe you get colds more frequently, or you get nauseous, or become really lethargic. In my case, my brain decided to switch off. Whatever it is, don’t just ignore it and say ‘Oh, this just happens every now and then.’ Listen to your body and tell yourself that you don’t have to push through it. Say no to things. Take a break. Sleep. Whatever. Your body and mind will thank you for it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a serious Game of Thrones-watching session to get to.