“When you change the way you think, you change the way you feel.” – David D. Burns, psychiatrist
“I get these headaches!”
Michaud was a soft spoken, robust, stoic Francophone from a small, isolated community in Eastern Canada. He tended to observe rather than comment so his rare, often terse verbalizations usually had significance for whatever was going on. He humor was quick and witty but reserved for only when he felt comfortable in a situation.
Michaud grew up with several older brothers on a dairy farm. He quit school and left home the first chance he got…at age sixteen. He worked many labor jobs across Canada. He had married, divorced and had two teen age daughters. Now he was back in the Maritimes and remarried to Leila who had a son of her own. I first met them as a couple. They had rebuilt their relationship after some tough parenting challenges.
But this time Michaud has contacted me for an appointment for himself. When he arrived he was friendly but hesitant. So I asked him how things were going with he and Leila. He replied, “We are doing fine Ken! That’s not why I’m here today!”
“What’s on your mind Michaud?” I asked.
He hesitated and then said, “I get these headaches! They get so bad I have to leave work and go for a drive, or go for a coffee…just to cope with the pain!”
“My doctor can’t find anything wrong with me.”
“How long has this been going on Michaud?”
“Last couple of years at least…but my doctor can’t find anything wrong with me. I had all the tests and …nothing!”
“That must be both scary and frustrating!” I offered.
“Yes…really it is! Now that Leila and I are getting ourselves together they seems to be getting more frequent…which confuses me more…I just don’t know what to do!”
“There is not much that scares us more than feeling out of control of ourselves, our health or our life…so if you’re afraid that sounds like a very reasonable response to your situation Michaud!” I added to remind him it was OK to feel whatever he needed to feel.
“Well, I am glad to hear that Ken because sometimes I get really upset about it and, of course, Leila says its just stress and I should relax and then my anxiety will go away!”
“I was thinking about my father’s upcoming birthday party.”
“Well, let’s look at what is going on and see what we can uncover. Tell about the last time you had one of these headaches. When was it, where were you and Michaud, what were you doing?”
“Ken I was at work supervising a couple of guys who were laying some tile on a kitchen floor…it was no big deal…they were doing it fine…so why would I get a headache then?” he asked, his frustration rising in his voice as his face tightened.
“So you were watching two of your staff doing a good job…so what were you thinking about at that same moment?” I asked.
“I’m not sure…let me see!
He thought for a moment as he gazed off into the distance. Then he said, “OK, now I remember, I was thinking about my father’s upcoming birthday party…he is turning 75 this year.”
“And Michaud, what were you thinking about that?”
“I was thinking I have invited my Dad, Mom and brothers to my home several times in the last number of years and not one of them has shown up!” he replied, trying to hide the anger in his soft voice.
“Sounds like you are feeling ignored by your family Michaud…is that how you see it?”
“Damn right I do!” he said, his anger at full throttle.
“Tell me about another time you had a headache…when did it occur and where were you at that exact moment?”
“Another time was when I received the birthday invitation in the mail…about a month ago. I remember opening it and thinking my father knows where I live, but he doesn’t even make an effort to come visit me…ever!”
“Michaud, tell me about your relationship to your father…how was it in the past and how is it now?” I asked.
He looked away and I saw his eyes glass over and then he said, “My father worked all the time on the farm…his damn cows came first…always, my mother raised us…he is not close really to any of us…and especially not to me and I was his last child. So it is like…now he wants us to make time for him…for his birthday…not a chance!”
“Michaud, let’s check out a third time you had a headache. Tell me about it!”
“Another time was several months ago when Leila and I were arguing. We were taking pot shots at each other. She said I was a lousy dad because I never had one. And I remember feeling a headache coming on soon after.” he replied.
“To talk about balance, it’s easier to talk about what’s out of balance. And I think anytime you have any disease, and disease meaning lack of ease, lack of flow… dis-ease. So any time there’s disease, you’re out of balance, whether it’s jealousy, anger, greed, anxiety, fear.”
– Ricky Williams, athlete
“Well, I do have baggage about him…that’s for sure!”
“Michaud are you noticing what I am?” I asked him.
“Ken, do you think it has something to do with my relationship to my father?”
“What do you think Michaud?”
“Well, I do have baggage about him…that’s for sure!”
“Michaud, here a two ideas I would like you to think about in relation to your headaches. The first is… there is no mind-body or brain-body connection…this is popular jargon, your mind and body are one unified system working together 24/7 to ensure your well being and survival.
The second is each part of this system is in constant communication with every other part so what is “out of balance” in your mind or brain will usually have a parallel form in your body. So a dis-ease of the mind will usually have a dis-ease of the body to motivate us to balance out mind and our body with new thoughts and actions to ensure our future.”
“Wow Ken, that’s a mouthful to figure out! Are you saying our dis-eases, both mental and physical, help us survive in some way?”
“If you don’t think your anxiety, depression, sadness and stress impact your physical health, think again.
All of these emotions trigger chemical reactions in your body, which can lead to inflammation
and a weakened immune system.” Kris Carr, author
“Yes, I am Michaud! You remember all the work you did with Leila around how to be a more effective Dad to your daughters and stepdad to her son…did you ever notice where your motivation to do it came from?”
As he looked at me his face lifted itself into a half grin as he said, “Do you mean because of my relationship to my own father I was motivated to be a more effective father myself?”
I turned his question back to him. “What do you think Michaud?”
“I never thought of it that way before, Ken!”
“And what if the same thing is going on with your head aches? What if your headaches are your body telling your mind it is time to create some balance about your perception of your dad? A part of you knows he loves you in his own way, otherwise he wouldn’t have raised you, otherwise he wouldn’t have been devoted to your mother and your brothers, and, otherwise there would be no birthday invitation. So maybe if you made the time to uncover a more balanced perception of your father you wouldn’t need those headaches at all.”
“Wow…do you think that’s possible Ken?” he asked.
“Anxiety is the hand maiden of creativity.” – T. S. Eliot, poet
His headaches disappeared altogether.
“Let’s find out! Let’s uncover a more accurate perception of your father and see how it impact you and your health…then you can decide it that is what has been going on. Are you game for that Michaud?”
“I sure am! Let’s get started Ken!”
And so we did just that! Over the next few weeks as Michaud developed a more truthful perception of his father his headaches started to diminish. After about nine hours of intense work over as many weeks his headaches disappeared altogether.
“Anxiety is a trigger to the gaps in our appreciation of life!” – King Ayles, author
Until Next time…
July is all about ANXIETY & STRESS and how to manage it. Send us your feedback and monthly theme suggestions…we love to hear from you! If you have a specific question about dealing with the anxiety or stress of your life feel free to contact me.
POINTS TO PONDER AND REMEMBER are:
- Anxiety is simply a failure to adjust to a changing environment.
- Stress is your mind and body communicating with each other
- Anxiety is an unbalanced perception which needs your attention.
- Stress is a signal there is something for you to learn right away.
- Your mind and body are not just connected, they are one unified system.
- Your mind and body are driving you to appreciate yourself and your life.
- Find the underlying learning to resolve anxiety or stress to reach appreciation.
Further information: www.kenpiercepsychologist.com