From the age of 14, migraines robbed my quality of life by the 20-25 days of suffering per month I experienced for over 24 years. For nearly a quarter of a century, migraines were such a constant part of my everyday life that I tracked migraine-free days more than I tracked days with a migraine. After decades of suffering and trying what seemed like every pill and potion, it was a traumatic event at work that finally forced me to break away from the toxic ways I wasn’t aware that I was living. I thought I was healthy because I ate salads and went to the gym…

Unfortunately, the boundary line between wellness and illness is not always sharp. I did not realize how closely married my cells were to my mind, or how receptive my hormones were to my words. Years of inflammation and toxicity manifested as restless sleep, self-deprecating thoughts, anxiety, depression, burnout, and a lack of direction. After a complete neurological shut-down, I took on the unpleasant task of examining every aspect of my life and how it contributed to suffering. What started out as a quest to get rid of migraines led me to a boundless view of my purpose.

Often, we do not even realize how badly beat up our systems are until symptoms surface. In retrospect, we can piece together the unresolved trauma, repetitive stress, toxic emotions, unhealthy relationships, destructive thoughts, inflammatory foods, and lack of quality sleep that have powerfully influenced the imbalance of the body and mind. As I researched the brain on my search for healing, I uncovered that it imprinted conditioned stress responses for survival in my body.

When in the middle of a crisis, it is hard to see the purpose of the pain. Pain with purpose seems more acceptable (such as the pain of childbirth or the healing of a broken bone), whereas pain without purpose seems to be meaningless suffering.

Migraines were a warning sign that my life was out of balance. The physiological, psychological, and spiritual framework of equilibrium allows us to quantify wellness in terms of resilience, or the ability to adapt continuously to internal and external situations. Health may be a state of being that is free of disease or disorder, but wellness is living a flourishing life with optimal health. One can be in near perfect health, but not be well. Another can have a disease or disorder, but be well because they are living harmoniously. In order to maintain a positive balance of health and wellness and thrive in life with a clear purpose, the wear and tear on our nervous system must not exceed our capability of adapting to stress, whether the stress is in the past or in the present. Every thought leaves an imprint in the body.

Our sense of purpose-the substance of our existence in an organized flow with clear direction-does not come from our “title”. I had to surrender to the notion that my existence, contribution, and influence were not limited to the boundaries of my body. Whether your title is daycare provider, mom, CEO, secretary, teacher, nail technician, engineer, nurse, attorney, or somewhere in between, that title is not your purpose. Instead, purpose is a deeper meaning for why you are here. The impetus for our “why” is in waking up each day and the joy we find in life. Every one of us has a set of unique talents, personality types, and experiences that help us live out our greater purpose.

It looks two years to stop migraines from invading my life; one month for every year of suffering. Now that I am on the path of internal healing, I stay present and connect my emotions, mind, body, and spirit as one. I can appreciate that suffering is temporal. The ways I think, breathe, move, eat, and sleep resemble a 180-degree shift from how I lived as a hopeless sufferer. I understand that my pain is an experience for me through which to learn, grow, slow down, or help others. Although the pain we experience as humans can feel overwhelming, it is transient. What we have inside of us is greater and more potent than temporary pain. 

Seeking a sense of purpose outside of personal gain is essential to a thriving life.

Pruning our lives of negative mindsets, unhealthy behaviors, toxic environments, and draining relationships releases space for wellbeing. This is the state of being where we thrive, free from the attachment of suffering. Wellbeing is how we see our life and the world. What I have learned through years of suffering is that when I refocused the lens, it led me to my contribution to the world: to help others optimize the way they think, breathe, move, eat, and sleep so that they can thrive in life.

And now, I live a migraine-free life with 5,760 distinct reasons to wake up each day.

How do your thoughts influence perceived stress? What is your contribution to the world? I hope these questions spark a curiosity to dig deeper and take an inventory of how suffering has affected your values, relationships, and purpose. Who are you without suffering?

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Adapted from THE MIGRAINE METHOD, copyright © 2021 by Elizabeth Priller, RN, BSN, CHC, RYT. Used by permission by Elizabeth Priller Consulting. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author or publisher.