My Headache Story

Note: my ongoing struggle with headaches is still really difficult for me to talk about. I hope that through sharing a bit of my story here, those of you who also experience chronic pain will feel a little less alone.

Pain and I? We go waaaay back.

Once, I tried to estimate the number of days I’ve lost to pain.

You know, truly lost, like lying in bed, incapacitated, lost.

And, the days numbered years. Thinking about that even now fills me with this sense of heaviness, frustration, dread, and sadness.

Having a headache is not ok.

Or, that’s what I believed for a very long time.

That, somehow, having headaches, especially headaches that were so totally out of my control, that left me helpless and hopeless and utterly depressed and unable to function, were somehow a reflection on my character.

That somehow, I was weak or fundamentally flawed.

So, I set out to prove otherwise.

In high school, violent nausea would overcome me in basketball practice. I would dash for the locker room, puke, pause a moment until the shaking and gasping for breath would pass and then return to practice. Never mind that I could barely see the ball or the other players.

In college, believe me, a simple migraine wasn’t going to stop me from going out with friends. If my speech was slurred, well, maybe it could be blamed on the beer.

And, class? I remember shaking and sweating, head pounding, words swimming as I took yet another exam under the influence of extreme pain.

Work followed the same pattern.

I’ve never worked a job that offered health benefits or sick-leave.

If I didn’t work, I wasn’t paid. So, I worked.

After I’d done all that I had to do for the day, then, and only then, would I return to my darkened room and allow myself to be consumed by pain and nausea.

After years of fighting, denying, and repressing the pain, something else started to happen.

All this fear and dread began to creep in.

Yeah, I would still pretend the migraine wasn’t there until it reached a point where I simply couldn’t ignore it and was forced to give in.

But, this other thing began to happen as well.

This insidious, malignant thing.

This thing that whispered thoughts of:

‘What’s the point of doing what you love, of listening to your heart, of dreaming, of even being yourself if it can all be stopped cold by a headache.

And, you will be stopped. The migraine will come.”

I believed those whispers.

So, for a few more years, I essentially stopped.

I did just enough to get by. I tried this, I tried that. Nothing really worked. The headaches continued. Time slipped by.

A change in perspective slowly emerges.

Fortunately, at some point during the ‘just getting by’ years, I discovered and began to study Ortho-Bionomy, the style of bodywork that forms the foundation for my work.

I started applying its principle of being kind and gentle with pain to myself and to my clients. (It was much easier with my clients.)

And, I started listening to my body.

I began to notice and to pay attention to the symptoms that signaled a headache was coming.

With practice, I began to notice the symptoms of a headache earlier and earlier, sometimes even before the headaches reached the point of no return.

And, sometimes, I could even do some self-care and somehow, miraculously, not get a headache.

On occasion, even, I was able to ask for help, to let another see me helpless and vulnerable…. although, honestly, I didn’t believe anyone could help me or relieve the pain.

Which brings us to today, the present.

I still get headaches. I still have days when all I can do is curl up in bed and wait for it to be over.

I still experience the day after when feelings of depression, resentment, and hopelessness replace the physical pain.

These days, however, are fewer. And, when they do occur, I am often able to just let myself have a headache without adding the additional pain of self-hatred and self-condemnation.

The biggest difference is:  I’m no longer alone.

I now have Allies, both internal and external, to turn to when the headaches descend.

Allies who often can relieve the pain when it is beyond what I can handle on my own. Allies who, if they can’t relieve the pain, can support and hold me in the pain.

And, somehow, having Allies makes all the difference in the world.

Comment Magic:

Chronic pain is rough. I just lost yesterday to a migraine and awoke today feeling utterly helpless and hopeless.

And yet, I know these feelings, like the migraine itself, will pass.

They are simply another part of the pattern.  A pattern that has already changed considerably and is continuing to shift as I learn more about how to meet myself and how to ask for help.

There is a even a part of me that feels a certain sense of gratitude for these headaches.

I wouldn’t be here, doing this work, without my history of headaches. I wouldn’t know how to meet your pain without having such intimate experience with pain myself.

So, for today, if you feel inclined to leave a comment, I’d love to hear how you meet pain (whether physical or emotional). What works for you? Who or what are your Allies?

And, as always, just your ‘hello’ is adored as well.

Do you have some pattern of chronic pain (whether physical or emotional) that just isn’t shifting or resolving? I offer healing sessions for resolution of pain and trauma, and to help you connect deeply to your body and your Self.


  1. Sarah says:

    Thank you so much for sharing, you’re article is a generous gift to the world. I am frankly awed by all you’ve accomplished in the midst of extreme pain, and how you’ve used it to serve others.

    My own struggle with pain hasn’t been as dramatic, but I was surprised by how much I identified with the feelings you list in the article. I’ve had chronic hip pain for almost five years now. There’s no moment I can point to as a precise cause, and years of bodywork and mental/emotional processing hasn’t touched it. Every once in a while it’s bad enough to keep me from doing something, but for the most part it doesn’t interfere with my activities.

    I mostly ignore it, but I realize on a level I’m deeply afraid it will never go away and I will never experience a day without physical pain again. Whatever progress I feel I make in my life, it’s as though the pain in my hip is evidence that nothing’s really changed or improved.

    That said, I agree there is a gift in it’s presence. Partly the level of empathy it allows me in working with others, and partly how it teaches me to interact with elements in life I don’t like. I can’t will it away, so I’m forced to work with it, and grow in ways I wouldn’t otherwise be able.

    Pain is in it’s way an inspiring coach, forcing a level of growth I don’t think I would ever seek on my own.


    larisa Reply:

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience, Sarah. I can empathize with so much of what you wrote – especially the part about no matter how much other things change in your life, the hip pain not changing can render everything else meaningless.

    And yet, I also totally agree that having pain in my life has allowed for growth that wouldn’t have occurred otherwise.

    My hope is that I’ll someday get to the point where growth can happen through ease and inspiration vs pain. I’m seeing this possibility open up more and more in my life and am sending wishes for the same in yours. :)
    Twitter: larisakoehn


  2. Julie says:

    Thanks for this. I’ve got chronic fatigue, and while it’s not always accompanied by pain, it often is. And more often than the pain comes the brain fog and the exhaustion and the need to just climb in bed for however long it takes. It can be incredibly demoralizing. It’s always helpful to know there are fellow travelers working on their own versions of the pattern.
    Julie recently posted..The importance of hobbies
    Twitter: escapeivrytower


    larisa Reply:

    Hello fellow traveler :)

    I so appreciate you taking the time to share your version of the pattern. I’m sending you rest, love, comfort and clarity.
    Twitter: larisakoehn


  3. Kylie says:

    Thank you for sharing your headache story, Larisa. The spirit of it is so gentle. I must admit that I’ve never experienced chronic pain, but I can see myself practicing a similar gentleness, and acceptance, and curiosity, to emotional challenges (and even short-term pain).

    I feel like I learn something new about how to be with myself each time I visit you here. Yay!
    Twitter: kyliewriteshere


    larisa Reply:

    So happy to hear that, Kylie – both the piece about how you practice gentleness, acceptance and curiosity with your emotional challenges AND that you learn something new when you visit here (yay!). *Your* writing inspires me as well. :)
    Twitter: larisakoehn


  4. Howdy Larisa. I get so much from your insightful and honest writing. I don’t have chronic pain, but chronic allergies. Remembering to be gentle with myself is key. Thank you so much for sharing this. Em


    larisa Reply:

    You bet! Always delighted to see you here, Em. :)
    Twitter: larisakoehn


  5. Rhiannon says:

    This was just what I needed to hear as I lay on my back frustrated that I have too much pain along my spine to go out and exercise.

    That there is hope. That other people struggle with this too. :)
    Rhiannon recently posted..A Letter to a House
    Twitter: rhiannonlaurie


    larisa Reply:

    Oh. :( So sorry to hear about the spine-pain and resultant frustration. That’s rough. I hope it improves quickly and that you are able to get back to doing the things you love. Including, of course, Shiva Nata! :)
    Twitter: larisakoehn


  6. Ty Barbary says:

    Oh, gods, do I ever feel for you here. So much sympathy. So much support.

    I started having migraines shortly after moving to the desert, so it’s been less than two years. They only got frequent and terrible in the last eight to ten months. If I hadn’t learned from earlier pain (back issues, martial arts training, chronic and crippling stomachaches from my childhood) how to deal with myself in pain – how not to fall into the very trap you write about here – I would have crumpled into ash. As it was, I had to learn a whole new way of dealing with a whole new pain. I’d never experienced anything quite like a migraine.

    It was hard, hard, hard. It’s only recently – literally, in the past month – that I feel I’ve gotten my patterns of self-care down. I’ve stopped fearing the migraines quite so much. I’ve stopped feeling like I’m helpless against them. I’ve found things that worked, and that give me hope. I can derail some of them now, before they get roots into my skull and blossom.

    I still get them. They still suck. I’m still often miserable with the pain, while I’m in it. But it’s easier to detach myself from the pain now.

    And, while I would never wish anything like this on anyone else, it’s a relief to know that it’s not just me – it’s a relief to read your words and know that I’m not alone in this.

    Thank you for that.
    Ty Barbary recently posted..You’re Already Perfect
    Twitter: tybarbary


    larisa Reply:

    Thanks, Ty, for the support and sympathy.

    I’ve seen a few of your twitter updates referring to headaches so knew we shared a common pattern. It’s excruciatingly difficult when the physical pain and emotional suffering (dread, frustration, hopelessness, etc) interlock.

    I am so happy to hear you have found a self-care routine and other things that work. And, that you have hope again.

    I’m sending you so much love and support as well. May whatever healing is needed to fully shift the pattern for you arrive and announce itself at your doorstep (in as gentle and kind of way as possible, of course!).
    Twitter: larisakoehn


  7. Sue T says:

    I sometimes have mild-to-moderate neck and/or back muscle pain due to tension, trigger points, computer posture errors, and sometimes gait problems from achy feet, The pains are not horrible, though, and they help me know when to relax, take a break, do some exercise soon if not right away, or get help. My allies are my health practitioners (acupuncturist, podiatrist, physical therapist); equipment (heating pad, ice pack, electic massager, and Thera Cane); and family and friends.

    My, that sounds so easy. Of course, when it all started and I was on muscle relaxants and a neck brace, I had no such “I can handle it!” attitude!

    Larisa, I’m so glad you are having the headaches less frequently! Hurray for Allies!


  8. larisa says:

    Ah! Yes! I love what you wrote about the pains reminding you to relax, take a break, etc. I love that you are listening to your body and responding appropriately. That’s so great. :)

    And, thanks for the cheering as well. Hurray!
    Twitter: larisakoehn


  9. Casey says:

    Oh sweet Larisa, I never knew about the headaches, the violent migraine intruders who shut down our lives for hours, days, weeks, and even for years.

    Over the past few months, I’ve felt some of my post-stroke symptoms return, bringing along new and scarier symptoms, too. I despaired and I withdrew before turning to my husband/best friend and sharing my fears. Knowing that some of what I’ve been feeling *has* been observed by him, he ecouraged me to seek my medical allies: the doctors & nurses at Emanuel who take such good care of me. And then there have been my friends, both in Portland and far away, who offer support and love. Now, when I seek answers THIS time around, I have such a wonderf
    ul support group – so smart and so varied, I have the greatest confidence I’ll find what can be found. And I’ll be surrounded by loving friends as I go through it.

    I hope that I’m lucky enough to receive an Orthobionomy treatment someday. Most of the treatments that have worked for me (like shivanata) have been nontraditional.

    Much love,

    Twitter: 74rally


    Larisa Koehn Reply:

    So bummed to hear about the returning of scary symptoms. Simultaneously, I’m very happy to hear that you have so much support and so many fantastic Allies in your life right now. I’m totally convinced that having Allies to turn to and not thinking (or trying to) face the scary all alone makes all the difference.

    I’m sending so much love and support your way.
    Twitter: larisakoehn


  10. mary jane says:

    Oh, I so totally relate to your migraine issue. I have migraines as well. And they can totally stop me in my tracks and leave me curled up in the fetal position, in a dark room, my head packed in ice. What I am learning is similar. I have to deal with migraine the minute it begins.

    Self care is hugely important, and I am not always the best at it. But I am learning. The hardest part has been acceptance–letting go and just being with the pain, knowing there is an end, and I will get back up again. Stopping the fight with the headache. Learning how to stay centered in myself through the pain. Knowing I sometimes I have to go away and be quiet until it passes. Realizing I cannot push through it as I did when I was younger. And learning to be OK with it all–that I am not Superwoman and cannot will away a migraine, and that sometimes, no matter how well I have managed the triggers, I will have a migraine and need to rest.
    mary jane recently posted..Sufism- of Love and Tolerance
    Twitter: Mararose10


  11. Prince says:

    People with chronic headaches know exactly how terrible it is when migraine or other severe headaches strike. Thank you for sharing with us your experience and some tips on how you overcome your condition. :)
    Prince recently posted..How to Cure Your Pressure Frustration With the Pilates Goddess Pose


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