“Sometimes you have to break a promise to someone else in order to keep a deeper promise to yourself.”

I don’t know who said this, or even if it’s a quote. Maybe I’m just paraphrasing. It’s something I read years ago and it stuck in my head.

In November, I broke a promise to myself in order to keep a deeper promise to myself.

The promise I broke: To win NaNo! NaNo stands for National Novel Writing Month. You win by writing 50,000 words of a novel in the month of November. Here’s the blog post where I made the promise—publicly.

The deeper promise: To act in a loving and compassionate way toward myself.

You might wonder how writing a novel would break such a promise—in what way is sitting at a laptop and typing not being loving or compassionate toward myself? Especially when it’s something I really wanted to do (still want to do!)

About a week into NaNo, when I was still on target to make my writing goal, I realized I was having daily headaches. I’d been experiencing the headaches for months (without noticing how frequent they had become) and had tried many different remedies. Nothing worked.

I figured out the cause of my headaches after attending the New England Crime Bake Conference, a mystery writer’s conference put on by the New England chapters of SIsters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. On November 6th I arrived at the conference hotel just in time for my volunteer shift at the reception table—where I wasn’t actually needed. Then I prepared for my first Master Class, which I had promised to blog about for Sisters in Crime. The class was great, as was my second Master Class, but by the time I finished the second class and headed to the pizza buffet I had my usual stabbing headache. After dinner there were other events to attend but I was feeling so lousy I went back to my hotel room and waited until it was time to go to bed.

On Saturday morning I woke up feeling great! No headache and full of energy. I participated in everything I could at Crime Bake that day and I enjoyed all of it. I met lovely people and had great conversations, I participated in great classes and listened to entertaining and informative panel discussions with authors whose books were on my bedside table (How cool is that?)

On Sunday morning I felt distracted and low energy. I skipped one of the morning lectures because I felt so pressured to get some writing done. In the classes I did attend, I had a hard time focusing—I wasn’t really present. The conference ended and I headed home. By the time I got there, my headache was back. I was so thrilled to see my son and my husband but physically I felt worse and worse as the day went on. By the time I got my son to bed I was ready for bed, too. I went to bed early, hoping I wouldn’t have a headache when I woke up.

I did.

That’s when I realized I was having tension or “stress” headaches. As a life coach and a family physician, you’d think I’d have figured this out much earlier, but you know what they say: “Any doctor who has herself for a patient has a fool for a doctor.”

As soon as I realized my headaches were caused by stress, which is, I believe, caused by my negative thoughts (whether I’m aware of the thoughts or not), I knew I had to make some changes if I wanted the headaches to stop.

I decided to try an experiment. I told myself that I didn’t have to do anything. I could do whatever I wanted but I didn’t have to do anything. I told myself even if I did nothing I was still a good person, I was still worthy of being here on the planet.

In the next two weeks, I only had one headache. It’s difficult to express what a difference this made to my quality of life, but I’ll try. I was happier and more present. I laughed more, slept better, and felt more loving and more loved than I have in a long while. I am so grateful.

After about two weeks, this thought occurred to me: “This no headache thing is great, but when are you going to get your stuff done?”

I had three days of headaches the next week.

So I went back to “I don’t have to do anything.” Goodbye, headache!

One of the “anything’s” I didn’t do was win NaNo. In fact, I only wrote about 15,000 words.

But, I felt better than I have in a while. And, I got 15,000 words done. And, I haven’t given up on my novel. I’m still plugging away at it.

I’m not suggesting we all sit around and do nothing all day. I’m just suggesting that each day is different and we need to check in with our thoughts, our feelings, and our bodies as we consider each day and what we will do with it.

I’ve lived the mantra, “No pain; no gain.” I can muscle through just about anything. These days, I’m trying to live each day, not just survive it. It’s taking a lot of work on my part to change my persistent thoughts but the rewards (no headaches, more fun, better sleep, more laughter) are worth it.

If you listen to your body, what will you do?