The Inadequacy Migraine: Symptoms + the Cure

I’ve been dealing with a migraine-like syndrome for years and just realized recently what actually causes it: a sense of inadequacy.

Let me back up and explain what happens.

When I start pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone and begin doing something that’s new or scary, my psyche responds with a one-two punch designed to knock me back down to “safety.”

First, I start having dreams, and they always include a person from my past who made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. I now understand that when he appears, the inadequacy migraine is right around the corner.

Then, I get to work in the morning and push, push, push. I do work that’s more about proving my worth than about what I really want. I rush to produce, I worry it’s all shit, and I get into a bad habit of comparing myself to others.

By noon, the inadequacy migraine is full-blown: my head hurts, I feel wobbly, and I’m totally drained of energy.

This used to happen every day, and now it’s rare enough that I was able to see it for what it really is:

My body’s response to the belief that I’m not good enough.

Or doing enough. Or being smart/savvy/successful enough.

Does this ever happen to you?

Before, I thought I just wasn’t hydrating enough in the mornings while I was working, but I think it’s something more than that - I think we’re driven to exhaustion because we’re operating under the assumption that we have to do more. And we have to do more because showing up simply isn’t enough.

There’s a difference between working really, really hard because you believe that whatever you do will automatically be defective and working really hard because it’s the expression of your soul.

The first approach leads to inadequacy migraines, overwhelm, and burnout, while the other approach is actually energizing and rejuvenating.

One depletes, the other restores.

Nowadays, more often than not, I’m doing work that’s restorative. But sheesh...some days I meet with someone doing amazing work in the world and I get into that old loop of “I’m not doing as much as they are, I need to push harder, do more, rest less” and I wind up with a killer headache and the shakes.

Hydrating, exercising, and taking regular breaks throughout your workday are really important, but I haven’t found that those habits really work unless I’m grounded in the knowing that showing up and doing my best is enough.

The cure for the inadequacy migraine isn’t one we can get over the counter or filled at a pharmacy.

It’s not something we can find anywhere outside of us.

Right before I was about to give birth, my husband and I took a trip to the Oregon coast. It was one of those beautiful stormy days where the ocean embodies the word sublime, and we went because I needed to draw strength from it for what was ahead.

I remember asking Chris for some alone time, and I stood in front of the sea, my big belly outstretched toward the water. I said to the ocean, “I don’t think I can do this,” and I swear to you, she roared back, “Yes you can.” I started bawling right there on the beach, because I understood then that there’s an entire ocean of strength inside each of us that believes we can. It believes we’re enough.

The only cure I’ve found for the inadequacy migraine is to become aware of it when it’s happening and to chip away at the gnarly thought pattern that says over and over again, “You’re not good enough.”

The cure is to say, “Yes I am” and keep showing up for the work that really matters to us - the stuff that feels rejuvenating while we do it.

When the bad dreams start, the headache comes on, or you feel yourself striving in that old, desperate way, I hope you’ll take a look and remind yourself that showing up and being present is enough.

Doing your best - when it comes from who you really are - is always enough.

If this post speaks to you, consider sending it to a co-worker or loved one who might need some encouragement.