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10 Secrets of Successful Chronic Migraineurs

Chronic migraineurs face horrific attacks day after day, along with painful co-morbid conditions that disable them to the point they can no longer work, need help with house work and can barely care for themselves. Some of these same migraineurs struggle with paralyzing anxiety and depression so strong they fight thoughts of suicide. Yet others seem to cope so much better. How is it possible for two people to face the same debilitating symptoms while one copes so well and the other struggles? What’s the difference? The temptation is to claim that those who cope so well “have never really experienced chronic migraine”. However, that statement is full of the very stigma well all hate so much. None of us likes to be told we aren’t really experiencing migraine.

There are tips to successfully cope with migraine

Maybe there is another explanation. Maybe there are things that these migraineurs do and think that explain why they cope so much better. Granted, it is always much easier to cope when we have a good support system and high quality health care. These factors do make a difference, but they don’t account for everything. There are specific things that successful chronic migraineurs do that help them cope so well.


Acceptance

These patients accept that life will not return to the way it was. They have released that fantasy and found ways to incorporate chronic pain as a permanent part of their lives.

Openness

Successful patients are committed to learning new ways of living with pain. They are open to trying a variety of coping strategies without expectation of a cure.  They are also open to continually trying new treatments when the old ones fail. They seem to always know what their next step is going to be, never running out of ideas.

Responsibility

These patients take responsibility for their own health care. In their minds, the doctors work for them. They do not accept statements like, “There is nothing else that can be done.” They have no problem changing doctors or filing complaints if treatment is inappropriate or they encounter stigma. They recognize that ultimately it is their decision which treatment options are chosen.

Self-confidence

They have the confidence to develop creative ways to manage pain. Unafraid to experiment or fail, they just keep trying. They are constantly thinking of more efficient ways to ease pain, plus they recognize that pain management is not pain elimination so they keep their expectations realistic.

Vulnerability

They accept that they are vulnerable and have learned to manage the stress that increases their vulnerability. They are empowered to choose their personal level of acceptable stress, know how they will respond, and take responsibility for the consequences of increased stress.

Fearless

They no longer fear the presence of pain. They have learned enough successful coping strategies to live peacefully with pain. They have made it their friend. They do not dread its next appearance because they know exactly how to respond.

Knowledgeable

Successful migraineurs make it their job to learn all they can about their condition, their triggers, and personal limits. They accept their own reality and have learned to live within it rather than fight against it.

Activity

They maintain an appropriate level of physical activity. They know their body well enough to accept when they must limit activity and embrace the days when they can do more. They do not hold themselves to the standard of their highest achievements.

Boundaries

Successful patients set and maintain healthy boundaries with others to preserve healthy relationships. They do not allow other people to manipulate them with guilt trips, threats, or bribes. They are more comfortable with losing friendships than with sacrificing their boundaries.

Preparation

They have a variety of contingency plans depending on the presenting symptoms. They are rarely caught off guard or without their toolkit. They even have a plan if everything in the toolkit fails.


We can all learn from these successful migraineurs.  Becoming a successful patient takes time, though. It may take months or years to master all of these skills. No one will ever understand what you are going through quite like another patient with chronic migraine. The best way to develop these skills is to find a successful migraineur whom you admire, then ask him or her to be your mentor.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

  • Idoozi
    4 days ago

    Thank you for this amazing article. I completely agree. I am becoming a successful migraineur and I am having to do all the things listed. I would add having examples of inspiration around me helps too. So that I know that there are other who have made it therefore so can even beyond migraines.

  • Peggy Artman moderator
    3 days ago

    @ldoozi, thank you for joining our community forum. We are glad this article resonated with you. I also agree that it helps to have some inspiration and hope to keep going during the tough times.
    ~ Peggy (Migraine.com team)

  • Jean-Pierre
    3 months ago

    Hi Tammy Rome !
    Thanks for the mindful article… Although I feel sorry to read its content. I know you mean all of what you wrote; and they mean lots too most of persons dealing with migraines: Like, for instance, the hours of efforts to keep track of a journal and try to find answers.
    Each migraineur would deserve a humongous trophy for that achievement alone, as I see it.

    I understand your situation and feel very compassionate to you all. I had migraines for almost a year, and was lucky enough to see them go away. Just had 3 times a migraine since 2006.
    When I say I am lucky; I mean, I was lucky enough to have an unstable life then; and no one at my charge…
    I explain:
    I was around 40 then. Not married, No kids.
    My migraines appeared a month after I got a new job (I realized 10 months later). Even though I had no clue of the triggers, a full year later, my decision was made: I had to leave that job!
    Like magic, a few weeks after I quit that job and went back to the previous one, I had my life back! Not only migraines, but other types of pain were all gone.
    Came in a package, gone as a pack.
    (In fact, it seems like other types of pain had progressively made their way into my life at the moment of starting that new job I loved: inflammations around the shoulder blades, stiff neck, lots of tensions in the forearms and shoulders, tight jaw, etc)

    In 3 weeks back into a more physical job, and… gone! The others types of pain mentioned above… gone too.
    I thought: “they sure are correlated together.”

    The next year, a friend had told me she had migraines; I offered to massage her. (I was also trained as a massage therapist, although never worked full time in that business yet then). She accepted. The next days, it got worse: more intense migraines.
    I felt bad. But after a month, she asked me again; telling me that she was sure the massage helped anyway, cause after 3 days, she felt a bit better than usual and thought it was cause of the massage.
    Then, i went for massage myself the same week. And guess what? I had my first migraine in 4 years, the next day. Weird! But not so much, after all. Cause, it reminded me of a few things about migraines. These things were about to bring me back some very important information .

    So I accepted to offer another massage to my friend who was asking for it. But this time, I had decided I would not use the same technic the girl who massaged me had used. (not blaming her though; actually I thank her so much!).
    The result was …”sooo goooood”, according to my friend.
    Long story short, after the massage, I also had shown her 2 self-massage actions + 1 specific stretching to do at home. Things I had used many times a week since I had succeeded to get rid of migraines.
    A year later I met her on the street. She mentioned right away to me that these 2 specific therapeutic actions had cut in 4 the number of migraines she had for years; and the few left she felt were barely nothing compared to how she felt before….
    Ever since I helped tens of peoples to better their situation; or kill totally the pain.
    I wish some day I could show every person in your situation, the things I have learned about migraines; how the mechanical aspects in our bodies can affect the neurological and hormonal ones…
    Take care.

  • Yarnman
    4 months ago

    I have dealt with chronic migraine for most of my life although the real issues didnt really start until I was in my thirties while in the Navy. Then in 1983 I started having attacks of severe chronic nerve pain and other issues while stationed aboard a ship at sea operating as a Nu lear engineer. I had a great career at that point advancing quickly and being assigned more than the usual responsibility for the time I had. Then in 1985 I was finally diagnosed with Chronic or Progressive MS. I still managed to stay on active duty and was still assigned to greater and greater responsibility as time went on. I managed the chronic pain and severe migraines and was always able to just get the job and do a little better than the other person.
    I managed the severe pain and increasing disability of both migraine and MS and have never it slow me down. I finally retired from the Navy in 1997 with 22 years of service and with my wife opened and operated a successful business until last year.
    Now I work about 20 hours a week with our local Master Gardeners and have still not slowed down. I just accept the pain and always have a backup strategy. I know when they are bad enough to not be able to do much and just dealing with it. I do all the things the article talks about, trying every new treatment as they come along and was greatly helped when Sumatriptan showed up.

  • CharWeis
    4 months ago

    Perfect article! I know most my triggers (wonderful doctor too). I am able to work with a migraine (can’t call in 2-3 times a week or will get fired) but also have a wonderful boss who understands the pain of a migraine. I always have my medication with me (both migraine and anxiety). Ice packs available and I can turn the light off at my desk and turn down the brightness on my computer. This doesn’t mean that I haven’t had to call in or go home early, if it’s a less severe migraine I can “tough it out” and still give quality care to my patients (am a nurse). Always prepared because sometimes I find a new trigger for my headaches (try to avoid the ones I know like certain smells, certain types of light, loud sounds i can’t control, etc.).

  • BethBlue
    5 years ago

    Once again, Tammy, I think you’ve really written a winner. I believe the two issues I’ve yet to conquer are these: (1) I just can’t see myself ever embracing migraine as my “friend.” It has simply taken too much of what was formerly my life. I am trying desperately to build it up again, and failing miserably. (2) I find that I am slipping in and out of bouts of depression, and that’s difficult for me to kick. I’m on medication, and I’m much better than I once was, but I wish it would just stop. Enough already!

  • Paintchip
    5 years ago

    This is a totally awesome write up! Thank you so much.

  • Star71
    5 years ago

    LOVE, LOVED this article!!!
    I never really considered myself a ‘successful’ migraineur until I read this…
    But all these steps, are things I do…
    I’ve learned how to accept and cope and so on, mostly b/c I DON’T have a great support system OR a great doctor.
    My boyfriend thinks my migraines are from lack of exercise (he’s an exercise freak of course) and I’m on State insurance and my current doctor is absolutely horrible, b/c my old doctor who was actually getting somewhere moved, so I have NO choice but to be my own cheering section or I’d GO mad…
    And I’ve got 2 children to live for every day…
    It’s NOT easy… But I do it…
    I hear the clichés “Oh well you can’t have a migraine if you’re at work.” and “It can’t be that bad if you’re smiling.” amongst others…
    I’m just ready for any form of relief!!!

  • mmjardel
    5 years ago

    Amen, amen amen – perfectly said

  • Jane O'Neill
    5 years ago

    I liked your article. I truly believe our life is what we make it. I do believe we are exceedingly challenged w this disease. Pain is so intense & if it continues day in & day out it can drain all the positive thoughts we may have intended to focus on. I have had chronic migraine for 30 yrs. previous to that I was plagued w migraines 1-2 x / wk starting at age 8. I learned early on to push myself to continue to do what I loved on the days I could. School was hard as there were days I felt horrid. When imitrex came along it was a miracle. It has kept me going & able to do what I needed to in this life. I probably take more per wk than I should but I would not have had the life I’ve had since the 90’s when it came out. My insurance covers 18/ mo w my Dr’s medical necessity letter. All I want to say is do not give up! Get a good neurologist & demand good care. If that fails go someplace else! If you are able to get to the Mayo clinic make the trip! They are amazing! You have this 1 life. Go out & fight for the best care for this tough disease!

  • Mardie Crucchiola
    5 years ago

    This article is so true. I guess what’s been the hardest thing for me is trusting a dr. For the last 6 years I’ve followed what my General practioner has said to do with migraines. I given up imitrex due to rebound headaches. I was migraine free for 3 months. Started taking tylenol,and then excederin. In dec doc said get off all medications. I did exactly that. Followed a migraine diet for 5 months,to which I did on my own. Joined acupunture,do yoga went to naturopathic and still have chronic headaches,which turn into migraines. Then the dr said go on gabapentin and it will be a miracle. Started taking 2 still migraines no change, increased to 4 still migraines and even worse feeling of being drugged and lethargic. Went back to dr increase to 1000 mg the worst head binging I’ve ever felt. Now wants to increase up to 3000 mg a day. I’m a 95 lb person who doesn’t drink,smoke,or take any Otc meds either. I’ve been on 5 different antidepressants which I refuse to take because they make me feel like a zombie. I guess I don’t have any trust in the dr I’m going to. He hasn’t ever referred me out to a neurologist,and I finally had to quit my job after 30 some years of working. I refuse to be some Drs Guinnea pig . I’m very energy driven. I walk 6-8 miles on good days,but I refuse to feel this over medicated feeling. Dr doesn’t have time for me anymore,and he’s always running 2 hours behind. I just want to be referred out. I’ve done everything he said to do but I guess I’m just seeing the light. I’m tired of Drs wanting to put me on antidepressants. I’m only depressed because they just want to try all these drugs on me. He said I can’t even take an aspirin though.has anyone had those side effects from that gabapentin. My heads way worse.

  • summermaiden
    5 years ago

    I have a very similar story to your own unfortunately but I stopped working 13 years ago because the frequency and severity of the migraine attacks made it impossible to work.
    Like you I tried every conceivable medication over the last 18 years but stopped taking prescribed medications two years ago when uncontrollable tremors from gabatpentin scared the life out of me. That was the final prescribed medication I was prepared to take after years of awful rebound headaches and ghastly side effects
    The only effective help I ever got was from Xandra Williams liver detox plan which successfully and rather painlessly weaned me off of painkillers and assisted with rebound headaches.
    Now I am reading grain brain DAVID PERMUTTER. And will begin his lifestyle plan .
    I am still a frequent migrainer but thankfully my life which is still difficiuilt is so much better without a Doctors intervention.

    I am in the uk. I do use Effervescent solphadeine extra over the counter medication which contains codeine and is easy to become dependant on. but after being totally drug free for 2 months it works if taken early enough and mildens the attack to a five or six out of ten pain instead of ten out of ten and subdues the nausea.THIS DOES NOT WORK WHEN TAKEN IN CONJUNCTION WITH PRESCRIBED DRUGS!

    Beware though you must never take solphadeine more than 7 days a month under any circumstances because it will certainly cause rebound headaches!
    Good luck for the future.

  • Sarah
    5 years ago

    I am so glad I read this article. For a few years now I decided to not see a neurologist anymore. No one was giving me helpful information and no medications were working. We tried to see if no medication would give me the same amount of pain and it did, so the medication was not really doing much. I just gave up. If I tried 5 medications, and they all didn’t work. What was going to? But I have realized you have to keep fighting. Maybe it would have been the 6th medication that could have helped. I have not accepted my headaches yet and I can’t think of a day I don’t wish or beg for a cure. I guess I still have to train my brain to realize this is life.

  • Patrick
    5 years ago

    Thank you for the great article. I wanted to also add how religion has helped me a lot too similar to Survivor’s comment. Although I don’t believe in God and follow a very different practice, it’s that deeper contemplation and understanding of our existence in a religious or spiritual way that really helps some people understand and cope with their suffering in a way that feels far larger than ourselves or the disability.

    I personally meditate regularly and follow many Buddhist teachings about suffering to show me a path that gives me some peace of mind no matter how bad it gets. It teaches deep equanimity with all extreme states of being that cause us to suffer. Just the reminder that the pain is impermanent helps a lot, and we are never alone in this struggle because we share this condition with thousands of other migraineurs all around the world.

    Of course, we all have to find our own ways that really connects with who we are and what we can place faith in. These are all great points in the article, with or without religion as another coping mechanism. Humanity has suffered so many conditions, and this is just one more to overcome and live our lives as best we can with what we’re given. That’s the best anyone can do.

  • Survivor
    5 years ago

    I have suffered with migraines for 18 years every single month anywhere from 5 to 10 leaving me in bed Every mth and the only thing that has helped me is God. His strength pulls me through. It helps me trying to focus on others who have things a lot worse than I do and also praying for others needs. I keep a thankful journal and praise God even more on the days when I don’t have a migraine. Thru suffering Jesus has helped me become stronger to help others and to rely more on Him to help get thru these times of pain.

  • Katie M. Golden moderator
    5 years ago

    Tammy- this is such a great article!! Spot on!
    -Katie

  • Maryse
    5 years ago

    Thank you for this awesome article. You write with such positivism and wisdom, it is immensely helpful.

    I particularly appreciate your thoughts about setting and maintaining healthy boundaries since this is THE aspect I am mostly struggling with.

    It is always a pleasure to discover your articles.

    Have a beautiful weekend,

    Maryse

  • smita
    5 years ago

    Good article!

    I think acceptance play very important role, as the migraine is not something happens overnight. In my case I observed it came in picture very slowly. It took years to figure out the form.

    I found acceptance very tough and letting go of health was not easy. I learned accepting the migraine condition is not the one time activity. We have to accept it from time to time.

    As we accept living with migraine we become less complaining towards our life and can actually work towards healing. We live more in present, where we can change things.

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