Acceptance, Not Resignation
I will never be migraine-free.
You may read that sentence as resignation or giving up on trying to improve my health. For me, it represents acceptance and it feels a world away from resignation.
I haven’t given up on finding an effective treatment—I’m always trying new options and constantly tweaking my regimen—but I have given up on the idea that my life can only be good if I’m migraine-free. And by accepting that I will always have migraine, I have lessened its control over me.
By accepting that migraine is here to stay, I have stopped waiting to get my life back. Instead of wishing and waiting to feel better before I can laugh and play again, I’m more able to enjoy all that I do have and can do, even (or maybe especially) the small pleasures. I also take full advantage of my low-pain, low-symptom times because I know they won't last. Good days are a scarce resource, so I maximize and embrace them.
Seizing the day and appreciating the moment are common themes in our culture, ideals many people strive to attain. For many years, I thought chronic migraine made them both impossible. On the contrary, it (and lots of mindfulness practice) has taught me to appreciate moments in ways I never before understood. By accepting migraine as an inherent part of my life, I moved from always wanting to be in a different place (sans migraine) to learning to be present where I am, good or bad.
Accepting that I will always have migraine has helped me stop fighting against and blaming myself. Illness is often conceptualized as a war: we battle it and fight it, we either win or are defeated by it. I used this language just like everyone else… until I saw that battling migraine put me in constant battle with myself. Migraine is part of me—not a part I'd choose, but part of me nonetheless. In rejecting it, I was constantly telling myself that I’m not OK as I am. And the harder I fought without winning the war, the more I blamed myself for being sick.
I have also begun to accept the limitations that migraine places on me. I've stopped pushing myself so hard that I pay with three days in bed. I allow myself to rest when I need to. Ignoring migraine or pretending like it doesn't exist so I could try to live a "normal" life frequently put me in situations that triggered attacks or made them even worse. Accepting migraine’s role in my life and learning to work with it have given me far more normalcy than I ever experienced when I was straining so hard to deny its impact.
It is tempting to think, "If only I didn't have migraine, I would have a prestigious career/closer family/better friends/more money/an abundance of happiness." Tempting, but utterly untrue. No one is problem-free. If I didn’t have migraine, some other strife would take its place.
A life with migraine is frustrating and unfair, grief-filled and pain-ridden. It’s also the only life I’m going to get. I no longer use my limited energy to fight against reality, but to find the joy in the life I have.
Can you tell when a migraine attack is coming?