Easing the emotional toll of chronic migraine

How Accepting Our Limitations Can Ease the Emotional Pain Associated with Chronic Migraine

Everyone’s migraine disease is different, not only in the individual attacks and symptoms we experience but also in the progression our disease takes. My migraine disease seems to go in circles – the attacks moving from intractable to chronic to episodic to dormant and then back again. Experiencing this cycle multiple times has given me the opportunity to learn some very important things about how the disease affects our innermost beings and how we might be able to move through the phases – whatever those may be for each of us – with less emotional turmoil.

When I’m migraine free, not just for a day or two, but for long stretches of time, I feel invincible. I have so much energy, more energy than others it seems, that I almost spin in circles. No item is left undone. My to-do list empties almost as quickly as I can add to it, and each day’s possibilities seem infinite.

During these periods, I’m also more myself, more the “me” that I most associate with my person. I’m boundlessly optimistic, eternally chipper. I take almost nothing personally, and I feel so, so gracious.

Unfortunately, nearly all of this changes when my migraines return.


My energy is the first to go. I get tired, then fatigued, then exhausted. My sleep needs increase from five to six hours per night, to seven to eight, to nine, until even ten doesn’t leave me feeling refreshed. As the energy fades, so does my ability to stay relaxed and happy. I get irritable and anxious, and I begin to find positivity a chore.

This is, for me, one of the worst parts of migraine. Generally, even when my medicines aren’t working well, I can tolerate the pain. The dizziness and nausea are harder to manage, but I can handle them. It’s the decreases in energy and positivity that leave me the most unmoored, because those changes affect the very essence of who I am.

Thankfully, there are ways to ease these transitions. Accepting my limitations seems to be the biggest.

When we’re deep into a cycle of frequent, intense migraine, we experience mood changes and oscillations in our energy levels. Yours might not be as extreme as the ones I’ve outlined above, or they may be even more severe. Regardless, changes occur, and – when chronic – we all find ourselves unable to maintain the levels of productivity and positivity that we maintained prior to the chronic attacks. Accepting this, accepting that we are going to feel “less than” our usual selves for a period of time, helps.

For me, it reminds me that this is only my current state of being. That eventually, the attacks will ebb – even if it takes years – and I will, gradually, begin to feel more like myself. It also helps me separate my “self,” my core identity, from the set of feelings and behaviors that chronic migraine triggers. It enables me to see that I am not those feelings, and that is crucial, I feel, to warding off depression and maintaining a positive self-image.

If you feel yourself being beat down emotionally by chronic or frequent migraine attacks, try giving yourself the room to be “less than.” This will likely be much harder than it sounds at first.

Instead of beating yourself up for not fixing dinner or doing that chore or meeting that deadline, tell yourself it’s okay. Give yourself permission to take the rest you need. (A sticky note with that phrase pasted to your mirror can help you turn the thought into something you actually believe.) If you snap at your spouse or children, apologize for it and try to do better, but don’t beat yourself up about it. It doesn’t mean you’re a horrible person, even if you’re irritable for a long stretch of time. It just means you’re suffering. By taking it easy on yourself now, by being gentle with yourself and accepting your limitations, not only will you put yourself on the path to renewed health, but you’ll also feel a whole lot better on the way there.

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.

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