Coping Skills: Save the Judgement-What Matters is Finding What Works for You
Most of us who have learned to live with hope and joy most of the time despite living with severe migraine disease (yes, even chronic migraine, which is defined as 15 or more headache days a month) have had to learn that there is no one magic bullet that will fix your migraine disease. Utilizing a wide variety of techniques and treatments is essential. Even some things that may sound crazy at first blush. And you may not believe me right now, but keep reading and entertain what I have to say before you get upset: Your attitude matters. It's not going to heal your migraines, no, but it will change the relationship you have with them.
Traditional Western medicine is wonderful for so many things. But it's not always a good fit for management of chronic pain conditions like chronic migraine. One of the worst days of my chronic migraine journey was when a narrow minded doctor sat me down and said I'd have to learn to live with the situation until we found a medication that was effective in preventing my migraine attacks. Those of you who already know my story know that meant frequent debilitating chronic migraine attacks that were destroying my career, relationships with family and friends and stealing my personality. My husband was livid, and I cried all the way home. I'd let that ignornant doctor steal my hope, and it took a lot of searching before I started to find bits and pieces of hope in the form of out-of-the-box treatments and alternative therapies.
The other day I did a count of the medications I've tried for migraine and came up with 49. Forty-nine medications in nine years. And not one of them prevented my migraine attacks on any measurable level. Fortunately, when you get really desperate, you're willing to try just about anything, which changed everything for me.
I took control of my need for better treatment providers by traveling to see an out-of-town migraine specialist. I started psychotherapy with an excellent therapist and promised my family I'd stick with it for at least six months. And I attended a six week intensive outpatient program where I learned life changing information about how to cope with my situation and not be consumed by suffering. The program focuses on functional physical therapy, biofeedback, counseling, nutrition and anything else an individual patient needs to address to live as well as possible despite chronic illness. I read as much as I could get my hands on about how to live well with chronic pain and chronic illness.
Everyone who knows me in real life sees the change in me. At first they always ask if my migraines are better, thinking the only way I could have had this kind of change in attitude is if I was better physically. I'm not. I still have chronic migraine disease. They are often surprised when I tell them the shift is all attributable to my relationship with my disease.
I was angry as hell about the situation I found myself in as a result of my chronic migraine disease. I lost a career I loved, friendships I cared about, my independence and my health. I had to grieve those losses to get to the place I'm in now. I used to read suggestions from other people with migraine who were further along in the grieving process than I was and dismiss their assertions with a nasty claim they couldn't possible understand what I was experiencing. So don't worry if you're still in that angry place. Just be honest with yourself about whether you're directing your anger toward people who may not deserve your nastiness. It's a process, but your family, friends and other migraineurs don't deserve your ire.
For me the keys to changing my relationship with my migraine disease have been helping other migraineurs, blogging, meditation, therapy, hobbies, strong online friendships, medication (including treatment meds and both long- and short-acting narcotics) and having a strong plan in place for how I'll spend my time. For other people it might be Topamax, prayer, crystal therapy, shining it on during tough moments or any of a thousand other things. What's important is that you find coping skills that are meaningful and helpful to you. Not whether you approve of anyone else's coping skills.
What helps you cope with living with migraine disease? Please share in the comments!
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