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H.O.P.E. Hold on, pain ends…really?

Migraines are hard workThere are some sayings that, while meant to be encouraging and uplifting, are simply not true. This is one of those phrases, an acronym actually. Acronyms are designed so that each letter of a word completes a sentence or phrase. Most are witty or inspirational. Except this one is neither. I understand the sentiment. We want to believe that if we just grip fiercely enough with white knuckles, then sooner or later we’ll be able to let go in relief. We believe it even more strongly for others. This phrase has made its rounds through various migraine pages and support groups over the years. It’s meant as encouragement and as an expression of caring.

But it’s not true.

In most cases the pain of a migraine attack doesn’t just go away on its own. Even if it did, the time it would take is surely beyond our endurance much of the time. Then it comes back again and again. Without careful planning and calculated action, it can take over our lives. Sometimes despite our best efforts, migraine still takes over.

Go ahead and “hold on” if you’d like. I doubt your pain will end on its own anytime soon.

“Holding on” isn’t trying. It’s sticking your head in the sand like an ostrich hoping the pain will go away.

Pick up the phone. Make an appointment. Sure, the next 20 doctors might not be able to help, but what if you quit before you find #21?

I know it seems useless to track migraines that last for days and seem to be triggered by everything. You might be surprised by what you discover.

Take responsibility for your own health by looking up the latest treatments. If you don’t yet have abortive, preventive, and rescue treatments, now is the time to ask your doctor about starting all three.

Part of the reason this work is so difficult is because it requires creative problem-solving when we are least able to think clearly. Affording and getting access to health care is challenging, too. It will be some of the most daunting and rewarding work you will ever do.  The stakes are high and failure is not an option. To get real relief from migraine, you must put forth a lot of effort. It’s hard work managing this condition.

Get up and do something about that pain. Being a victim isn’t attractive or noble. Take a deep breath, bite down, and steel yourself because this is going to hurt. I promise you’ll feel better once you take that first step toward doing something about your pain.

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


  • Carolyn
    4 years ago

    I find it very difficult to define hope or explain a major role it plays in the way I manage my migraines, but very easy to explain how I would apply the idea of holding on during an attack. This article and the discussion below are problematic for me in that sense, but very interesting. I think the word “hope” can be so broadly defined, and perhaps overused, that it’s sometimes hard to use it at all without speaking in platitudes. However, the same could be said for “holding on” and also for “getting up.”

    I agree that we have to hope for many things to continue being sane, healthy people – hope for the best often enough to cope with daily stress, allow ourselves to hope a little we can go to that party, etc. It’s part of what humans do.

    However, my own approach to managing migraines has less to do with hope, and more to do with taking good care of myself, avoiding or preparing for triggers, and taking proactive steps to deal with and decrease attacks. Things like educating your loved ones and creating a reasonably comfortable work environment for yourself take action, and effort, and energy. I absolutely agree that action is necessary to deal with migraines, as a condition. It takes work, every day.

    I also can’t imagine migraines without immediately thinking of the ability to, well, just hold on and breathe. It’s something we all do, obviously, just like hoping. It’s a tool I practice with often (through yoga) to keep it in good working order, so that I can take comfort in the fact that it’s there and ready when I need it.

    Maybe it’s all in how you define these things, and in what portions you put them into practice, and when. I think one of the hardest things about managing migraines is maintaining balance, anyway. Maybe balancing action and inaction is part of that.

  • Sarah
    4 years ago

    I love this article, because it is so true. When I say “Man, I have a bad headache today” in a crowd of strangers, they always say, “Do you want some advil?” They just don’t understand my migraines aren’t treatable like their small “stress” headaches.

    I found myself today sitting around, complaining, and then I had to ask myself, “Are you going to do this your whole life or are you going to take action?”

  • Anne
    4 years ago

    I agree – anyone who’s had a migraine, not just a headache, knows that waiting for pain to end can take three or more days of unbelievable pain and the in between time can be compromised by overwhelming fatigue. And, anyone with chronic migraines know that the cycle can start as soon as it stops.

    I am having a period of four days without a migraine and actually feel well! I’m using this time to call my primary care physician to get recommended to a new neurologist as well as to get some light exercise in. I know this respite can be gone tomorrow, so I can’t be complacent and just wait and hope that maybe this time my chronic migraine is gone, even though I almost feel like my old self.

    I agree – we have to keep seeking help, keep trying new things, especially when the pain has subsided, as that’s when my mood and energy are at their best. When my migraines first changed from episodic to chronic, I kept just waiting for it to go back. Years later, they still haven’t. As much as I HATE doing all the footwork (the diet, the medicine, giving up the vigorous exercise i loved, wearing sunglasses, taking vitamins, getting more sleep, etc.), I want my life back. So, I’m not just going to sit around and hope, I’m going to do everything I can to have a life again.

  • Luna
    4 years ago

    “Holding on” isn’t trying. It’s sticking your head in the sand like an ostrich hoping the pain will go away.

    During my last puking attack I held on because I knew that the really bad phase would run its course. Drugs don’t end these attacks. It always tries to start over again that’s when the drugs work again. Then when I could keep water down and actually think again I decided to get back to trying to find food trigger(s). I’ll never give up trying to find something to at least lower the frequency and pain level.

    That phrase may strike you wrong but many times some things you say in articles strike me wrong also. We are each very individual. That’s what makes life interesting.

  • Tammy Rome author
    4 years ago

    Fair enough. 🙂 Sometimes we learn the most from those with whom we disagree the most. Thank you for your input!

  • Maureen
    4 years ago

    ok, let’s try again.
    Sorry, Tammy, but I think you really missed the mark. This is “neither encouraging nor uplifing” and how is “…this is going to hurt. I promise you’ll feel better once you take that first step toward doing something about your pain” not a platitude?
    This feels like a backhanded compliment, the kind that smacks you in the head after it slaps you on the back.
    Maybe hoping for a better tomorrow is not going to cure me, but I don’t think working harder to learn about migraine doctors and triggers and treatment and ad infinitum is the cure for what ails me, either.
    Don’t take away the old bone. Throw us a steak.
    Forgive me for being frank, but really?

  • Tammy Rome author
    4 years ago

    Thank you for your candid comments. Frank comments are great. I didn’t intend to take away the idea of hoping for a better tomorrow. I have a lot of hope for a better tomorrow. I guess I just think the idea that “holding on for pain to end” isn’t very productive. I guess we all see things differently and that’s okay. Different perspectives add to our collective wisdom about migraine.

    There isn’t a cure for migraine. Maybe there will be someday. But just wishing for a cure without accepting and trying to manage this disease more effectively while we wait for a cure is counterproductive. At some point we all have to take ownership of our own disease management. That’s the point I was trying to make.

  • Maureen
    4 years ago

    funny that my comment did not post.

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