Improving the moment
We all have moments in our experience with Migraine that feel intolerable. Whether it’s the agonizing pain, the mood swings, disappointing results, unsympathetic loved ones, or simply the stigma and burden of facing this disease every day. Sometimes we can help take the sting out of those moments by what we do or say to ourselves. We just have to know what our options are.
Awhile back, I introduced you to the concept of Radical Acceptance. That’s one tool we can use. There are many others. Now I’d like to share a set of skills called Improving the Moment. There’s nothing magical or miraculous about these skills. Some will work for you better than others. The important thing is to know these skills are available should you need them. It also helps if you practice them on a regular basis, even when you are not in distress, you will likely get better results when you really do need them.
Think about the experience of migraine. Imagine the sensations you experience as it first starts. Now pause before you get to the “Oh crap, it’s coming again!” feeling. Take a moment to regain composure.
Next, imagine a pleasant environment. Immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, smells, and feeling of that imaginary place. Feel your body relax as you begin to enjoy it. Take in deep, full breaths of the fresh air. Play with this vision for awhile. Note how it makes you feel peaceful.
Now go back to that first sign of a migraine attack. For this exercise, let’s just call it an “event.” That will help it seem less ominous. You’ve just gotten that first signal of the event. See it as an invitation to enter that picture perfect location you’ve imagined in your mind. Stay with that image. As you feel the changes in your body that signal a migraine event, reinterpret them as part of the image. Give them a pleasant role in your daydream. Stay with this imagery as long as you can.
This skill can take some work because it may require a change in your thinking about migraine. Sometimes this skill is taught as “making lemonade out of lemons”, but I think that diminishes the struggle that we all face with migraine. I prefer to think in terms of Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning or to draw upon my religious training using examples of those who really have been subject to terrible circumstances. My personal preference tends to be the story of Job in the Old Testament. I draw comfort from these stories more than a glib reference to lemonade.
By creating meaning out of migraine you are the author of your own story. You can choose to be the hero or heroine. You don’t have to be an advocate to create meaning from your own experience with migraine. Some of you have already started the process by sharing your story.
Most of my experience with migraine is personal. Even my public experience with migraine is mostly a labor of love. I tell my story, and with each telling I write a little bit more. The plot begins to take shape, even with its twists and turns. My story has meaning because I choose to tell it.
Your story has meaning, too, even if you only tell it to yourself.
If you are religious or have a faith tradition, then this skill can be used in that context. If not, then you can pray to God, a Higher Power, or even to your own Wise Mind. During times of great and intolerable distress, prayer can be an immense relief.
There are three ways you might pray:
- Distress - a prayer of request to be delivered from your distress
- Why me? - a prayer of complaint, asking for justification of your distress
- Acceptance - a prayer of request to be given the strength to endure your distress
I have done plenty of praying in the middle of terrible pain. It has had no impact on the intensity of the pain. However, I have often found clarity of mind, a spark of inspiration, the sudden recollection of one more strategy to try. That has often made a difference in my ability to cope in the moment.
You might be thinking, “How in the world can you possibly relax in the middle of a migraine attack?”
I get that. At the height of an attack, it can feel impossible. That’s why I would never suggest you wait that long. Have a toolkit full of relaxation strategies that you begin to use at the first sign of trouble. Maybe it’s a favorite CD or playlist. It can also be hypnosis or guided imagery recordings, a favorite movie, a comfortable set of clothes, a soft blanket, a favorite cup of tea. Use your imagination. Whatever signals your body and mind to relax, that’s what you want to use.
One thing in the moment
Yes, we all know too well what is coming. It can be easy to fast-forward in anticipation, panicking at the mere thought of what is to come. Using this skill means that you resist the urge to live in the future, even if that future is only minutes away. It can feel overwhelming to think about everything that goes in to managing migraine. It can be too much to bear. So don’t even try to do it all at once. Just take it one step, one moment at a time. Don’t try to endure a single moment before its time.
Practice, practice, practice
None of these strategies are likely to work the first time you use them. It is only by continuous practice during pain-free or low pain times that the skills will slowly begin to improve your ability to cope with an attack. There will still be times when attacks are intolerable, draining you of all your physical and emotional reserves. Over time, and with practice, you will have fewer rough times because you will have more tools to work with.
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