Finding Traction with Migraines
Every few months, my teenaged sons show me the bottom of their sneakers and point out the fact that the tread, once rich with volume and texture, is now worn down and smooth. This is their way of proving that it’s time for a new pair of shoes. For me, the idea of losing traction is something I wrestle with on a daily basis.
For those of us who live with chronic migraine, the theme of traction – gaining it, losing it, and striving to maintain it, is one that surfaces repeatedly. My boys lose traction on their shoes from extreme and prolonged action. I lose traction in my life from severe and prolonged pain. However traction is lost, the end result is the same. We are left feeling as if we are climbing a mountain wearing roller skates.
Without traction in life, how is it possible to maintain continuity or forward motion on tasks or projects from one day to the next? When interrupted each day by severe pain or the side effects of migraines (such as vomiting or aura), or the side effects of migraine medication (known for slowing the thought-process), it can feel impossible to maintain a train of thought, much less to complete a project of significance.
It becomes easy to feel like a human yo-yo. One day consists of hours spent in bed, incapable of moving, eating, or even speaking. The next day might be one of relative wellness, with only minimal pain. Living with this reality makes achieving traction on any project a challenge.
When experiencing windows of wellness, there is an additional, intense dynamic at play: constant fear of the next migraine. Experience tells us that mental or physical exertion can lead to migraine, and this may inhibit what might otherwise be a period of productivity. Sadly, sometimes the simple act of focusing on something meaningful or exciting can trigger a migraine. But no one wants to live like that: paralyzed by fear that the act of living will result in pain. It is phenomenally important and challenging not to succumb to this fear.
As a writer of articles and songs, it is incredibly frustrating to lose the momentum of a good idea. Being interrupted by pain - sometimes for days - can lead to the complete abandonment of a once-worthy idea. When I try to pick up a half-finished project days later, I am rarely able to reconnect in a meaningful way.
When the tread on our symbolic shoes is worn down from relentless pain, and the big strides we take feel slippery, maybe the most effective response is to take smaller steps. Just as we do when walking on ice. Rather than trying to write a song in one sitting, for instance, I might have better success tackling lyrics one day, and instrumentation on another.
For me, learning how to cook has become a new and rewarding part of my life. The tasks are fairly easy to break down and manage. I can put it down and come back to it if necessary. Because I can sometimes cook despite migraines, doing so provides me with a sense of accomplishment in the midst of a time when I can do little else. It also provides me with a way to support and show my love for my family. As an added bonus, I have learned so much about nutrition and the hand that food plays in migraine.
Perhaps the way to handle this lack of traction and to fight the fear of the next migraine is to change the way we define progress and to seek different routes to fulfillment. With smaller steps, it may take longer to reach our destination, but we’re less likely to fall. And who knows, we might even learn something new and find unexpected joy along the way.
Does the idea of traction resonate with you? Is it possible to break your projects into more manageable steps when you’re dealing with a migraine? Are there new passions you have discovered that involve different routes to success?
Can you tell when a migraine attack is coming?