“Migraine Brain” Part III – Catching up after an attack

Last updated: January 2015

One of the challenges with migraine-related cognitive deficits is that it can leave migraineurs with a sense of running behind. I have often described it as “playing catch up“. I will start a project with a lot of energy and optimism only to get hit with a migraine before it is finished. When I finally come out of that post-migraine haze a day or two later, I have found it difficult to pick up where I left off. It’s as though I am suffering from retrograde amnesia. I know there was something I was doing, but I can’t quite get my brain to focus well enough to resume the task.

This problem is related to a combination of executive skills: task initiation, planning & prioritization, and organization. We need to be able to get started on time, set priorities, and stay organized. The problem is that migraine attacks don’t happen on schedule. We can rarely plan for them, so we must plan as if an attack can interrupt at any time.

For these challenges, a 3-phase approach is required.

  1. Before the attack
    1. Establish & document routines  & priorities
    2. Get organized. Use labels so others can find things
    3. Teach family members how to use your documentation.
  2. During the attack
    1. Remind family members to check the documentation
    2. Remind yourself that it’s okay to do nothing for awhile
  3. After the attack
    1. As you begin to recover, look at priority/task list
    2. Set aside time to reorient yourself before jumping in to tasks
    3. Return phone calls and emails you received during the attack
    4. Check in with loved ones to see if priorities have changed.

These recommendations were designed for someone who does not work. However, the strategies can also be employed at work. A bit of documentation and communication will go a long way with your supervisor and co-workers. It sends the message that even though you can’t be at the office, work is still a priority that you take seriously.

If you remember nothing else, remember to document your priorities and instructions for others. It can be very frustrating for those who want to help when they can’t find what is needed or don’t know how to do what must be done.

Building these skills will not prevent you from being forgetful when you experience a migraine attack. They will help you return to the life you were living before an attack interrupted you. By documenting your plans and priorities, you take the stress out of post-migraine days by eliminating the need to spend hours thinking, “Now what was I doing before that attack hit?”


If you are experiencing daily migraines, you probably don’t have a lot of priorities other than getting better. However, if you think these skills apply to you, enlist the help of a friend to document for you. If you don’t have an offline friend to help, then ask someone from an online support group to help you.

Upcoming features:

  • Task completion skills
  • Emotional skills
  • Self-reflection skills

Read Part 4 in the "Migraine Brain" series - Getting the job done

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