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Migraine Symphony

5:45 am and I’m awake with level 5 pain that’s clearly building. The naproxen bottle at the bedside is for just such occasions, but my water glass is empty and I haven’t the energy to fill it. Sleep is elusive, but it is the strongest remedy that doesn’t require getting out of bed. I try to get comfortable and begin breathing deeply from my diaphragm: Deep inhalation through the nose, complete exhalation through the mouth.

The pain, which began with a sharp, pervasive edge, becomes a deep throbbing throughout my head. Leaden bones fill my body. A slight dizziness comes on; it is faint though, not overwhelming. Then the ear pain begins, a deep, sharp ache in my left ear. A few minutes later, the right ear corresponds with deafness and ringing. The pain has reached a level 6, but I’m enjoying the feeling of spacing out, like I’m slightly drunk and vaguely detached. The migraine has become a symphony, each symptom entering like an instrument adding its unique sound to the composition.

Suddenly I realize that I’ve “gone into the pain” as mindfulness meditation teachers advise. The idea is to focus on the individual sensations rather than the overall effect of the pain. To not think emotionally about the pain, but to feel the sensations in your body. I’ve been trying to grasp this concept for at least five years, but I always wind up frustrated and angry, often in tears.

Two factors made this time different. Actually, three factors. First, the pain changed from sharp to throbbing. It seems every other time I’ve tried, the pain has been constant and unchanging. It is kind of difficult to attend to all the different sensations when I only notice one. Second, I didn’t focus only on the pain, but on all the ways migraine was affecting my body. This gave the exercise variety instead of highlighting the unending repetition of pain. The full-body nature of migraine — that it is not just a headache but a bunch of symptoms that can affect the entire body — was apparent, thus reminding me, in a good way, that this isn’t just a headache. Third, and unfortunately probably most significant, I didn’t do this on purpose. I didn’t set out to go into the migraine, just to breathe and fall asleep. Noticing the symphony was an unintended surprise, not a deliberate attempt.

Whatever the reasons, I’m grateful for the moments of seeing migraine as a melody instead of a misery. Experiencing a little beauty in the suffering is an immense gift.

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

Comments

  • Cindi
    6 years ago

    I’m a long-time chronic migraineur and have always tried to use breathing as you mentioned to help as the migraine pain washes over and through me, and it does help. I gave up struggling against the disease a long time ago. I have it, but it doesn’t have me, although it gets the upper hand sometimes. This is the first I’ve heard of Reiki and I’ll research that. Guided breathing for muscle relaxation is sometimes helpful too. I think it helps me to think more focused and not just chaotically think of how much pain and what it’s doing? Thanks for the article!

  • theresadz
    6 years ago

    I find meditation has always been hard for me, I have to have the music going and sometimes even the guided meditation tapes as well. Biofeedback has been wonderful because it has tuned me in to my own body to let me figure out when my own muscles are getting tense, etc but I was never able to get into a meditative state.

    For me, the most success I’ve had with meditation has been with Reiki because you literally have to do nothing! I think I over-think meditation and that’s why I don’t do so well with it. With Reiki I just put my hands on my body and let it do it’s thing (which ends up helping my pain levels to some degree which is always nice) and in the end I find myself more relaxed. Nine times out of ten, now that I have had more practice, I have finally figured out that I have been meditating while I have been doing my self-treatments. I have been able to listen to the symphony of my migraine because I have been able to fully let go with the Reiki, it has been glorious!

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    6 years ago

    That sounds fantastic! I’ve never tried Reiki, but it is now on my (very long) list of things to try. Thanks!

  • Julie
    6 years ago

    I love the soothing Reiki music. I sometimes play it on my iPod on the lowest setting at night w/nightbuds when I have problems sleeping. I switch between that and Binaural Beets and I can meditate between the 2 before I can hopefully fall to sleep.

  • Julie
    6 years ago

    That is interesting. When you focused on the effects of the pain as it affected your body, did you feel your muscles tense or did you focus on keeping them loose during your experience? Like your neck and shoulder muscles? I was just curious. That seems to be where my pain goes next when it hits my head after the sharp pain stabs behind the eye, then the ear popping and ringing. I wonder if anyone else has focused on how their bodies feel when they lay and feel the migraine pain overtake them? Instead of being up and about and get the aura and it comes on suddently afterwards.

    I hope you did get up to get water to take you meds and it helped you though. I forget to put water on my beside table and paid for it dearly. Now I put 2 large glasses of water at night. My husband grumbles but I tune him out. I find it’s better to be safe than sorry. But then I find if I get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom I have an excuse to chug water before going back to bed. BAD idea. LOL. Sometimes I really booby trap myself.

  • Kerrie Smyres moderator author
    6 years ago

    Those are good questions. Unfortunately, I can’t remember! I have noticed that if my neck and shoulders continually tense up even after I consciously relax them, it is a sign that I have a migraine instead of a regular headache.

    I have been extra careful to remember water at the bedside since that night!

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