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On Acceptance: Productivity and Pain

On Acceptance: Productivity and Pain

At a seminar on pain management a few years ago, the facilitator asked, “What is an acceptable percentage at which you are willing to function in your life? 50%? 75%?” My hand rose involuntarily. “100%,” I said confidently. “Anything less is unacceptable to me.”

I’m a type A personality by nature.  A workaholic. Can you tell? I used to pride myself on little sleep and major productivity.  I believed it was possible to do it all: raise my boys and work more than full time – be a creative singer/songwriter/performer on the side all while having chronic migraine.  Over the course of many years, the condition brought me to my knees. I had the sense of fighting everyday: both engaged in an emotional fight with the idea of migraine which was clearly targeting me unjustly just by showing up day after day after day AND in a physical fight to try unsuccessfully to quiet the relentless pain.  Trying so hard to win- but losing so very badly.  Each day, I was striving for a pain-free day and once it became clear I could no longer attain those, fighting for a pain free hour at least.  I was spending more time hugging a vomit bucket than I was hugging my children.  I was missing loads of work and watching my sons grow up from the bedroom.  I was doing so much- and doing it so poorly.

So, as soon as those words exited my mouth, I realized what I was saying was actually completely unreasonable for me. In reality, it had been years since I had been living at 100%. It had never occurred to me to accept the idea that I would live my life at “less than”. Wouldn’t that mean defeat? Letting the pain win? This was a battle, wasn’t it? And it’s not my nature to give up. I am stubborn redhead after all.

When I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I functioned at 100%, something in me loosened. Something let go. What if this wasn’t a fight? What if I stopped using my energy to fight a battle I couldn’t win and instead accepted my pain and learned to live with and around it?

These days I wake up with the image of greeting the pain as if it’s an old friend.  We go hand in hand through parts of the day.  It no longer surprises, shocks or angers me.  I’ve made peace with this daily visitor and have come to respect the limitations it places on me.  While it’s an ongoing challenge to let go of my old definitions of productivity, there are many interesting and healthy gifts that have come with learning how to pace my life more slowly in response to chronic migraine.  So, while I may not be able to “do it all,” I now do less – really well.

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.


  • Paulajane
    4 years ago

    After 25 years of constant migraines, I was really happy when they started to decrease. I thought finally, I could do more. Unfortunately, I still have them as well as many other conditions that hold me back even more. While I normally do not give in to the disappointment, it some time still occurs. I believe this to be normal.
    The migraines started when I was 45. I could control the pain a little after taking a migraine drug, by keeping my head still. While I couldn’t tolerate bright light at the height of the pain, I could use the computer because I was very still. I began to develop my art on the as well as tutorials. I, also, could teach voluntarily because my students knew I might have to cancel. Even with the migraines I was able to continue my photography. Now that I can hardly walk, the photography is out, but I moved into other branches of digital art. While I’m certainly not happy how all this affected my life, my art or writing would not have been so developed if I had been able to do other things and I get tremendous joy of setting myself a task in my artwork and then doing it.

    As a note, this forum, aside from my husband, has been my support system.

  • jns192 moderator
    4 years ago

    We are thrilled to hear that has been a reliable support system for you!
    If you haven’t already, feel free to “like” our facebook page to stay updated on articles and posts.
    We are sorry to hear that migraine as well as other conditions are holding you back. But it is wonderful to hear that art & writing have become an integral part of your life.
    Your story made me think of the trending “adult coloring books.”
    I actually bought one because when I have a migraine attack there is little I can do. But sometimes coloring can help me mitigate the symptoms.
    If you are interested, here is an article on “a migraine friendly hobby”

    Jillian ( Team)

  • RebekkaT84
    4 years ago

    Thank you for sharing your story! I am so very grateful for everyone who opens up about the daily struggles we have to endure, which are unfortunately lifelong in many cases. When I moved to the U.S. I initially lost my support system of friends and family who were very accepting of my situation. Having understanding people around us makes such a big difference, as we not only battle the demon of pain on a daily basis, but also suffer from feelings of guilt and sometimes even depression. I couldn’t agree more with your statement that accepting and embracing the situation doesn’t make the migraines better, however, it helps me maintain a bit more peace of mind and less depression. This I had actually learned from family members who were diagnosed with clinical depression – acceptance of the illness is an important component as it helps minimize one element of our daily struggles, self-doubt. Reading through your statements, I cannot help but feel blessed that I can rely on my medications – at least most of the time. Also, my pain seems far less frequent what you have to endure. BUT, I cannot even begin to describe how my daily battle of trying to avoid migraine triggers has ruined my life. I’m lucky enough if I make it through the day without the actual pain, but my days are never enjoyable and definitely don’t feel like I can just do whatever because I am not in pain. I have too many triggers to even name them all, but my never ending fight trying to avoid them really makes life less worth livable. I can clearly remember this one two-week episode in which I had no trigger response at all (due to a preventative treatment) and felt like a capable and normal human being for the first time in my life. Noticing the drastic change in circumstances actually made me so emotional that I broke down in front of my husband, telling him that it’s even more frustrating knowing how great life can actually feel if I don’t have to worry about avoiding any triggers and/or end up with a horrible migraine if I don’t. It is an uphill battle and I’m sure I’ll have to face many more days of pain and greatly diminished quality of life. Wishing us all patience, acceptance of our own situation and understanding employers, family and friends!!

  • ShannonAW
    4 years ago

    I wish I could say something positive about coping with this life destroying monster living happily in my nervous system, as you and others have. I used to be a high functioning, type A, do it all for you dolly who could multi-task on multiple levels and remember everything. Now, I’m lucky to remember my own name, multiple times a day. I had intermittent migraines from infancy to 2006 when they began to increase in frequency, severity and duration-I was 41 when this change began and I worked for a very strict, all or nothing employer in a very heavily ‘involved’ – can’t live without you position. Needless to say it really began to cause me some serious trouble so I took a different position in a smaller department hoping it would be less stressful & demanding, but I was wrong. I really liked the position but was not prepared for everything that ended up being my responsibility so the stress continued and so did the progression of the Migraine disease. In 2008 we moved across the country, which was actually a return to our home town, seeking a better life. I took a new position in a new place with the kind of work that one could not take home, in hopes it would be less stressful and I’d have more down-time & fun with my family. The Migraines continued to pound me into the ground & by Thanksgiving 2008 they landed me an ambulance ride to the ER and a week long hospital stay and I have had severe Chronic Daily Migraine Disease with aura since Nov. 28, 2008. There are many chapters in this horror story from 2008 to today but I’ll just keep this in the here & now. I am now job less, living on a monthly SSI income. I have been litterally robbed of e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g by this demon. I have been introduced to the concept of living with it but even when I show up to play nice, the disease does NOT. I cannot plan anything-ever. No matter what I do or don’t do, not only can I not win (which I never consider now) but I can’t even get in the game. I am a captive victim of this monster! My family are residual captive slaves who literally pay for my inabilities every minute of every day. I have zero, zilch, nada, none, no productivity of any real value-ever. I am not as angry as I once was but I am still angry about it. I’m more broken now. I’ve been spending most of my time going through ‘giving up’ actually. I have no inspiration, no joy, nothing good to say about me at all. I’m in constant pain, I must remain drugged & sedated just to cope. My vocabulary is about 15% of what it once was and sometimes it’s even less. The more light, sound, smells, motion and thinking I encounter, the worse it gets, really, really fast and I have nothing to fight it at that point so I’m down to just being this needy, lump of fatty flesh that never turns on the lights, opens the curtains, turns on the stereo, playes games or goes anywhere. It’s totally UNACCEPTABLE and I am completely powereless in this ugly process. I am so tired of it all, tired of trying to ‘be positive’, ‘think positive thoughts’, etc. I’m obviously a terrible follower of Jesus because if I was actually following Him, I’d have better, stronger faith and less thoughts about ‘me’.
    However, I am really, really glad for you & your achievement with acceptance.

  • mrst53
    4 years ago

    Don’t be so worried about being a terrible follower of Jesus. Just hang in there and hold on. Some days, that’s all we can do. Some days, the pain is so bad that all I can do is cry and scream. I am 63 and have had migraines since I was 12. Some years were daily. Now I am down to about 10 or 12 a month, but that is with trying and giving up a lot of different meds and food. There is nothing that I can do with weather conditions and they are the worst. You need to find a great nuerologist and keep trying things till you find things that work. I know that sounds trite, when your head hurts and you are puking your head off.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    4 years ago

    Dearest Shannon, I am so grateful for you courage in sharing your story. It sounds like our migraine histories and lives overlap greatly.

    I need you to know that my journey toward acceptance does not have a period at the end of the sentence. It’s an on-going (and sometimes daily) practice that involves keeping my focus on the idea of looking for what gifts have emerged as a result of this “monster” you so aptly describe. I have spent much of my life focused entirely on feeling robbed, angry and bitter. It was the realization that those feelings were merely adding to the physical pain that was already strangling my daily existence that made me want to strive to move toward acceptance.

    Like you, I have chronic daily migraine and have been sidelined from a very active career. I’ve had to find completely new ways to describe myself as my old definitions of productivity and value no longer were applicable. For me, I found that widening the definition of productivity to include the most important things in life were key. “Am I living each day with love in my heart?” “Am I respectful to others?” “Am I demonstrating the gratitude I feel for those around me?”. If i could answer yes to these questions and feel clarity that I am doing my best to love my family and friends, then I can feel solid about my productivity in life’s truest sense. And yes, the inability to think clearly and find words can be such a struggle (sometimes it takes me hours to find a single word when writing an article).

    I am in the midst of a week-long over-the-top migraine during which i’ve had to cancel every single plan i had, and had to call favors from family and friends to cover my minimal schedule of responsibilities. None of my medications seem to be working and it’s very hard to keep my chin up.

    I share all of this not to pile on, but to merely respond in kind and on the level you did, and in hopes that you can see that even the author of an article on pain acceptance is on her own on-going journey where feelings of enormous frustration and upset arise regularly. I hope that you can find a way to give yourself some compassion along the way as you have been through so much and have clearly tried so very hard to find ways to work around and alongside your migraines.

    I’m glad you have found the tremendous resource and source of support that IS The community here is incredibly validating and serves to help us all address the very real feelings of isolation. There are so many great articles here you might want to check out, here are a couple that may bring you some “comfort” knowing you are not alone in dealing with these emotions. and

  • Still Smiling
    4 years ago

    This sounds so strong – accepting the pain and accepting that you can’t do it all; unfortunately I am your former self workaholic, mum, wife, life and soul of the party and I try to do it all and try to have it all – even my husband tries to tell me to slow down for fear of the consequences which then don’t just impact me but him and our small son – his advice make perfect sense in theory but I find it really hard not to be the person that I was premigraine and I feel as though I won’t let migraine define me or defeat me – maybe I need to accept it so that I can be better prepared…

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    4 years ago

    Thanks so much for sharing. I’m glad my article resonated with you. I have absolutely been in your shoes! My husband telling (begging?) me to slow down and then he himself experiencing the consequences when I refuse to listen. I think there’s a strange dynamic to migraine where in the pain-free windows (however few and far between the attacks) are approached by the migraineur as a manic-phase where we desperately want to check everything off our to-do list that has been overflowing while we’ve been down. And so while we maniacally rush through our list, and are happy to tap into the “old us” type-of energy – we ignore the fact that in so doing we are perhaps helping to trigger our next attack. Then we are down for the count once again (which leads to falling behind, a longer to-do list and perhaps anxiety resulted to that). Therefore, there is such importance to pacing, even when in those well-windows. It does mean gaining some acceptance that perhaps we can’t do as much as we once could. Lots of feelings come up with this realization, of course. But the alternative is ignoring the the very real havoc that migraines are wreaking on your life which will lead to this cycle of overdoing and crashing. The journey toward acceptance is never ending, but it can be a wonderful goal to strive for.

  • Tammy Rome
    4 years ago

    BRILLIANT! So eloquently written! It’s such a challenging thing to finally realize that running on all four cylinders 24/7 isn’t compatible with chronic migraine. Once we finally accept life with limits, we discover that it’s a pretty good life. All that pressure to do and be more gets release. Then we are free just to be.

  • fccuman
    4 years ago

    I thought for a very long time i was going crazy. I felt abandoned by my friends and family. It took me a long time to understand what you figured out. I can not do the things i did years ago. I have chronic migraine headaches. There i said it out loud.

  • Holly Baddour moderator author
    4 years ago

    thanks so much tammy. your feedback means a lot to me. i’m glad the article connected with you as well. it’s taken me years- YEARS – to find this level of acceptance and it takes a fair amount of focus to maintain it!

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