Putting Someone Else in My Shoes... and Developing Self-Compassion

"Sometimes I wonder what it feels like to not have a headache," my niece, who was 14 at the time, told me in August 2011. At the same moment my heart broke for her, it finally opened in compassion for myself.

I'd been trying for years to cultivate self-compassion. Yoga, meditation, Buddhist psychology, positive self-talk -- all these strategies reinforced that I needed to have self-compassion, but no matter how hard I tried, none of them really stopped me from getting down on myself for being sick.

My niece's chronic daily headache started when she was 11, the same age that mine began. She and I share a lot of personality traits and she even looks like me. I have spent many hours wondering what it is like to not have constant head pain. Her comment attesting to the same idle curiosity spun a scary vision in my mind: What if my niece's headache trajectory follows the same path that mine did? The thought of her struggling against this invisible, slippery beast, not able to work or pursue her academic goals tore my heart to shreds. In that grief over her imagined plight, I finally saw just how hard my illness has been.

We're often told to put ourselves in someone else's shoes. This was the first time I put someone else, someone I love dearly, in my shoes. Doing so changed my perspective entirely. It was like putting on eyeglasses and seeing my surroundings clearly for the first time. Through love and compassion for my niece, I gained love and compassion for myself.

This experience and the practice of asking myself how I would respond to a friend with in my situation have helped me so much with the daily slog of chronic migraine. How do you show yourself compassion? Have your interactions with others changed how you perceive your own migraine experience?

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