Surviving Life with Intractable Migraine
Living with intractable migraine is likely one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do. The pain is constant; the isolation is intense. You’re fatigued, and you’ve had to give up at least some of the things you once loved: sports, work, foods, favorite activities, etc. You’re also probably experiencing some level of anxiety and/or depression.
This isn’t to say, however, that it’s hopeless or that you can’t get through it. You can. I know, because I did – twice.
There isn’t one key to survival. I wish there were. I wish I could tell you to do X and all your problems will be solved. Sadly, I can’t. I can, however, give you some tips on things you can do to make life easier during this time.
Make lifestyle changes. Now is the time to figure out how to best take care of you. Whether this helps break your migraine cycle or not, it will certainly help you feel better in the meantime. Eat in the way that feels best to you and doesn’t trigger a migraine. Optimize your sleep schedule. Engage in activities you enjoy. Start meditating. Practice yoga (if it helps). Do what feels physically and emotionally good to you, and put your health and happiness above everything else.
Find something you love to do that you’re still capable of doing, and do it. We have to give up so much when we’re in the midst of an intractable attack. Ward off despair by ensuring you have something to embrace in the place of all you’ve lost.
Find a pain managementdoctor. Your neurologist, headache specialist, or primary care doctor is likely focused most on breaking the cycle of your attack. This is important, but often isn’t enough to cope with the day-to-day realities of living with chronic pain. A pain management doctor can help you minimize the agony. Just remember: management isn’t elimination. Don’t expect to get rid of the pain entirely. A few degrees of relief may be all you get, but believe me, every bit helps.
See a therapist. Depression and anxiety disorders commonly occur with migraine. This is particularly true in intractable cases. Seeing a therapist, especially one who specializes in chronic pain patients, can help you manage the emotional roller coaster you’re likely experiencing.
Find something that serves as a distraction during your worst moments. When we think of recovering from migraine, we normally think of lying in a dark, quiet room and trying to sleep. For me, this was almost impossible during my intractable periods, especially on the very bad days. The pain was simply too intense, and lying still with no noise and no distraction was almost unbearable. So, I set the brightness to the lowest level it would go and watched a lot of House, M.D. on my computer. It was the perfect show for me: few flashing lights, very little yelling or loud noises, and it was formulaic enough that my pain raddled brain could follow it but interesting enough to still serve as a distraction. Find something that works for you.
Practice acceptance. It is so easy to feel negative and fearful during this time. While it is understandable, I highly advise against it. It will only make you feel worse. Try to approach your life from a place of acceptance. I bet it will make you feel better. (Read “Shift Your Perspective, Change Your Life?” and my book, Finding Happiness with Migraines: A Do It Yourself Guide, for more on this.)
Have you taken our Migraine In America Survey yet?