The stories we tell about our migraines
Each time I go to yoga class or formally practice mindful meditation, my teacher reminds us of a key aspect of being truly present in the moment: forget the stories you tell yourself about your bodies, your health. Focus on what is, and don’t get bogged down by what you perceive as unavoidable patterns or problems with your health.
This reminder cannot come often enough to me. I can sense my muscles tensing and my stress levels rising the moment I walk into a room with staggeringly bright fluorescent lights, whenever I learn that I may have eaten sugar substitute (a historically treacherous trigger for me). The rare nights when my college-aged neighbors are partying until 2 AM and I can’t sleep, I automatically worry about what’s to come. Inconsistent sleep means a migraine the next day, I tell myself. I’m so steeped in my own story, my own patterns, that I do not see that my past experiences are not necessarily the ultimate truth. My migraine disease changes as I grow older, as I get better at taking care of myself and then fall off the wagon and make mistakes. Just because a bad night’s sleep triggered a horrible migraine a few months ago doesn’t mean that this bad night’s sleep is a harbinger of doom. Just because fluorescent lights are hard on my eyes and brain doesn’t mean that a migraine is utterly unavoidable.
Letting go of the stories you tell yourself about your illness is central to focusing on how you’re doing in the here and now. Having that record playing on repeat in your head means your attention is unhealthily diverted, that you’re wasting good energy on thoughts that are not helpful to you.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be careful of trigger-laden situations or that you should ignore your history of migraine. I just want you to remember that just because something triggered your migraine in the past doesn’t mean it will in the future. Encountering that trigger should be a sign that you should tread lightly and do what you can to protect yourself, not a sign that you might as well crawl under the covers and wait for the pain to set in. I want you to remind yourself that being stuck in a cycle of thoughts about your pain and illness isn’t helpful to you.
For me, this isn’t easy. Each time I’m asked to let go of any stories I have told myself about my body and my health, I have to start from scratch. But the more I practice, the easier it becomes to cope with my chronic migraines and the accompanying trepidation.
Read more about mindfulness and migraine on my friend Diana's page here.
Can you tell when a migraine attack is coming?