Man clutches side of his face in grief with red light shining on him

Echoes of Migraine Grief

Last updated: September 2022

For nearly nine months, I’ve been dealing with a fungal infection in my lungs. Despite the good prognosis — it’s a common infection where I live and I don't have life-threatening complications — it’s been brutal. And migraine is one of the reasons it’s been so hard. It’s not that the infection has increased my migraine attacks, but it has brought up so much of the same grief.

Migraine taught me how to deal with this, right?

When a doctor first told me that the only way to manage this infection was to wait three months for it to pass, I said, “I can handle being sick for three months. I have chronic migraine and can deal with that. As long as we can figure out a way to help me breathe so I can sleep through the night.” (Unfortunately, his timeframe was overly optimistic. I’ve since been told it can take a year or two to fully recover.)

Or maybe the lessons of migraine don’t apply

After I passed the three-month mark of symptoms, my coping skills seemed meager. Nine months in, I have to laugh at my optimistic self somewhat bitterly. My experience with migraine has proven that I’m resilient and I believed that it had taught me I could easily endure any health challenge that wasn’t life-threatening. I am resilient and I can endure. But I had no idea how emotionally difficult this was going to be.

Grief threatens to drag me down

The longer my symptoms drag on, the more grief threatens to drag me down. The list of what I’m grieving is identical to the list of what I grieved with migraine.

I’m losing time.

I’m isolated.

My sleep is disrupted.

I can’t even handle the basic necessities to take care of myself.

I’m utterly worn out all the time.

I miss my life.

And I’m angry

On top of the grief, I’m angry. I know this is ridiculous, but there’s a small part of me that thinks I’m already putting in the time with migraine and that I shouldn’t have to deal with even more health challenges. Logically, I know there’s not a bad health quota that once you meet, you’re free of health problems going forward. But it’s hard to overrule grief with logic.

Grief and coping

I will be fine, of course. Even if I weren’t to recover from this fungal infection, I would be fine. I still have all the coping skills that migraine and my therapist have taught me and I know how incredibly helpful they are. But the grief and anger are still real. Trying to ignore or paper over them isn’t helpful. Yes, we learn to manage grief. At the same time, it’s important to acknowledge that illness is unfair and emotionally wrenching.

Tomorrow I will cope, today I will allow myself to grieve.

I tried to end this essay with that last sentence. It would be pithy, but it's not accurate. The truth is, tomorrow I will continue to grieve, even while I cope. Today I will cope a little bit as I grieve. It seems easier to think of grief as a distinct, linear process, but it's a constant back and forth between emotional pain and reprieve. For that I am grateful. Grief is easier to cope with when it isn't unrelenting, and when I'm coping well, a smattering of grief reminds me of how well I'm doing overall.

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