Embracing Migraine’s Limits

Do you ever feel held back or limited by migraine? Are there things you wish you could do, but can’t because it would trigger an attack? Do you feel discouraged or depressed because of your limitations? Have you given up on your dreams?

I talk to people all the time who believe their life is over because migraine has taken hold and won’t let go. The daily grind of constant pain wears away at self-confidence, eroding ambition and hope. If you let it, that kind of unending despair will eat away at your soul, leaving only a shell of what you once were.

A pick me up

I recently ran across an inspirational video that offered an alternative way of looking at the difficulties of migraine. It challenged me to rethink the way I perceive the limitations of health problems. Hopefully, it will inspire you, too.

Have you ever heard of TED Talks? They are brief, inspirational videos on nearly any topic you can imagine. It’s a quick, easy way to learn something new or be inspired when you are feeling low. Recently I ran across a fascinating recording entitled, “Embrace the Shake” by artist Phil Hansen.

Alternative view

During art school, Hansen developed a tremor in his dominant hand that was later diagnosed as nerve damage. In other words, he would never be able to hold a brush, pen, or pencil steady. Initially he gave up art school and walked away from his passion. When he finally received a proper diagnosis, the neurologist said to him, “Why not embrace the shake?”

What a ridiculous thing to say to a man who had just been given news that would destroy his life’s ambition!


It turns out, that “embrace the shake” propelled him back into the world of art, determined to find ways to work WITH his limitations instead of fighting against them. He learned to create amazing works of art by taking advantage of the involuntary hand shaking, by using his feet, and by creating with larger mediums that did not require the fine detail of a steady hand.  In the TED Talk video he states, “We need to first be limited in order to become limitless.”

He likens his disability and subsequent transformation as an artist to learning life skills by acknowledging that most of what we all do happens with limitations. In fact, he cautions against searching for unlimited options by sharing his experience with having too many art supplies. He tells about feeling paralyzed by the overwhelming options. Lack of limits stifled his creativity. Yet he readily admits that he still encounters barriers and struggles to overcome challenges. Then he gives that admission a twist by saying that even in the middle of challenges, he still shows up looking for inspiration in the most unlikely places.

Getting creative

So today I want to challenge you to embrace the migraine. Resist seeing it as a barrier, limitation, or disability. Instead, find ways to work WITH migraine to unlock your greatest potential. I realize that this challenge may sound ridiculous or unsympathetic. Just remember that I am a patient, too. Having lived with chronic migraine for 42 years and chronic cluster headache for 17 years, I am not asking you to do anything I haven’t done (and continue to do) myself.

Instead of complaining about all the things you can’t do because of migraine, why not get creative? Look for the things you can do BECAUSE you have migraine. Instead of trying to break out of migraine, discover what you can only do WITH migraine. What is it that makes you special? Some of the world’s greatest artists, composers, authors, scientists, and statesmen had migraine. You could be the next great gift to the world. You need only to stop fighting and learn to live within migraine’s limits.1

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
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