The Emotional Roller Coaster Ride From Chronic To Episodic and Back Again
Last updated: July 2023
If given the option to have pain every day or just a few times a week, most people would probably choose the latter, right? Of course. When it comes to the complex neurological condition that is migraine, the issue is not so simple, and we don’t get that choice.
Is one type of migraine worse than another?
Some of us have chronic migraine and others of us have episodic migraine. Still, others transition from one to another and then back again or have some combination of the two. Of course there is no way to say one type of migraine is better or worse than another. Pain is pain and migraine pain, no matter how it presents itself, is particularly severe and sometimes terrifying in nature.
What did my reprieve feel like?
Having lived with chronic migraine for years, with spikes of specific migraine attacks atop a constant baseline pain, I recently noticed some odd benefits that come with this pain pattern. I would probably have never observed such a thing, except I recently experienced a brief reprieve from the constant pain. It was phenomenal. To experience a moment free of pain felt like drinking the freshest, cleanest water in the world. I was able to breathe deeper than I had in years. Knots in my musculature that had tied themselves five times over began to loosen.
How did I spend my time?
I couldn’t believe that this respite was real, so I wasted the first couple of days in fear of triggering an attack. But after a while, I began to enjoy the world differently. I made plans with friends and actually kept those plans. I spent time doing yard work without triggering an attack. It was glorious.
How long was I pain-free?
Of course, before too long, a migraine attack arose, and I ended up back in bed. The attack itself was not particularly intense in terms of severity or length, but it threw me for a terrible loop emotionally. That I was hit so hard on an emotional level was surprising and caused me to reflect in order to find some answers as to why.
How does daily pain change our perception?
When migraine causes us to be in pain every day for a long period of time, we eventually adjust to the reality. Initially, when the condition transforms from episodic to chronic, there is a huge amount of emotional turmoil and work that goes into accepting the fact that we will likely be in pain more days than not. I have spent years doing that work and eventually made peace with my reality. Experiencing a reprieve from that daily pain and reverting (albeit temporarily) to episodic migraine was an emotional roller coaster I didn’t expect.
How do we perceive pain-free moments?
It is, of course, a welcome gift to have any moment free of pain. We feel the largeness of life on a level we have otherwise been missing for perhaps years (even if we have reconciled ourselves to such a reality). Feeling that wonder is both amazing and melancholy because it is a reminder of all we’ve been missing.
What's the trouble with episodic migraine?
On the other hand, shifting from chronic to episodic means adjusting to the reality of being surprised by severe pain when it hits us out of nowhere. This is one of the few benefits of having chronic daily pain. It is something we can count on. We know we will be in pain every day - and we can plan our lives around the reality. Episodic migraines knock us completely off stride as we live life. It’s a shocking and defeating experience. It is also one I had completely forgotten about. It’s been years since I had a freestanding migraine. It was baffling and disheartening to get knocked down when I had been standing up straight. It is a completely different experience from chronic migraine, which keeps me doubled over in a constant state of pain.
Would I choose one over another?
The truth is, it is hard to find any real benefit in either reality. Having episodic or chronic migraine is a debilitating and complex life experience. They surely are quite different, and I’m certain if any of us were given a choice, we would choose neither. Still interesting to consider the differences and to appreciate the challenges we all face as migraineurs.
Are you an episodic or chronic migraineur? Do you see any benefit in one or the other?
Are the family and friends you will be seeing this holiday season understanding about migraine?