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. 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.
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. 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 in a different way. I made plans with friends and actually kept those plans. I spent time doing yardwork without triggering an attack. It was glorious.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The truth is, it is hard to find any real benefit in either reality. Having episodic or chronic migraine are debilitating and complex life experiences. They surely are quite different, and I’m certain if any of us were given the choice, we would choose neither. Still, interesting to consider the differences and moreover 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?