Getting Creative: Chronic Migraine Workarounds
Chronic migraines took away my ability to write songs. It was one of my favorite ways to spend my free time. I’d get lost in the creative process. I’d sit down to start writing, look up, and realize eight hours had slipped by. It was often 3:30am when I finished a draft recording. The moving parts of crafting a song demanded intense focus - and attention to detail was key. Unfortunately, staying up all night, sitting hunched over in the same position (as I did with instruments and recording devices), and focusing intensely for hours on end are all migraine triggers for me these days. But instead of giving up on all creative endeavors, I’ve sought others ways to fill my creative cup.
Migraine is a complex neurological condition. Its many symptoms, including difficulty speaking and thinking clearly, dizziness, nausea, sensitivities to light, sound, and smells can make any task a challenge to complete. Passions and skills that we are trained in or deeply enjoy may now be impossible in light of migraine. And when we are forced to part ways with activities we once enjoyed (whether paid jobs or rewarding hobbies), it is easy to feel defeated and lost about how to spend time.
Eventually and hopefully, we develop new interests that are compatible with chronic migraine (things we can do when in pain, when well, and everywhere in between). While I was forced to abandon writing songs (for now), I have found several other hobbies and tasks that I can do while in pain or in the fits and starts between chronic migraine.
I took up cooking only after I became disabled by chronic migraine. It has proven to be a wonderful hobby that works well for my migraines. I can research recipes when I feel up to it. I can shop for groceries when I feel well, or send my husband when not. Cooking meals for my family is a wonderful way for me to give something to them. For me, it provides a tangible result that reminds me that I am valued by and helping my family. I can choose simple recipes to prepare ahead of time so I can make them when well. And worst-case scenario, I can pause on a recipe if I get a migraine and let my husband take over, or come back to it later myself.
I never had made collages before I had chronic migraine, but something led me to give it a try in recent years. Whether I’m in pain or not, I will flip through magazines and save images that appeal to me. There are several phases to the creative process of collaging and depending on my pain level I may do certain parts even when in pain, or save steps that require more focus until I feel up to it. The result is large format collage greeting cards that I then give to my friends and family members all year. Again, it’s something concrete I can point to that shows how I spent my time. It is a creative and peaceful activity that can be done at any time.
When reading became a migraine trigger for me, I was devastated. I was lost on how to keep up with what was going on in the world and how to be entertained. Podcasts have been a lifesaver on that front. I have found several that are informative and entertaining which I can listen to when I am struggling with pain and when I am well. It is a wonderful way to spend time.
Gentle stretching and walking
While I can’t exert myself through high-impact exercise anymore, I have found a number of low-impact workouts that suit me. I majored in dance in college and wish I could still dance, but unfortunately, is another activity that I must now avoid. However, it’s also an example of how migraines have helped me seek a different, but equally fulfilling, activity. Long-distance walking, essentrics= "target blank", and yoga have all been restorative and enjoyable.
Migraine frequently forces us to find workarounds for our goals. Like a gigantic road block, migraine gets in our way, and in order to reach our destination, we must find another route. And while the route, or the destination, may not be what we initially envisioned, we will hopefully “get there,” one way or another, and perhaps find some unexpected gifts along the way.
How do you handle your sick time and well time? Are there any alternative or replacement creative endeavors you have found while dealing with migraine?
Can you tell when a migraine attack is coming?