Like most of us, I have struggled with loving my body. I’m no jock, but the things I love about my body are mostly about what it can do with it. I like to take two steps at a time, pretend-dance like a ballerina when no one else is home, and walk fast so I can feel those gluteous maximus muscles working. Frequent migraine attacks mean that often my body isn’t up for that stuff, and so I sometimes find myself entertaining the thought that migraine has made me physically weaker.
Mostly this thought creeps into my mind from some dank, shame-filled, self-pitying corner of darkness when I am in the throes of an attack, or when I am slowly — too slowly — recovering from one. It’s not a helpful thought. It makes me feel less than what I was, and it adds to the writhing stinky heap of bad catastophizing thoughts, which can quickly bend my perception of the pain from something that is inconvenient, irritable, but tolerable to something that is more like my world is ending.
So, like with most confusing and harmful migraine-related thoughts, I decided to confront it, head on, in a migraine.com article.
Does migraine make me weaker or stronger?
- No doubt, when I am in the midst of an attack, migraine makes my body weaker. My muscles burn, my energy plummets, and I can’t pull, push, or bear half the weight of the non-migraine me. (Old folks shuffling down the same block for 10 minutes and wrangling with those heavy non-automatic glass doors, I get you.)
- I can’t push my body like I used to even between attacks. Vigorous aerobic exercise can feel good and act as a preventative factor, but can also be its own trigger. Any exercise that involves impact or strain is pretty much off limits now as any lingering acute pain beckons a migraine attack like a glistening hook covered in fresh worms beckons an ill-fated trout.
So… yes, migraine makes me weaker? That’s unsatisfying. How about a closer look at my responses to these limitations…
- Despite my body being weaker and having pain from my hair follicles to my toenails during a migraine attack, I can usually take care of myself if I need to. I can get up and go to the bathroom, and I can fix a plate of cheese and crackers and get myself back to bed. I think it must demonstrate physical strength that I can carry out these usually simple activities while my brain chemicals are having a wild debaucherous party and trashing the place. And even in the moments when I can’t, I continue to breath and make myself as comfortable as possible, and sometimes that feels like a triumph in itself.
- Despite not being able to push my body like I used to, migraine has necessitated new, more gently kinds of physical activity to combat the pain. This has resulted in accomplishing yoga poses I didn’t even know existed. It also has meant training my body to be still, to stretch slowly and calmly, and thus I have developed strength and flexibility in body parts I didn’t even know existed!
If I could somehow put my pre-frequent migraine body next to my current one, I think I would find that my body is changed: flabbier in some places, more toned in others; not so good over distances, but capable of withstanding more pain than before; less able to push the limits, but more able to push within my limits. I doubt I would find a body that is just plain weaker, and that feels like the perfect metaphor for life with migraine.
My life with migraine is not worse than the life before, but it is different.
I am not less now than I was before, but I am changed.
Loving our bodies can be so tough even when we’re not dealing with disability. How do you celebrate your body’s strengths despite migraine?