Let’s Give Ourselves Some Credit

In Tammy Rome’s recent post “30 Dirty Little Secrets About My Life With Migraine” she reminded us that perfection is unattainable; that we’re only human; and that we’re bound to make mistakes. I’m so glad she made these confessions, because it helped me to unearth and confront some dirty little secrets of my own. I was temporarily amazed that this was necessary: I’ve done a great deal of work to keep self-blame at bay and try to forgive myself for any migraine missteps. But apparently, like all important self-awareness and emotional work, addressing self-blame and guilt is an ongoing task.

Here are the sources of shame I found brewing beneath the surface of my consciousness after reading Tammy’s post, and how I forgave myself for each one:

DRUGS. Lately I have taken more of them than I probably should. I know that taking too many of my abortive meds in a week can actually lead to more pain, creating a cycle that is hard to break, yet I have allowed myself to medicate several times a week over the last month, and here I am, likely having more pain because of it. I feel stupid! I know better! However, on closer examination, it’s clear to see this past month was not normal. I was moving, travelling, and living out of a suitcase. Stressful, physically demanding transition times sometimes happen, and I’m going to let this one slide because the situation demanded some compromise.

TV. Television is most certainly a migraine trigger for me, but when I’m exhausted and stressed, I want nothing more than to curl up on the couch with a bowl of popcorn drenched in butter and watch back-to-back episodes of something dramatic. This has resulted in a few painful nights that might have been avoided, where somewhere deep down I blamed myself for bringing on the attack. I will try to reduce my tv time in the coming weeks, but in retrospect, those episodes were distracting, comforting, cathartic, during a tumultuous time, and I wouldn’t take them back if I could. So there.

GLUTEN. Sourdough toast with a side of self-loathing anyone? I have been trying to determine – for a very, very long time – whether wheat and gluten play an important role in triggering migraine and IBS attacks for me. As with other food triggers, I need to cut it out entirely for a good chunk of time and then reintroduce it to see what happens. With some more careful planning, I have no doubt I will eventually attempt this restriction and succeed. In the meantime, I’m going to cut myself some slack, because the reality is that lately I’ve been exhausted and disabled by pain on a regular basis, and sometimes eating what’s available has been more important (and possible) than searching out a balanced gluten-free meal.

SUGAR. I know that it’s smart to control my blood sugar levels by eating lots of regular protein and not so much sugar. This migraine prevention strategy has been in my repertoire for years. Unfortunately, I have a bit of a sugar addiction to the point where I crave something sweet after every savory meal (sometimes even after breakfast!) and usually at the onset of a migraine attack. Months ago, I promised myself that I would cut refined sugar out of my life for good. This has not happened. I could point a finger right between my own two eyes and say you worthless sugar-gobbling, willpower-deficient beast, but I won’t. Sugar brings me joy, and cutting it out altogether just might not be realistic. My partner is a baker, and he specializes in homemade éclairs (cream puffs), and WHO CAN RESIST A HOMEMADE ÉCLAIR??? I rest my case.

Meanwhile, alongside these so-called failures, I have continued to maintain a regular sleep schedule, as well as exercise, meditate, and stretch regularly, stick to my supplement regime, reduce trigger exposure through careful planning, and still manage some semblance of a social life. So really, when it all adds up, I figure I’m more of a superhero than a failure any day.

It is so important that we make, and try to stick with new treatment plan goals. It is essential that we throw our heart and soul into taking good care of ourselves so we can live better with migraine. It is paramount that we constantly look for ways to reduce the number of disabling pain attacks, yes, but it is also important to embrace imperfection and expect mistakes. Only then can we love ourselves fully and learn how to both accept the things we are not willing to change, and create new, attainable goals.

If I have failed in several of my treatment plan targets, it is not because I am bad or weak, but rather that managing life with migraine is hard, and I’m doing my best.

As educator and activist Parker Palmer wrote in his 2009 book A Hidden Wholeness:

“Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life. Knowing this gives me hope that human wholeness — mine, yours, ours — need not be a utopian dream, if we can use devastation as a seedbed for new life.”

So let’s acknowledge our missteps with self-love, give ourselves some credit, and move on with the wisdom garnered from our mistakes.

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