You know those times when you’re lying in bed, doused in peppermint oil, aching all over, nauseous, maybe with your ice pack positioned just so and a mounting pile of soggy tissues? Well, me too. It’s not my favorite place to be.
These are the moments when I find it hardest to steer clear of bad thoughts. It’s not just the disappointment of missing out on fun or important events, the guilt of not meeting a deadline on time, or even the annoyance at the tumbleweed on my desperate-for-a-vacuum floors. I can mostly handle that stuff. It’s the bigger, scarier thoughts that creep in under the influence of dipping serotonin and dopamine levels.
Will I be able to pursue my new career goals?
Does this level of disability make me a lousy partner?
Will parenting make this worse?
Will I always feel this isolated?
Will my health ever improve?
If it doesn’t, how am I going to manage?
I have thoughts like these when I feel good too, but mostly I can reduce them to background noise. And while I know the answers to these questions… (Your career goals are flexible and you’ll do interesting things no matter what; you are not a lousy partner; yes, parenting will probably make this worse; your health is likely to improve over time because of research, and you’ll manage because you always have) …they still encroach with nearly every migraine and cause unnecessary anxiety. And I need to find better ways to deal with them.
Flipping the script
Instead of wallowing in uncertainty about the future, I’m trying to practice gratitude, acceptance, self-love, and being in the present. I’m reading the books. I’m doing the counseling. I’m trying to allow myself to grieve in a cleansing, unremorseful way. But even despite actively pursuing these strategies for years, they never seem to come quite as easily as the nasty, existential, anxiety-causing thoughts. So my other strategy is intense distraction. And what’s the single most effective tool of distraction in human history? The Smartphone!
The distraction attraction
I can stare at that thing for hours, my neck all crooked, my eyes burning out of their sockets, my heart melting from cat videos and racing from reading too many comment sections, and barely think about big, scary, illogical questions about the future! It’s so effective! The only problem, of course, is that by pouring my attention into that tiny screen all night, my brain hasn’t had much rest, and my body hasn’t gotten any attention either. The tiny screen has either made the migraine last longer or increased my recovery time, thus amping up the pain cycle as a whole. The computer screen: same story. Which makes writing tricky too. In fact, I’m writing with a migraine right now, and I probably shouldn’t be…
[I am eternally jealous of people with migraine who aren’t bothered by visual stimulation. ETERNALLY JEALOUS.]
Podcasts and music are mostly out too, because, well, they are made of sound.
More tools required
Sometimes I try coloring, drawing, reading, and gentle stretching during a migraine, but mostly I am still too aware of the pain and bad thoughts for these to be effective. (Side note: the gentle stretch is always worth it.) So, it seems I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place: either I successfully distract myself from the bad thoughts with things that ultimately worsen my pain, or I face my demons.
Clearly, I need more tools on the demon-fighting front.
What strategies have helped you deal with the bad thoughts that crop up during an attack? How do you reassure yourself when it seems as if everything could come crashing down?