Pain with a Purpose?

Pain with a purpose: pain that is worth it because you're learning and growing from the experience. You push through because the outcome is so important and the feeling of achievement is priceless. Do you think I’m talking about migraine?

Nope. Migraines suck.

For the most part, migraine attacks feel like needless suffering. It’s my body giving me a message, but way too loudly and clearly. “Ok, I know I shouldn’t have stared at my computer for three hours straight, but really, body? Did you need to disable me for days on end to tell me that?” What's the point?

That being said, I’ve spoken with many who have found purpose to their migraine pain – it has strengthened their faith, allowed them to help others going through something similar, or they've cultivated greater empathy. I relate to much of that. So we can create purpose in migraine. But I’m talking about a different type of pain, and how it gave me a new perspective on migraine pain.

Let's back up. So, my husband and I have a love for Japan (stay with me, this connects to the above subject, I promise!). We lived there for a few years about a decade ago and recently we planned a trip back. We decided to spend our time on the rural island of Shikoku hiking to 88 temples. It’s a well-known pilgrimage and both foreigners and natives participate. The entire route takes about 6 weeks, though we only had 2 weeks (we plan to go back and finish when we can). Along the way you pass through many towns and neighborhoods. The locals are always cheering you on, offering you food or water, and engaging in conversation. Almost everyone cheers, “Hang in there!” or “Keep it up!” when you pass.

Sounds great, right?

It is great, but it also hurts! Most people walk 20 to 30 kilometers a day. At the end of the day (or sometimes all day) your legs burn, your feet feel like you’re walking on hot coals, and your toes feel dislocated (though they’re not). Some days the fatigue and pain was so bad I was brought to tears. When you think you can’t go one more step, you have 10 more kilometers to go or a mountain to descend.

But then something magical almost always happens. You’ll pass through a small town and, exhausted and sitting on a bench for a quick break, a lady will stop her car (creating a traffic jam!) to give you some fresh persimmons. Or a man will stop you on the street to give you an energy drink. You can now go a little further because it feels like the whole world is rooting for you. You have a goal, and you don’t want to let anyone down. And when you finally arrive at the next temple, you feel an incredible sense of accomplishment.

If onlyfighting migraines was like this! Something as simple as getting out of bed with a migraine attack is a great accomplishment, but no one cheers us on and we don't often feel very accomplished. Why? In "You Don't Look Sick: Living Well With Invisible Chronic Illness," by Joy H. Selak and Steven S. Overman, MD, Dr. Overman says, "In working with my patients, I have observed that learning to live well with illness is not like reaching a destination. They frequently experience repeated episodes of fear, anger, and loss. It is a difficult challenge to accept that no matter how well they manage their illness, their symptoms are now part of their lives and their identity." We live with the pain and discomfort without any clear reason or purpose, and the daily struggle is often invisible –  so who would cheer us on?

Depending on our support networks, many of us do have people who are rooting for us. I’ve even had a stranger come up to me when I was hiding in the shade with a soda can to my head asking if I was okay. But most often, strangers pass me by, or even laugh at the fact that I am wearing sunglasses at night (true story).

Even our closest family and friends can struggle to always show support. Migraine is a chronic condition, and though the pain and challenge can be much worse than a 30 kilometer hike, it becomes the new normal for many. It is not often a struggle that many in the outside world can see or recognize. We are left feeling like we have to slay the biggest, scariest dragons of our lives, and no one is rooting for us.

I’m writing this to tell you, that’s not entirely true. Even if no one else in your life is showing you support right now, I am cheering you on.

In fact, all of us at are rooting for you. Our migraine experiences and stories are all different, but the one strong commonality is that we are all dealing with this illness that, in my experience, can attack so deep as to try to rob you of who you are. Let’s not let that happen. Post your questions, your fears, and your accomplishments, no matter how small they seem!

If you are in a place right now where you need some encouragement (aren't we all?), print this article or store it on your phone. Put it up wherever you will see it when you need support. I'm cheering you on! Even though we have never met, I truly mean it. It may seem corny, but sometimes we need that.

Hang in there! I’m rooting for you!

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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