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 only fighting 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 migraine.com 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!

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

Comments

View Comments (16)
  • arden
    2 years ago

    It definitely helps to have a purpose for the pain. It helps me to endure it. So I tell myself I am being purified as if by fire. It does not always work as the cognitive machinery slips away as you know. But recently I have found myself, me, not in pain when my body, head,etc was in torment. I was able to make that separation and direct my energies to a place of light and healing while my poor, poor physical body sank into its usual abyss of darkness and torture. The headache did not go away but I was able to keep myself from utter madness which was a small success, maybe a giant one. I am not my headache. Amen.

  • Vmjkrause@gmail.com
    2 years ago

    And I You. What a sweet, sweet touching article! You brought tears to my eyes. Sometimes I forget just how lonely these headaches can make me feel. Thank you for caring enough to let us know you are there for us. We are there for you, too.
    Xoxo Virginia

  • Lisa Robin Benson moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi Virginia,
    Thanks so much for your note! We all have to stick by each other, don’t we. 🙂 I’m sorry your headaches lead to loneliness but glad we are all here for each other on this forum.
    Be well,
    Lisa

  • gemmafisher
    2 years ago

    Dear Lisa,
    I loved hearing about your trip to Japan! That sounds incredible, and I would love to do something like that one day too. You are so sweet to write this post and it definitely helped me today. My pain was at a worse level than usual and I needed the encouragement. Thank you for your kind words. I’m rooting for you too! Hope you have a pain free day tomorrow.
    xx
    Gemma

  • Lisa Robin Benson moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi Gemma! It’s so special to get this comment from you! I hope you are doing well. I’m glad to hear this post helped you and I hope you are feeling better now. Message me sometime!
    Xoxo,
    -Lisa

  • cindyd
    2 years ago

    I am sitting here at work and should be in bed. It is 6 am and I’ve been at work 15 minutes. I missed Monday aftwr having a migraine before during and after Thanksgiving. I did pretty well pretending I’m okay. The migraines dictate my day and pretty much my life. I have a wonderful husband and family who understand. Even my co workers are pretty good about it and I have FMLA but I still wonder what is said when I’m not here. It is almost torture some days to get through and my son is sick today and I can’t be home with him because I burn all my sick time and vacation on being sick with migraines. Not sure how much longer I can push. I start dreading Monday morning and the next week on Saturday…not a great way to live but my new neurologist told me that because I inherited them from my grandmother, “basically, you’re screwed.” Doesn’t give one much hope, does it?

  • Lisa Robin Benson moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi Cindyd,

    I second Donna’s reply, and wanted to reiterate what she mentioned about your doctor’s comment. Most of us have a family member who has migraines, but our migraines don’t have to be as bad or similar to other family members. For example, my mother gets migraine aura and no headache. I do not get aura but boy do I get the headache! Our fate is only partially determined by our heredity, and there’s a lot doctors can do to help–once we find one who is willing.

    I also want to mention that I’ve done a work day with a migraine and I understand how much effort and work that takes, and following the same sentiment of the article, I know truly what an accomplishment is. Never forget how strong you are. Many people can’t do what you do. I hope you find some help and don’t have to do it forever, however.

    Feel free to reach out with any questions, any time.

    Be well,
    Lisa

  • DonnaFA moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi cindyd, I’m sorry to hear that you are at work feeling sick and guilty. Please take a moment to take a breath and be gentle with yourself. Please know that you are absolutely not alone. your sentiments are echoed almost word for word by other community members. I don’t know if it is something you have considered, but migraine does qualify as a disability for SSDI.

    Migraine is hereditary, and if the neurologist is using the fact that you inherited it from your grandmother as a reason to throw up his hands, it’s probably time to find a new doctor.

    Please know that you’re not alone. We’re here to listen whenever you need support. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us here or on the Facebook page if you need support, or just to chat. Please check out Creating a Suicide Safety Plan, and if you are in imminent danger, please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or visit their online live chat.

    Please keep in touch, cindyd. We’re keeping you in our thoughts and sending all good wishes. -Warmly, Donna (Migraine.com team)

  • Amy
    2 years ago

    I don’t know what I’d do without Migraine.com. I almost never post anything, but I read every article and I’m so grateful to know that there are other people out there going through the same things I do. My family do their best to understand, but they don’t live near me and I know they don’t really get what it’s like to live with chronic migraine. It’s so isolating when you know you look fine on the outside but are in terrible pain.

    So thank you, Lisa, for your caring and support – and know that it’s sent to you in return from this corner of the migraine universe!

  • Lisa Robin Benson moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thanks Amy for your reply and also your well-wishes you sent back to me were very much appreciated!

  • DonnaFA moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Amy! Thanks for your very kind words! We’re so glad that you’re here and that you’ve found a second home here, we’re honored to be part of your family.

    You may want to check out Top Places to Find Support with Living with Migraine for help in making some local connections as well. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us here or on our Facebook page anytome you need support or a friendly ear. -Warmly, Donna (Migraine.com team)

  • Joanna Bodner moderator
    2 years ago

    Dear Amy,
    What a beautiful comment! Thank you for taking the time to share such kind words and especially for being here and helping to provide the support that you and our community needs!

    We love hearing from you & always feel free to reach out.

    Wishing you a pain free day.
    Joanna (Migraine.com Team)

  • Maureen
    2 years ago

    Thanks! I needed that! I’m going to walk a half marathon next year with a few friends who right away said, “I’ll do that with you! We can do it together!” And just today I was feeling a little bit sorry for myself about my sister who loves me very much, but just cannot understand my illness, which is totally at odds with my personality; so she makes fun and says I have von Munchausen syndrome, which makes no sense, of course. But none of it makes sense because there is no family history and she feels helpless, and so she doesn’t know what to say so she says something dumb. So I am going to NOT make a big deal about it. I KNOW she loves me. She’d fix it if she could.
    Your encouragement has helped. Thanks.

  • 2 years ago

    Maureen,
    I have a sister just like yours. She is my closest sister but tells me to pull myself up by my bootstraps, go 10 years. Then she got breast cancer and I went to take care of her for many weeks. She saw what I live with and said at least her cancer is something that has a beginning and end. My migraines are something no one can see and they will never go away.

  • Lisa Robin Benson moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi Maureen,

    I’m really glad that the encouragement helped! And a half-marathon–awesome! My (unsolicited) advice, just because I had recently done the hike I mentioned in the article, is to TRAIN! I wish I had trained more for the hike! And get good shoes. 🙂

    Your story of your sister actually makes me think of a TV show, United States of Tara, where the main character, Tara, suffers from dissociative identity disorder. In the beginning of the series her sister doesn’t believe she actually has the disorder and tells her and others she’s faking it. I think it was her sister’s way of dealing with it, as it can be hard to see someone you love not feeling well or acting like themselves. (I also wanted to note that sometimes migraines do present without family history). no matter your sister’s reasons, I love the attitude you have about it. We don’t need others to validate what we feel is real and the struggle is real, and it’s important to focus on the fact that she loves you.

    Feel free to reach out if you ever need support.

    Be well,
    Lisa

  • Joanna Bodner moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Maureen,

    I am so happy to hear that her article has helped to provide you with a bit of support! That is AMAZING that you will be walking a 1/2 marathon next year!!! How incredible! Please come back once you’ve completed it & share your story & let us know how it went if you can – https://migraine.com/stories/.

    I am however so sorry that you are not receiving the support that you deserve from your sister. It is terribly challenging getting others to fully understand the complexity & pain of living with migraine. I thought you might be able to relate well to this article “How to accept/handle people who don’t understand…and don’t care to“.

    Please know that we are always here for support & never hesitate to reach out!
    Take good care,
    Joanna (Migraine.com Team)

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