Building a Relationship with Health to Live Well with Migraine
Relationships are a constant part of life. We have relationships — whether good or bad, strong or frail — with spouses and partners, children, parents, siblings, coworkers, bosses, and friends. And, if we live with chronic illness, with our health.
Having a relationship with my health wasn’t ever on my list of life dreams. Until I became chronic with migraine over a decade ago, it wasn’t something I even considered. My health wasn’t something I had a relationship with; it was simply a part of life, and a small one at that.
As I’ve gotten older and lived through the cycles of life with migraine and other illness, however, I’ve realized that living well with disease requires approaching my health in exactly that way — as something with which I have a relationship.
What a relationship with health means
There are all kinds of relationships out there, but the best relationships have a few things in common. Being in a strong, positive relationship means respecting the other half of the relationship as an equal partner. It means making time to honor and care for the relationship. It means valuing and understanding the impact of the relationship on our overall quality of life.
Acknowledging the full impact of migraine
Too often, I have pushed myself too hard, not respecting the limits imposed by my illnesses. I’ve ignored the need for self-care and prioritized work above my health. I’ve denied the impact that these diseases have on my overall life, refusing to acknowledge that doing so today means feeling much worse tomorrow or next week. And every time I’ve done this, my health has pushed back — just as would any other ignored partner —leading to a breakdown in the relationship.
Tips for maintaining a relationship with health
To live well with a disease as disabling as migraine, I must maintain a strong relationship with my health. To do this, I’ve taken inspiration from the things I do to maintain the other important relationships in my life (those with my husband and children):
Listening to my health means hearing my body when it says it has had too much and that I need to slow down, and then actually slowing down in response. Despite living with chronic migraine for a decade, I continue to struggle with this. I often get frustrated that I cannot do as much as I would like as quickly as I would like due to disease. However, if I don’t listen to my health about my limitations, then I find myself in a much worse place, unable to accomplish even the smallest of tasks while my overworked body takes the time it needs to recover.
I pay attention.
Paying attention to my health means tuning in to all the signals my body sends me. These signals are instrumental in understanding the present state of our relationship. Just as a spouse’s cold shoulder signals an unmet need, increasing symptoms of pain or vertigo mean my body needs something it's not getting. That may be a different medication, reduced work hours, or something else. But the first step to meeting that need and maintaining a positive relationship with my health is recognizing those signals in the first place.
I strive to be consistent.
The migraine brain craves consistency. Respecting my health as an equal partner means that I must acknowledge and respect this truth. Being inconsistent with my sleeping or eating habits is a sure-fire way to sabotage the relationship with my health. While I don’t always like the things I must do to ensure this consistency (getting up and going to bed at the same time on weekends as I do on weekdays, for example), I consider it a compromise I must make for the sake of my health.
Thinking of my health as a partner has helped me learn to respect and value it more. It also has helped me understand the ways in which I much show that respect. The better I do that, the better I feel.
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