If some migraine triggers are potentially avoidable (lights, sounds, smells, food, drinks, the weather, hormones, stress), are we to blame for our attacks if we knowingly expose ourselves to them? And, if we begin to believe we have an important role to play in controlling and avoiding our pain, do we risk faulting ourselves for our migraines?
The intersection between migraines and control is a big one. This complex neurological condition can take control of our lives and rob us of our plans. It can make us desperate to reassert any semblance of control so we can stop feeling like we are under random attack. Many of us over correct in an attempt to reestablish that sense of control over our bodies and lives. Doing so can lead to an interesting emotional journey.
With all these triggers at play, it can feel as if migraines are asking us to live an almost quarantined existence. It begins to feel as if any interaction with the outside world equals a migraine. Is the best chance to avoid a migraine a confined, controlled, scheduled, repetitive, regimented life?
But what a tall order, and what an existence! Who wants to live within the confines of every trigger that exists? No alcohol, chocolate, red meat, dairy, gluten, or nuts. A completely regimented sleeping schedule: same time to bed, same time awake, every day. No travel. Never going outside without proper protection against the sun or bright rooms. Avoidance of stressful situations. No physical over-exertion. Moving to a climate where the weather offers more stability. Taking a continuous birth control pill to regulate hormones. And on and on.
What if you dare enjoy a longer than usual walk because it’s nice outside? What if you stay up too late watching a favorite TV show? What if you leave the house and forget your sunglasses? How do we escape the idea of migraine as punishment when we get hit with an attack as a result of our own actions?
And worst of all, what if you avoid every trigger in the book and find your migraines are still out of control? Like the childhood game “Operation,” any imprecision in reaching into the cardboard patient is met with a loud alarm. Indeed, half of the game is the adrenaline and fear one feels simply anticipating the alarm. Living with migraine is a lot like playing Operator: we live our lives in fear of setting off a migraine at every turn. Fear leads to stress. No matter how carefully we tread, it feels like our actions can trigger an attack.
So, do we have control over our migraine attacks? Occasionally. But often, we simply don’t. And one thing is for sure: we had no control in being given the neurological condition that IS migraine.
And maybe that’s the key. We must let go of feeling responsible for the condition and the attacks themselves. As hard as it is to feel out of control of when migraines hit, the ugly truth is that many times it is impossible to assign reason or blame for why a specific attack occurred. No matter how carefully we live a regimented existence, we will still get migraines. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t avoid triggers, but rather that it’s ok to let yourself off the hook when pain arises. The pain that comes with migraines is hard enough; feeling guilt atop it all certainly doesn’t help.
And here’s another option: sometimes we may decide that a migraine is worth it. Maybe a great opportunity arises to go see a favorite band; to travel to a new land; to visit with some friends in a noisy restaurant with a menu full of triggers. Whatever the case, if our spirits are lifted and our emotional balance restored, perhaps suffering through a later attack is worth the experience. Choosing whether or not, or when, to embrace those experiences is another way to maintain some control of your life.