Pushing Beyond My Limits
I am an expert at pushing my body beyond my limits. I didn’t set out to excel at this skill. Ignoring my symptoms and pretending that I felt OK when I didn’t was the only way I could function, so that’s what I did for nearly two decades.
It seemed to serve me well. I was a good student with lots of extracurriculars in high school and college. I attended graduate school and worked several jobs. I had the outward markings of success for a person in her early 20s.
Good grades weren't everything
I was also miserable physically and emotionally. I thought becoming adept at ignoring my body’s signals was helping me. It let me get good grades, work, and keep up with friends—how could that be bad?
A reality check
The reality is that it made me sicker and complicated my attempts to improve my health. Pushing so hard left me exhausted all the time. I didn’t know my symptoms or my reactions well enough to assess whether treatments were effective. And I had internalized the stigma of my illness, so I berated myself whenever my symptoms forced me to bed.
An epiphany of sorts
This strategy proved to fail abysmally when I was disabled by chronic migraine at the age of 27. After a few years of abject frustration and desperation, I stumbled upon the ideas of pacing and balance. Successfully implementing either of these was impossible while I was still ignoring my body’s signals. But I was so convinced they would help and then I realized that I had to learn to listen.
Practice makes perfect
It took a while to become skilled at listening (here's an article I wrote about learning to listen to your body), but the work was worth it. I am now so acutely attuned to what my body has to say—and aware of how much better my health and life are because of it—that I cannot fathom once believing that disconnection was actually a good thing. The value of listening to my body is apparent every single day.
My discovery from listening
Listening to my body is how I discovered that eating anything is my biggest migraine trigger. It’s led to a treasure chest overflowing with valuable information over five years of restricted diets. The diets and food restrictions have been incredibly frustrating, but they also helped me function at the time. And they led me to the gammaCore, which is the most effective treatment I’ve ever tried.
Trying it was an enormous effort—I went to Canada for it before it was available in the U.S.—an effort I wouldn’t have gone through if I weren’t so convinced of the connection between eating and migraine attacks for me.
Pretending I was OK when I wasn’t seemed the right and helpful—really, the only—way to deal with migraine. In retrospect, I was jeopardizing my chance to feel better. If I hadn’t switched tactics, I’d still go to bed each night wondering how I’d get through another day. By learning to notice and honor my body’s symptoms and limitations, I now expect to feel good each day and am disappointed when I don’t. That’s a change I never expected.
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