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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.

Looking back

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.

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.


  • glassmind
    11 months ago

    So very true! Pushing is undermining health. Listening to and respecting the body is enlightening. Thank you.

  • jono
    1 year ago

    This is very similar to my experiences whilst trying to live a normal life with severe refractory chronic migraine. I’ve been on a long term absence from work, currently at 18 months now, which has allowed me to listen to my body, step back and go slowly when I’m bad and get through without copious amounts of triptans and pain relief!

    Prior to going off sick I was driven by career and ambition to be ‘successful, unwilling to be beaten by my body. Although every time I suppressed a migraine I was digging myself deeper into a hole I could no longer see over the top. Rather than being ‘successful’, I was failing badly in other, more important areas of my life! It all came to a head when I was admitted to ER during a severe episode. It was there that I realised I could no longer continue putting my work, my ego, before my health and my family.

    This was a battle I hadn’t faced up to yet, but I kinda always knew it would come one day because this was the only advice I was ever given by my headache specialist. Limit triptans and pain relief to emergencies only, no more than 2 per month. Every day was an emergency… I wanted to live!!!

    I finally went cold turkey without meds and it was a horrendous experience! 5 days of ‘off the scale’ pain, and sickness. However, once I was over the worst I began to see an improvement in the time between each attack, I began getting 2 or 3 bad ones each week, instead of 4 or 5. This gave me much more control over how I now manage my lifestyle knowing that when I go through it, I know I should get a few days respite inbetween.

    Only other thing I need to worry about now is how will I ever return to work? When my sick pay period ends, where will by income come from?! I trust that God has a plan for us all, all we have to do is trust his process!

    Thankfully I can say without doubt I’m in a much better place than I was before. CGRP is on the horizon and I hope it can give me my ‘normal back!

    Thanks for sharing, I really am encouraged by this site and the people who contribute. Keep strong and keep hope.

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