I’ve come a long way in terms of accepting a life with migraine. After four years of frequent disability I no longer worry about this disease ruining my life, in fact I’m incredibly fortunate and proud to have been able to re-build my life around it. I no longer grieve on a regular basis for the things it has taken from me because I’ve found new things to fill that void. Most days, I no longer feel that migraine is a burden too heavy to bear. But there are moments when all of that crumbles, and those moments are almost always when I must speak or text some version of “Sorry, I can’t. I have a migraine.”
The thing about migraine attacks being chronic, frequent, or even monthly, is that unless you’re a master of disguise (which I’m not), they’re probably going to come up in conversation often.
“I wasn’t able to do anything today. I had a wicked migraine.”
“Yeah, let’s do that if I don’t have a migraine attack.”
“I just chatting online with folks about migraine.”
“Sorry. I can’t. I have a migraine.”
I’m tired of hearing the words come out of my mouth, so lately I’ve started referring to migraine as “the pains” or say I’m feeling “under the weather” and announcing the onset of an attack by saying “I’m going down.” For particularly bad ones I like to say, “that was a doozey.”
But trying to minimize the actual word migraine in my life hasn’t changed its effect on my life. The same unwanted situations keep happening over, and over, and when any of these words tumble out of my mouth, I notice an immediate feeling of defeat, disappointment, and tedium. It doesn’t seem to matter how many times I congratulate myself for thriving despite migraine, for creating new markers of success, or for handling situations as graciously as I can, I still hate the words as they leave my mouth to announce that I am having yet another pain attack.
I imagine the way to acceptance as a frustratingly infinite road, but one that can get easier along the way, and feeling like a broken record is surely a clue that there’s another hurdle right in front of me. I don’t want to feel or like a broken record, or anything broken for that matter.
Perhaps by coincidence, or perhaps not, I recently revisited one of my favorite books about living with illness, How to be Sick by Toni Bernhard. In my favorite chapter, Healing the Mind by Living in the Present Moment, Bernhard shares strategies for how to focus on the present. I found when I was using those strategies, the words “Sorry, I can’t, I have a migraine,” started to lose some of their darkness. I might have to cancel plans, lie in bed, and put all action on hold, but when I am focused on the coziness of my sheets, the feel of an ice pack on my neck, and the knowledge that I will feel better by morning, my reality doesn’t seem as bad. By contrast, when I say “Sorry, I can’t, I have a migraine,” and I’m thinking about alllll the other times I’ve had to say that phrase, I’m really dealing with anxiety about the past (how many times have I had to talk about having a migraine?) and the future (how many more times will I have to go through this?). But the present: it’s not so bad. I can deal with that.
I doubt uttering the phrase “Sorry, I can’t, I have a migraine” will every make me feel like I’m walking on sunshine, but I’d like to get to a place where I can say it without acute feelings of despair.
How have you worked to accept migraine in your life?