Making a list
When I was 11, my mom was concerned that I was letting the days pass without getting anything accomplished. Looking back, outside of dance classes and school, I honestly can’t remember doing much else besides watching TV, and spending hours on the phone talking with friends. Likely with the goal in mind of making me clean my room, she introduced me to the idea of making a “to do” list. The list, she explained, would outline tasks that needed to be addressed that day or in coming days. The point was for me to have a visual way to see my responsibilities. For whatever reason, the timing was right, and the idea stuck like glue. It became a way for me to organize my thoughts and feel a sense of accomplishment when I checked off even the smallest of tasks. “Painted toenails- Check!” At any rate, I continued with my lists all the way into adulthood.
As I got older, my to-do list reflected my work responsibilities and passions. I was diagnosed with chronic migraine. I scrambled to stay on top of daily demands and not fall behind. I desperately clung to my list as a way to stay organized. It was a strategy that became important in the face of managing a neurological condition that taxed my ability to think straight.
Failing and flailing
Once home, and disabled by chronic migraine, I still maintained my to do list. Old habits? Or perhaps, I needed a way to prove to myself that I was still capable of productivity. Along with larger life goals, I began to list mundane tasks that I knew I could accomplish. But, there were days that the severity of chronic migraine even made those tasks impossible. Every task left unchecked became a glaring, useless reminder of that which I could no longer accomplish.
Daily shower- No
Load of laundry- No
Many days I woke up and all I could do was manage and respond to the pain. The thought of making a dent on that list of important and meaningful tasks- that list that would make me feel like I actually accomplished something worthwhile? Not a chance. The list was only serving as a tool to make me feel like a failure.
Tearing up the list and redefining accomplishment
So I woke up. I mean, in a deep and real way. I realized it was time to throw out my lifelong habit of keeping a to do list.
With chronic migraine, there is no sense in living in the future. We have no control over when the next migraine will hit or how long it will last. In many ways, we are setting ourselves up for failure by creating a list of tasks to get to tomorrow. All we can do is to live in the moment; embrace those moments of wellness and live those to their fullest.
Moreover, when we set tasks outside of ourselves, perhaps we are missing the point.
It is important to acknowledge and appreciate that there is meaningful effort and significant life work required in managing severe pain. A day spent successfully responding to intractable pain is not wasted. It is also not unproductive. In actuality, it is a huge accomplishment to maneuver our way through hours of pain and related migraine symptoms. We generally don’t put these types of tasks on any list or value them in the same way as we might time spent on a tangible project. But life with chronic pain asks us to dig deep and find courage, patience and strength.
Through the process of letting go of lists, I have come to recognize how much those of us living with migraines are truly getting accomplished in the most meaningful of ways each and every day.