The Shoulds, Woulds, and Coulds of Migraine Attacks

"All you have to do for the next few minutes is just be." A yoga teacher I sometimes take classes with gives this instruction as we settle in to meditate at the end of every class. I’d taken dozens of classes with her before the instruction really clicked with me. The moment it did was revelatory. I felt such a release that I began to wonder if I could apply her advice to a migraine attack.

Being in the moment when migraine attacks

Just being during a migraine attack? That seemed absurd the first time I pondered it, so I shoved the thought aside. It kept resurfacing. After weeks of nagging at me, the idea of just being during a migraine attack began to feel less like an impossibility and more like an interesting challenge.

Usually, I spend every migraine attack thinking about everything I should be doing or would be doing if I weren’t in an attack. What if I instead let having a migraine attack be what I’m doing in that moment? If I were attending a yoga class or out with friends, my to-do list wouldn’t be plaguing me. Why can’t I do the same during a migraine attack? A major difference is that exercising and socializing are fun, while migraine is not. Fun or not, if a migraine attack is where I am, I can’t wish it away. Maybe just being with it would make it seem like less of an enemy.

So I tried it. It worked.

Stopping the "what ifs"

The change wasn’t immediate or magical. It took time and practice, but I eventually got there. Each time I’d find my mind churning on shoulds, woulds, and coulds, I gently reminded myself that I wasn’t thinking about those things right now. Distracting myself with something enjoyable so that I was also doing something pleasant during the attack made it easier to stay with the attack.

I’m now able to just be during a migraine attack, but don’t think I’ve developed a fondness for them. I don’t revel in them or ever want them to happen. But I don’t spend the majority of each attack obsessing over everything it is preventing me from doing. That’s been a huge improvement to my quality of life.

No longer beating myself up when migraine hits

To answer my own question, Yes, I can just be during migraine attacks. Doing so means I no longer beat myself up for letting responsibilities slide or dwell on what I’m missing out on. These thoughts still come from time to time, but they are rare. Migraine attacks are still miserable, but they’re so much more bearable without the added burden of shoulds, woulds, and coulds.

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