A woman shown in three different positions, one as a survivor, one as a victim, and one as a warrior.

Are you a Migraine Victim, Warrior, or Survivor?

Let’s clarify some definitions* before we move forward. For the purposes of this article, we are using these terms in the following ways:

Victim: when we focus on how migraine negatively impacts us. Synonyms are instructive: “sufferer, injured party, wounded person.”

Warrior: when we focus on responding to the challenge of migraine. Digging deep to find answers, triggers, solutions. “A brave or experienced soldier or fighter.”

Survivor: when we focus on how to live with migraine. Incorporating past and present lessons, looking at life with migraine from a 30,000 foot view, striving for the big picture. A person “who copes well with difficulties in his/her life.”

Migraine disease can evolve over time

For those of us who have been living with migraine for a substantial period of our lives, we may notice that our relationship to the disease evolves over time. This evolution isn’t always linear as we may cycle through familiar emotions, patterns and responses. Migraine can impact our lives in such a comprehensive manner and the journey is deeply demanding. Proactively thinking through how we respond to life with migraine can help us learn and grow from the challenge.

Victim of migraine disease

For me, and I imagine for many of us, especially early on in the life of migraine disease, there can be a natural and very understandable sense of victimization. Why me? We often know no one else who is dealing with such severe and relentless pain, so it’s easy to feel singled out. We are often unable to participate in the joy of life. We are constantly forced to cancel plans. We miss vacations with family and nights out with friends. Our social circles may shrink in response to our inability to cultivate our relationships.

Our career growth may be slowed by absences or an inability to pursue promotions. Indeed, some of us may be sidelined entirely from our careers and are disabled by migraine.

Feeling, literally, under attack

Migraine attacks can hit hard and without warning. When that happens, it’s hard not to feel well, literally, under attack. As we wait for the other shoe to drop, looking over our shoulders, we may find ourselves living in fear. We are angry because of all that’s been taken from us due to the disease and we are sad because of all we’ve lost. And when we are hit with a migraine attack, we are left feeling physically and emotionally depleted, weakened, and as if we’ve been brought to our knees.

Migraine warrior

After some experience of living with the disease, or for those of us who have it chronically, our relationship to migraine may begin to shift. We’ve been through so many attacks that we begin to search for patterns; for cause and effect. It’s only natural to become obsessed with finding any rhyme or reason. If we can identify triggers, we begin to hope we can disarm them, in order to quiet the disease.

The feeling of being victimized and out of control and being hit again and again so randomly becomes too tiring to sustain. We want and need to find some answers. We need to assert some control.

Through this process, we may observe a return of our sense of self. Of course, the random attacks continue, but for many of us, as our awareness and education about the disease increases, the sense of feeling attacked may decrease. As we begin to know and understand the disease, we lessen its ability to terrorize us.

We may recognize that energy is lost from being angry. Or we may decide that making peace with the disease allows us to expend our energy in more positive ways.

Feeling resilient living with migraine

After some time, we may begin to have the refreshing perspective that we are resilient rather than weak. Indeed, that we are strong. This doesn’t mean we’re happy to have the disease, but we understand that we’ve grown from it in a powerful way. In fact, we might even see that the disease has called forth in us a strength that we wouldn’t otherwise have found. We might even develop a sense of gratitude for what migraine unearthed deep within us. Migraine requires us to be resourceful, stubborn, patient, and demanding as patients, and we can’t help but become compassionate in the process.

Becoming a migraine survivor

As mentioned previously, there is no linear process when it comes to responding to migraine emotionally. We may feel in touch with a healthy sense of gratitude one day, and then, after a particularly tough week of migraine, we are back to feeling victimized and angry all over again. We focus more on what we’ve lost than anything we could’ve possibly gained from this horrific disease.

It is only with significant time and thoughtful reflection, might we begin to see ourselves as survivors. To me, a survivor in this context is someone who owns all aspects of the disease. The good, the bad, and everything in between. Someone who recognizes the disease for the journey it is and who is grateful for and seeks out the lessons that lie within the challenge. Those who embrace the scars that this life has brought because they are signs of lessons learned and embodiments of experiences.

Ongoing migraine cycle of emotions

The ability to see and appreciate the bigger picture, and how migraine might fit into one’s life is really about developing perspective. Perspective can be hard to come by when one is fending off severe pain, relentless vomiting, and brain fog. And, as previously mentioned, this process is nonlinear. When those worst-of-the-worst attacks come back, I go right back to feeling the victim. And, indeed, no one perspective or role is better or worse than another. All are normal and key parts of living with migraine. I tend to believe that anyone who lives with migraine has cycled through feeling like a victim, a warrior, and a survivor at one time or another. Each perspective has lessons and insights to offer.

Do you relate to the idea of having the perspective of a migraine victim, warrior and/or survivor? Which resonates with you most at the moment?

* Merriam Webster Dictionary

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