I often ponder what life would be like without frequent pain and disability after having it in my life for so long. (What person with a chronic disease doesn’t ponder this question sometimes?)
Mostly I answer this hypothetical question with wild migraine-free fantasies. I imagine eating whatever I want, making plans and keeping them even if I’m tired, telling my friends and family the news, and crying great rivers of happiness. Imagine the trips I’d plan! The treats I’d eat! The money I could make with so much more productivity!?
With occasional 3-5 day stretches without pain, I sometimes get glimpses into what that life would be like. It’s wonderful. Really, really wonderful. This is usually when I start dreaming of life without migraine. But then I have another attack, and this kind of thinking proves rather disappointing.
Before (and after?)
I think I was generally a happier person before migraine feasted on my happy brain chemicals several times a week. But not drastically so. I wasn’t depressed for long stretches, but I still had grief and pain and ups and downs and emotional baggage like everyone else. I sometimes think, if I knew then what I know now, I would have been happier.
Until I gain access to a time machine, I can’t confirm the truth of that hypothesis. I would like to think if migraine hit the highway for good I would cherish every late night, every unplanned nap, every live concert, and every artificially flavored Cheeto with reckless abandon. And maybe I would, because if migraine has taught me anything, it’s to relish in the little triumphs.
The little things
Sometimes I like to add simple things to my daily to-do list just so I can cross them off and feel accomplished. Got out of bed? Good job! Brushed your teeth today? A+! Ate a vegetable? You rock!!
Even when the migraine frequency/severity doesn’t change on paper, I make sure to celebrate improvements in my treatment plan and quality of life nonetheless. Lowering the dosage of my daily anti-depressant by a mere .5 milligrams without being awash in chest pain and panic attacks feels like a major win. Running (RUNNING!) 5k in under half an hour after years of avoiding aerobic exercise like the devil feels epic. Finding a new career that kicks my butt sometimes, but that is both fulfilling and flexible enough to accommodate my health is not only celebration-worthy, it’s lucky as all get out.
Focusing on the good
Regardless of whether or not I am ever freed from the shackles of migraine, it’s pretty clear to me that gratitude is the ticket for a better life. I’m not naïve enough to think that this is also the ticket to endless happiness. You will not see me subscribing to any positive thinking cults. There will always be dark times with difficult, unpleasant emotions, whether migraine is in the picture or not. I just hope that more and more, I can allow gratitude to co-exist with those emotions.
Oh hey… practicing gratitude… Yeah, I didn’t come up with that. It’s a pillar of religious practice everywhere, and science says it’s good for us.
I’ll probably never stop dreaming a migraine-free future, but at least cherishing these small wins makes the migraine-filled present more bearable.
Despite the upheaval, chaos, disappointment, pain, and emotional grief of migraine, what are you grateful for?