My Ta-Da List

I’m a word nerd. One of my great satisfactions is finding the precise word, or phrase, to express what needs expressing. One of my great frustrations is the baggage that comes with some words, or phrases, which can set me up to trip over guilt. “To-Do Lists” are one of those; particularly because migraine episodes do not have the good manners to call ahead and schedule a place on that list.

Not completing a “To-Do List” can leave me with a failure hangover and shame spiral of a life disrupted from what I think I can do and the reality of my situation. Also, there’s this whole cultural pressure to produce and do and exhaustion as a bizarre badge of honor/competition, or circumstances that demand more than we have in our tank.

A new concept

Life threw me for a loop several years ago and the mile-long go-getter lists I had previously accomplished with pride became much more difficult shortlists that left me feeling less than.

Then I was introduced to the concept of a “Ta-Da List.” The basic premise is to list all you accomplished rather than all you have to do. It sounded feasible, a nice shift of focus… until the first migraine episode rolled in.

I had several days successfully listing all I did and was feeling quite proud of myself. I jotted down all the small things I accomplished right next to the big deal items: A 3 minute guided breathing exercise got just as much of a gold star as vacuuming the living room.

A setback

Then a migraine episode arrived and I retreated, defeated, to my cave. That day my “Ta-Da List” had no gold stars. I accomplished nothing, or so I thought.

I’ve managed migraine since grade school, yet I neglected to see what I accomplished because I was listening to the voice of culture on what it means to get things done. The baggage of “To-Do List” was taking me on a guilt trip.

I stick with my “Ta-Da List” practice because it is a boost to my confidence in my ability to still contribute to my life. It proves to be much more satisfying to acknowledge all I did in a day rather than just crossing it off as done and transferring all I didn’t get done to a new list for the next day.

Yet still, migraine’s inability to respect my intentions on how to spend my time left me days with blanks under my “Ta-Da List,” no gold stars.

Until, lightning struck! (at least that’s how the aura felt...)

Reframing my thinking

I accomplish A LOT when I am taking care of myself while managing an episode! My vision is particularly affected (out of focus, sensitivity to light, vision loss), as is sensitivity to sound, and spatial orientation. Y’all know the cacophony of all systems going wonky at once.

So I share with you the “Ta-Da List,” full of gold stars, from a recent migraine episode:

Didn’t knock anything over navigating the house
Didn’t trip over the dog
Opened medication wrapper (I won!)
Pushed correct buttons on Keurig for hot water, twice!
Made peppermint tea without spilling, once
Wiped up spilled tea
Drank peppermint tea
Ate 3 crackers
Enjoyed Rumi Prescription audiobook for a chapter
Found sunglasses to let dog out
Let dog out
Got all the sick in the toilet (yay, no cleanup!)
Brushed teeth
Tried to brush hair, ouch!
Voice text to Hobbit to get rotisserie chicken for dinner
Remembered to try new contoured eye mask (nice!)
Put on the soft sweater
Pushed the right buttons for the heater
Put in eye drops
Took aspirin & Benadryl & peppermint gels
Entered stuff in migraine tracking app
Put phone on silent, or thought I did
Short FaceTime with nephew
Sat with the sad
Remembered the feeling of relief after migraine passes and kept going back to it
Ate candied ginger
Opened second medication wrapper (victory is mine!)
Talked to the dog about obnoxious neighbors’ music choices instead of stewing in frustration
Plugged noise canceling headphones in to charge
Sat with frustration of not having charged noise cancel headphones
Added “charge headphones” to “recovery day list”
Did the snarky eyeroll reboot (helped!)
Moved out of cave
Closed curtains
Dimmed lights
Pushed correct buttons to adjust TV brightness (even with 1 blurry eye!)
Navigated YouTube menu standing a foot from TV
Put YouTube *fireplace* video on TV
Put water in essential oil diffuser
Thanked self for putting EO next to diffuser
Turned on diffuser with Palo Santo oil
Got soft blanket from cave
Enjoyed Jenny Lawson audiobook for 2 chapters
Little bit of light stretching
Gently waited out spasms & twitches after stretching (grumble)
Made magnesium drink stuff
Did the Salt Cave guided meditation
Drank water (lemon juice was nice twist)
Added lemon juice to market list
Asked Hobbit to make plain rice for dinner
Listened to TV with new eye mask on
Sang dog her lullabies (should have sooner, helped pain)
Made it through a migraine day

And just for contrast, a non-migraine day “Ta-Da List,” still gold stars, but different…

Read emails & responded
Checked mail
Cleaned bathroom counter & toilet
Clean clothes
Drank water
Put laundry in (forgot to start)
Made dinner in stages
Put up leftovers
Watched TV with Hobbit
Sang dog her lullabies
Watched spoons/pacing & paused instead of push & regret
Won argument with self about “you shall do more today!”
Honored time limit/passcode block on doom scrolling/internet
Read physical book (Web That Has No Weaver)

I’m battling myself at the moment to justify my non-migraine “Ta-Da List” as not being enough, of not considering that other people have much busier lives and obligations and I shall feel less than because I don’t measure up to some ideal of normal.

Keeping it all in perspective

Then I soften a little, give a little bit of tender reminding to myself that everyone has different circumstances, capacities, and capabilities.

It’s not a competition for who accomplished the most that motivates my “Ta-Da Lists.” It’s an expression of respect to myself to say look at how well I am navigating the circumstances of my life. Some days are a hundred tiny gold stars, some days are a few jumbo gold stars, and some days I get a gold star simply because I made it from sunrise to sunset and will try again, but even on those days my “Ta-Da List” says, 'I survived today, maybe not gracefully, but I did it.' Gold star.

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

Please read our rules before commenting.