on ups and downs

er… but mostly downs.


[illustration by Emiliano Ponzi: http://www.emilianoponzi.com]

Every person has ups and downs. It’s a fact of life. Only Data doesn’t have to worry about these things, and he worries about not having to worry about these things.

Chronic pain is just one of many unexpected twists that can make ups and downs so much more dramatic.

There’s some sort of chemical storm, which other migraineurs have described to me as acute depression, that comes (for me) with the onset of attacks and without any other external triggers (like, no pets have died, the world is still spinning, and I don’t have my period). But it’s still damn real! Add the acute depression to the long road of grieving for lost abilities, and you’ve got a recipe for the sads.

It goes like this:

migraine attack –> low feelings (despite lollipops and sunshine) –> feeling low about inability to appreciate all the good stuff –> feeling low about how migraine has changed my life –> dwelling in loss –> more pain –> slow recovery –> repeat.

Essentially, it’s just so easy to get down on myself for being down in the first place. But despite sometimes feeling just as sad as that kitty looks, there are two handy shovels I’ve found for digging myself, at least part way, out of the pit of despair.

1) Other people with chronic pain.

They get it. All I have to do is talk to them to know I’m not nutso, that they feel it too, and sometimes that’s enough to stop the self-flagellation. Talking to these people in person is really best, but even a short internet message to share the sads can make a pretty big difference.

2) A bit of research.

It’s pretty well understood now in the medical community that chronic painers are more at risk for things like anxiety and depression, as demonstrated by studies like this, and this, and this, and this one. And perhaps not coincidentally, one of the first lines of defence in terms of daily preventative treatment is amitriptyline: an antidepressant.

It’s helpful to remind myself, as many times as it takes, that feeling low is not some sort of personal failure; it’s a part of life, and a BIG part of life with chronic pain, and sometimes this thought alone is enough to lighten the load.

What do you do, dear readers, when pain drags you down?


  1. I’m not sure if I can be of much help, as I have never felt really down, no matter the pain level. I’m not sure if it’s because I often have a type of out of body sensation when the pain is really bad, and I feel I’m an observer of myself instead of actually being myself. I don’t know of the separateness is a symptom of the migraine or a coping mechanism to lessen the pain, but whatever it is, I’m grateful for it. It allows my mind to wander over all the wonderful and beautiful experiences that have come my way: Beautiful sunsets; picnics at the beach as a child; seeing the awed expression on a young child’s face as she makes a new discovery; my first kiss; the glow of holding a small child asleep in my arms; the sounds of an old steam locomotive struggling up a hill with a heavy load on a rainy night many years ago; listening to the distant calls of a ruru (native NZ owl) at night. The list is almost infinite.

    I find it’s experiencing (or recalling the experience) of the little delights and wonders that occur in everyone’s life that have a profound effect on my well-being. So far, it has kept me from ever having negative thoughts about my condition. There’s so much to be thankful for that I don’t have time to dwell on the negative.

    1. Barry, that is truly extraordinary. The strategy of focussing on beautiful memories doesn’t come as naturally to me, but seems like a brilliant thing to try and cultivate. Thank you.

  2. Brown Laurie · · Reply

    Well done Anna! I love the visuals. xox


  3. lynnesherman · · Reply

    I love it when someone calls me “dear reader”! Unfortunately I tend to wallow in the sadness and pain, until I remember to watch this : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3qqE_WmagjY A good laugh goes a long way in easing the pain….

    1. Sweet. I cod do without the bandana-fannypack combo though probably.

  4. Staysh · · Reply

    Great post!
    Personally I msg friends and ask them to send me their funniest vids, stand up, cartoons etc. laughter is a good distraction for me and I can see immediately after that the way I’m relating to the pain has shifted.
    Spending time with kids is good too, they often can sense when I’m in out of control pain and I’m often appreciative of that.

  5. […] Managing this crap is still non-linear. Set-backs and losses still mess with my sense of self. It’s still hard to let go of past abilities. And I’m still frustrated by the added height and drops migraine lends to life’s little roller coasters. […]

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