Dear Brain Storm Readers,
As of June 1st, it’s Migraine and Headache Awareness Month.
I am honoured to be featured this month alongside some courageous and wise fellow advocates in the American Migraine Foundation’s “Blog A Day” initiative. In addition, I am tweeting daily “migraine truths” this month in my own attempt to intentionally spread the word about the far-reaching effects of migraine. Not on twitter? I’ll also be posting daily this month on the Brain Storm Facebook page. Not on Facebook? Good for you.
In “Understanding Persistent Pain” (an attractive and accessible little online tutorial on how to “turn down the volume on persistent pain”) it is wisely stated that chronic pain patients must seek support, but ultimately take charge of their own treatment plan.
Anyone who has done a fair amount of research about chronic pain knows that there is almost never an easy fix, and that real improvement requires a whole smorgasbord of approaches, often including big lifestyle changes to accommodate regular exercise, relaxation, rest, good eating, meditation, yoga and the like. It’s clear that these things, when they can be carried out with any regularity (sometimes due to numerous limitations they just can’t), usually help to improve the quality of life for folks with chronic pain.
This is great news. For many, this means we have concrete tools that can be used to hopefully reduce pain levels over time. It means we can feel a modicum of control over our situation especially when doctors and medicine have had limited, or even negative effects.
The snag for me is this: if taking matters into my own hands is where it’s at, what does that say about my really low moments/ weeks/ months when pain flare-ups abound? Sometimes, despite evidence that I’m trying really hard, my inner critic starts chirping with stupid stuff like:
If you exercised more this week you wouldn’t be missing out on the party.
If you would just work more on your posture you wouldn’t be crying into an ice pack right now.
If you hadn’t tried to eat that steak your jaw wouldn’t be such a mess.
If you were better at meditation you wouldn’t be flirting with that soul-sucking dementor over there.
The moral of the story is pretty obvious, I know. Tell that chirpy inner critic to shut the hell up. Occasionally I’m going to skip out on exercise to watch TV. Sometimes I’m going to oversleep, slouch, eat delicious food that’s put in front of me, skip meditation, or engage in some totally migraine-unfriendly activity because it’s really, really important. This is normal. This is human.
While I’m absolutely reticent to admit that I possess any of the perfectionist tendencies that satisfy archaic descriptions of the “migraine personality,” I have lost many abilities during my time with chronic pain, and the truth is that I do grasp for more control over many aspects of my life; why wouldn’t I? But taking charge of my treatment plan, and striving for the perfect, immaculate treatment plan are two different things, and I’m realizing the latter is just not realistic.
Maybe I can take a little satisfaction in the irony that while docs of the past dismissed women’s chronic pain conditions as neurosis of the uptight housewife, over time and out of necessity, chronic migraine is actually teaching me — more than anything else — the art of letting go.