I am many things to many people. Mother, daughter, wife, friend. I am also living with several chronic health conditions including migraines.
A migraine is a neurological disease that causes a variety of symptoms that exist along a spectrum. During attacks, I deal with visual auras, phantom smells, nausea, dizziness, sensitivity to light and sound, difficulty speaking, and incapacitating pain. I was diagnosed at age 5 and have experienced a worsening progression with age. I currently experience symptoms nearly every day and have been under the care of a headache specialist since 2016.
I share my experiences as someone who is living with migraines on my Instagram @Mrs_Migraine, and my personal blog www.mrsmigraine.com.
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional” - Buddhist Proverb
This quote resonates with me, especially during my most painful migraine attacks. Pain is a part of my life. Every. Single. Day. My chronic pain exists on a spectrum and not every attack is one that puts me on the cold, tiled floor of my bathroom. The effects of a chronic pain disorder can be far-reaching and long-lasting and it takes constant vigilance to avoid the suffering part of it.
Apart from dealing with the physical pain of migraines, a major struggle of this neurological disease has been with mental health and is one that many people don’t like to talk about. It’s tricky to delineate my actual disorder from mental struggles like depression and anxiety. Chronic pain conditions tend to add layers of emotion on top of all the normal stresses of life. Worry about when another attack will strike. Fear that I will make a choice that worsens my condition. Sadness for missing out on so much of life. Guilt that I require time and attention from my loved ones. Shame for the dreams I let go and for the woman I never became.
I have spent my fair share of time in therapy working through my emotions to dig into what they were teaching me. But as those with migraines can confirm, migraine attacks can bring about emotions like anger, intense sadness, or despair for no reason at all. These emotions can simply be part of a dysfunctional neurological disorder with no driving forces behind them. So instead of spinning my wheels to find the source, I had to learn how to sit with both physical and mental discomfort and be present in it. Emotional intelligence is much like any other skill and can be developed with time and practice. And while it is possible to go the self-help route, I find that working with a mental health professional has helped me steer clear of a major crisis.
Even with devoted awareness to the effects pain has on my mental health, it is a daily struggle to carry the weight of this burden. I think many people are unaware that pain itself can actually be a legitimate source of trauma. The term PTSD is typically used when talking about going through an intensely stressful event that may also involve physical injury and pain. There have been documented reports from PTSD sufferers with increased levels of anxiety, stress, and fear as a result of experiencing excruciating physical pain. For those of us with a chronic pain disorder, we encounter this type of trauma on a regular basis and, quite often, without adequate pain control. It’s no wonder that we are 3 times more likely to suffer from depression!
Regardless of the cause, we cannot become victims of circumstance. Our pain is inevitable and it will demand our attention. I’ve learned to be there for it. I’ve had to prioritize the management of my mental health, just as I do my physical health. I’ve learned to experience pain in all its forms and let go of it when it passes. And what I found was freedom (and a little bit of peace) in the spaces in between.