“If you have migraines, you know pain.” That’s the tagline for an Excedrin Migraine commercial I believe. And it is a true statement, one that I wish I didn’t know so well. (Though in the context of the ad, I believe that it’s a piece of crap – if one over the counter pill could make a dent in one of my migraines, I wouldn’t be nearly as familiar with pain as I am, but I digress, as this post actually has nothing to do with the commercial or the product.)
I’ve suffered from migraines for more than half of my life. I have a lot to say about them, most of which I probably won’t get to in this post. This particular post was prompted by the migraine I woke up with today – my second one this week. Anyway, migraines my entire adult life but until a few years ago, they were manageable. In that I knew most of my triggers and when I did get a migraine, I could usually get rid of it pretty quickly with medication. So I lived with my migraines and while they were annoying, it was nothing I couldn’t handle.
But then they changed. Suddenly, the medication that had always worked just stopped working. And for the past 3 or 4 years, I have been struggling with my doctors to find an effective way to prevent and treat my migraines. While I’ve made some progress, there’s a long way to go before I get to a point where I can say that I’m effectively managing my migraines.
I don’t want to use my migraines as an excuse, ever. But it’s hard to deny the impact that they have on my life and lifestyle. A big part of the reason I gained weight is that I stopped exercising when my migraines got bad. It seemed like every time I exercised I got a migraine (didn’t matter what I had done to work out – running, walking, lifting weights, biking, body weight workouts, yoga and everything else seemed to trigger them). And when I had no effective treatments, I shied away from anything that might trigger a migraine or that might place me in a dangerous situation if I did get a migraine because they were (and are) paralyzing. So I stopped exercising. I (mostly) stopped drinking alcohol. I stopped socializing. I stopped going out at night. Driving at night or in traffic with a migraine is nearly impossible for me, not to mention extremely dangerous, and I stopped putting myself in situations where I might have to do that. To be clear, I understand that I did all of this. My migraines didn’t do these things, I did. I allowed my migraines to basically reduce my life to a sliver more than eating, sleeping, working (when employed), and hanging out around the house. In short, this e-card that I saw yesterday perfectly describes my life.
The truth is, though, while I’ve been living my hermit-lifestyle, my migraines haven’t gotten any better. If anything, they’ve gotten worse. And as I gained weight, got out of shape and isolated myself from most of my friends, my entire quality of life got worse as well. I know, this sounds totally obvious, but when you’re in the middle of it and trying to avoid migraines at all costs because the pain is so unbearable, it’s really hard to see the bigger picture.
One of my goals for 2014 was to lose the weight and get back in shape regardless of my migraines. Granted, when I made that goal I had reason to believe that I was on a road towards more effective treatment and prevention of my migraines and that has not turned out to be the case. But I still want to gain control of my life back from my migraines. I’m sick of avoiding social events. Not having friends. Not feeling like I own my own body. Not liking myself. And I’ve made some progress, which is great. But then there are days like today where I wake up with a migraine. My second one of the week. And I know that the gym isn’t an option – even if I thought I could safely get there and exercise (which is unlikely, given the amount of pain I was in), the brightness and noise level would have pushed me even farther into migraine-land and possibly past the point of no return (at which point I have to take major painkillers, which I try to avoid because that’s no way to live life and the risk of addiction is terrifying, and if those don’t work, go to the ER for IV medication, which I really really really try to avoid for so many reasons). At this point, I know that if I want to salvage any part of my day, my only option is to take the medicine that works 50% of the time, put in earplugs, wear an eye mask, grab an ice pack and head back to bed until the worst of it is over. Even once the worst of it is over, I know that I have to be careful the rest of the day – limit my screen time, keep it quiet and dark as much as possible, and avoid migraine triggers, including exercise at almost any level of intensity (walking is OK).
In the moment, that feels an awful lot like I’m letting the migraine control me. But I have to remind myself that it’s different to take these precautions once I already have a migraine as opposed to living my life in fear of triggering one. And that it’s the latter that I need to work on. Of course I don’t wan to get migraines. But if I let my fear of them control my life, then the pain is winning and I am definitely losing. So yes, it sucks to get migraines and lose time and quality life to them. But it sucks even more to lose that kind of time and that quality of life even when I don’t have a migraine. And that’s why I’m continuing on this journey, despite the fact that sometimes the things I do might trigger headaches. I can’t improve my quality of life if I don’t live it when I can. So yes, I know pain and yes, I live with pain. But more importantly, I live.