By Jorie –
To the healthy onlooker, living with chronic migraines is nothing short of an unimaginable nightmare. And it’s fairly often a nightmare to me, too, so don’t get me wrong. Nonetheless, there are an endless array of things that my life with migraines have taught me and one of those, and possibly my favorite, is gratitude.
Gratitude is a big theme during this week, and really the whole month, with Thanksgiving here in the US. I’ve seen a number of my Facebook and Instagram friends posting their thanks toward different things in their lives. I personally think it’s a wonderful thing to express gratitude, not just during the holidays, but rather all year round.
Remembering what I’m thankful for has been part of what’s kept me going mentally. Keeping it at the surface of my mind creates constant positive motivation and reinforcement. It gives me hope, determination, and resilience. I remind myself each day and the end of the day (if I can and remember to) write in a gratitude journal just three simple things that I was either thankful or happy for that particular day. That’s it. This has been an ongoing theme in my DBT outpatient program as well: gratitude leads to happiness. It’s true!
I’m thankful for a TON of things outside of my migraine world, probably more than inside my migraine world. But because my migraine world influences my outside world, it plays a massive part in my gratitude practice. I realized this when I started the gratitude journal a few years ago. I was inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Happiness Jar” (who is one of my personal muses), which I also did for a while until it filled up rather quickly and then I decided to just compile it all together in one journal instead. So you could say my journal is not just a gratitude journal, but it’s a happiness journal too. I now have many journals that I’ve filled over the years, not just with gratitude and happiness, but also memories.
In this post, however, even though I’ve learned to express gratitude for things far beyond my health issues, I specifically want to take a moment to reflect on my health, my chronic migraines, and how I’ve learned to be thankful for them — the good and the bad. (Here is where you’re probably thinking: there’s something good about migraines? Well, yes, if you dig deep enough, it’s there.)
It can be extremely hard in the beginning to learn gratitude for a negative thing in life. One of those big negative things for me happens to be my chronic migraines. These can be anything, though. A big financial obstacle, a job you’re “stuck” in, or maybe a feud with a family member. They’re things that we have a hard time finding the good in, they’re the parts of life that make us anxious and depressed.
Last year, though, I figured out the first step to finding gratitude in my negative situation, and that was acceptance. We have to accept our downfall before we can begin to learn and draw gratitude from it. It can’t be a teacher if we don’t see it as one, and we can’t be students until we conclude that we need to be one. That took me years and years to learn. I thought, how could someone be upbeat about such a painful and despairing condition? I have my own personal inspirational people who gradually brought me to this realm of acceptance—I think most of them know who they are and they were a vital part of me not only accepting, but also saying, ok, now that I’ve accepted, I’m going to use my struggle to give back.
That brings me to one of the quotes that initially inspired the creation of this blog: “Find your wound, and you’ll find your purpose.” I mulled that over for a while, and came to the conclusion that this meant that I could use my diagnosis of chronic migraines as a way to drive myself each day, to truly give myself a purpose for living through pain. I feel that my purpose is to help others and bring them to an understanding that their story matters. My story matters. We’re all healing together. This blog is a compilation of stories, all unique (which I love) but sharing a common purpose and theme.
Before I ever figured out how to bring gratitude out of my suffering, I’d still figured out what my life’s mantra would be when I stumbled upon it one day by accident. And as I’ve mentioned many times before, this was the key inspiration behind the name of The Migraine Mantras. My mantra was and still is: “Everything, no matter how bad it seems, has a blessing within it of some kind. The goal is to find it.”
Unbeknownst to me, this quote would become the foundation upon which I found gratitude each day. It was what led me to an understanding that life is so much more about the little things than anything else. It is what helped me learn how to be more mindful every day. It is what brought me joy in darkness.
The things I’ve become thankful for aren’t exactly “things” but traits, feelings, achievements, and other intangible blessings. They’re things you can’t touch, yet they touch you.
Here are my top 5 reasons a life of migraines has made me thankful:
1. EMPATHY. This might be the most crucial of all the list for me. My empathy, again before I ever had any self awareness of it, was strong because I had been through adversity and could feel it in other people. I have the ability to put myself in another’s shoes and understand their situation. I’m especially hypersensitive to emotion and when I’m faced with other people’s emotion, I have learned how to mirror it back in a positive way.
2. PATIENCE. Being sick is one of those “hurry up and wait” type of situations. You’ll hear that phrase from anyone who has been in the military, but you’ll also hear it from those of us with medical conditions. Patience is truly a virtue and something that takes time to learn; it’s a muscle that has to be exercised constantly. Sometimes I still get upset or frustrated, whether with a doctor, coworker, relative, or even myself but I’ve learned now to just stop, breathe, and accept (there’s that word again) — it’s okay to feel the feelings (and trust me, we WILL feel them) as long as we don’t let them engulf us completely.
3. RESILIENCE. I have a lot of people tell me “wow, you’re so strong for enduring all that you do.” While I appreciate the sentiment, I don’t view myself as a strong person, because this could happen to anyone. And I just live with it. And they say, “I don’t know how you live that way.” Well, I just do. I get up and do what I have to do. What I’ve done is adapted to the circumstances. I’m resilient to my situation and have learned to cope after dealing with pain in and out for 15 years. It’s just what happens, we learn to bounce back. No, I don’t believe I’m strong, but I definitely have resilience and that’s even better, in my book.
4. NON-JUDGMENT. This is where comparison and tolerance comes into play. I debated on using the word “tolerance” here but I felt “non-judgment” goes a little further. So often we are quick to compare our situation to someone else’s or judge them based on some sort of criteria we’ve made up in our heads (or that society has subconsciously instilled in us). I used to be guilty of that, for sure. I still am sometimes, but I’ve come to notice it and I stop myself (the INFJ in me laughs at this, but it is important). Being nonjudgmental toward others with medical hardships, whether physical or not, is imperative. It’s respectful first of all, but empathy plays in here again. How would you feel if you were judged over something you can’t control? It doesn’t feel good, I can tell you from experience. Tolerance for others goes a long way.
5. SELF LOVE. This one is my favorite of all and one of the hardest ones I had to learn on this whole list, which is ironic since it has to do with taking care of myself and listening to my body. I’ve always been one to help others and take on other tasks before paying attention to myself, but when you live with chronic pain there comes a time when you have to put all that aside and say, it’s time for me to rest. Pampering myself in a healthy way is a must, listening to what my body is telling me is essential, and just slowing down and calming my mind are a major help in bettering myself.