By Peggy –
The pain will never end. I have failed. I can’t do this again. This is my fault. I’m overwhelmed. I’m hopeless. I’m helpless. I can’t figure this out. I can’t fix this.
These are the thoughts that play in my head on repeat during a migraine attack when pain escalates. What do you tell yourself during an attack? Lately, I have begun to strategize about how I can change these conversations in my head.
The goal is not to make us magically happy and wipe away the reality we face during migraine attacks or pain flare ups. The goal is to expand our view and remind ourselves there is hope to hold onto even when we are hurting.
We can add another tune to the broken record of thoughts playing in our head. We will still feel what we feel, and that is ok. We can help ourselves be aware that even in the midst of pain, there is some joy, peace and love in the world as well. It is alright to still feel anxiety and discouragement, to acknowledge that the pain is real. Often times these feelings exist for us alongside pleasant emotions.
Here are some ideas for how we can change the conversations in our heads:
1. Acknowledge Your Feelings
Pay attention to your thoughts and whatever feelings you notice. Perhaps there is frustration, discouragement, fear or even anger. Mindfulness has been a helpful practice for me recently. Mindfulness invites us to experience our feelings somewhat like a passing cloud, to neither cling to nor push the feelings away. Take a few deep breaths. These emotions are there for a reason. The pain we experience is powerful. It is ok to feel whatever you are feeling.
2. Speak Comforting Words to Yourself
I have to remind myself that migraine is a neurological disease and that the flare I am experiencing is not my fault. I remind myself of the ways my body is working well, despite all that feels wrong. I acknowledge the reality of how tough the situation is; I ask God for strength and to remind me of how loved and cared for I am.
In this process, I am slowly learning to have the kind of compassion toward myself that I would have toward a friend who is hurting. The specific words that will comfort you will likely be different but the aim of showing compassion toward yourself is the same.
3. Create an Encouragement Toolkit
Put together songs, pictures, quotes, podcasts, meditations and whatever else might be encouraging for you to look at or listen to during a migraine attack. There are several different ways to do this.
I made an album of pictures on my phone that I can look at if I am able to do so and have quotes and images saved with a few of my favorite links on this Pinterest board. Because I often cannot look at my phone when my pain is high, I am also printing these out and putting together a scrapbook. The scrapbook is full of things that will inspire, encourage or make me smile. You could also make voice recordings of favorite quotes or passages to listen to instead of having to read.
Find whatever works for you. Have the playlists and materials in your toolkit together and easily accessible during an attack.
4. Let Others Know How to Help
Tell people close to you what you need to hear during an attack and what you do not want to hear. This may take a little bit of trial and error.
I first told my husband to tell me that the pain would end soon, but I am in an intractable cycle and found myself wanting to argue with him that he could not be certain of that. I find that what I most need to hear is something like: “This is tough but so are you. You have done tough things before, and you can do this too.” This is advice that someone gave another migraine warrior, and I find it resonates with me.
5. Prepare in Advance
Most of us carry migraine meds with us everywhere we go. We prepare for how our attacks will affect us physically. In the same way, I want to prepare for how I can care for myself emotionally during an attack and for how others around me can care for me.
When we are in pain, it is difficult to focus or do anything more than get through the attack. Consider giving some advance thought to what will support you and how you can put together a toolkit that may refocus and comfort you.
Living with a chronic illness is tough. But so are YOU. You have no doubt done tough things before, and you can do this too.
Header Image via Peggy.