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Practicing Mindfulness, Remaining Peaceful During a Potentially Fraught Migraine Attack

Tuesday I was at the edge of a precipice, the fear-filled obsessive thoughts were trying to lure me over. Instead of believing, as I did when I wrote Begging & Bargaining With the Migraine Gods, that a four-day (ultimately five-day) migraine attack following a good week was proof that I was about to tumble into the depths of migraine and depression, I practiced mindfulness the last two days as if my life depended on it. Instead of giving into the churning worry, I took many deep, calming breaths and continually brought myself back to the moment. I took the hamster off the wheel time and time again.

I told myself: “Nothing is permanent. How I felt last week does not matter today, how I feel today does indicate what tomorrow (or the next week, next month, next year) will be like. What I have or haven’t felt in the past or even right now does not determine what may or may not happen. I only have today, right now, this moment.”

Whenever I began to despair, I went through it all again. And it worked. Instead of my thoughts spiraling into bleakness, I stayed grounded. I did not sink into the pit of depression that was calling to me. When the migraine lifted, I felt like my body had been through a wringer, but my mind had not.

Since learning mindfulness techniques five years ago, I’ve employed them many times to cope with migraine and depression, though never in such an intense, heavy-duty way as I have this week. The potential for emotional turmoil in this attack was immense, but I avoided the “what ifs” and remained peaceful. That’s good medicine.

5 Responses to Practicing Mindfulness, Remaining Peaceful During a Potentially Fraught Migraine Attack

  1. Chris says:

    Mindfulness. I practice this daily, hourly, by the minutes. Living with chronic migraine means that you never know when the next attack will hit. I have, in the past, and still fall into it when I am not mindful, lived in anticipation of the next migraine. When will it hit? It is 9:30 and the afternoon is usually when it visits… how long do I have until the pain starts… how many abortives/rescue meds have I taken this week.. and on and on and on.
    I often joke with friends and family that chronic migraine is not just a condition or disease, but a hobby. I spend so much time researching and searching for treatments, for supplements, for solutions, for stories, for anything.
    Ah, but back to mindfulness. Being present in the moment. When I have migraine-free time I try very hard to enjoy that time, to live, fully present, in those moments. I am in a full-fledged mental re-training in an attempt to minimize the anxiety, the anticipation of when the next attack will begin or ruminating on how long an attack will last. Chronic migraine not only steals one’s life while it is happening, but it steals those precious moments of pain-free existence because you get caught in a loop… when will the next attack hit!?!
    As I write this I am free of migraine. I need to live in this moment, these moments without worry and without anxiety related to some future migraine.
    This battle is constant. It is hard to be fully present in the pain-free moments when the migraine attacks are so frequent and so intense.
    I breathe deeply… I am not a migraine disguised as a person, I am not my daily pain, I do have a life without migraine…

  2. Anna says:

    One of the best ways I have found to remain present during my migraines is by knitting. I don’t have to move my body, just my hands. I choose simple patterns and will sometimes just sit in the dark for hours working stitch after stitch. It is as much as I can concentrate on, but concentrating on something helps when your day(s) are occupied by an unrelenting migraine. Knitting was an important strategy for me when I did an 8-week medication detox.

    Plus, at some point, you end up with a finished project. It feels so miraculous to have accomplished something during this time and to be able to hold it in your hands. There are months that I remember very little from (post-migraine fog), but I remember the objects that I knit and this helps me feel like I haven’t just lost time. I’ve made something, too.

    Good luck.

  3. Nilofer says:

    I remember learning about the 2001 Neruology article where 10 patients with severe migraines were put on a gluten-free diet. One refused the diet, 2 found partial relief from the diet, and 7 had complete remission of headaches after stopping gluten. Even though I read about this 3 years ago, and had seen other positive comments about migraine improvement/cessation on a gluten-free diet, it took me 3 years to be mindful enough to be strict. God bless the internet, let’s hope it stays free.

  4. Ana says:

    Hi Kerry,
    I’m glad your migraine did not last as long as you expected and I truly hope you continue to make progress.
    I have been in the daily headache saga for 2.5 yrs now.
    I also practice mindfulness and just “being” with pain when my migraines are very bad. It is as if my head just really needs my attention and finally I lay down and am present to it and the rest of my body. And then I just feel…sometimes I will feel a presence as well that is non physical and more expansive. I practice Steps to Knowdge as well and have relied on it very heavily. “I Will Allow Uncertainty to Exist Today” and “I Will be at Ease Today” are two of the 365 steps.
    Also, I wanted to tell you that my headaches get worse after eating, too, and it doesn’t seem to matter what food I’ve just eaten. I think it is related to the vascular changes associated with digestion and not to the food itself (except for certain definite food triggers that will cause a severe spike). I just say that because I know how hard eating can get when you know it’s going to lead to pain and yet … I find that if I am anxious about food all the time I am even more miserable.
    Last comment re Magnesium – I have gotten IV mag but also IV folic acid and for me, the folic acid did more – clearer head, less headache, though it never lasted more than a day. I’ll be trying ionized magnesium soon based on a recommendation I just got. Whatever works.
    All the best to you.

  5. Lisa says:

    Mindfulness is very needed for those of us who deal with CM. I’m so glad it was helpful to you.

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