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What’s Your Carrot?

Why are you seeking treatment for your migraine or headache disorder? Obviously, you  want to reduce the pain, but what else motivates you to find relief? Wanting to be pain free is certainly important, but it’s not enough.

The patients whose treatments are most successful are the ones who are working for more than to become pain-free, but also to have a better life, according to Dr. Rob Cowan, the director of Stanford’s headache clinic. In his words, “It’s very hard to help someone who doesn’t have a carrot.” Dr. Cowan said this at the American Headache & Migraine Association conference in November and, of everything I learned that day, this statement is the one that most firmly lodged itself in my mind.

We all need a carrot (or even a bunch of carrots). What’s your carrot? What would you do with your life if you had no health concerns to hold you back?

While it can be emotionally painful to ponder such goals when it seems like you’ll never achieve them, keeping them in mind provides motivation in the face of failed treatments. Last May, I wrote about my firsthand experience with this in Goals, Dreams and Chronic Migraine:

My goals were sitting on a shelf, put aside when getting out of bed and feeding myself were all I could manage in a day. They did not inspire me, but filled me with despair over all I had already failed to accomplish and everything it seemed I would never be able to do. Even though I felt better than I had in at least five years, I was still so sick. Goals did not feel like inspiration, but a reminder of defeat. What was the point in having goals, I wondered, when migraine demanded all my energy and attention?

Try as I might to pretend I had no dreams beyond finding an effective migraine treatment, my ambitions cannot be sublimated. As frustrating as it was to believe my dreams would never be fulfilled, it was even worse to imagine that my only role in the world was sitting on the couch in pain. The sentiment of that headache specialist whose name I cannot remember in the article whose location I cannot find were so true. Having goals keeps me believing that migraine will not forever dominate my life and that, even if I am, I will somehow contribute meaningfully to society. When my life feels unbearably small and worthless, these aspirations give me a reason to strive, even if getting out of bed will be my biggest accomplishment of a day (or week or month).

Eight months later, I’m pretty sure I’m on the cusp of significant migraine relief (more on that in a couple days) and am wondering which goal I should pursue first. Whatever I decide, it is sure to be one tasty carrot.

One Response to What’s Your Carrot?

  1. john doe says:

    I needed to read this. After eight years of daily headaches my spirit has been reduced to a cool ember. I’m capable of writing coherent sentences, taking captivating photographs, and caring for friends and family, but my chutzpah, my confidence, and my ability to live in the moment and project my will have been crushed by the constant shooting pain upstairs. I’ve worked as a custodian for years because any cognitively intensive activities are a guaranteed headache trigger. I live in fear of social encounters and all my recent dates have ended in failure as my brain locks up and freezes mid conversation. I’m currently feeling absolutely defeated. I’ve stopped contemplating a future in which I’m anything other than a single laborer. Am I feeling sorry for myself? Maybe, but I’ve been living in a state demoralization so long it’s hard for me to gauge. I’m not lazy. I dropped out of college twice, but reenrolled a third time just to prove that I could complete a semester. I did, but at high cost to my mental health. The stress of studying and interacting with my classmates would leave me bedridden in pain most days. I still travel because it’s one of the few truly rewarding activities I can engage in with minimal pain. As you point out though Kerrie, my main problem isn’t the pain but the way in which it’s caused me to stop contemplating what I’d do with my health if I found it. I deeply relate to your statement that your goals didn’t fill you with hope but with despair, because they were reminders of all your failures in the past and possibly the future. I’m saying this not to garner sympathy, any headache sufferer knows sympathy solves nothing, but rather just to get these thoughts out of my head and onto the page. For whatever it’s worth. Thanks for article, Kerrie.

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