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What a Difference a Decade Can Make

One of my favorite pieces of writing (both the process of writing it and the final outcome) went up on Migraine.com over the weekend. Entitled, I Am Not a Migraine Sufferer, I Am Not a Victim, it begins,

“Do not call me a migraine sufferer. I have an illness called migraine, but I do not suffer from it. Having migraine is not a choice, suffering from it is. Suffering is an emotional reaction, a decision someone makes to allow the difficulties in their life to cause mental torment. I cannot avoid the physical and emotional pain of migraine, but I can choose how to react to it.”

Some readers said that the post was belittling or shaming people who don’t think the same way I do. That was absolutely not my intent, but it got me wondering if I would have reacted with anger if I’d come across the same post. Then I remembered the time, 10 years ago almost exactly, when I saw an article from Oprah’s magazine called Living With Pain being praised on a migraine forum.

Reading it enraged me.

I was in the most desperate place I’d been to that point (though I’ve been far more desperate since then) and the ways the author described coping with chronic migraine, tension-type headache and cluster headache seemed like total bull. I’m pretty sure I thought that her pain couldn’t possibly be as severe as mine, that no one could possibly have that attitude with the sort of pain I endured.

Today I am laughing at all the similarities between my attitude and the one the writer of the Oprah article describes. I’m not sure where or when or how I picked it up, but I’m unbelievably grateful that I did.

It is this attitude that I believe has kept me going, even when I couldn’t fathom how I’d get through another day. It is why I finally had a migraine-free day after at least 12 years of daily attacks. It is what compelled me to investigate an essentially unheard of migraine treatment to discover one that actually helps me. It is why I’m so happy to have days with only head pain and why level 4 migraines aren’t a big deal (well, that and the perspective that comes with having been housebound and bedridden from migraine).

If I want to find the joy in life, if I want to continue to reduce the frequency and severity of my migraines, I cannot think of myself as a sufferer.¬†This is not because migraine (or any headache disorder) is trivial or insignificant, nor does it mean I am without grief and anger about what it has done to my life. For me, thinking of myself as a sufferer is a short step away from believing there is nothing worth living for. There are plenty of ways debilitating chronic migraine pushes that belief all on its own, I don’t need to add any more fuel to the fire.

This is what works for me personally. Going by the number of likes and shares my post got, I am not alone. Still, this way of thinking doesn’t work for everyone. I understand why; I’ve been there myself.

2 Responses to What a Difference a Decade Can Make

  1. Diana Lee says:

    It takes SO MUCH WORK to get to the point where you can differentiate between the symptoms of our condition(s) and suffering. I thank Buddhism nearly every day for helping me understand and accept this differentiation.

    But as you point out, everyone is in a different place in the journey. Sometimes I find it difficult to have patience with those who are still stuck in the constant suffering attitude. I have to work hard to remember how it was for me back before I was exposed to the idea there is a choice.

    • Diana,

      I’m totally with you on thanking Buddhism daily. Learning about mindfulness has totally changed the way I experience migraines. The pain hasn’t changed, but it no longer drags me down emotionally so much.

      Take care,
      Kerrie

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