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.