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Looking Beyond Illness: Adding Up the Smallest Joys

A few smiles a day can make a big difference in how we perceive pain — and our lives. This occurred to me today as I bought Spike Lee water. (That’s sparkling water to anyone outside my household.)

I was taken aback when my then six-year-old niece asked me for her Spike Lee shirt a few years ago. My sister translated: spikelee means sparkly. I was so amused that the phrase became a fixture of my vocabulary. “Give me sharp knife,” said in a serious and clipped tone, is another favorite from when my nephew was three.

I drink sparkling water and use sharp knives every day. And I remember these funny stories. I also think of the kids I love so much and who make me laugh, intentionally or not. These inside jokes aren’t that funny to anyone else, but they mean the world to me.

Remembrances are only part of the picture. Consciously thinking about the happiness in every day may be the best way to revive joy. I know a woman with bipolar disorder and migraine who writes down the good parts of each day before she goes to bed at night. This reminds her regularly how rich her life is despite illness.

As the migraine that’s been coming and going since Thursday threatened to consume me, I struggled to see the positive aspects of today. Let’s see, I was only 10 minutes late to my appointment this morning, biofeedback kept my migraine at bay long enough to go grocery shopping, I made myself laugh by deciding our house really needs a periscope.

So many cliches say to enjoy the little things in life. A good sentiment — one that can seem impossible to put into practice. The items on my list of what’s good today border on minutia. Had I not seriously thought about and recorded them, any happiness would be lost in a day dominated by pain and exhaustion.

Now, as the pain grows more assertive, I’m grateful knowing I did something more than have a migraine today. I was productive and laughed aloud. These nearly forgotten pieces of each day come together, creating a quilt to wrap around myself when I most need reassurance that my life is beautiful and fulfilling.

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Choosing Pleasure on a Good Migraine Day

Yesterday was a good migraine day. The pain was mild to moderate all day and I wasn’t nauseated, dizzy or lightheaded. Did I read e-mail that’s been languishing in my inbox, put things on eBay, pack up stuff to donate or buy groceries? Nope, nope, nope and nope. I baked gingerbread.

It wasn’t even a simple “Hmm, I want gingerbread” thing. I haven’t been to the grocery store in so long that I was limited to a recipe that used no more than one stick of butter and one egg and didn’t require milk. What a triumph when I found the recipe winthin my parameters!

After a short rendezvous with my Kitchenaid and some help from the oven, I had tasty, fluffy gingerbread within an hour. I even cleaned the kitchen when I was finished.

I’ve been too sick to do the chores I have to do. That means I’ve also been to sick to do what I want to do. It’s practically instinct to work first and play second. Instead, I chose pleasure over work and have no regrets. I took a a huge step yesterday and am pretty proud of myself.

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Baby Steps to Minimize the Impact of Migraines & Headaches

“I’m not happy” is what my friend’s three-year-old says when another kid has something he wants. Whether he’s eying a root beer or the rocking chair, this simple statement expresses so much. Obviously something has to change to make him happy, or at the very least, not unhappy.

Since hearing him say this, I’ve replaced specific complaints with “I’m not happy.” Instead of feeling helpless in the face of pain, sensitivity to touch or any other symptom I have, another goal occupies me — to not have whatever is going on in my body or mind make me unhappy.

I can’t make any of my symptoms go away, but I can minimize their impact. I distract myself from pain by reading, listening to music (quietly) or focusing on how I’m breathing. When sensitive to touch, I sit up so nothing touches my head.

Doing what it takes to make myself not unhappy is so much easier than wrestling with Big Issues. Yes, having migraine is horrible. Worrying about it is useless. Making myself suffer even a little less is more than worthwhile.

I can’t make my migraine and chronic daily headache go away, but I can make living with them not so hard.