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A Technique for Quieting Self-Criticism

Though I’m no public health expert, I feel well qualified to declare that self-criticism an epidemic among migraineurs. We blame ourselves for migraine attacks, berate ourselves for canceling plans, criticize ourselves for not keeping up with housekeeping. Actually, this negative self-talk seems pretty common among people with any kind of chronic illness. Toni Bernhard, author of the superb book How to Be Sick, recommends asking yourself what you would say to a friend who was criticizing herself in the same fashion.

In Befriend Yourself to Silence Self-Criticism, I wrote about her technique, then shared my experience of responding to my inner critic with kindness and compassion in An Experiment in Quieting My Inner Critic, both on Migraine.com. That was a few months ago and was so positive and uplifting that I’m still doing it. Such a relief for my mental health — I can’t recommend the strategy highly enough!


 

 

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The Exhilaration of Irrational Hope: Trying a New Treatment

In a few hours, I’m getting my first occipital nerve block. Sunday I was elated by the possibility for relief, thinking about how, if effective, the treatment would change my life. Yesterday my thoughts changed from “would” to “could” and I became skeptical that it will help. Today I’m just hoping that it doesn’t trigger a migraine attack. This wide range of emotions, from an almost manic excitement to a dread of disappointment, is familiar territory — this is what I feel every time I attempt a new treatment. No wonder trying new treatments is so exhausting.

Mindfulness would eliminate (or at least drastically reduce) this emotional torment, if I could put it into consistent practice. Despite all the wonderful coping skills mindfulness has given me, I resist applying it in this situation. The exhilaration of irrational hope briefly alleviates the difficulties of life with chronic migraine. It counters the pain, nausea, dizziness and distressingly heightened senses of a migraine attack. It provides a glimpse of a glorious (fictional) future that I don’t consciously allow myself to think about, but such indulgence is OK in the context of exploring the outcomes of a possible treatment. Though brief, the high is wonderful.

Like all drugs, irrational hope has a horrible letdown that lasts much longer than the high ever could. Yet, I haven’t been able to break the habit, nor am I sure I want to even though it goes against my general philosophy for how to cope with chronic illness. Any attempt at a new treatment, whatever the outcome comes with a new understanding. For me, that is often the knowledge that yet another treatment has had no positive effect. Even if the treatment works — and I’m speaking from limited experience as I’ve only had two treatments be even slightly successful — there is a period of adjusting to the amount to which it works and the impact it has on one’s life. If I’m going to have to learn to cope anyway, acknowledging that my fantasy of a miracle cure hasn’t materialized isn’t much bother.

As I was procrastinating while writing this post, I saw on Facebook that How to Be Sick author Toni Bernhard shared this apt quote from Brother David Steindl-Rast: “People who have faith in life are like swimmers who entrust themselves to a rushing river. They neither abandon themselves to its current nor try to resist it. Rather, they adjust their every movement to the watercourse, use it with purpose and skill, and enjoy the adventure.” I love the idea of embracing such faith in life as I embark on new treatments. Right now, though, I’m too addicted to the high of irrational hope to entrust myself to the river.

I wasn’t able to edit this piece in time to get it posted before the nerve block this afternoon, which means I can fill you in on how it went. The injections were horrifically painful and I nearly fainted (apparently, this happens to about 10% of people). Good news: the block reduced level 6 pain and to a 3 within 10 minutes. Bad news: it was back to a level 5 within two hours and I’ve spent the rest of the day in level 5 or 6 pain. I’m hopeful that the injections just irritated the nerves and I’ll be better in a day or two.