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Finding (and Missing) My “True Sanctuary”

Though my migraines have been better in the last couple months — except for last week, when I accidentally halved my dose of magnesium — I’ve been feeling kind of blah. Not depressed, but not motivated or energetic either. This, I’ve discovered, has in large part been because I haven’t been able to practice yoga, which generally boosts my health and my mood. Beyond providing exercise, yoga occupies the all-important third space for this migraineur.

Migraine didn’t keep me away this time, at least not directly. Instead, I developed joint pain as a result of my sedentary life. After a year of taking only gentle yoga classes, I moved to all-levels classes. I felt like I’d developed some stamina and was ready to start building some muscle. I expected a lot of muscle aches — the good, I-can-tell-I’ve-been-working-out kind of soreness. It never came even though I was going all-out in class. It turns out that my natural flexibility (which hasn’t waned) was working against me. My muscles aren’t strong enough to support me when I’m splayed out in a pose, so my joints took the brunt of my workouts. I kept going to classes for awhile, thinking I’d work through it. Nope. So I tried only gentle classes, but the pain persisted. I had no choice but to stop and heal.

I bought an ancient treadmill so I could exercise without leaving the house. I’m one of those weird people who doesn’t mind exercising on a treadmill, but “exercise” and “yoga” are not synonymous experiences for me. Walking on a treadmill and listening to podcasts is fine; yoga classes are a time of (almost) pure enjoyment for me. I’d rather follow my bliss. Engaging in a third space, which is a meaningful activity outside of work or home, can reduce stress and social isolation. In A Third Space for Migraine Patients, headache specialist William Young writes:

I think that finding a good third space can be very hard for a person with bad migraine, but that finding something is truly important. I think it works best when it requires interacting with people outside of work or home and consumes someone in such a way that it becomes very hard to focus on pain.  I don’t think it needs that much time, and if an hour a week is all you can find, that is fine, if you have found a true sanctuary. Find something, try it on and if it doesn’t fit, keep trying until you find something meaningful. Fight for one tiny, special activity that takes you away from the places in your life that the pain resides. Keeping a seed of contented normalcy somewhere in one’s world is critical, and provides hope in the darkest times.

I will spare you the poetic waxing. Suffice it to say that classes provide me with much pleasure, which I have missed. While I don’t talk to a lot of people at the studio (how outgoing I am depends on how migrainey I am), I appreciate seeing different people than my friends and family. The studio I go to has a strong community feeling and I like the support implicit in that. People notice when I’m gone and ask how I am when I return.

I have described yoga as a lifeline before. Until this forced hiatus, I didn’t know how true that was. I’ve been back for a few gentle classes and have felt great emotionally and migraine-wise afterward. My joints were OK with one class, but they are complaining a bit after classes on consecutive days. Next week I will get suggestions from a physical therapist/pilates instructor/massage therapist for improving muscle tone and protecting my joints.

The work required to regain muscle strength is daunting, especially knowing that migraine will continue to interrupt my attempts to exercise. I fear that I will never come out ahead. At which point I have to remind myself to be mindful of the present moment, not lost in the past or anticipating the future. One step — whether forward or back — at a time.

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Why I’m Doing Better, Part 2

I’ve changed my promised follow-up to Why I’m Doing Better, Part 1 because the format felt wrong. I have plenty to write about the strategies that have made me feel better, but I want to do so in descriptive individual posts instead of a couple all-about-me lists. I think my new approach has far more value to you than my original plan. Expect posts on exercise, meditation, finding my “third space,” lifestyle changes (like diet and sleep), and special glasses. I’ll let you know when a post is related to my improved health.

I’ve never been more aware that there’s no one solution to chronic migraine. It has taken an assemblage of treatments and tweaks for me to feel better. The tendency is to search for one total treatment, but, much like diabetes, migraine is an illness that has to be managed on many fronts.