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Making Peace With Pain: Accepting Migraine and Chronic Daily Headache in My Life

Accepting that I may have a migraine or headache every day for the rest of my life is the most effective treatment I’ve had. But how did I get here and what does acceptance mean, exactly? Time. I know, not an encouraging answer, but where I am now is worth all the time it took to get here.

After my occipital nerve stimulator proved ineffective in January 2004, I was devastated. What I thought was my last chance at treatment had failed. Feeling like you have nothing left can suck you into a dark hole. It can also be the motivation necessary to claw back to an enjoyable life even if chronic daily headache and migraine are going to stick around. Most likely, it will be both.

For more than a year, I wrapped myself in the sadness and hopelessness that enveloped me. Mourning losses from my illness was necessary, but I wanted my life back. Even one full of pain and exhaustion was preferable to where I’d sunk. I was finally motivated to find a happier way to be.

Reading The Anatomy of Hope by Dr. Jerome Groopman played a crucial role. He writes: “Hope is the elevating feeling we experience when we see – in the mind’s eye – a path to a better future. Hope acknowledges the significant obstacles and deep pitfalls along that path. True hope has no room for delusion.”

Until then hope was believing I’d find a miracle treatment. Groopman taught me that hope is knowing a happy life is possible even with illness. Finding the joy in everyday life is far better than clinging to desperate desire for a magic cure.

Instant change didn’t follow my aha! moment, but put the process in gear. Now I have days where the thought “I love my life” jumps unbidden in my mind. That never would have happened four years ago. I still have plenty of days that are horrible, but hope lurks even on days I don’t think I can handle it anymore. When I feel OK, I really do try to seize the moment, as the cliche goes. Corny yet true.

The following books have helped me along:

  • The Anatomy of Hope by Jerome Groopman – The first time I read this, it was just an interesting collection of essays; the second time I “got it” and took the messages to heart. That was when I was first beginning to accept headaches as a permanent part of my life.
  • All in My Head by Paula Kamen – A memoir and great information source on chronic daily headache. She recommends Chronic Illness and the Twelve Steps by Martha Cleveland for accepting illness. (Kamen is also a contributor to the New York Times’ migraine blog.)
  • The Chronic Illness Workbook by Patricia Fennell – The same idea as the 12 steps book, but with less of a spiritual focus and is more methodical (for lack of a better word). I prefer this one.
  • Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen – In the self-help/inspiration genre without being over the top pushy or mushy. The thoughts it provokes have been vital to my acceptance of illness. My copy currently has 14 bookmarks in it.

4 thoughts on “Making Peace With Pain: Accepting Migraine and Chronic Daily Headache in My Life”

  1. I have just read the Heal Your Headache book. I am new to this blog. For the last 3 years I have experienced some form of head, neck, face pain almost every day. I tried the diet in this book and I am disappointed. I have given up most of the foods that I normally eat and still wake up with a neck, face pain. I do not want to take Rx meds. I take herbal supplements daily. I would love to talk to those of you who wake up to this gremlin-like pain daily-you chase it around your body. Thanks

  2. Hello to all of you:

    My mom has been on a 6 year quest to solve her daily headache.

    What alternative remedies have you explored – reiki, acupuncture, etc.,?

    And what about BOTOX?

    I will share the trials and errors my mom has been through……

  3. Kerrie, thanks for this post. I’m currently reading Paula Kamen’s book and I plan to check out some of the others you mention. I still struggle very much with acceptance, though I’m closer than I was this time last year.

  4. I truly find it a daily struggle to keep my head above water in trying to manage my feelings about my situation.

    I thank god for my wonderful therapist and the fabulous online community of migraineurs.

    I haven’t yet read Groopman’s book, but absolutely about Paula Kamen’s book. It’s by far the most relatable book for anyone going through this experience. I’ve also found Pema Chodron’s books comforting from a spiritual perspective. Kitchen Table Wisdom seems like something I’d appreciate. Thanks for the recommendation.

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