Community, Coping, Mental Health

A Letter to Myself: Replacing Guilt, Shame & Self-Hatred With Love, Compassion

Migraine Awareness Month Blogging Challenge, Day 13: “You Are Beautiful” — Write yourself a love letter. Tell yourself how wonderful you are. Remind yourself of the things you have accomplished despite migraines. There are times when we need to be reminded of the good things about ourselves that others see that we may have missed.

Dear Kerrie,

Today you are hunched over on the couch, weak, nauseated and in pain with a throbbing head and hyper-alert senses. Many days are like this, though fewer than even six months ago. All those things you are worried about — not calling your niece on her birthday, missing physical therapy yesterday, not updating The Daily Headache or Facebook frequently enough, not figuring out Twitter etiquette, not calling your mom or sister or friends… — none of these change who you are fundamentally. You are still bright, caring, loving, ambitious, eager, strong-willed, kindhearted and funny. Migraine may prevent you from engaging in life and with other people as much as you would like, but it doesn’t mean you are selfish, self-centered, lazy or weak. No one loves you any less for your behavior (or lack thereof); your family and friends know who you are and that your illness dims your light. They do not feel slighted, they only wish you felt better. Now it is time for you to embrace their understanding and love yourself with the same compassion.

This is a perfect day to write this letter. Your mental ability is so compromised that you aren’t censoring yourself or even editing this post. Tears are running down your face as you write because you know you are right. You are loved and lovable whether or not you have chronic migraine — perhaps in part because you have chronic migraine. Do not hate or berate yourself for being sick. It is not your fault.

Your lack of connection to the outside world, your lack of accomplishment and productivity are not a reflection of your ineptitude. In fact, the amount you have accomplished, the degree to which you seize the day are remarkable considering how disabled you are. Take some of that overflowing compassion and empathy you have for others and give it to yourself. You deserve it. So very much.

I love you and am amazed by your ability to function with such a debilitating illness. That you maintain such a positive attitude sometimes astonishes me. Release the guilt, shame and self-hatred and you will be amazed by your strength and inner beauty.

All my love,

National Migraine Awareness Month is initiated by the National Headache Foundation. The Blogger’s Challenge is initiated by Fighting Headache Disorders.


In Gratitude for My Imperfect Body

For many years, I felt as if my body had betrayed me. The physical exhaustion, mental fogginess and excruciating pain of chronic migraine smothered my energetic, spirited personality. I was young and should have had strength and stamina, but was instead trapped inside a broken body. In believing this, not only did my body appear defective, so did my entire self.

Tired of being angry with my body — and, by extension, myself — I focused on everything my body does well, like walking, breathing, circulating blood. From this view, the constant, mundane tasks to which I give no thought become small miracles. Yes, my neurological system misfires regularly, but that this complicated series of systems works at all is far more profound than the frustrations with its quirks.

How could my body have betrayed me? There is no contract, no guarantee that a person will be healthy and pain-free. In fact, the expectation that a body should behave perfectly has come to seem absurd. The human form is a complicated piece of machinery; any one body is bound to have some flaws.

With my new perspective has come an unexpected gratitude: I am now thankful when my body aches after I’ve been laid up with a migraine for a couple days. That deep itch to move and stretch, to use my body instead of just inhabit it, reminds me how resilient this sometimes bedridden body truly is.

Tonight I will go to a more strenuous yoga class than usual. My movements may not be as effortless or graceful as other students’, but the mere fact of my participation is a greater triumph than I could imagine a month ago. I will stretch and twist, bend and balance from the tremendous strength that I now know lies within my beautifully imperfect body.

Chronic Migraine, Coping

Migraine’s Not the Boss of Me

It has been more than three years since I’ve blogged regularly. In my absence from The Daily Headache, I have had the most excruciating, unrelenting migraines of my 35 years. I have been housebound for weeks, bedridden for days. I have questioned the value of my life.

These years have been harrowing, but they have also been filled with love, beauty and hope. In the last year, since my move to Phoenix, the migraines have relented some and I have begun to heal from the vast physical and emotional toll of the previous years. The pieces of what felt like a shattered life are coming back together.

Migraine was in control. Not anymore. Never again.


Revisiting the Pain of Years Past

After a brief migraine respite (by “respite” I mean a few hours each day in which I can cook, run errands, etc. even though my pain levels hit at least a 7 most days), I’ve been back in Migraineville since late March. The last few days have been decent, yet I’ve been reluctant to return to the blog. An increased heart rate and shaking hands betray the nervousness I feel, though I can’t locate the source of it.

As cathartic as the blog has been, I suspect I am reluctant to return to the place where so much of misery is stored. [cue tears] It is difficult enough to look at the migraine diary I’ve kept since February and those are just numbers. I don’t have to re-read The Daily Headache; I know it contains five years just like the last few months. This pain I fight to escape isn’t any better now than when I began.

Blogging also reminds me of the many plans and hopes I have for The Daily Headache. I still believe I will eventually get that newsletter/support group/coaching going. Maybe I’ll even revive the forum I had to abandon in its infancy. Right now it feels far more likely that I’ll be thrilled to get a post written every four months. Kinda like the last two years have been. I can’t help but feel demoralized.

You know how hard I strive to keep a positive attitude. Blessed with a natural optimism, I’m generally fairly successful. But I still long to have my life back.

P.S. My mood was much improved within 30 minutes of posting this. Must be that catharsis thing I mentioned.

Chronic Migraine, Coping, Mental Health

Migraine’s Life Lessons: Backup Plans, Optimism & Flexibility

Hart and I planned to go to the Harvard Museum of Natural History last weekend, but a migraine kept me from going out. Instead of sitting on the couch or going back to bed, Hart and I worked in the kitchen then watched a movie and the Olympics. We made salsa, hot sauce and cornbread. It wasn’t what we planned to do and I operated at less than full capacity. But it was a lot of fun and we got to spend time together. In the end, I wasn’t even disappointed we didn’t go to the museum. I still had a great day.

People often ask how I can have such a positive attitude about life with migraine. I always thought it was a joke when I answered “I’d be dead otherwise.” I wasn’t kidding. I can’t imagine how I could have gotten this far being this sick without my optimism. I think it is the lack of disappointment that keeps me going. I can be happy whatever I’m doing (if I’m in the right mindset).

In my “I can’t” phase, I lost the crucial ability to make backup plans. I assumed that if I couldn’t make my original plans, then I couldn’t do anything. Admittedly, this was often because I was so sick that I couldn’t do more than lie in bed or sit on the couch. Yet the art of making plans B, C or sometimes D contributes to the optimism and flexibility that allow me to enjoy life despite migraine and depression. I make lemonade through the optimism that I can still have fun and still do something even if it wasn’t what I intended. I need enough flexibility to come up with alternatives when necessary.

I’m not say it is easy or even always possible to have a positive outlook. I’m fortunate in that I was born a Pollyanna, but I also work hard at it. I try to look for the good (or not too bad) in all that I do. Sometimes it is as little as having the energy to put dishes away or enjoying an episode of Ugly Betty. This helps me stay in the moment and feel like I am truly living my life, not letting it go by in a migraine haze.

I often hear people say chronic illness has taught them to enjoy life. I’ve certainly come to that conclusion. What has life with headache or migraine taught you? How do you get through the days?