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I’ve had the condition of chronic migraine for 12 years now. And in that time I’ve gone from a few migraine attacks per month to now upwards of 20 plus per month. I’m an old pro at this migraine thing and yet also not. They still take me by surprise and I can hardly believe that’s true but they do.
While I despise the condition itself and how much it changes my life, I have learned a few things about myself because of chronic migraine. I hope what I’ve learned can help you, too.
Control is an illusion
I can only “control” things so much before my body takes over and I just have to follow its lead. I can do everything “right” and still get a migraine. I can all take my supplements and avoid certain foods and triggers and still have a breakthrough migraine. I’ve had to accept that control is a farce and, though there are some steps I can take to help my body, in the end, my body is going to do what it’s going to do. Chronic illness in general is going to do whatever it’s going to do. I’ve had to let go and flow with what comes my way.
Everyone has their breaking point
No matter how strong you may think you are, and you probably really are strong, the fact remains that everyone will come to a breaking point. Especially when it comes to pain. And guess what? I’m completely okay with that. I’ve had moments during this journey where I’ve felt like I had to be a warrior 24/7 — I’ve had to fight, fight, fight. I couldn’t let anyone, including myself, believe that I was anything other than a warrior. But truth is, even warriors have their down days. Even warriors need recovery days. And even warriors will lose in battle sometimes.
It’s okay to cry and feel hopeless
This goes along the same lines as number three. When you reach your breaking point, allow yourself to cry — and maybe even feel hopeless. It’s important that I don’t remain in that place but it’s okay to visit that place. When you’re facing something freaking hard there will be moments when the hard is stronger than you and good lord just be okay with that. We aren’t robots, we’re human, and human beings aren’t meant to be “on” all of the time. Sometimes a good cry and a down day are healing and you wake up the next day feeling better than the day prior.
I have a high pain tolerance
Although I have spoken about how everyone will reach a breaking point and it’s okay to cry and feel hopeless, on the flip side of that is the strength I’ve realized I carry within. I have a high pain tolerance. I have friends ask me how I do it day in and day out and my answer is: I have no other choice. You’ll be surprised what you can bear when that’s your only option. Many days my pain levels are nearing a 10. Between arthritis, muscle pain, and migraine attacks my pain levels are almost always overwhelmingly high but I have no choice but to push through and find a way to co-exist with pain.
I have a resilient spirit and am naturally a fighter
I grew up in turmoil. I’ve been one with difficult situations since I was a little girl. Maybe it helped prepare me for what I’d face in my adult years. Not that I’m grateful for my hard younger years but I do typically search for the good in the bad — it’s probably my coping mechanism. I’ve had a lifetime to develop my resilience and fighter spirit and it’s come in real handy while fighting chronic migraine and other chronic illnesses. What may have knocked others down for the count only stunned me for a hot minute before I’m back on my feet. I’m strong.
I’m an optimist
Quite possibly living with chronic illness has made me a better person. I’m much more compassionate toward others and their plights in life, I’m more of an optimist, more hopeful, and more understanding. I view life through a lens that not everyone has the opportunity to see through. A lens of “this is dang hard but this is my only go at this life and I’m going to make the best of it no matter what”. I’ve somehow managed to live a rough life and find a way to smile, enjoy my life, and push through. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m always happy or loving or finding joy in my life — but much of the time I do. And that is a blessing because I’m stuck with chronic illness and have to find a peaceful way to live side by side with it.
I won’t let chronic pain steal my life
Oh yes, it seems to win some days. Those days when I’m lying in bed with ice on my head, in a completely silent room, with no lights or screen time, and still in horrible pain. On those days, it sure seems to win. Then when it’s gone I remind myself that I made it through. I beat it once again. I’m on the other side of it and I am here to enjoy another day. I won. Some days I fight against the pain, refusing to give in. I write through a migraine, I watch my son’s band performances through a migraine, I shop through a migraine, and swim with my kids even with a migraine. Some days I don’t even know how that works but I manage to live through the pain and with the pain. No matter if I lay and absorb the weight of the migraine or if I put an ice hat on and push through — the fact remains, that I made it through.
Migraine won’t define my life
When I’m long gone my family won’t remember the migraine that stole what could have been. No, they will remember me as a strong, happy, resilient, fully present, and persistent person. They will remember the mom and wife I was, the friend and daughter I was, and the writer and artist I was. It won’t be the chronic illness they remember, it will be me. Because in the end, chronic illness doesn’t define me. Who I am, who I’ve always been, even before chronic illness, is what defines me.
A Poem To Leave You With
This is a poem I wrote about living in a chronically ill body. I hope you like it.
I went from thinking my body was against me,
to instead seeing how hard she works for me.
in every breath, I inhale,
and every breath I exhale,
every day she keeps me waking up.
I now thank her for fighting so hard for me,
even on the days, it feels like she’s trying to destroy me.
Although these are lessons I’ve learned about myself I think they can pertain to the human spirit in general. I’m hoping these words of what I’ve learned about myself can shine a light on how beautiful, strong, and resilient the human spirit is. We all have so much to learn and life is a great teacher.0
Hi, I’m Nell. First, I’m a wife and mother, and a believer in Jesus. I’m also a writer of words, maker of art, and chronically ill warrior. This space is where I document this one big beautiful and flawed life. Essays and diary entries, poetry and art, and peaks into my heart. Welcome.