migraine life (part 4: getting better at it)

PART 1: The Beginning
PART 2: The “Other Way”
PART 3: Chronic Pain Consequences
PART 3B: Reality

“Does it get any easier?”

“No, but you get better at it.”

Life with migraine hasn’t necessarily gotten easier, but I’ve gotten better at managing it. I know what foods to eat and what to stay away from. I recognize when I’m close to my threshold (aka pain threshold) BEFORE I get to pain level. I know the warning signs. I feel my head literally getting heavy, like now, right now, in this moment as I type this.

The way I communicate this to myself and others is “my head is heavy”. If there was a two armed scale in my brain it would be tipped heavily to the right side. I feel pressure, behind my right eye ball, up and over my skull, down the back, towards my spinal cord. It feels, well, heavy. Magnesium. Glare glasses. CBD oil. TONS of water. Super “migraine friendly” diet. Laying down, or at least sitting to rest a bit. Deep breaths. Reminding myself I’m not in control and that’s okay. These are my primary tools in my wellness arsenal for migraine I pull out at the first warning signs.

Interestingly enough? The past 5 days, I’ve also experienced depression symptoms. Not enjoying things like I used to, decreased appetite, sadness or anger for no reason, brain fog. In the same way I pay attention to the warning signs for migraine, I recognize depression warning signs as yellow flags that lead to action. When is the last time I got physical exercise? How about sunshine? Have I had a therapy appointment recently? Called a friend? Prioritized alone time?

The goal is always to cut off migraine before it hits pain level that affects daily functioning, and to cut off depression before it gets there, as well. I’ve gotten really good at doing so. I’ve been forced to get comfortable with the life changes I’ve had to make in order to care for myself. Like asking for help, admitting my limitations, accepting that this is a part of my life, every single day. Yes it’s a daily part of life AND when managed it can stay a small gnat in my ear instead of an elephant on my back.

Several years ago, a full weekend, out of town, with a different schedule than normal, weird foods and lots of time in the sun would have caused me a whole bunch of social anxiety. What if I’m in pain? Will I act like a brat? Will I be friendly? I only see these people a few days a year, will I be able to hold it together? These questions used to make me spiral, turning something as simple as a three day family reunion into a seemingly impossible-to-pull-off excursion.

Not this year, though. Nope! This year, equipped with all the tools I’ve learned, I went into our annual family time feeling strong. “Bigga Bigga” — what we call our annual family gathering (the name given years and years ago by the now extremely tall, college attending “almost-not-a-teenager anymore” white t-shirt wearing fella on the right side of this pic) — felt way more doable.

Was it perfect? Nah, when is family time ever that? But when the harder moments cropped up, I had tools to cope. I’d made phone calls ahead of time to clarify expectations. I communicated what my kids (and therefore, me!) needed in regards to sleep and food, to function well. I asked for what I needed before I got to desperate level (I went to a sushi lunch all by myself in the middle of one of the family days!!) Lukas and I worked together, supporting the other in getting our individual needs met while staying present with family and being as flexible as possible to maximize time together. And you know what? It was awesome! I left with a full heart, having connected with family I don’t see very often, and the best part — getting to experience my kids bringing so much joy and smiles to the group.

Lately I’ve taken moments to stop and find myself soaking in my reality — I love my life. I love my life, not because it’s free of hard stuff, but because I’ve gotten so much better at coping.

“I’m not afraid of the storm because I’m learning to sail my ship.”

This quote has been posted in my bathroom for several years as I’ve focused, not on making the “waves” calmer around me (aka trying to manage everything to make it easier and less tumultuous) but using my time and energy to equip myself to navigate the waves when they are big and crashing.

Cause here’s the thing — whether it’s migraine or depression or a break up or death of a loved one or becoming a mother or waiting to become one or a move or parenting challenges or social unrest or a hurricane or job loss or surgery (or another surgery!) or a crisis of faith religion — there will always be waves out of my control, waves that WILL rock my boat. It doesn’t matter how much time, energy and MONEY, I spend to make things easier, to make myself more comfortable, there will always be things that threaten to knock me over.

While laying in bed last night, I rolled over and told Lukas I needed to tell him something. Something, from my years learning to cope and manage depression, I knew I needed to say out loud. I didn’t want to do it, and almost didn’t, but rolled over and said “I don’t want to tell you but I know I have to”. He met me where I was in the dark (literally and figuratively) and we talked through it together. He reminded me I was okay, and, most importantly, that I wasn’t alone. Lukas is a physical representation of the ever-present God who loves me.

“…this God is in it for the long haul. We will not be abandoned.” That’s a really easy thing to repeat. My Christian upbringing has taught me to TRUST GOD. Trust Him, just do it. He’s worthy of my trust. YES…AND…it’s hard at times. I sit on the “other side” of a lot of those “wave crashing” things I listed above so I have hindsight. Hindsight to declare with confidence that God has never left my side, that He’s been with me through the long haul and that I’ve never been abandoned. It’s easy to sit here, in the bright of day, with a good night’s sleep under my belt, finishing this post to you, to see that. And yet, in the dark of the night, when all was quiet, it was hard to cling to that truth. It was hard to find that truth by myself.

Hard doesn’t mean wrong. Just because it’s hard to trust God doesn’t mean I’m doing something wrong, doesn’t mean I love God any less, doesn’t mean I’m being a bad Christian. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean He loves me any less, either.

Trusting God, thriving with migraine and depression, learning to sail my ship — it all hasn’t gotten any easier. But, over time, I’ve gotten better at it.

And you will, too, I promise. Keep going. Don’t give up on yourself. And if things feel too hard, fight to roll over in the dark and tell someone you don’t want to, but you need to talk about it. Make the phone call, grab a lifeline, get the help. You might not believe what I’m about to say right now but I’m going to say it anyway. Pretend I’m shouting this from giant speakers attached to the side of a helicopter as I fly around you declaring to the world —

You are absolutely, 100% worth it.

You are not broken, you are not wrong, you are not messed up.

You are exactly who you are, right now, in this moment, for such a time as this.

Your pain matters.

Your story matters.

The world needs you…we need you.

This won’t get any easier, but you WILL get better at it.

xoxo, va