What Migraines Taught Me About Myself
Headaches are not fun.
Ever since I was little I’ve experienced headaches one way or another. Back then, I was prone to headaches when we moved countries and I had issues with reading in a different language. What my mother feared was a tumor or some other serious ailment (hypochondria runs in the family) turned out to be me not catching up quickly with a new language.
Fast-forward a few years and despite perfecting the language, despite using reading glasses in the classroom or anywhere outside with the realization that yes, trees do look like that, I’m still experiencing headaches very often, sometimes for days at a time.
Migraines are not fun at all. They are paralyzing, they come in slowly sometimes from the very moment I wake up and all through the day, and yet there still remains a stigma against them in a society that is only just developing empathy towards invisible pain. About 1% to 2% of people worldwide experience migraines, coming up to approximately one in every four households.
I was officially diagnosed with chronic migraines about three years ago and since then I’ve come a long way in dealing with this bothersome pain. Here are a few things I learned about myself while living with migraines:
I have a chronic illness, and I accept it
I think people with any kind of illness tend to experience a sort of imposter’s syndrome whenever we’re going through a rough patch of symptoms. I know I tend to be like: no, I’m not depressed right now, I’m just lazy. I’m just tired. I’m just moody. It’s as if our minds are conditioned to think of ourselves as “normal” and anything that goes wrong is our fault and our responsibility to fix.
Acceptance, as they say, is the first step and for the longest time I distanced myself from my headaches. Perhaps I’m not drinking enough water. Perhaps I stayed up too late last night. Perhaps I should’ve listened to classical musical instead of that vaporwave mix while I worked. Excuse after excuse after excuse when, in reality, all I had to do is admit to myself that I have an uncontrollable, chronic pain that sometimes needs to be dealt with and not struggled through; not trying to define my worth through my migraines, but to at least accept that this is something I have to live with, and that’s okay.
I am stronger than I think
The other day my sister complained over a headache and casually said, “I don’t know how you do this every day.”
And I do. That single comment made me realize that I’m strong, in the sense that I know how to hande my pain. I’ve had to develop coping mechanisms to make my day as normal as possible, sometimes preparing in advance for whatever tomorrow brings. I know what I can put up with, how much work can get done, and I know when to stop. It helps a little, seeing myself as someone who can deal with pain rather than letting myself get overwhelmed; the headaches aren’t going away any time soon anyways.
It’s okay to take a break
Oftentimes I’ll force myself to sit in front of my laptop and complete that assignment, finish that article, make some progress with that project. I’ll go to so many lengths to have a glass of water ready, to have some food ready, to have a brown noise sound effect playing in the background (different than white noise, it’s supposed to help for relaxation).
In reality, and despite all the work I feel compelled to complete, I just need a break.
It’s okay to let the headache wash over me. Pop in some calm music, lay down on my bed with a warm compress over my forehead, and know that stopping to take care of myself is just as important as work. Some jobs, by law, will even accomodate employees who suffer with migraines and allow them time and space to recover. As a freelancer, why shouldn’t I do the same?
It’s okay to ask time for myself
There’s a difference between taking a break, and asking people for the time and space to rest and heal yourself.
When you think it’s your responsibility to deal with your headaches, it becomes much harder to put aside time for yourself. Something as simple as a headache shouldn’t stop you from being a sociable, pleasant person, right?
Oftentimes people will chime in with not-so-helpful advice, as if any of these tips will solve the problem. Just take an aspirin. Just stop being stressed out. Just drink more water, all the while expecting you to continue with life as normally as possible when it’s physically impossible. Being open about the pain you’re undergoing is immensily helpful in the long run. My family understands, my friends understand, and they offer their support and comfort while letting me be as I slowly feel better.
It’s all in my head
Thankfully, I was able to complete this article without any painful throbbing in my head.
Mika is a Mexican writer and translator, pretender, pet-lover, and a mess at 1 in the morning