As of July 3, 2017, I have been reluctantly learning how to live with chronic migraines for four years. This anniversary passed with a pit in my stomach, extra weight on my shoulders and limbs, and nothing more.
Time is not as heavy when you’re sick. How could I possibly count the lives I’ve lived in the past four years? How can I explain the agonies, the nightmares, the feverish desire of the past four years? How can I possibly explain the calm with which I now greet each day – even as a storm rages in my brain and central nervous system?
How to Live with Chronic Migraines: Lessons in Life and Suffering
Robert Frost wrote, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: It goes on.” This was one of my favorite quotes as an angsty teenager and still is today as a 28-year-old woman with a chronic illness.
I am not as elegant as Robert Frost, and I’m prone to (light) plagiarism. But I, too, can sum up everything I’ve learned about life, particularly about life with chronic migraines:
Life is suffering.
On the surface, this lesson that I stole from Buddha feels inherently negative and necessarily harsh. But unravel its threads and you can see the truth, the beauty, and the freedom that this idea holds.
For women, this idea is familiar or even obvious. We who bleed monthly with a whole body shudder know suffering. We who hold the seed of life every day, feel the weight of its responsibility, know this.
We who are sick know this. But as independent, modern women and men, we fight suffering. From the first breath we seek comfort, relief, fulfillment, and the more we suffer the harder we seek.
To be still , to accept the suffering of life , is to be free. To end the seeking , to acknowledge your suffering, is to be free. To feel the suffering of others flow through you, made of the same cloth as your own, is to be human.
The idea that life is suffering – and that it still goes on – hit me suddenly four years ago with the shock of jumping into a near-frozen lake. It took me four years of fighting, four years of weakness, four years of seeking and desiring, to learn how much power I hold in my suffering.
Life is suffering. Suffering is life. In the final waves of your mother’s womb before you took your first breath. In the scream of a blackbird as a raven devours her young. In the bumper to bumper traffic you sat in this morning. In the words you say to those you love that you can’t forget.
From pain, comes beauty. From pain, comes life.
I’ve Learned Enough for a Degree
It took me four engaging and exhausting years at UC Santa Barbara to earn a double major: Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies and Political Science. The past four years learning how to live with chronic migraines have been equally draining and enlightening.
For the occasion of surviving – no, thriving – through four years of chronic pain, I have invented and am presenting myself with a degree:
Bachelor’s of Life in Suffering and Chronic Pain (with a minor in empathy)
Although I’ve learned many lessons in how to live with chronic migraines, I have not necessarily accepted that chronic migraines will always be a part of my life. But if life drags me through Suffering and Chronic Pain grad school, at least I know I’ll be able to handle it.
Tools to Help you Live Better With Chronic Migraine
Each of these resources has helped me personally. If you’re struggling to make sense of a life with unpredictable pain, I highly encourage you to poke around and try out some of these tools:
Heal Chronic Pain – one of many free meditations from DoYogaWithMe.com
Dr. Dawn C Buse – learn diaphragmatic breathing and relaxation from a Migraine psychologist
Migraine Strong – positive support group on facebook for Migraine diets and Migraine living
Migraine World Summit – knowledge is power. Arm yourself with tools and science from the top minds in Migraine medicine
Find a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist – I think every person with chronic pain can benefit from CBT. (I personally relied on CBT during the darkest of times, and I’m very grateful for it). If you have issues with sleep, anxiety, or depression on top of chronic migraines, I encourage you even more strongly to see how much a good therapist can help.
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