I never thought I’d be writing this, and perhaps if you caught me at a different point in my life (like Tuesday last week in the midst of the usual pain) I wouldn’t be! But having lived with migraines for the last 20 odd years, I have to grudgingly admit that, for me, being a migraineur has offered some unexpected gifts.
I sometimes read stories of others who have lived through a chronic condition who say they wouldn’t have wanted to avoid the experience. Witness Michael J Fox for example on living with Parkinsons. My suspicion is that it is these struggles that define who we become. By living through, and living with, we come to understand aspects of ourselves and our character that we wouldn’t have been able to access without our afflictions.
So although, or perhaps because, the ferocity of my migraines is reducing with age, I am able to take a step back and consider what they gift me. Here’s what I’ve identified so far:
Self-awareness – Not being someone hard-wired to pay attention to sensory information from my own body, migraines have forced me well and truly to become an expert noticer. In a decades-long search for my own particular migraine triggers, I have become attuned to the impact of hunger, hydration, tiredness, certain foods, supplements and life conditions that may or may not impact on my wellbeing. As a consequence, I know more keenly than most, what ‘normal’ for me feels like.
Sensitivity to others – Because of the heightened sensitivity to my own physical triggers, I have become more attuned to the physical sensibilities of others. Does my colleague rubbing their temples mean they have the beginnings of a headache? Is the room too warm for us to continue working? Have we been at it long enough that our brilliance is fading and we need a break? Does the slight flushing on their face indicate they’re getting dehydrated?
Compassion – There is nothing like suffering through the light sensitivity and horrendous pain in one’s head to develop an exquisite appreciation for the experience of others in pain, whether that be physical, emotional or spiritual. When you have experienced pain that you wouldn’t wish (even in your unkindest moments) on anyone else, I think you are especially attuned to sense it and be able to really empathise with others.
Detective skills – I’m not sure how closely related these skills are, but migraines have taught me to research – not just possible triggers and remedies, but to start with a theory and follow it through to exhaustion. My Beloved laughs at me as I chase down one lead and then the next. I always have a new theory, but I suspect when you have a chronic condition if you don’t have hope of at least improvement, the alternative is unappealing.
An acute appreciation – Especially for medical researchers. I am not a fan of pharmaceuticals generally, however, whomever discovered the use of triptans to manage migraines, I could kiss! When I think about those who had to suffer with migraines in years gone by, how utterly debilitating that experience must have been and what a huge toll it must have taken on their lives, I am beyond grateful for living in the now with access to the medical knowledge which makes my life manageable.
Surrender – I’m not a great one for stopping, as my Beloveds will tell you. I tend to go at things like a bull at a gate and then exhaust myself. Migraines stop me in my tracks – literally. When I’m too bull-headed to stop and rest, migraines will force me to do just that. They’re like an internal cut-out switch that ensures I get enough rest when I’m not allowing myself to have any.
Hand on heart, I’m not sure if I had a choice that I would choose to suffer from migraines, because suffering, it well and truly is. That said, I know that without them I would not be forced to face up to myself in the same way and for that I know I would be somehow less – painful as the teachings seem to have needed to be. And besides, I wouldn’t have cause to develop the gifts above to the same degree without them.
Ripenists Reveal: So you dear Ripenist, have you lived through a wellbeing challenge or live with a chronic condition that has offered unexpected gifts? Have you learned something that would be a kindness to share with the rest of us?
Share the Wisdom – do you have a midlife friend who is living through a challenge at present who needs reminding there may be something positive in it after all? Perhaps directing them to this post may be a small lift in their day.