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4 Ways I've Learned to Cope With Difficult Migraine Days

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I have chronic migraines at least one or two times per week. When a bad day hits, I’ve often wanted to hide from the world, under the covers. It took me time to reflect on four strategies to help cope with it.

First, I had an awful day on Wednesday. I woke up with a migraine that slowly and greatly persisted throughout the day. The way a sadistic fly taunts you and flies all over you all day long, laughing and squealing in a high pitched voice. No amount of pain medication in the world would solve this pain. Towards the afternoon, I had to cancel the last appointment, and rush to the house before my head would explode. To add to the overwhelming bright lights that stung my head, laser beaming the back of my skull, I trotted to the bedroom, all the while thinking there was still so much work to do. The rest of the evening I had dinner, graciously done by fiancée in my belly and I was showered, ready for bed.

The following day was slightly better but nauseating. After my last appointment, I headed to the office to finish the afternoon. The fly was gone, but the resonating nausea lingered even past the afternoon. Whoever said “fake it till you make it” was wrong. I, certainly, did not make it through faking it. However, I did find a few useful ways to rise above the horrific blur.

1. Go to bed, go to bed, go to bed. Eat your dinner, take a hot shower, grab a water (aspirin if needed), and regardless if you are sick or mentally out of it, rest and recover is the best option. If you power through for work, you’ll only harm yourself in the end. Even in my long list of to-dos, it went out the door to take care of myself first. Sleep not only recovers the mind but also clarifies your decision-making the following day.

According to the APA, “In the August 2004 issue of the journal Sleep, Dr. Timothy Roehrs, the Director of research at the Sleep Disorders and Research Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit published one of the first studies to measure the effect of sleepiness on decision making and risk taking. He found that sleepiness does take a toll on effective decision making.

Dr. Roehrs found that the alert people were very sensitive to the amount of work they needed to do to finish the tasks and understood the risk of losing their money if they didn’t. But the sleepy subjects chose to quit the tasks prematurely or they risked losing everything by trying to finish the task for more money even when it was 100 percent likely that they would be unable to finish, said Dr. Roehrs.”

2. Leave a bad day, take a good day – like the take a penny, leave a penny motto. I always stare at the penny tray, confused at the cashiers of the grocery market. Who leaves pennies and who takes pennies? Then one day, when something was $14.01, that’s when the grocery lady took it. I was like, “Ah.” In this case, find something good in your day to look forward to. If it means looking forward to making a meal, walking your dog, jamming to music in your jammies, make that one thing in your day the most exciting part.

Why? According to The Emotion Machine, “When we have something to look forward to, it makes it easier to get through rough, frustrating, and annoying times. But even more than that, ‘anticipation’ can often be a stepping stone to ‘hope.’” Positive anticipation provides the day’s outlook and perspective to move forward and see light in things we do.

3. One minute to Humility. If you have a journal, this is the time to bring it out. If you don’t do journals, use a notes app and try this quick exercise. Write a few good things about today, what you hope for tomorrow, what you’re grateful for and whom you’re grateful for. You’ll have one minute to go through these.

What’s with the journaling? It turns out that journaling can improve a person’s health, according to a study of writing’s physical effects that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol. 281, No. 14) in 1998.

In the study, led by Joshua Smyth, PhD, of Syracuse University, 107 asthma and rheumatoid arthritis patients wrote for 20 minutes on each of three consecutive days – 71 of them about the most stressful event of their lives and the rest about the emotionally neutral subject of their daily plans.

“So writing helped patients get better, and also kept them from getting worse,” said Smyth.

4. Sankofa it. Some people like to leave the past in the past. For others, reflection can be powerful tool to gain strength from the bad days. The African term “Sankofa” means “we must go back to our roots in order to move forward. That is, we should reach back and gather the best of what our past has to teach us, so that we can achieve our full potential as we move forward.”

So maybe not our roots, but we can look at the past day to find out what to improve upon. Did you learn anything from it to make you stronger? In my case, perhaps I should have cancelled the day of appointments, called in sick and fully rested.

In the past, I’ve been able to manage my headaches really well and catch them before they turn full fledge Mad Max on me. In this case, I ignored the signs, consequently harming myself in the end. Consider this as your journal prompt: Sankofa the Bad Day: What have I learned to rise above and make myself stronger the next time around?

We set sail for destinations and life is like the ocean that loves us at times, tosses us into deep storms and pushes us to our goals. Just like we have bad days and good days, some things may be out of our control, but as we have read and learned, it’s really how we handle it that becomes the true character of a person.

Originally published: July 10, 2018
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