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What My Cell Phone Taught Me About Managing Chronic Migraine

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I spent yesterday afternoon working in my garden. It was the first day of September and I could already feel a slight difference in temperature. The sun wasn’t as bright and hot anymore and there was a slightly cooler wind. I hadn’t been able to do gardening for a few weeks, because it was too bright and hot. I immediately get a migraine when I spend time in bright light and get direct sunlight on my head. Sunglasses and a hat aren’t enough to help against it. So yesterday, the conditions were finally right for me to tackle weeds and cut back dried flowers.

Of course, I overdid it. When I’m finally able to do something, I tend to overextend myself because I want to do everything that has been piling up at once. When I had done about half of the work I had planned, I was already sweaty, with a slight headache and feeling a bit dizzy. I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket and when I checked it I saw that the battery was really low. I’m a bit of a phone addict and seeing the battery symbol being red always prompts me to immediately plug it in to charge. So I went inside to do that. And then went straight back outside to finish my yard work.

At the end of it, I was completely exhausted. I was standing in my kitchen with shaky legs drinking a glass of water and thinking, “I should have taken a break to refuel and rest about an hour ago.” I sat down on the sofa next to my phone and thought to myself, “You went inside to make sure your phone didn’t die, but you didn’t think about your own energy level.” It was a sudden realization that made me feel a bit foolish. As soon as the battery charge on my phone is running low, I make sure it gets recharged. But when I feel my own energy level dropping, I try to ignore it and force myself to power through. I treat my phone better then I treat my body. And it’s ridiculous.

I know that respecting my body’s needs is one of the most important things in managing my health. My migraines get so much worse when I don’t sleep and eat enough. But I get so caught up on tasks and chores that I simply forget to check in with myself. I still haven’t really accepted that I’m ill and I’m not the person I used to be.

So now, whenever I look at my phone, I take it as a reminder to check in with my body and do a quick assessment of how I’m doing. Here are some of the things I check for and a selection of measures I take to recharge:

When was the last time you ate? Do you feel hungry? Are you thirsty?

I try to eat three meals a day at around the same times every day. It prevents my blood sugar from dropping which causes migraines. But I also need snacks in between meals to keep my energy up.

Are you physically tired?

Take a break. Sit down. Take a nap. Whatever your body needs.

Are you mentally or emotionally exhausted?

Take a break. Do breathing exercises, yoga, meditation. Take a walk. Talk to someone about it.

How long have you been working on the task at hand?

With bigger tasks, I try to create time blocks of about 45 minutes to an hour and then take a break of five to 15 minutes. For things like housework chores, I do blocks of five to 15 minutes, depending on how I’m feeling that day. Getting anything done can be tricky when you’re feeling awful, but it helps me when I tell myself that I just have to try to do five minutes and see what I get done in that time. I use the timer on my phone.

How much have you already done today?

When I have a good day, I try to do everything at once. And I know I’m going to feel awful and exhausted the next day. So I need to pace myself. I try to do one big physically tiring thing, like going grocery shopping, gardening or cleaning, and the rest of the day I only allow myself to do smaller, less exhausting chores. If the big thing turns out to have been too much already, I will just rest and that’s OK.

Getty image by Just Stock.

Originally published: September 21, 2020
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