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Redefining Strength in My Life With Chronic Migraine

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I’ve always loved distance running. Or at least I did before my migraine disorder switched from episodic to chronic four years ago. I loved the feeling of setting a goal for my run, and feeling the strength of my body as I pushed myself to each checkpoint along the way. Each mile marker I met, I would cheer myself on, and tell myself that I could make it to the next one. I loved the challenge of pacing myself — knowing how far I’d come, and how far I still had to go. My body would slip into a rhythm, my heartbeat and breath keeping cadence, my feet an autohypnotic beat upon the ground. Finishing felt so euphoric. My muscles were sore, my lungs alive, my body strong.

I don’t run anymore. I catch myself calling myself a runner some days, and it makes my heart sink. In so many ways, I’ve lost my identity and so many things I love. Running is just one of them. My chronic migraine disorder has become a different type of endurance venture. But one that feels so different. I can’t see the mile markers along the way, so I never know how to keep pace. I’m often flailing in the dark. How long will this one last? Three days… four days? When will the next one be? Do I cancel this event? Take my meds now? Go to the ER?

There is no cure for migraine. There are no mile markers — there is no finish line. The words often on repeat as I feel another migraine attack coming are “I can’t do this.” But the truth is, I don’t have a choice. I have to, and I always do. In a sense, I’m always running a marathon. I never know when or how long my water breaks will be, or how long each leg of the race is. And I don’t get to pass the baton.

But what is the same is how strong I am. I’m often in a shame spiral for how weak I’ve become. I’ve become so angry and resentful of my body for rejecting me, betraying me. But what if I acknowledged the incredible strength it takes to run this never-ending race? The sheer willpower it takes to get up every day and keep going? What if I held gratitude for what my body can do and not what it can’t?

And as I close my eyes, I can see myself running. And then I see my people. Holding signs of encouragement, cheering me on. Giving me water and running alongside me when I feel like I can’t possibly take another step.

And yes, I am slow and exhausted. But I am strong. Migraine strong.

Getty image by Dmitry Belyaev.

Originally published: January 1, 2021
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