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While the World Goes Back to Work, I Go Back to Chronic Migraine

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From what I’ve seen across social media, I know I’m not alone in the “post-holiday, returning to managing health” blues. While much of the world jumps back into a work and school routine, I’m left after the holidays to pick up the pieces of my health, managing flared symptoms and resuming my treatment protocol. Currently, my primary focus is improving my health so I can go back to work or school again. But right now, much of my day-to-day is consumed by rest, pain management, doctors’ appointments and rallying low energy levels to complete basic tasks and activities.

This “getting back to my health” effort has been challenging both physically and psychologically. I struggle to let go of comparison as my friends return to “the grind” of work after the holiday break. Sometimes I desperately wish I could leave my body in bed and go engage in a normal 9-5 day like so many of my peers. In these moments, I try my best to remind myself that there is no use in imagining anything other than what is, and what is right now consists of my health being a full-time job.

The holidays this year were a total marathon for me, filled with travel, family events, deep grief, an emotional funeral and other activities that demanded my body function way past its typical capabilities. Although I was careful to pull back where I could and advocate for my needs, the simple fact was, that for a few weeks, I maintained a completely unsustainable schedule with my current health status.

photo of a woman asleep in bed next to a photo of her standing with a man outside and smiling
The secret prep work that often goes into showing up for a few hours…

In order to show up in the way that I did, I pushed through increased pain levels, loosened my vigilance around normal activity limits (often leaving me exhausted and emotional), took extra medication and had to use my “emergency” short course steroid taper. This type of “marathoning” is something I hardly ever do, as it’s incredibly taxing on many fronts. Although it allowed me to be present for things I regularly wouldn’t have the opportunity to do and helped to maintain a faster pace, in order to do so, I spent a lot of the time feeling as if I was desperately treading water, my head just barely hovering above the surface. Almost every night of our trip, I surrendered to floating in this bizarre holiday-flux-state, with ice on my eyes and “please help” medication on board.

woman lying in bed with her dog
How we’ve spent a lot of 2019 so far.

Much of my daily routine went out the window, and what did become more “routine” was showing up the best I could for as many moments as I could, then stealing away into a dark bedroom once I hit the wall of unbearable pain or exhaustion. So many days of this in a row (12 to be exact… with airline flights on each end) was incredibly draining, but also allowed me to participate more than I’m used to. Although this routine was temporary and untenable, it was a reminder of what used to feel “normal” for me. It was so tempting to push my boundaries to stay in those good moments a little bit longer and remember what it felt like to engage with life at a faster pace.

Since arriving home and shifting back to my regular routine, I’ve had to deal with increased pain, quieter activity, more time homebound and returning to my standard treatment plan. This means that instead of jumping to treat a migraine in the morning because I know there is an event later in the day that I need to attend, I’m having to again get used to sitting with pain – riding it out and using all of my non-pharmacological methods before reaching for medication.

These shifts back to my current “normal” have been more frustrating than I’d anticipated. As unsuitable as my holiday pace and plan was long-term, it was one that was much more “responsive” to pain. But now, in my everyday flow, pain is a part of my life and most days, something to soften around and work with, instead of trying to keep a lid on it at all costs.

So, as I return to my “grind,” I wanted to share my experience so that other health grinders can know they are not alone. Instead of catching up with colleagues, we are left to catch up on our health. During this transition, I’m trying to treat my body and mind with extra compassion and love. Simply acknowledging that a transition is occurring has helped me to navigate this past week with more acceptance and ease.

a sign that says "when you can't control what's happening, challenge yourself to control the way you respond to what's happening. that's where the power is."
Using mindful reframing as medicine.

Getting back into the “managing chronic migraine grind” isn’t easy, but it is my reality right now, and that’s not something I want to expend energy fighting. Being angry at what is happening ultimately only causes me more stress. When I’m swept up in frustration, I always remind myself of the Buddha quote, “holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.” And I sure don’t need any extra burning!

Instead of adding fuel to the fire by being angry about my symptoms, I’m putting my effort into feeding myself supportive thoughts and doing little things that I know add up to make a big difference in my day-to-day life: focusing on eating nourishing foods, hydrating well, medicating as infrequently as possible, meditating regularly, gently stretching, and taking an “activity + people break” for as long as I need to.

Each day I’m setting the intention to start 2019 from a positive and accepting place. This doesn’t necessarily mean my symptoms are doing the same (I had the pleasure of spending NYE with a rager migraine, January 1 getting an urgent care infusion and am still waiting for a baseline 24 hours), but that isn’t something I have control over. What I do have control over is my mindset and engaging in behaviors that I know support my wellness goals.

Wishing you nothing but love and wellness in the year ahead, and whatever your “grind” is, I hope you treat yourself with compassion too as you transition from holiday mode back to your own personal norm.

Originally published: January 12, 2019
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