Imagine your worst possible pain. Now imagine that pain concentrated in the back of your head — a sensation of constant stabbing with a sharp blade. Imagine the nerve behind your eyes fiercely pulling your eye sockets backward. Add on the soreness that follows a blow to the face paired with disorientation and a blanket of exhaustion weighing heavily on your body.
Now imagine that feeling lasting for a whole hour. Imagine that pain lasting for an entire week, without letting up for even a second. And then one month. One year. Two years. Three years. Four years.
That’s my reality. I’ve had a migraine, without a moment’s break, since 2013 — more than four years. It’s hard to accept that it’s been this long, but it’s true. I try not to think about how long the pain has lasted, or how long it may last in my future.
But here’s the unbelievable part: I am in continuous pain and I feel lucky to be me.
Whether you live with pain or not, I wouldn’t blame you for wondering if I’m lying. You might think I’m exaggerating or tricking myself somehow. And a year ago, I would have agreed with your line of thinking.
But today, I can honestly say that I feel lucky to have gone through this unique, invisible, and incredibly misunderstood illness.
Why am I lucky? Because I’ve learned how to coach myself through situations that have kept my life “going” when migraine tried to stop me. I’ve coached myself into attending dinner dates with friends when my nausea was at an extreme. I’ve coached myself through giving presentations when the pain was so intense I could barely stand. I’ve coached myself through trips when it felt impossible to get on the plane. And I’ve coached myself through countless moments of desperation.
Although I’ve had to adjust some of my goals, my constant coaching has helped get me to a place where I’m confident and comfortable with my career, and in my relationships with friends and family. It’s a place where I feel challenged and fulfilled in my own self-development, all the while enduring constant pain.
Don’t get me wrong, I desperately need a break from my pain; it’s unbearable. Every single time I blow out candles on my birthday, find a penny on the street or a fallen eyelash on my cheek, I wish my migraine away. Oftentimes, I beg it away. Please stop. Please give me a break, just an hour off. While I’ve been waiting for these wishes to come true, I’ve figured out how to live the life I want, despite my pain.
I attribute much of my success — my ability to live in the moment, pursue my goals, maintain strong relationships and actually enjoy my life (instead of “getting through” it) — to my constant self-coaching tactics.
When I started on my battle with pain, the people I most often turned to for guidance had no idea how to help me. No one had answers to my questions, like how do I get out of bed in the morning with this pain? How do I get through the day? How do I get through the next 15 minutes? How do I stay hopeful and positive when treatments don’t work? When nothing breaks the pain for days? Months? Years? Unfortunately, most of this battle I’ve had to navigate on my own, without a guide or mentor who has experienced a situation like mine.
My “coaching” may sound curious, but these self-taught mantras are tools that I lean on every single day. I’m sure you’re wondering, what could she possibly tell herself? I’m glad you asked.
Although many of my mantras have evolved as I’ve changed, and as my migraine has changed, some remain constant. Here are some examples of mantras and phrases that help keep me going:
When I wake up every morning:
You can do this. You’ve pushed through days of pain before. You can do it again.
When I’m in too much pain to move, but I can’t miss the event:
You will remember the feeling of being there, not the pain. (Sometimes this is impossible, but if I have the slightest bit of room to push through the pain, I do.)
When I feel my anger and frustration toward my migraine coming to the surface:
Let yourself feel the anger. It will pass.
When I feel like I am having a singular battle:
Talk to a friend with migraines. Immediately.
When someone starts a sentence with, “Have you tried… ”:
Keep an open mind.
When someone says, “There has to be an answer”:
Inhale. Exhale. They don’t understand how this hurts you. It’s not their intention.
When I feel like “me”:
Take advantage of this moment. You are lucky.
Does this work 100 percent of the time? No. Sometimes I break down and can’t bring myself to stay positive and coach myself through my pain. And that’s OK.
Even so, I’ve found myself leaning on these mantras more and more over time.
For example, this past weekend I was in unbearable pain. I hid in the bathroom, on the floor, sobbing and struggling to breathe full breaths. I felt uncomfortable in my own skin because of my overwhelming pain. But I coached myself: “This is just a reminder of how well you’re doing the rest of the time. I know this feels impossible, but you can get through this.”
I wouldn’t have had that mindset a few years ago.
The hard part about the pain is that it doesn’t get any easier. It’s hard, and often feels impossible. No one ever teaches you how to survive pain. For me, uncovering these self-coaching techniques has been invaluable. The supportive words help me keep going, and they help me live the life I want.