Changing your perspective about migraine

Perspective - 2014 MHAMBC Day 16

Today’s Blog Post Prompt: Watch the amusing TEDTalk video below that looks at the power of changing meaning by changing how you think and write about how it can apply to migraines and headaches.

During graduate school, I spent a lot of time learning about depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. One of the most important lessons I remember is that our own self-talk feeds these disorders. Inoculation against mood disorders involves changing perspective through regular practice in positive self-talk. The professors readily admitted that this is incredibly difficult to do when the circumstances are grim. In fact, they admitted that to be psychologically healthy one must be slightly delusional. It is the realist who is generally most depressed.

I hear comments like this all the time:

Please tell me this one will help!
I wish this depressing issue would end.
I wish I could just give up!
My doctors don’t know what to do or how to treat me.
Not sure how much more I can take.
I’ve tried everything.
I have a migraine from hell.
I’m just so overwhelmed.

These are the voices of migraine reality. We lose jobs and friends. Our loved ones abandon us and doctors give up. Because there are so few true headache specialists, the doctors who do treat us do not know the hundreds of options available to help us. They try us on a half-dozen or so options and then tell us just to “live with it” or worse, question our veracity and recommend us to mental health. No one knows what causes migraine and there is no cure. Some of us are symptomatic 24/7 for years.  We do our best to trudge through the day in a hazy fog of pain, memory loss, partial blindness, and nausea.

Pretty grim, huh?

What would you say if I told you it was possible to change your perspective? Would you think I was delusional? You would be right. I choose mild delusion over reality because without it, I would sink into deep depression and go completely nuts. I make a daily choice to focus on the CANs in my life instead of the CAN’Ts. If asked, I will admit the hardships, then counter with all the pleasantness. To think otherwise would lead to despair and hopelessness.

I want to speak directly to those who struggle with daily, unrelenting migraine, cluster headache, or other headache disorder. Your disease has taken over your life. Every choice is a trade-off. There aren’t enough medications available to stop your pain. Your perspective is one of hopelessness and helplessness. I have been where you are. You are correct when you say, “I have no life.” It is quite likely that you also struggle with anxiety, depression, and thoughts of suicide.

Despite your misgivings, please accept your doctor’s referral to that therapist.Just make sure that you see one who specializes in health psychology or behavioral pain management. You need an advocate on your team who will understand how severely migraine or headache disorder impacts your daily life. Having that objective 3rd party to speak to your doctor on your behalf can actually change the course of treatment for the better. This therapist will also be able to help you test out a new perspective to break through all the negative thinking that consumes your day.

A good behavioral therapist will challenge you to focus on the things you can do, the things you have control over, and teach you how to minimize your focus on all the negatives without pretending they don’t exist. You can change your perspective about migraine.

One of the hardest places to be with this disease is unemployed, without insurance, and in daily, unrelenting pain. It is the most vulnerable situation any one of us can ever be in. I have been there. Getting access to effective medications is a necessary part of treating migraine or headache disorders. Before the creation of patient assistance programs, this was next to impossible. The good news is that you can get access to free medications for most, if not all medications used to treat headache disorders. Some of the medicines are also available for minimal cost as generics. Here is one example of how to afford your medication when you don’t have insurance*:

♦ Zomig to abort attacks: FREE through patient assistance program
♦ Topamax to prevent attacks: FREE through patient assistance program
♦ Verapamil to prevent attacks: $4 generics at most pharmacies
♦ Phenergan for nausea: $4 generic at most pharmacies
♦ Toradol injections as rescue medicine: $8 generic at most pharmacies with a 25 cent syringe
♦ Hydrocodone as rescue medicine: $4 generic at most pharmacies
♦ Epsom Salts: $2 for 1 lb. bag — use entire bag in a warm bath as alternative to magnesium infusion at ER
♦ Naproxen added to Zomig for improved results: $4 generic at most pharmacies
♦ Excedrin added to Zomig for improved results: $5 store brands of combination pills of acetaminophen, aspirin, and caffeine

When you have this kind of information, it changes your perspective by improving your confidence and giving you hope. If you know what to do, then you don’t feel so helpless. It changes the way you think.  You go from, “There is nothing else that can be done.” to “I know what to do now.”

Never give up hope. If you find yourself slipping, reach out to someone who understands. If there is no one close by, then find an online support group. Your migraine family is just waiting to reach out and pull you up.

*Each patient will respond differently to each medication.  There are hundreds of options to try.

Resources for hope:
Chronic Pain Pals Facebook Group Community Forums
The Cluster Headache Support Facebook Group

The 2014 Migraine and Headache Awareness Month, is dedicated to Dreaming of a World without Migraine and Headache Disorders. The 2014 Migraine and Headache Awareness Month Blog Challenge is a project of American Headache & Migraine Association.

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