By Stephanie Weaver, as told to Kate Rope
Sometimes when people talk about migraine disease, they talk about your brain being broken. I don’t like to think of it that way.
I think of my brain as a Maserati. It works well under specific conditions, and I manage my attacks fairly well as long as I:
- Feed it the right things
- Get the right amount of sleep
- Drink water regularly
- Exercise consistently
Accepting that simple fact and acting on it has been a game changer.
I’ve had migraines my whole life. But my attacks weren’t what was considered typical, so I flew under the radar. Since they always happened when the weather changed, I just called them my “weather headaches.”
At age 53, I started having severe vertigo. I couldn’t drive and I couldn’t work. I found a neurologist who diagnosed me with migraine with Meniere’s disease (a condition affecting the balance system in our inner ear, which usually leads to hearing loss). He sent me home with medication and a new diet to try.
Focus on Living Well
Both helped, and I started doing some research (I have a master’s in public health in nutrition education). I began going to the American Headache Society conferences and hearing about cool new research on lifestyle changes, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and meditation, that were helping people with migraine disease. I incorporated all of them — and the diet changes I had made — into a diet and lifestyle guide to help people with migraine disease fuel their brain in a way that minimizes their attacks.
I’ve also dealt with fibromyalgia and with chronic back pain from a fall in my early 20s. When you’re chronically ill, you have to give up a lot of things. My back pain prevented me from doing things I love, like ballroom dancing and bicycling. I can be super angry about it, or I can focus on the things I can still do.
I can get up every day and go for a walk. Maybe I can’t go out dancing, but I can still listen to music.
Acceptance has been absolutely essential to being able to live with my chronic pain and my migraine attacks.
Part of that is radical honesty, which bumps up against the whole Instagram culture of presenting life as perfect. Our society pushes back against people talking about illness and aging, so in the last 2 years I have become very public as an advocate for people living with migraine disease.
I post photos when I’m having an attack and I talk about it openly. I also share things that help me, like acceptance, meditation, and eating well.
Benefits of Mindfulness
Mindfulness and learning to live in the present moment make a huge difference in terms of accepting where we are with our bodies that are all aging. Illness is inevitable at some point. We’re all living in a state of disrepair at any given time.
I can spend a lot of time worrying about whether my migraine disease is going to get worse or if my medication will stop working. But when I’m in the present moment, I can realize today I feel pretty good. I walked 2 miles this morning and I had a yummy breakfast.
Being mindful also helps me know when an attack may be coming. When your body is gearing up for a migraine, there are signs that are easy to miss, like food cravings, excessive yawning, and irritability.
When I notice these small changes in my body, I can do the things that will make the attack shorter-lived and less excruciating.
I’m More Than My Pain
When my back pain was at its worst, I remember lying in bed and all I could think about was that spot in my hip where it hurt. And one day I thought, that’s not all I am. I am not that pain. What if I separated myself a little bit from the pain? There was something incredibly freeing and helpful about that.
To me, that’s what radical acceptance is about: being able to separate ourselves from whatever is happening in our body and our mind and see that there’s an internal part of us that can’t be hurt or damaged. A part, no matter what is happening, that is just me and not my pain.