Migraine and Headache Blog Challenge 12 - “Who Moved My Cheese?”

  • Migraine and headache patients often feel like we’re stuck in an endless maze that keeps changing, just like the characters in this short cartoon. How we deal with the changes in our maze has a lot to do with how we will be able to live with our diagnoses


    In the book, the cheese represents many things - better health, our old lives, friends and family, jobs, happiness and joy. The list is endless, and different for each of us. 


    The story, written by Dr Spencer Johnson, has four characters - Sniff, Scurry, Hem and Haw - is designed to show us parts/characters that live inside each of us. If all these parts are in us, then so is the potential to act as these characters.

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    In the story, the characters use their own personal abilities to find an endless supply of cheese - their lives are perfect and their needs are all being met. Very soon, the cheese vanishes! How each of the characters deal with this drastic change in their lives, describes different ways we deal with our own lives after we got sick with migraine disease. The cartoon gives a the author a cute way to make us consider other options of living our lives the best way possible, and when necessary, finding the things we need to live our new lives. He shows us different ways people deal with adapting to radical situations and change.


    In this story, there is a hungry dreamer who is shocked when the cheese disappears. He hasn't been paying attention as the supply slowly dwindled because he was happy he had something to eat today. He forgot about tomorrow. When the cheese vanished, instead of deciding to get up and look for more cheese, he gets angry and screams in a panic, running from corner to corner in disbelief and rage. "Who moved my cheese?!" Each day he expected the cheese to magically return, angry that someone had purposefully wronged him. Instead of finding more, he chooses instead to sit and wait for it to re-appear. His buddy suggests that the thing to do is get up and find new cheese, but our angry dreamer thinks it will re-appear because he's entitled to cheese. He's so busy being angry and crying that he wants things to be the way they were, that he has lost site of the big picture. He's also afraid of what might be lurking in the maze, and doesn't want to move because he doesn't want to be hurt.



    Our angry little dreamer is resistant to change. His buddy comes up with ideas to find new cheese, but he "What if's" every single idea. He's so resistant, that eventually even his buddy leaves him. But his buddy is now alone, and he's scared too. He writes on the wall "What would you do if you weren't afraid?" Now, that's a GREAT question for all of us!


    It's hard living with migraine. Most of us, at some point or other, spend some time acting like the angry little dreamer. We're tired. We're ticked off. We just want our lives to be the way they were. We're so caught up in those feelings that we resist every idea to make a positive change because it seems too hard.


    Each day I talk with other patients. We're all in different places in our lives with migraine, but that's what allows us to support and help each other. The question I have for some patients is, 

    "Which of these cartoon characters are you?"

    Some patients are the angry dreamer. We resist so hard, that we do nothing to make ourselves better. There is always a reason why something won't work, even though we've never tried it! We go into a treatment thinking, "This is a waste of time." 


    Have you ever heard of a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy? They can be good, or bad. The negative self-fulfilling prophecy is what I hope you are avoiding. Stepping out into the unknown is scary, but it's necessary for us to get better. Dreaming is a wonderful thing, but it must be teamed with action, or it's no use to anyone. 

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    I would ask someone like this:

    What would you do if someone gave you a diagnosis of cancer? The reply has always been, "I'd see an oncologist and probably end up on chemotherapy and radiation." My answer to them is usually something like this:

    You would seek a specialist and treat your problem with scary drugs and radiation so you could hopefully get better. So, why won't you treat your migraine diagnosis as if you had a cancer diagnosis? There are no guarantees that chemotherapy and radiation will work for a cancer patient, any more than there are guarantees that medicines and other treatments will work for migraine patients. So, why do most cancer patients try without hesitation, and so many migraine patients sit, angrily waiting for someone to come by and help them to be magically cured?


    I think it's because of two things. The first is motivation. Cancer is a word everyone respects, and most are afraid of. It's seen as serious, and potentially deadly, so you either treat it or you may end up dead. That's pretty good motivation! Migraine is seen as "just a headache." All it can do is destroy your life, your family, and potentially take your life. Hmmm. It's not taken seriously even sometimes by those who suffer each day with it. The second reason, I just mentioned. Stigma due to misunderstanding. When migraine and headache is seen as a serious matter, with targeted, serious medicines to treat it, people will feel that there is a serious reason for them to get up and "find more cheese." 


    I challenge you to watch this short movie, and figure out which of the characters you are today. Yesterday. Last year. When you were a child. I think it's important to know which you feel like each day, so you can work to maximize your tendency to seek the best life you can, every day.


    You don't deserve to live a life in pain. You must WORK to get better though. There is no silver platter here. You need help, but if you're going to seek help, make sure you're getting it. If your doctor isn't helping you get better (maybe because he ran out of cheese?), it's time for a new specialist. If you're seeing the wrong specialist for you, find another who's be a better match, a better treatment partner.


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    In the end, dreaming is a wonderful thing, because it should motivate us into action. Dreaming without action is nothing but a waste of time.


    What kind of dreams do YOU have? Are they resulting in motivation that drives you to seek better treatment? PLEASE post a comment below and share with us. We can all learn this together.


    Please share these awareness posts with others who may not understand what life is like with migraine and other headache disorders. A spark requires oxygen so it can grow into a wildfire, and you are the breath of this project. With the wildfire of awareness comes the hope of reduced stigma and better, targeted treatments for these misunderstood disorders.


    Live your best life,


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    © Ellen Schnakenberg, 2014 • Last updated June 13, 2014.

Published On: June 12, 2014