Are You a Striver, a Survivor, or a Thriver?
Hello! Since I’m new to the HealthCentral migraine community, it seems appropriate to introduce myself before writing other blog posts as a health guide. So, here goes. :-)
Some of my earliest memories as a child were of that growing sense of trepidation as every sound grew louder, every smell more intense and every light brighter. As the fireworks began to burst in my eyes, and my right temple began to throb, I braced myself for what was to come - the nausea, the vomiting, the mind numbing pain. I still have a mental picture of my mom tucking me into a bed with fresh clean sheets, placing a cold washcloth on my head, putting a carefully lined wastebasket next to my bed and turning down the air conditioner to the frigid level I needed to be comfortable. She’d caress my forehead with a gentle hand, place a sweet kiss on my forehead and tiptoe out of the room praying that sleep would come quickly for me. I also remember the visits from doctor to doctor trying to find answers and relief. For years, I lived with episodic migraines. They would hit with a vengeance for one to three days a couple of times a month, but were balanced by the relief in between them.
Once I hit my 40’s, the days in between my migraines became fewer and fewer, and about seven years ago I began to realize that I had more days with migraines than without. They became such that they interfered with my day to life - personally and professionally - and thus the striving began. I strove to find the answer to my migraines. I read every book I could find on migraines. I tried every natural remedy and every bit of folklore offered as solutions for migraines. I also began the great doctor search. I went to doctor after doctor to hear that there was nothing else that they could do for me. I was unwilling to hear this and began to seek help from doctors around the United States and even abroad. I seemed to keep hitting brick walls with medications, advice and resources. I’d sit in front of my computer for hours, sure that there had to be something else out there that might hold the answer to my migraines. The Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines strive as "to make great efforts" or "to struggle, to fight" and these became perfect synonyms for my life. I was in a constant state of strife - chafing against the situation I was in and driving everyone around me and myself crazy looking for some answer.
Over the years, I came to a point of acceptance. It had become apparent that strife was not going to change anything. I could not try any harder to change my situation. I knew as a well-informed patient who had done a great deal of research on migraines that continuing to strive was getting me nowhere. I decided that accepting my situation was not the same as giving up, but was an opportunity to move me out of a state of constant turmoil and defeat. Calling on the words of Gloria Gaynor, my new mantra was "I will survive." I happily declared myself a survivor. Migraines were a reality of my life, and I would continue to seek treatment, but my focus was now on surviving - learning to live this new life into which I had fallen - rather than on striving. In the words of Webster’s New World College Dictionary, I was going to "continue to exist in spite of." In order to exist the best I could, I adjusted my life to accommodate my migraines. I lived in the dark to the degree possible and always had on my sunglasses. I stayed away from stores, churches, people and activities that might have odors and other stimuli that would trigger me. Because of my fear of letting people down, I stopped making commitments or making arrangements to get together with others. To a large degree this worked for me, I was surviving, but my world had become so small, so limited. I was blessed that I had many good friends who wouldn’t let me totally disappear, but loneliness did become a significant factor in my life. I began to question my purpose - what I had to offer to the world - why was I here? At the same time, I began hearing friends in the migraine community expressing the same concerns. I saw significant struggles with hopelessness and depression, and I have friends who decided that the best way to deal with the constant battle to survive was to give up. They told me they were tired; that it was just too hard. I began to hear of friends who were making plans to take their lives; who were making attempts to kill themselves, and of others who completed their suicide attempts.
As a person with a great deal of faith and natural hope, I became convicted that there had to be something more to this journey with migraines other than striving or surviving. I had no guarantees that my medical situation was going to change significantly, and I was also tired of the overwhelming, constant effort to survive. So, it led me to the question of "what choice do I have?" The choice that others had made of attempting to take their life was just not an option for me due to my personal commitment to faith, family and friends. At 55, I realized that I could have decades before me, and the thought of living them in survival mode was not one I relished.
That’s when I had a serious talk with myself. I reminded myself that I am more than my medical situation, more than any diagnosis, more than migraines. In addition to being a physical person, I am also an emotional, social and intellectual being living in community with family and friends. I do not have to be content with just striving or surviving, although both are thing that I will probably continue to do at times. My goal now is to thrive with migraines. The Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines thrive as "to prosper or flourish." I want to flourish. I want my life to be one that reflects joy and hope. My favorite quote is "to laugh often and much; To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded." (Ralph Waldo Emerson) Each of the things in this quote is attainable even with migraines. My life is not about being sick; it is about living. Yes, I must deal with chronic intractable migraines, and they drastically impact and change my life. They put me in bed more often than I’d like, and they mean that I cannot do many things I long to do. However, I believe through a positive attitude, tenacious hope, friends and community, prayer, meditation and a healthy lifestyle that I can thrive as a human being even with migraines. Will it be easy? No. Will I attain it all the time? No. Is it worth it? I believe so.
I am so thankful and excited to be a part of this HealthCentral family. I look forward to getting to know you and to walking with you as you strive, survive and attempt to thrive. I hope you will join me in my journey to learn how to thrive even in the midst of migraines. Let’s all hold on to the belief that we can be more than strivers or survivors! We are thrivers!
Cyndi Jordan wrote about Migraine as a Patient Expert for HealthCentral. She is a member of the American Headache and Migraine Association and a Migraine advocate.