Migraines & The Thief of Joy

Anybody else in this space get migraines?

I figured I’d just jump right in. Why mince words when you can get straight to the point.

I have been stuck in a pretty bad migraine cycle this month. I’ve been doing all the things to end the migraine pain, if not make it tolerable. My front line defense includes Advil and caffeine (Coca-Cola, lemon flavored Arizona iced tea, or I’ve been enjoying a combination of apple cinnamon and black tea with lemon and honey if I’m feeling particularly fancy.) If that doesn’t work and the nausea has set in, I go for the big guns: Benadryl and Advil. All of this is supplemented by a healthy dose of rest, whether that means sleep or just zoning out watching Real Housewives of New Jersey for the millionth time. And there’s also the Cefaly device my husband bought me for Christmas, hot baths with candles and Epsom salts and bubbles, and ice caps that freeze the pain away.

I thought that when I left teaching, my migraines would magically disappear. Forget that I have had migraines since I was 3 years old. My first memory of having a migraine is from when I was 7, but I was told by my family that it was even earlier than that. But with the more migraines I get, the more it feels like I am trying to be alerted of something.

Life changed for everyone when the world shut down. Covid changed everything, whether because of the experience of loss, of having Covid, of being isolated, life slowed down. And it turned out that I liked the slower pace. Where I’ve struggled is that as the world goes back to normal, I feel like I can’t keep up. Especially because it feels like my migraines and my anxiety make it so that sticking to a routine for me is essential.

I keep thinking about how “comparison is the thief of joy (Theodore Roosevelt)”. Not only have I been comparing myself to other people and the amount of activities they are able to do that I don’t seem to be able to. But I am also comparing myself to younger versions of myself that would overcrowd my days with events and activities. I’d stay out all night. I’d wake up early to get the day started. It feels like at this point in my life I can’t do that anymore. And with that feeling comes a bit of mourning for my past self and for the self I don’t know if I ever will be again.

But also…

Was I happy running myself ragged? Do I need to overfill my calendar with things I don’t want to do, so that I can’t enjoy the things I do want to do? Does it make sense to say yes to everything only to crash and need to cancel plans last minute?

The short answer is no.

I read through an old journal of mine and realized that all the things I’ve been worrying about not being or about all the parts of myself I feel like I’ve lost, I haven’t actually lost. Turns out, I’ve never wanted to be the person who says yes to everything, who overcrowds her days, who crashes and then feels guilty that she needs to cancel plans the morning of.

I read through countless journal entries of my very own talking about how tired I was, how burnt out, how socially, emotionally, and physically exhausted I was because even though I had a migraine or just didn’t feel like doing something, I was still obligated to show up.

At this point in my life I want to do more than show up. I want to be present. And in order for me to be present, it means I need to learn how to say no. I need to learn how to not compare. I need to realize that there is nothing wrong with embracing a slower paced life. (In fact, my migraines are screaming for it.) And it needs to be ok that sometimes, I will have to cancel plans last minute because my body has reached its limit.

I spent my entire life believing that working past your limit was something to be celebrated. As I sit here writing this with the beginnings of a migraine triggered by time spent at an event several days ago that I attended out of obligation, I am committed to giving up the belief that pushing past your limits makes you strong.

I know I am strong. Strength is being able to cry. Strength is saying no. Strength is not only showing up for yourself but being present, giving your body and mind what they need.

Right now, my body needs some Advil, a cold Coca-Cola, and some rest.

Until next week, friends. Don’t ever let comparison steal your joy. You are good just the way you are.

Published by Robyn Neilsen

I am a writer and educator based out of New Jersey. My creative nonfiction essays and flash fiction stories have been published by Thought Catalog, Vocal Media, and On Mogul. As a lifelong learner, I enjoy honing my craft through writing workshops with LA Writers Group, Gotham Writers, and The Moth. I am currently querying my first novel and am actively working on my second.

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