Ever notice that different people seem to emotionally cope with migraine differently? English professor and author Andrew Levy, PhD, began observing how fellow migraine warriors dealt with the disease on an emotional level, and how that influenced their behaviors. His book, A Brain Wider Than the Sky, takes Levy on a journey through history and culture, helping him put his own experiences with Migraine in context.

On a recent episode of the Migraine Again Podcast, Andrew Levy spoke with us about four distinctly different ways to emotionally cope with migraine. In his book, when Levy broadens his view of Migraine he starts to notice that his coping mechanisms fall into patterns that are shared by other people going through the same thing.

4 Common Ways People Emotionally Cope with Migraine

In A Brain Wider Than the Sky, Andrew Levy describes four paths that a person can take to emotionally cope with migraine. The four paths can overlap, and one person can follow multiple paths on their Migraine journey.

1 – Excessive Stoicism: Levy describes it this way: “You just insist on pulling through everything.  You go to work and

you do whatever work entails and even if you’re wincing in pain and the fluorescent light is driving you crazy, you keep on keeping on. Until you just burn out or collapse. Or you just live your life. And people who do that are just taking on the Migraine. They fight it and deny it. I see a lot of people who do that, or I see almost everyone does some component of that. And I certainly have throughout the years.”

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Ask yourself: Do you often ignore your symptoms? Do you frequently deny that you’re in pain? Do you tend to defer treatment until you collapse?

emotionally coping with migraine

Pushing yourself through and ignoring symptoms could be a sign of Excessive Stoicism, says Levy. It’s one way of emotionally coping with migraine. Image: Storyblocks

2 – Excessive Buddhism: Says Levy, “It’s essentially a way of withdrawing completely. It’s accepting the migraine because acceptance is a very complicated idea. But it does mean just giving in completely. Just clearing the space around you, excusing yourself from the room, making everyone work around your migraine. And to a certain extent, that breaks the conventional social contract that governs illness in this country. Which is that you’re supposed to worry and fret about what you’re doing for other people, even as you want those other people to worry and fret about you. And that’s good self-care. And I think its crucial but I think in many ways it does commit us too much to a practice where we don’t pay enough attention to the bonds in our life. And the bonds in our life are actually part of living with migraines and are helpful in that way.”

Ask yourself: Do you tend to withdraw from other people when you’re having an attack? Do you usually accept your attacks and give in to them completely?

3 – Sensation Junkie: “These people sort of dance with the devil, so to speak,” describes Levy. “The people who deep down know that the chocolate or the coffee is creating their migraines as well as relieving it but they keep on doing it. These are the people I see with piles of Diet Coke cans in their offices. And it’s a mild version of what a sensation junkie is but it’s a way of saying that whatever sensations in the world are creating the migraines, and walking in the direction of them. And actually creating a very complicated drama of your own life. I don’t want to say these people just could have fewer migraines if they just dealt with them differently because I don’t think it’s as simple as that. I think that at some point you might realize you’re going to have migraines and that they’re part of you. And this is a way of accepting that and making sure that your life has meaning and drama and shape.”

Ask yourself: Do you often risk exposure to triggers that you enjoy tasting, watching, hearing or smelling? Are you willing to accept painful consequences of doing the things you love? Do you prefer exciting drama to predictable routine?

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4 – Workaholism: Levy’s met many people who cope this way. He says it’s “a great deal like the first, excessive stoicism. What I found after I published the book when I was doing interviews and television studios for instance, that every time I would go to some site to do an interview, I would meet the interviewers and they would say, “Oh we have someone on our staff who has migraines, let me bring them in.” And I would meet that person and that person was invariably one of the hardest workers at the studio. And I think that there is a way that, for some people, it’s very important to let the world know that the migraines don’t impinge on their ability to produce in the workplace.”

emotionally coping with migraine

If your job takes precedence over your health, Workaholism may be your coping mechanism for migraine. Image: Storyblocks

Ask yourself: Do you often prioritize getting your job done vs. taking care of yourself? Are you less likely to advertise the fact that you have migraine in public? Does distraction of work help minimize your physical pain?

Each of these coping patterns can be useful, says Levy. “For other people, the migraine actually becomes something that they use or deploy to enhance, develop, and grow their work. And that’s something that I write elsewhere in the book about. In many cases, authors, artists, political leaders, for whom migraines and headache conditions were actually essential parts of what made them the people we celebrate today.”

How We Emotionally Cope with Migraine Can Change Over Time

As you meet people, you might be tempted to put a bubble above their head and think, ‘That’s the Stoic and that’s the Buddhist and that’s the Sensation Junkie.’ But I can actually see elements of my own migraine journey in these different types.

At first, I was probably very Stoic about it. I can tough this out, I can get through this. And then I was the Sensation Junkie. I started to notice different things I was feeling and I was plying myself with a lot of Diet Coke so that I could work and continue to work and medicate my way through the day. Because I was really committed to my work and my work distracted me from the fact that I was physically suffering so much every single day.

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And then finally I came back to the Buddhist way of acceptance, tuning into my body and prioritizing my health so that I could get better.

Levy believes that “phases often work with each other and even compete against each other. Several of these phases are also dependent upon having a diagnosis.”  He observes, “In many cases the person with the migraine is actually refusing to say, ‘I’m a person with a migraine.’ Or is saying, ‘I refuse to be defined as a person with a migraine.’ Or is saying, ‘I refuse to let the migraine win.’ A lot of these are positions of denial.”

Finding Meaning When You Share Your Migraine Story

Once you’ve your disease, you’re better prepared to emotionally cope with migraine. Sharing your migraine story is the next step. It can be cathartic to “come out with migraine.”

At this point I do it very frankly” says Levy of sharing his personal migraine story. Why? “It allows me to describe the full person I am, which is something everyone wants. It also allows people to see and normalize Migraine and familiarize it with them. It allows and encourages other people to talk about it. I found and taught conversations after I published the book that it meant a lot to people that I said I struggled with my parenting. That was something people were very afraid to talk about, felt a lot of guilt about, and a lot of confusion. Don’t want social services to know I have a headache with my child. There is the whole gamut of shame when it should be a problem that people are talking about and sharing solutions for.”

Authenticity draws us to people. When you have an invisible illness and you’re trying to hide it, you’re not really connecting with people at the same level that you could be.

Levy agrees.That word, ‘invisible’, is the keyword. Your brain can be raging. This is the thing that was amazing. Your brain is raging, it’s screaming at you. And then people are just talking to you. They don’t see it, there’s this massive shield between you and other people. And if you don’t deal with that, you start to feel alienated from people.”

Don’t miss the full interview with Andrew Levy on the Migraine Again Podcast

Can you relate? Migraine can drive a wedge into our relationships.

“I almost felt like migraines were a crash course in alienating yourself from other people” echoes Levy. “The difference between what’s going on inside my brain and the conversation, my outward self, is so dramatic that you just think, ‘What are these people? Why can’t they see? Don’t I look tired at least? They don’t seem to notice anything.’ And I grew to hate that.”

Telling your story helps you own it and can keep you from hiding. By looking at Migraine through a wide lens outside of your own experience, you can begin to reframe your story and make progress towards a place of acceptance. And that’s a healthy way to emotionally cope with migraine.

Comments? In which ways do you emotionally cope with migraine?

Image: Storyblocks

The post How Do You Emotionally Cope with Migraine? 4 Common Ways appeared first on Migraine Again.



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