I wake up naturally these days and have time for coffee on the porch. I can listen to the birds, watch the breeze set the trees to swaying and dancing, muse and wonder about the day ahead. Unscheduled time is a gift for those with chronic migraine. We don’t have to pretend, answer uninformed questions, or make excuses. We’re at home, and time becomes our ally. This is the beauty of the coronavirus pandemic for migraineurs.
The trees are leafing out at their own pace. Weeping willows, redbuds, wild dogwood, and later, sycamore and mulberry. There are healthy trees, dying trees, and struggling trees. Not only do I have time to observe them, I can spend more time outside, knowing that if allergies trigger a migraine, I can retreat and abort it with haste. Thanks from this migraine sufferer, coronavirus!
Nonetheless, my heart aches for those who must work, and those who have lost family members and friends. I think about how that stress, anxiety and grief must affect my fellow migraineurs. I think about those who have trouble getting their medicines or aren’t covered by insurance, those who need to get to an emergency room but are fearful they might be infected, those who’ve lost jobs and can’t afford the treatments they need. And I often think of men and women throughout history who struggled with migraines with no remedies.
Still, I am choosing to be grateful. Not for the coronavirus itself, but for the spaciousness that this pandemic has created.
The trees I watch speak to me of growth, change, and longevity, of determination. Some continue to send out shoots and leaves despite being strangled by vines or having a disease. Trees keep trying, keep sending down roots and reaching for air and sun. They don’t complain, except for the way they whisper and moan in the wind. They don’t worry about the future or obsess and regret the past. In the time of coronavirus, we have all learned a great deal about gratitude for the simple tasks and pleasures we took for granted. Trees are putting on a brilliant ballet for us, waving their arms, donning their many-hued green costumes, and beckoning to the birds and creatures who populate them. They are good teachers. They are survivors.
Mindfulness matters to migraine sufferers. We’ve learned, or will learn, that we live one day, one hour, one moment at a time. We know how to take pleasure in small accomplishments, cooking a meal or baking for our family, taking a shower and fixing our hair and makeup, writing a paragraph, or reading a book. When small but important tasks are taken from all, as they have been by the coronavirus and as they often are by migraine, we appreciate each one so much more when they can be resumed.
Staying at home, working from home, and being isolated has not fixed my migraines! Nor did I think for a moment it would. In over twenty years of managing (and sometimes not managing) chronic intractable migraine, I have learned much. One thing I know for sure: migraine disease is a complex and confounding condition. Just as I feel that I may have found “the remedy,” whatever the latest cure may be, it stops working or becomes less effective.
Being home alone is not an entirely new perspective. Over the past five years, I have had to turn down invitations, make tentative plans, or go home before everyone else. I know how challenging it must be for people who have never experienced a migraine to believe that it is as disabling and pervasive as we claim.
Trees do not long to be another species, an animal that can run or fly. The cedars don’t wish they were a maple; the stunted or diseased trees don’t bemoan their fate. They do what trees do; grow and thrive as well as they can. They survive. What if we took a lesson from them? Accept who we are and what we have been given to contend with? This coronavirus and our confinement have created hardships, but like most difficult things (including migraines), it comes with opportunities. It had provided a spaciousness in our lives that we may employ to become more resilient, just as trees respond when given room.
The past two months have brought allergies and weather changes in addition to the novel coronavirus. I have had time to pay attention to exercise, meditation, and proper nutrition, and time to drink enough water. Time to rest when I need to. To attune to possible triggers: sun, noises, grasses, molds, and mildew.
I’ve become more honest.
For years, I suffered in silence, reluctant to tell people lest they think I was exaggerating or self-pitying.
I now let people know I have an invisible but real disability. I stick up for myself the way I would stick up for a friend or one of my children. And I make plans but qualify them by saying: “If I have a migraine, I won’t be able to make it.”
People are learning in this pandemic how to grieve and let go of dreams and lost plans. I am a professional at that. So much has been sacrificed to migraine: family time, travel, time to read, and write. I find that I am much more empathetic and compassionate toward others with physical or neurological impairments. I’m a better person. I’ve been able to contemplate and make sense of this migraine journey and on most days, I’m proud of what I have accomplished, even if it’s not what I expected decades ago. I eagerly await for the cure of the novel coronavirus, but I look forward to the changes it may bring for each one of us.
Rev Cynthia Cain