Do you have a migraine journal or some outlet to help you process the intense emotions that may come up with your migraine pain episodes? For decades now studies have shown a connection between expressing your feelings and good mental health.
Dear Diary, Migraines Suck!
In the therapy world keeping a migraine journal is considered essential. As professional counselor, I know that your brain can understand things better if you write them down... the old-fashioned way with a pen.
There's no rules... you can just start writing.
It can also work using a computer... but I prefer actually writing and letting my brain process it that way. It gets better results.
It can help you listen to your body and migraines and what they are trying to tell you more clearly too.
The letter below is a page from my own migraine journal.
I don’t normally share my negative thoughts with anyone as I really try to stay as positive as possible.
I have a very healthy body, it just gets migraines and I remind myself that there is more help available now than ever before in history.
But somehow I think you will already know that it is impossible on some days to be totally positive. If you manage that, then I admire you.
First, let's look at really good reasons to keep a journal.
Keeping a migraine journal can help you with answering doctors questions, and keeping track of test results.
Here are the five I wanted to highlight:
And best of all... it can help you maintain some sense of sanity, plan a way forward, and reduce stress.
I have a great process in my book Migraine Management, to help reduce anxiety.
Here's the link:
Here is a page I wrote in my migraine headache diary years ago now... this particular migraine lasted 12 days... it was a long one, but 10 days was a common pattern.
I wanted to write today – today is not a good day – I try so hard to maintain a positive outlook and reinforce all the beautiful things in life. But today – well – some days I am just not that positive! In fact I struggle to see anything positive after such a long debilitating migraine.
I have just had a migraine for 7 days, a pretty nasty one actually, lots of breakthrough pain with my abortive. It only lasts 11 hours and then I wait until the 12th hour when I am allowed to take another one without overdosing, and then wait 2 hours for it to kick in. So three hours of agony, which is quite good compared to what it could be, or has been in the past without the abortive.
Sadly – it feels like it might just be lurking around in my eyes which may mean it’s coming back. Or they are just still swollen from the last attack. Who knows – it’s always hard to tell if it turns the intensity up or down. My life is so unpredictable and I am exhausted.
So today I am feeling the loss of a week. I feel like sometimes when I lose a week like this, that a chunk of my life, that well – I am just really worthless. Yes – there I said it. I often feel so down after a long migraine and I start to wonder what it’s all about - this life I’ve been gifted with.
I feel hungover and quite unable to do much, even though the pain has subsided. I do get to experience love and joy, but at this point – just for today – it feels like I keep missing out on big chunks of life and living and most certainly any form of excitement or adventure.
The words of the U2 song "One" come to mind - my version - "you ask me to enter and then you make me crawl, I can’t keep holding on, when I all I’ve got is hurt... "
So I ponder and compare what a normal person would have done in one week, and then I look at – well - me just being in bed. Crying, vomiting, and unfortunately yelling at my partner for something trivial - that’s what I’ve done, oh and cancel some appointments. I was well enough yesterday to watch a movie, in complete darkness with my sun sunglasses on - silly but anything to reduce the intensity of any light coming into my eyes.
Yesterday, when I cancelled an appointment, the receptionist replied "get to a doctor!" Yes... "been there, done that" I replied... "if only it were that simple."
As I write that... other hurtful memories come flooding in. Being called "toxic" and being told to "get over it" or "you'll be
right" as they say here in Australia. "Scamming to get off work" and "your negative
thoughts must give you those migraines." Yeah right! I close my eyes and relive the Rolodex of nasty comments.
Oh this is a bad day. I feel so sad, and hopeless, and worthless. I'm in limbo land... 7 days of migraine, and... terrified of how many more days are to come. No more days of this excruciating pain God, please.
I am always sick! OK that's enough - not always. Time to remember that this will be over soon. I have endured every other migraine. I will return to my life. I will get all those things done I need to. Making a list will help reduce this anxiety. And get another ice pack to help with the pain. Now... RIGHT NOW.
It doesn’t sound so bad reading it again, but I can assure you I felt very down and depressed when I was writing it.
It reminded me of a "friend" about 10 years ago, who called to see if I wanted to go do something, and I said no I’ve just had a migraine for x days and she said "oh for God sakes, go to the hospital for a shot of pethidine and get back to your life. I am sick of hearing about your migraines." Then she went on to say that she went to hospital once for a migraine, (hangover I thought – she was drinking a lot at the time) got her shot and has never had one again EVER!
I never spoke to her again after that. I can't imagine saying that to a friend. I was so shocked, as I often am by what some people have said to me over the years. Who needs friends like that... but then who would understand this level of pain?
I keep two separate journals - one negative and one positive. I dispose of (shred or burn safely) the negative one when it is half full. I don't like keeping negative energy in my home. In my positive migraine journal, right at the front, I write a list of self nurturing things to do when I am migraine free again. Please click on the link below if you'd like to print it out.
I hope you find an outlet through writing in a migraine journal too. I have shared this to hopefully inspire you to write or find something that helps you get through all of this emotional turmoil that comes up around chronic pain episodes. If you have pain that is... it might be the disabling symptoms that get you down.
Just writing and writing when crying, angry or upset helps. You know now that keeping a handwritten migraine journal provides a beneficial outlet for expressing your real feelings. But what if that's not for you.
You might like a more structured approach like CBT, or some other form of journaling like drawing or painting for example.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy has become part of traditional mainstream medicine.
It focuses on changing negative self-talk and life narrative to positive self-talk. The premise of this approach is that negative self-talk can reflect in your behavior.
Many psychologists use this form of therapy for pain management. It is covered under Medicare here in Australia... so you can get a rebate for 6 sessions.
Modalities like CBT are proven to work for anxiety but what about with migraine? Can expressing yourself make any difference? Studies prove it can.
Let me remind you that keeping a migraine journal is a good way to stay real with yourself about emotions and fears that come up around this relentless medical condition and the unreliable existence that comes with it.
CBT by itself, will not eliminate your attacks... but you might find they reduce. If you've had chronic attacks for a long time, and stress is a trigger for you, this might be something to consider.
Never lose hope my friend. Persevere.
Here's a link to the CBT process I use, and two other articles to help you get started with your own migraine journal: