what I’ve learned from 30+ years of the struggle
In 9th grade I started getting headaches.
Sometimes they would come on strong and persist for several days. Sometimes I would go weeks between these episodes. My biggest “trick” was to push through despite them (not recommended!), drink more water, and try to go to bed early.
As a college student, I experienced my first aura, followed 15 minutes later with the worst headache of my life so far.
Fortunately, I worked at a neurology office at the time and was heading to work when the pain hit. It didn’t take long for someone at the office to connect me with one of the doctors and to get a preliminary diagnosis: migraine disease.
Over the next few decades, I’ve had to learn a few different things to help keep migraine attacks at bay. For the longest time, I would white-knuckle my way through life, throwing back 800-1000mg of ibuprofen at a time, a few times a day, just to function.
the breaking point
I was surviving, but not thriving. Pushing myself through the day just to collapse on the couch at 6PM, barely able to participate in family life until bedtime.
When I realized that my daily persistent headaches were keeping me from fully enjoying life with my family, I finally got serious about finding the root cause of my migraine attacks.
3 doctors, several lab draws, and an MRI all came up inconclusive. Sure, I could add a bit more iron, magnesium, and B12 to my daily regimen, but other than that, everything came up fine.
Except I wasn’t. I was still having daily headaches with episodes of migraine attacks in between.
After all the tests and visits it was determined what I knew all along – I have migraine disease. A neurological disorder that brings on debilitating headaches due to triggers. There is no cure for migraine disease, just ways to prevent the attacks from happening as often.
learning something new
Lowering the number of triggers in my life helps keep the migraine attacks at bay.
It’s not fool-proof. Sometimes the triggers are not preventable (weather, for example) but other triggers (diet, sleep schedule, lack of certain vitamins) are ones that I can control.
I have also struggled with anxiety since elementary school. Living with these two chronic conditions, I have thought many times between the similarities of migraine disease to an anxiety disorder and how better understanding migraine disease can help us have more grace for our mental health.
A few things that can be said about migraine disease can also be said about our mental illness:
- Just because someone looks OK on the outside doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling on the inside.
- This diagnosis isn’t your fault. But your can take responsibility for it’s care.
- There is no cure, but there are many ways to manage and live successfully.
- Intentional moments each day can help alleviate some triggers, keeping the episodes at bay, or at least less frequent
- Medication can help and it doesn’t make you less-than to take it
- Seeking professional help is a better alternative than white-knuckling and pushing through
Identifying triggers for migraine attacks was a huge step in controlling how often they would hit. The same can be said about anxiety. Identifying the things in our life that build up the anxiety within us can help us better prepare for when high anxiety strikes. What are things that cause you to be more anxious? Are there events, people, or places that you try to avoid because of the anxiety it causes you? What patterns can you build into your day to release some of the built up tension in your life?
Over the years I have found that there are daily steps I can take to help keep anxiety low.
Picture a glass of water that is filled to the brim. This symbolizes a life that has not intentionally addressed any of the things in their day that add to their anxiety. So, when one drop of water (i.e. a simple inconvenience) comes along, the cup overflows. We do not have the capacity to handle the small things in life because we have not taken small moments of intention to address the underlying anxiety.
Small moments of intention
For me, small moments of daily intention look like this:
- Getting up before my kids to allow a window of time that is slow and quiet. This helps me prioritize my soul with Jesus and gives me a better focus on the day.
- Getting outside for at least 15 minutes. It might be sitting on the porch or taking a walk, but purposely looking at creation and breathing in fresh outside air helps remind me that I have a God who is in control.
- Connecting with a human. Looking my children in the face while they tell me a story, stopping my chores to face my husband while he tells me about his day, and checking in with a friend via text are all ways to stay in community. The enemy would like for us to think we are alone but intentionally seeking community can fight those thoughts.
- Resetting the hub. Before bed I wipe down the counters, make sure the kitchen sink is empty, and that the coffee maker is programmed for the AM. This allows for a settling of the mind before bed and a clean start to the next day.
So, will I ever get past this anxiety?
The answer to that question is both yes and no. No, because there will always be a struggle of some sort (Jesus warned us of that in John 16:33) and there may be some days that are harder than others. But yes, by identifying triggers and implementing tools that you learn along the way, you can get out of the oppression of anxiety and into a life that thrives.
Each time you face a hard day with anxious thoughts you have a chance to give your weight back to Jesus, pick up the tools you’ve already learned, and claim your strength in God alone.