Migraine Chronicles: Another Letter

Hey J.,

I missed Monday this week, but I didn’t want to entirely miss this… Last week, I talked to you about refocusing on praise rather than on your circumstances.  Today, I want to talk a little bit about why.

If you are anything like me, you have probably entertained the idea that the whole chronic migraine issue just isn’t fair. Other people can eat whatever they want, do whatever activities they want; heck, many can even go for a hike or a run in hot, sunny weather. It doesn’t seem at all fair, does it?

But here’s a funny little secret that I have learned: When we humans say that something isn’t fair, what we really mean is that we don’t like it.

In fact, I doubt any of us would enjoy “fair” if it were put into practice. If fairness were to rule the day, then Jesus would never have given Himself up as a substitutionary sacrifice and we would all pay the eternal price of our sins. That would be fair, but I would not look forward to it.

So when you think about it, unfairness itself is something to be grateful about. You and I, we have sinned. Although I can’t speak for you, I daily fail to put God first in everything, often by falling into self-pity. And that is just one single area – there are many, many more.

The truth is that we have fallen far short of the glory of God, and we actually do deserve pain and suffering, both now and in eternity.

But Jesus did not. He endured hunger, thirst, fatigue, and even torture, betrayal, and a shameful, horrible death at the hands of the very people He came to save. He did not deserve it, but out of love, He did it anyway. For you. For me. For any of us who will accept His Lordship with gratitude.

 

So when you are in pain, try to fix your mind on Jesus and remember that the unfair price He paid is something for which we can be forever thankful. And remember that I am trying the very same tactic, though not always with success.

Be encouraged that even in suffering, you are never alone, for our Lord suffered, too.

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.
(Hebrews 12:3-4)

Love always,
Ms. Heather

Migraine Chronicles: Description and Confession

…the pain that gnaws me takes no rest.
(Job 30:17b)

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance…
(Romans 5:3)

To kick off a discussion about migraine, I’d like to begin by making sure we are all on the same page by stating for the record that a migraine is not just a headache. It is a full-body neurological experience of which the headache pain is only the climax.

A true migraine can (but does not always) involve up to four phases: the prodrome which can occur hours or even days before; the aura which afflicts about 20-25% of migraine sufferers and usually immediately precedes the headache phase; the migraine attack which involves intense, one-sided headache pain accompanied by sensitivity to lights, sounds, smells, and/or nausea and vomiting; and the postdrome, affectionately known to many migraine sufferers as the “migraine hangover.”

And to be honest, there are a host of additional symptoms that sometimes occur ranging from visual disturbances to difficulties in speech or cognition; a list which can become disturbingly varied and long. Suffice to say that calling a migraine a headache does not quite do the experience justice.

Chronic migraine is another thing altogether. Typically, it begins with distinct episodes of migraine that, over time, progress to a relentless , one-sided headache with the potential to morph into and out of a full-blown migraine episode without warning.

From my personal experience with chronic migraine, the entire migraine sequence can become one jumbled mess, and some months are better than others with or without medication. It is from this that I can feel empathy for Job when he said, ” … the pain that gnaws at me takes no rest,” because I have been there.

How did it come to this? Hard to say. The best educated guess I have heard is that I sustained some nerve damage during a bout of viral meningitis back in 2004. Perhaps it did not help matters much that I’m a bit prone to push through pain and so was not hospitalized until the third day – and I mean three days of being unable to sleep for the pain in my head and unable to hold down so much as a tiny trickle of water from a medicine dropper.

Yeah, I know. Not too bright. But sometimes you just do what you have to do.

And today, I have to confess.

I am just coming out of two very dark weeks beginning with a particularly hideous 72-hour prodrome followed by about a 10-11 day stretch of various levels of migraine ranging from “I am functional but I may take 2 hours for a 20-minute grocery run and may wear sunglasses indoors,” to “Uncle.”

And because our enemy does like to kick us when we are down, he really laid on the temptation – and I fell for it. I freely confess that I spent an embarrassing number of days in a full-on pity party. It was pathetic, actually, and whether it can be argued that I had cause or not, sin is still sin and I must accept full responsibility for my complicity.

While my husband and I have prayed for and believe that God is able to heal me of this, we also realize that He will only do so if it serves His purposes. Sometimes I lose sight of this. In fact, I sometimes lose sight of Him and fix my eyes only on my problems, as I did last week.

That’s where today’s second verse comes in. Even though there may be pain in life, pain is not always bad. Often, God has lessons for us to learn through the pain.

What I was reminded of first and foremost was to look “to Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of my faith, Who for the glory that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame,” and to “consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against Himself so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (see Hebrews 12:2-3).

Here’s the thing that my little excursion into sinful self-focus reminded me: He did not deserve to suffer. I do.

And so, today I consider Him and bow myself in reverence and humility, rejoicing that while the father of lies desires to use my pain to drive me into sin, my Father can use the same tool to bring about contemplation of His grace.

And when I contemplate the goodness and meekness of my King, I find that I can rejoice in my suffering because He has suffered, too. Even in pain, I am never alone.

I’m interested… what helps you cope with chronic pain?