Self-care isn’t all bubble baths and pedicures, I have to set limits

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I had my first migraine about 10 years ago, after my father suddenly passed away. I didn’t know it was a migraine. But it was extremely painful: I felt like people were trampling my head.

After his death, a wave of emotion and heartache hit me all at once. And as a senior, I felt an overwhelming need to protect my mom and my brother, so those emotions and grief took a back seat. Eventually, all that pain I kept bottled up turned into a headache.

Because I have migraines with aura, I see flashes of lights of different colors crossing my eyes. This is the signal that the train is coming – the train, of course, being the migraine. I used to take Tylenol, use a cold compress for pain relief, and try to get my emotions under control. But the more I bottled things up, the more the migraines got worse.

Once I got over my grief, I didn’t have a migraine for a few years. Then, in 2017, my fiance was diagnosed with a rare and advanced form of cancer and I experienced burnout: I was the sole caregiver for both of us because he was unable to work. I drove him an hour and a half each way to his many doctor’s appointments. And I was planning a wedding with someone who might not even show up in the aisle. Of course, my migraine attacks came back in force.

I was afraid to go to the doctor, because I had devoted myself entirely to taking care of my fiancé; I couldn’t afford to have something wrong with me too. It wasn’t until this year, after we got married and my husband declared cancer-free, that I finally went to see a doctor.

I have been given a prescription which I take as soon as the auras start. And over-the-counter medications can provide pain relief as well. My migraines can last up to three days, but it helps.

It was nice to finally be able to talk to a neurologist about what I was going through. He told me about my diet and what foods I could cut back on to help me, like salty snacks. And he told me that I should try as hard as possible to reduce the stressors in my life. It’s easier said than done, of course, but it’s one of the most important ways to fight migraines.

I had to learn that personal care is about more than bubble baths and pedicures. They can be amazing. But in order for me to maintain good, real personal care – to protect my peace – I have to set limits. It means with everyone in my life: my husband, my friends and my family. Because people will wear you out. Things will wear you out. I have had to learn over time that if someone is upset that you are setting limits, it is more of them than of you.

I also had to learn that I will only take calls at certain times and will only be on the phone for a certain number of minutes per day. I take the time to light a candle and read. I walk several kilometers every week. I had to find what really brings me joy, like driving my car so that I can listen to music and sing at the top of my lungs or take a hot shower.

There are so many different things you can do that only take a few minutes, but can have such a lasting effect on your stress level and overall well-being. I can’t say that I never have migraines again, because I do. But I worked hard to be able to maneuver through them.


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