Tracking my Near-Chronic Illness Made it Worse

For years I just assumed I’d have to live with migraines; they were there every so often, would knock me down into bed, and would leave for a few day, maybe if I was lucky, a few weeks, giving me respite from the spirit-breaking pain. Eventually, I landed in the ER where I — finally — made an appointment with a neurologist. After running a bunch of tests, I was put on a preventative medication and told to track my migraines.

It was simple to track them in terms of pain; all I had to do was write down 0, 1, 2 every day, depending on what type of migraine I had. My notebook was filled with 1’s, too many 2’s, and only a small handful of 0’s. Upon noticing this, my neurologist upped my preventative medication (something I never actually followed through with) and gave me a prescription for vitamins.

We never talked about other ways to get rid of my migraines, like triggers or the use of healthy, good-for-you-and-your-brain foods. He threw out exercise, something I still couldn’t do properly since I was in pain nearly every day. Taking matters into my own hands, I downloaded a migraine tracking app (Migraine Buddy) and set to work finding out my triggers.

This app is extremely useful if you’ve no idea what’s going on with your body. You can track everything you did that day, from activities to things you ate, to possible triggers. You’re supposed to track every single day, everything you did, and when a migraine pops up, it can pull up your possible triggers. It even has a link to weather, giving you alerts if the barometric pressure changes in either direction.

It sounded perfect and exactly what I needed to rid myself of these monsters once and for all. Happily, I set to work trying to find triggers, cutting out everything that seemed to fall under the trigger category. Unfortunately, recording everything you do every day can get a bit obsessive. I’d start to feel better, watch as the hours grew to days, then weeks, without a migraine, only to fall once I slid back into my old routines.

I’d feel as if I had failed myself. That I failed some sort of a test. I was tracking my migraines to see what was the problem (later, I’d realize a few other triggers on my own, and the biggest one: retreating back to the habits that bothered me in the first place once I felt better, assuming I was ‘cured’ and could do whatever the hell I wanted), but I was using it as a way to feel better about myself. I would get a surge of happiness, of accomplishment, anytime I would go a week, or longer, without a migraine. I’d feel like I had made it. Of course, that wasn’t the case.

As soon as I felt that tell-tale pain come on, I’d drown in instant stress. And, of course, exacerbate the migraine, making it way worse than it could’ve been. I felt like my body had let me down, that I had let myself down for hoping too hard. Instead of celebrating the small successes and learning from each attack, I would wallow in self-pity. I’d refuse to include any small migraines that would last only a few hours as they didn’t seem to count; if they didn’t count, then my track record would still look good.

This mindset does absolutely nothing for getting better. It just stressed me out and caused me to lose sight of the whole reason I was using an app in the first place: to find my triggers and slowly get better. When I saw that notification that I had been migraine free for a whole week, it was like the finish line was in front of me. When the notification that I had been migraine free for a whole month, I could feel myself crossing that line to cheers and applause. To reset the clock felt like I had been given the gold medal only to have it ripped away for technical reasons.

After a few months of feeling too stressed about a potential migraine, thus giving myself a migraine, I called it quits. I deleted the app and just listened to my body. I packed my fridge full of nutrient-rich foods, I tried a little more exercise, I didn’t think twice if a migraine hit. Eventually, they became fewer and far in between. I can’t say, exactly, what my longest stretch has been, but I do know that I’ve been able to do more and I’m feeling so much better. Which was the point of tracking in the first place.

Once I found the triggers, it felt easier to just read my body every day, listening for clues of an impending attack, of the blah feeling that can turn into horrendous pain. Instead of feeling like I lost, I now acknowledge the migraine, and turn to my devices and foods that help rid me of it. Health is more than looking good on paper, of your track records, of your Instagram account. We all need a little reminder as to why health is important and what it really is. It’s simply feeling better.

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