Mindfulness Check-In 1/26: Migraines and Joy

“Better late than never.”

So I know it’s in the evening, but posting late is better than not posting at all, and this is an important update! I want to tell you about my migraine, my pain, my progress, and how at the end of the day I overlooked the pain and saw the joy, all while watching a hockey game. First off, I am horrible at getting into watching most sports. Though I love to play many sports, watching them is a completely different experience, and usually I find myself in “squirrel! mode” where I simply cannot pay attention. During my undergrad times, all my friends would become ecstatic for the football and hockey games. I would go for the “experience” of friendship and raw excitement, but I often found myself just dazing off and completely missing every goal or touch-down- I just wasn’t interested. So by late Sophomore year, I told myself I would never attend another game. Sure, I take part in the Super Bowl festivities, but only for the food and people.

Now let me tell you a key piece of information. My significant other and his family love hockey. I was luck my family never stressed about watching sports in a crazed fashion but I also respect that for some families, it’s what they do. For Christmas I had the genius idea of buying hockey tickets at my University for myself, my significant other, and his parents. They live 2 hours away so we thought it would be a good idea for them to come out, experience the school pride and hockey, and get some awesome local pizza! What a great idea, except for the migraine.

Since I was 6, I’ve experienced chronic headaches and migraines. I go through waves of time where it seems my life just consists of tension headaches, spasms, and then the migraines. Then I have times where it’s just peace and quiet, and yes, NO MIGRAINES. Well since the new semester began last Tuesday, my sleep has been completely off and my stress levels higher than usual. That’s a great equation for, yep, a migraine that lingers for almost a week. In fact, I can feel it still here now, but luckily only as a headache. Yesterday I felt the dull pain encasing my entire skull, like a heavy crown just pressing on my head. I went through my mental checklist and took the precautions I normally take to avoid medicine and thought, “Maybe I’m just really hungry but will be okay after some pizza?”. (This pizza is from Antonio’s and I had been waiting for it for 2 weeks as my indulgent meal, so I couldn’t tell if it was a hunger headache or a craving headache- though I was mindful in trying to discern the source of my hunger and headache.) I took my time eating the pizza, to really enjoy it and experience what was happening around me in the process: the packed restaurant, the people skirting around outside, the bright sun coming in through the windows, the different pizza slices around me, and the pure blissful silence of our family eating pizza happily amongst the buzzing restaurant chatter. I didn’t finish one slice because I really was trying to see if I was truly full by scanning how I felt! Well right after I finished eating and left for the arena, that’s when it came- the migraine came. 

All I will indulge in the experience of the migraine’s pain is that I actually had to visit the EMT to ask for ice packs, and kept them on my head during the game while borrowing some sunglasses to shade my eyes from the bright lights. What’s more important here is how I still had a great time. Remember how I said I would never attend another hockey game? I knew this one was either going to be 2 hours of horror (migraine) and boredom (hockey), or 2 hours of joy with family. As soon as the puck was in play I made sure to keep my eyes focused on the general picture of what was in front of me. In the past I tried to just focus on the puck, or certain players, or even just the goals. But through my yoga and meditation practice, I’m learning to let my gaze just look out, and not necessarily focus on one image but just take in what it notices naturally. I also kept reminding myself to breathe long breaths in and out, since I knew I would be there for a while with a migraine, and wanted to have a good time. This reminder to breathe and just take time in that moment despite the pain I felt, just be there amongst the lights, loud noises, and distractions, was extremely challenging but also gratifying. By the end of the game though my head still hurt, I was so excited at my progress- I had seen every goal shot, and actually enjoyed my time there!! I laughed, allowed myself to eat a bit of candy, cheered for my team, bonded with the family, and barely thought about anything on my to-do list. I was “in the moment”.

I wanted to write about this today because I know I had a choice. I had a choice to be honest about my feelings and experiences, and how I was going to explain my mindfulness progress while having a migraine. The best part about my mindfulness challenge is being able to just “be” with whatever my experience is at that moment and the feelings it stirs within me and decide how I want to engage with them. I don’t have to feel bad that I had a migraine and then have that stir up more emotions and pain for me if I don’t want to. I’m not saying that I felt glorious during that game, and that I didn’t think about asking to leave or crying. But what I am saying is that I was able to accept what was going on and just sit with it, and not let the migraine ruin my time by choosing not to engage with it in a way to endure more suffering. I definitely want to get to the bottom of these headaches/migraines, but also would like to go to another hockey game again. Without this experience, I wouldn’t have learned that I could in fact stay at a hockey game and watch its entirety. I wouldn’t have learned that even though I had a migraine, one of the worst I’ve had in a few years, I could still have a good time. I definitely would not have known I had the power to take this into my own hands and ground myself in the pain through acceptance, and then letting it go instead of resenting it. I don’t resent my migraines, and if anything I feel much stronger and more equipped to handle them in the future after this past Sunday. This is what is gratifying and empowering, and this is why I will continue to practice.