How on earth do you practice gratitude when you live with a chronic condition like migraine? I found myself asking this question many times, especially at the beginning of my disease journey. I was a fun-loving, newly married 30-year-old when, seemingly out of nowhere, I began having severe episodes of vertigo and dizziness.
Because of my age and overall health, many doctors told me it was anxiety. That I had too much on my plate and just needed to take some time off. After seeing almost seven physicians, I was finally diagnosed with chronic vestibular migraine. This a less common type of migraine that causes strange symptoms, like feeling as though you’re rocking on a boat. Eventually, my symptoms were so severe, I had to stop driving and even lost my career.
It was a big day for me if I could walk to the end of the street on my own. I remember the day I sat in my neurologist’s office and asked him if I would ever feel OK again. He told me it would take some time, but my life could significantly improve with treatment. Not only did I finally have hope again, but I also had a ton of gratitude for finding a doctor who listens.
It’s understandable to dwell on the negatives of living with a chronic condition. Not only does it affect how you feel every day, but it also affects your career, your relationships, and your self-worth. I found myself in a vicious cycle of why me? Why did I have to have this weird type of migraine? Why did it have to get so bad that I lost my job? Will my husband still love me if I’m a financial and emotional burden? I felt broken.
I began to see a therapist, and we worked on creating small goals. Some days, the goal was just getting out of bed. Other times, it was attending a ballet class in an effort to improve my balance. I often found myself in the kitchen coming up with new meals to fit my migraine diet. This gave me a sense of purpose and an opportunity to connect with my husband over dinner.
Completing each goal felt like an achievement and began to boost my self-confidence. I was proud of the meals I could make and began to get more adventurous with my recipes. I started to feel a little bit like me again. Well, a new version of me.
Practicing gratitude has remained an integral part of my life with migraine. It’s not about feeling positive all the time. It’s about finding joy in small moments that you may not have appreciated before. I used to take my sense of balance for granted until I totally lost it for a period of time. Now, every workout I do is a major accomplishment that I celebrate myself for completing.
Most of all, I’m grateful to be a new mom to a beautiful baby boy, a dream I never thought was possible when I had constant symptoms. Is it hard? Unbelievably so. A baby crying while you have a vestibular migraine attack does not mix well. But I’ve learned the value of asking for help when I need it the most.
Practicing gratitude doesn’t mean we have to look at the world with fairy tale glasses thinking everything is grand. It is simply finding little moments — like setting small goals — to take your mind off your condition. Maybe it’s telling a friend that you’re thankful for the time they supported you during a really terrible attack or speaking to yourself with a little more kindness and compassion. If you find this exercise particularly hard, write down positive moments in a journal so you can scan them on the extra difficult days.
Just close your eyes for a moment, and think of the one thing that brings a smile to your face. You just practiced gratitude.
Alicia Wolf is the Owner of The Dizzy Cook, a diet and lifestyle website for anyone with migraine, and an Ambassador for the Vestibular Disorder Association. After struggling with chronic vestibular migraine, she realized there weren’t many upbeat resources for people following a migraine diet so she created thedizzycook.com. Her new cookbook “The Dizzy Cook: Managing Migraine with More Than 90 Comforting Recipes and Lifestyle Tips” is available almost everywhere books are sold. You can find her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter