Writing about mental health from a feminist counselling perspective
June is Migraine and Headache Awareness Month here in Canada, an opportunity to raise awareness through education and research on the nature and impact of headache and migraine disorders, as well as support and advocate for people living with this type of chronic pain. For those of you who might not know, I have a personal history in dealing with migraines. I’ve always had them but, a few years ago, chronic stress and burnout led to daily, high intensity migraines that wouldn’t go away. Since then, things have improved for me, but as a chronic pain condition, this is something I have to live with. Here are 4 things I’ve been doing to navigate migraines in the last year:
1. Neurologist care
I’ve been getting by pretty well with the support of my GP, but back in September we decided that if I’m going to try one of the injectable migraine treatments, I really needed to talk to someone who was an expert in the area. In Edmonton, this is Dr. Michael Knash, a neurologist who specializes in migraine and headache. He was able to assist immediately with finding the right dose and sharing with me some options for getting medication coverage.
One thing that I was surprised to learn is that not all neurologists have the same training or expertise, so it's important to find one who specifically works with migraine. You can watch this video from the Pain Society of Alberta where he talks about options for treating your migraine attacks at home.
2. Therapist support
Fortunately, my existing therapist has experience working with migraine . I’m so grateful that she’s able to have direct conversations with me about therapy, pain, and when I’m holding unrealistic expectations about what my relationship with chronic pain should be.
She also reminded me that stress is a part of life, and if my plan included never being stressed, it wasn’t going to work. We’re both big advocates that migraine treatments should work despite the daily stressors of living in Alberta, being a parent, and being a therapist. Her reminder to me was that treatment of chronic pain is a gendered issue and that I needed to go back to my doctor if my current medication was no longer working. This was also a reminder that what works for a while in terms of treatment may not always work, and if severity or frequency of pain increases, it’s a good idea to revisit medications and treatment plans.
3. Guided visualizations
I continued to use the guided visualizations from Curable Health. Curable is an online program and app that provides professional help to people living with persistent or chronic pain. They use a biopsychosocial approach that addresses pain from multiple angles (psychical, psychological, and emotional) to provide science-backed lessons and techniques.
My favorite is the control room visualization, where you turn down the volume on pain and shut off the alarm. Most of my clients know I’m a big fan of using imagination work to assist healing, because through imagination, we create a new physiological response and allow our lower brain to take in alarm-reducing cues. That’s what Curable’s visualizations help me do.
4. A sustainable work schedule
Making our work schedule sustainable seems to be a huge conversation in the psychology circles I’m in right now, and I’d love to share what sustainable looks like to me. First, it’s individual, and second, it changes over time.
I used to work longer hours 4 days a week. Now I’m doing fewer hours per day on a 5 days a week schedule. At different points over the years, my capacity has changed, and what works best for me to be present and engaged has changed. One of the key strategies I’m using is not filling my schedule to capacity. A full schedule for me would be 6 clients per day. But I know that this leaves zero room for inevitable parts of life and this job, including days when I’m in pain and room for urgent appointments or reports. So I only leave 5 spots open on my online calendar, and I book the 6th by my discretion. That way I can really have a look at what the day and week looks like to help me decide if it’s within my capacity or not. I also book regular time off each month and a longer period at the end of the year to fully put responsibilities away and focus on recharging.
If you too live with chronic or persistent pain: what are some of the things that help you navigate it?
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Nicole Perry is a Registered Psychologist and writer with a private practice in Edmonton. Her approach is collaborative and feminist at its heart. She specializes in healing trauma, building shame resilience, and setting boundaries.
About the Blog
This space will provide information, stories, and answers to big questions about some of my favorite topics - boundaries, burnout, trauma, self compassion, and shame resilience - all from a feminist counselling perspective. It's also a space I'm exploring and refining new ideas.
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