To live our best with Migraine, we need sources of inspiration. I found one such inspiration in The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. In this book, Ruiz shares his wisdom for living a satisfying life in the form of four agreements. His premise is that we all make agreements with ourselves, our loved ones, and our higher power that determine how we will behave and respond to life events. He proposes these four agreements as alternatives to replace unhealthy, self-destructive agreements that rob us from joy, purpose, and fulfillment.
- Be impeccable with your word.
- Don’t take anything personally.
- Don’t make assumptions.
- Always do your best.
Application to Migraine
In this four-part series, we’ll be exploring practical ways to implement each of these agreements to improve our Migraine coping abilities. First, we explored ways to speak impeccably about Migraine. Now we’ll examine potentially hurtful situations common to the Migraine experience.
Don’t Take Migraine Messages Personally
Ruiz explains it like this:
“Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.”
Living with Migraine gives us plenty of opportunities to practice this difficult-to-master skill. Whether it’s the misguided opinion of that annoying co-worker or the results of the latest clinical trial. It’s possible to take it all in—even agree with it—without taking it personally. When we don’t take Migraine messages personally, we refuse to allow the information to become a weapon against us.
“There’s nothing else to try.”
When we hear these words from our doctors, they destroy our hope. Naturally, we may feel like failures. The typical response is to believe the doctor and internalize the statement as a reflection of personal failure. By not taking this statement personally, we can acknowledge that solutions to our health problems are beyond the knowledge and skill of this doctor. The doctor’s statement reflects his or her reality, not ours. It says nothing about us and everything about the doctor. We can then feel free to reject this statement and move on to find a doctor who has different knowledge and skills.
“That medicine is horrible!”
In the process of choosing treatment, we may ask other patients to share their experiences. Because everyone responds differently to a given treatment, someone inevitably shares their personal “horror story.” Those negative stories tend to attract other negative responses. Before long, all you hear are terrifying reasons to avoid the very treatment your doctor has recommended. You may consider not filling that prescription.
The truth is that almost any treatment can be successful or cause unbearable side effects. Those who share their experiences are not predicting your failure, but simply sharing from their own knowledge. Even if you are told by another patient to avoid a given treatment, that’s not necessarily the best advice for your medical situation.
- Accusations that we are faking or exaggerating our symptoms
- Insensitive advice to “just take a pill”
- Unsolicited advice to try an unproven treatment
- Testimonials that avoiding one trigger will eliminate Migraine forever
- Being treated like a drug-seeker in the ER
- Uninvited opinions regarding all the things we are doing wrong that “cause” Migraine
These comments are difficult to not take personally. After all, they are directed at us. No one learns to not take anything personally by instinct. It takes practice. So here are a few thoughts to help build immunity to these ugly comments.
- Try to observe the situation as if you were an invisible observer.
- Focus on what the comments might say about the person speaking.
- Misguided attempt to be helpful
- Focused on the impact your Migraine has on their own experience
- Lack of accurate information
- Response based on prior negative experience unrelated to you
- Strong opinions or beliefs will not permit rational thought or openness to learn
- Mean-spirited ugliness
- When hurt feelings appear, we can ask ourselves
- Is the statement true?
- Is the problem something within our control?
- Is this problem something we want to change?
- How important is our relationship with this person?
Don’t take Migraine stigma personally
When we don’t take Migraine messages personally, we become immune to Migraine stigma. These statements usually tell us more about the people who say them and nothing about ourselves. Once we recognize this truth, we have the freedom to choose a response based in knowledge rather than painful emotion. Face it, challenge it, but don’t take Migraine messages personally because they’re not about us anyway.
- Ruiz M, Mills J. (2008). The Four Agreements. Thorndike, ME.: Center Point Publications.