Life with Migraine: The Art of Coping

Medically Reviewed By Meredith Goodwin, MD, FAAFP
migraine_Jaime Sanders_Life with Migraine The Art of Coping

Migraine has been a part of my life since childhood. It was hard for me to process how painful, isolating, and overwhelming having this neurological disease as a child really was. There were feelings of anxiety and depression that were challenging to process in my youth. In my third grade class, we were given an assignment to write short poems about the different seasons. Third grade was a pivotal time in my life. I was newly diagnosed with migraine and had a lot of varying emotions about it. I decided to use the writing assignment to describe how I felt. Poetry was my first attempt at using an artistic outlet to cope with the difficulties of living with migraine.

Since then, artistic expression has been integral to who I am. Whether it was writing, taking ballet class, or playing a musical instrument, there has always been a form of art in my life. By the time I was in high school, I was writing poetry regularly and eventually delved into short stories. I wasn’t the best at expressing my emotions verbally, so I took to pen and paper to help with that process. Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and Robert Frost were all influential writers who molded me into the writer I am today.

The Migraine Diva

As time passed and I became a wife and mother, I gradually stopped writing. I missed it terribly and felt like I had lost a piece of myself, so in 2011, I started writing again and began my blog, The Migraine Diva, about living with migraine and mental health issues. Once again, migraine became the catalyst that started the artistic expression process. Writing about my experiences with chronic daily migraine helped me in ways I didn’t realize I needed.

The blog became a haven where I can be unfiltered, vulnerable, and transparent while having a platform to help educate others about the severity of migraine disease. It is my online diary that I shared with the world. Talking about how migraine affects my life is very therapeutic and also provides validation for others who live similar lives. Being so vulnerable and exposing yourself to the world around you is not easy. However, blogging and writing about my life is highly cathartic, and having this outlet has generated a community of people who understand and validate my experiences and their own.

Coping through artistic expression

Another artistic outlet for me is doing my makeup. I enjoy experimenting with color palettes to reflect how I’m feeling. My face is my canvas. I will spend hours at my vanity, escaping from the world of migraine by painting different portraits of myself. If I’m feeling down, I will use shades of blue eyeshadow, and if I’m feeling vibrant and energized, I’ll go brighter with hues of yellow, orange, and pink. Makeup helps me de-stress and serves as a form of mindfulness, allowing me to escape to another world. 

Since high school, I have dabbled in makeup as a form of expression. I experimented with different looks inspired by fashion magazines and the newest trends. As an adult with chronic migraine, I do not have many reasons to wear makeup other than the occasional social event or date night. For a while, it felt as though I had lost a piece of myself, one that I truly missed. My love for makeup inspired the name of my blog. 

Living with migraine made me feel as though I had lost who I was. Living in daily pain encompassed most of my existence. I’ve learned that holding on to the things that I love to do is especially important and reminds me that I am still a person despite my chronic illnesses. Hence, the name The Migraine Diva showcases the intersection of migraine disease and everything that makes me who I am.

Another hobby that I truly enjoy is painting. I went to my first painting class in 2018 and fell in love. Drawing and coloring have been soothing and comforting activities for me since I can remember. Having chronic intractable migraine steals a lot of joy and peace from my life. Therefore, I must fill those empty spaces with things that make me smile and feel good. Painting has been a significant part of how I cope with being in constant pain. 

A few years ago, I attended my first sip-and-paint class with a close friend. It was some of the most fun I had in a long time. Although the painting we chose was more complicated, we had a blast, and the finished product came out fantastic. I was so proud of myself for doing it, as I was struggling with a migraine attack at the time. That class sparked a new hobby I couldn’t wait to do again.

Whenever I feel anxious, overwhelmed, frustrated, or bored, I find something new to paint. I bought my canvases, brushes, and paint to use anytime those feelings came up. Painting has become a form of self-expression, self-care, and mindfulness. With soothing music playing in the background, I can get lost in whatever world I put on the canvas. Staying focused on the task at hand reduces stress, pain, and other symptoms for the time I am engaged in art therapy.

The benefits of art therapy

How does art therapy help those with chronic illnesses cope? I’m the proof that there are many benefits,  including stress relief, reduced anxiety and depression, pain modulation and symptom relief, improved cognitive and motor functions, and a reframed relationship between emotions and physical pain. I can combine the use of art therapy with other therapeutic methods, such as using a neuromodulation device during a painting session to gain maximum relief and efficacy.

Art therapy has helped me to heal in many different ways. I have found comfort and strength in the ability to “lose myself” in the process of creating art while also separating how I feel emotionally from the physical symptoms of chronic migraine. It is a permanent piece of my mental health and chronic illness toolkit. I encourage whoever reads this article to take the time to find a new or revisit an old hobby as a form of coping with chronic pain. You just might find an improvement in your quality of life.

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Medical Reviewer: Meredith Goodwin, MD, FAAFP
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